Shae, her sister (Auntie), Frugal Boy, and myself just returned from an 8 day trip to Costa Rica. We went horse back riding in the mountains, zip lined at 50 mph past a volcano, and forded a river in our 4×4. The frosting on the cake, we did it all for just $100! * Find out how at the end of this series. See Part 1 here. Part 2 here. Part 3 here.
* Auntie paid some of her share of the trip and that isn’t included in our Out of Pocket total.
Day 5 – Horses and Waterfalls
One of the add-ons at the ranch was a horse back slash hiking expedition into the bordering national park to see Cat falls. Auntie really wanted to do it, but Shae is allergic to horses and Frugal Boy is too little, so I got the honor of tagging along.
The owner’s son and brother-in-law wrangled up some horses for us to ride. Frugal Boy was chomping at the bit to go with, and our hosts entertained him for a bit.
The volcano was usually shrouded in clouds and this morning was no exception.
Finally, it was time for us to be off. It felt a bit like Swiss Family Robinson, with the foal staying close to its mama (Aunties mount) and a pair of dogs darting in and out of bushes while they waited for their humans to come along.
We took a short ride up through pastures to a bluff overlooking the lake. My horse, De Texan, was an opinionated old fart. Kind of like me.
Continuing up the hillside, we reached the edge of the forest and dismounted. From here the trail was too steep and narrow for the horses, so we continued on foot. We crested the ridge and went down the other side. Eventually we could hear the water and finally we could see it.
The water was deliciously cool, especially after our hot hike. With only a little prompting from our guides I stripped down to my skivvies and jumped in. Auntie and I watched as the two Ticos climbed haphazardly up the waterfall’s edge and then back down before doing backflips into the water.
It was interesting talking with them because they were both about my age. Both of them had girlfriends and they reminded me very much of my American peers. On the hike out, Eduardo was texting his girlfriend and taking selfies. The internet has been a powerful force of globalization.
The hike out cancelled most of the cooling effect of swimming and we were dry by the time we reached the horses.
Shae and Frugal Boy had kept busy moving all of our stuff from the second story apartment down to the first story. We had originally booked the first story because it was cheaper, but it was still being cleaned when we arrived the night before so they moved us into the unoccupied second story. However, a family a 8 was arriving today, so we had to move.
After a change of clothes and lunch we decided to drive to La Fortuna waterfall. As with most things Costa Rican, it isn’t far as the crow flies, but it takes much longer to drive, about 40 minutes.
The waterfall is very tall and the parking lot is at the top.
According to Shae’s Fitbit, it was 30 stories of steps down to the basin.
There were workers building out the new steps which we took all the way down. They were very nice and safe, but I couldn’t help but notice the old steps. Yowza! No wonder why they make you sign a liability waiver before going down.
Down at the bottom we took another group selfie.
There was an attendant at the bottom that explained the swimming rules. To the right was the waterfall basin and to the left was the gentler outlet stream. He warned us about flash floods and to stay alert for brown water (a sign that a flash flood is happening). Auntie has a waterproof camera, so she took most of the photos here. Suffice it to say that we had a lot of fun swimming on both sides. We kept Frugal Boy to the calm section, but Shae and I ventured into the hurricane force buffeting of the catarata. It was one of those moments that just puts you in awe of the power of nature.
After hiking back out and stopping at a grocery store to resupply we drove back to El Castillo so we could eat dinner at a Soda. Soda’s in Costa Rica are small family owned restaurants. There is at least one in every town. The one we went to was Mesa de Mama (Mom’s Table). It seemed to be popular with the locals and the food was good, if not a little too salty for my tastes. We ate comida tipica, typical food, that consisted of rice, beans, plantain, a meat, and salad.
That night our upstairs neighbors showed up. It wasn’t the most restful nights because we could hear every footstep, and let me tell you, a family of 8 makes a lot of footsteps. Eventually they went to sleep and the tides turned the next morning.
Day 6 – Hanging Around
Most of the places that we rented had two bedrooms, but they also usually had just two beds. That meant that Frugal Boy often slept with Shae and myself. Around 4:30 AM, Shae and I awoke to a bubbling gurgling sound coming from Frugal Boy. Yep, you guessed it. A flimsy disposable diaper had no chance against the awesome power of diarrhea. Shae went to swoop him up off the bed, only to get a handful of the slimy stinky mess. It was e v e r y w h e r e.
I took small comfort in the fact that Frugal Boy’s shower screaming undoubtedly woke up our elephant neighbors. With a little breakfast in our stomachs and everyone calmed down, Shae and I left Frugal Boy with Auntie and took the short drive over to Sky Adventures Arenal Park.
It was time for zip lines!
Shae and I both agreed that the zip lines were our favorite part of the entire trip. There were a total of 7 zip lines, the highest was 200 meters (656 ft) above the ground and the longest was 760 meters (2493 ft or just shy of half a mile). As part of the tour, we rode the gondola up the side of the mountain.
From the highest platform, we had a great view of Arenal lake. As a nice bonus, it was sunny!
There were 9 other people on the tour with us. Costa Rica is a popular destination for honeymooners and we saw several couples on this tour.
Shae was nervous for the first couple of lines, but then she started to really enjoy it.
It felt completely safe, but zooming at 50 mph over the tree tops still gives you quite the adrenaline rush. With our thrill seeking satisfied, we returned to the ranch to relieve Auntie. We had forgotten to explain to Frugal Boy that we were leaving for a couple of hours, so he freaked out. Here is a pro parenting tip. Explain what the hell is going on or about to happen to your kids. Just like adults, they like to know what to expect.
After lunch we talked about what we wanted to do. Aunties eyes lit up when I mentioned that there was another set of hanging bridges not too far away. Seeing as she suffered through multiple scream fests that morning, I felt obligated to indulge her.
Frugal Boy passed out on the car ride there so I joined him in napping while Shae and Auntie did the self guided walk through the Mystico hanging bridges.
This set of hanging bridges was Auntie’s favorite part of the whole trip because they got to see monkeys!
They also told me that the bridges here were shakier than the ones in Monteverde.
and Shae spotted more exotic flowers.
Here you can make out a baby monkey riding on the mama.
A DSLR camera is kind of a requirement if you want to get good shots of wildlife in Costa Rica. They are often far away and move fast!
We all stopped for a photo op before leaving the park behind.
It was still mid afternoon, and rain was moving in so we decided to head on over to the Butterfly Conservatory in El Castillo. The place was interesting and I later learned that the owner of the ranch we were staying at was one of the founding members. The grounds are a forest regrowth project. 60 years ago it was cattle pasture. Now there are all sorts of interesting flora.
Of course the butterflies are interesting as well.
They like to get drunk off the fermented fruit.
Saying goodbye to the butterflies, it was time to find a place to eat. We didn’t want to go back to the soda because it was just so-so. El Castillo isn’t a huge town and only has a handful of restaurants. We eventually settled on Pizza John’s, run by nobody named John. In fact, it was run entirely by two nice women who didn’t speak a lick of English.
While we waited for the food, I went downstairs to practice my Spanish. It was a nice place with an open kitchen, so I chatted with the older woman while she made up the pizzas. I had seen numerous dump trucks coming and going through the main road of El Castillo so I asked her if they were building a road. “Sí a Monteverde” she replied. I also asked if she had any children of her own. In Costa Rica, family is very important. Asking about one’s family is fair game in conversations with strangers. Beaming with pride, she told me that she had 12 children. ¡Aye carumba!
After eating way too much pizza, we ordered some ice cream to enjoy later that night back at the ranch.
On the way back up the driveway we encountered a small car that had gotten stuck. The driveway is only one car wide, so it was an interesting bit of driving to get around. Frugal Boy was very concerned about the stuck car, but then changed his tune to “Mama, my tummy doesn’t feel good”. That brings us to #4 of our top grossest moments in Costa Rica. Frugal Boy’s retching all over the apartment floor, leaving a trail to the bathroom, before finishing in the toilet. I hate to say it, but he takes after his old man. That sound is awful. The incident may have also irreparably damaged Shae. For the rest of the trip any burp, cough, or fart was enough to send her into a heightened alert. It was a rough trip for everyone’s gastrointestinal tracts.
Read the final part and conclusion here.