* Auntie paid some of her share of the trip and that isn’t included in our Out of Pocket total.
Day 7 – Water Water Everywhere
Today marked our last day at the ranch. We wanted to get a short hike in before sitting in the car for four hours so we followed the monkey trail to try and see some of the resident howler monkeys. A small ranch cat came along with us as we descended into the jungle.
We didn’t see any monkeys and the trail just kept going so we eventually turned back.
I finally met the owner of the ranch, Charlie. He is quite the character and made a strong impression as he walked out of his bedroom with a parrot on his shoulder. He kind of reminded me of “The Dude” Lebowski from the cult movie The Big Lebowski. I spoke with him for some time asking about the area and the road construction. He was a wealth of information and confirmed that the trucks were improving the inside road and had made a wet crossing over the Rio Caño Negro, the biggest obstacle to taking the shortcut between Monteverde and Arenal. He talked about how all of the studies and surveys had been completed for building a bridge over the river, but the funding got pulled at the last minute to help with earthquake relief. All of the plans are still valid, so sometime in the next ten years, I would expect a bridge to be in place. He also talked about how the president of Costa Rica had visited the area and in no uncertain terms stated that the road would never be paved. The government does not want commercial traffic through this eco sensitive area.
I was eager to try the river crossing and to take the inside road, if for no other reason, that it would be far more scenic and adventurous that the long winding outside road that we had taken to get to Arenal. The plan was to drive from El Castillo to Playas del Cocos on the Pacific ocean.
Charlie sent his son Eduardo with us on his motorbike in case we got stuck and needed a tractor to come pull us out. When we got to the bank of the river, I was both impressed by the size of the river and relieved to see the road construction crew hanging out on the other side. If they made it across, surely we could too and if we got stuck, they should be able to help us out between their laughter.
I took Charlie’s suggestion and walked it first to get an idea of what I was about to get us into. Then I popped it into 4 low and trucked it across. Wheeee!!
It’s worth noting that our rental agreement says not to do this, so I cannot condone my behavior. When I walked it, the water was below my knee, so while the river looked very big, it was also quite shallow.
The road on the other side was in excellent condition, no doubt because of the recent construction. While it was still gravel, it drove like asphalt. It was only when we turned west and headed into the mountains that the road got worse. There was one bridge that we ended up crossing amongst a handful of smaller streams. It sure didn’t look very safe with its height and lack of guard rails but we made it across just fine.
The volcano faded into the rearview mirror as we drove farther up into the mountains. Along the way we passed numerous turismo buses. The inside road seems to be the preferred route between Monteverde and Arenal by people familiar with the area.
After a four hour long ride, most of that in the bumpy mountain roads, we made it to Playas del Cocos. I had reserved an Airbnb condo that was hosted by an ex-pat named Robert and his native wife Marie. We met Robert in his bike rental shop and he was another character I won’t soon forget. Just think YMCA locker room, and you’ll get the right image in your head.
After getting a strange driving tour of the beach town where we followed Robert in his truck and he gave us hand signals for different sights and destinations we arrived at the condo. It was a nice unit with two bedrooms and two bathrooms. Where were you second bathroom for the rest of the trip!
I picked this particular condo because it was only two blocks away from the Pacific ocean. Frugal Boy was delighted to go play on the beach.
Playas del Cocos has a thriving tourist strip selling all the usual trinkets. You could buy $10 keychains or $20 t-shirts. Smarter tourists would haggle the shop owners down a bit. We skipped all of that and bought some souvenir t-shirts at the end of the trip from MaxiPali, a Walmart subsidiary supermarket in Liberia, for $8.
Now that we were at sea level, the temperature had really picked up. Up in the mountains it was pleasantly cool, but down by the ocean it was hot. We stopped at a gelato shop and got a few scoops of ice cream. That made everyone quite happy.
That night we ate at a little burger/seafood soda. It was essentially a towed trailer with a griddle and deep fryer. The food was good and cheap so that made us all happy. On the walk back to the condo we were treated to a rare sight during the rainy season, a sunset!
Day 8 – A Last Supper
This was our last full day in Costa Rica. We hit the beach early before the heat and rain arrived.
Frugal Boy learned some hard lessons about tides when the water came in and destroyed his fort. He was pretty darn cute yelling at the water to stop it.
After a few hours we had our fill of swimming and playing in the sand so we went back to the condo to cleanup and eat lunch. Robert, our host, came by with the maid because his wife and him had a flight to catch. We hurriedly packed up our stuff so the maid wouldn’t have to wait forever.
There are numerous coves along the Pacific coast and we wanted to see how the other beach towns compared to Playas del Cocos. I had heard that Cocos was the party beach and its northernly neighbor Hermosa was the family friendly beach. We drove up and around to Hermosa to check it out.
Hermosa had more beach goers and picnickers, but barely any shops and only a handful of restaurants. It definitely was the tamer of the two. The rain moved in and Frugal Boy didn’t seem to care, but the rest of us were ready to call it quits.
We drove back to the airport hotel where we could repack our bags and clean out the car. I was reminded of how ugly American tourists can be when I was waiting in line at the hotel to check in. There was a large group of Americans in front of me and they were just so loud and pretentious. They didn’t even bother trying to speak in Spanish to the desk clerk. I get that not everyone is bilingual (heck I’m not), but everyone should at least have hola, como estas, and gracias in their toolboxes. Shae and I always tried to start interactions in Spanish and we felt that we got better treatment because of it. I made it as far as asking for a crib in our room for Frugal Boy when she mistook me for someone who actually speaks proficiently and rattled off the answer at supersonic speed. My puzzled look tipped her off that I was still an American, just not quite as obnoxious as the previous ones.
We still needed to gas up the car, eat dinner, blow whatever colones we had left, and return the rental that night.
Gas stations in Costa Rica are like the ones in Mexico. They are all full service and the prices are the same regardless of what station you stop at. It cost about 20,000 CRC to take the SUV from 1/4 to full. So prices were comparable to US gas prices if not a little more.
Shae found a great restaurant in the heart of Liberia. I think it was called Café Liberia and it had a very colonial vibe to it. Again, I think we got better treatment from the waitresses for ordering in Spanish. They asked if we wanted bottled water or house water. By this point of the trip, I think our guts had built up an iron lining, so we earned extra brownie points by taking the house water.
Shae thought this was her favorite meal of the trip. She had a ceviche which is a raw seafood dish cured with lemon or lime. It was presented in a very appealing way. I aimed for something a little easier on the stomach. The one dish in Mexico that was a bit off for me was ceviche. Maybe next time I’ll be ready for it again.
Day 9 – The Not So Fun Day
What really happened, was they loaded up the plane and then we all sat on the tarmac to wait for it to stop raining. Did I mention that it was the rainy season?! It just seemed so ludicrously stupid to be sitting around in the tropics waiting for it to stop raining. After an hour and no apparent change in the weather they went ahead and took off. That little delay pretty well botched everyone’s connecting flight plans. So instead of eating lunch in Houston like I had planned, we instead waited at a ticket line with a hundred other stranded passengers to get onto a different connecting flight.
United put Shae, Auntie, and Frugal Boy on the next Chicago flight with me on the standby list. By some miracle I managed to get on at the last second. There were around 30 people on the list.
Arriving into Chicago we ended up sitting on the taxi way for 30 minutes because there was still a United plane at the gate we were supposed to disembark at.
In the future, I will pay a bit more to fly a better airline that doesn’t routinely overbook their flights, gates, and other resources.
We bid our adieu to Auntie at the baggage carousel before finding out shuttle van to the private parking lot where we had left our car for the week. After sitting on planes for almost 9 hours, only eating snack food, and not being able to do what he wanted, Frugal Boy lost it. I have to say that the driver was very professional for the 10 minutes that it took to get from the airport to the lot. It sure felt like a lot more than that.
With our own car, we were able to hit up a burger stand and everyone was happy again. Hangry is a very debilitating condition that affects people of all ages.
Despite the gastrointestinal distress that plagued 75% of us and the crummy trip home, we had a good time. Zip lines, horse back riding, hanging bridges, howler monkeys, tasty food, extremely friendly Ticos, and disconnecting from work for a week were all great experiences.
Costa Rica is a very modern Central American country with many of the creature comforts and conveniences that we enjoy here in the States. It would have been interesting to see the capitol San José as I think that would have a very different feel to it than the more rural areas that we saw on our trip.
We were a bit surprised at the USA level prices on items like grocery staples, to restaurants, to tours. I am not convinced that retiring to Costa Rica would save any money over retiring to a low COL area like the rural midwest.
I am glad that we went and now Shae and I are thinking about the next place that we’d like to see. Perhaps Cuba.
Okay, so the big question that you most assuredly have. How the heck did this trip cost us only $100? The answer boils down to credit card and bank account sign up bonuses. I have written before (here and here) about how we were ‘churning’ or ‘travel hacking’ this trip by signing up for big reward bonuses and playing the system.
The total trip cost was $4776.51. Of that, we were reimbursed $4683.12. That makes our out of pocket, OOP, cost for a week long trip to Costa Rica just $93.39. Auntie ended up paying $590 + whatever her bus fare was to and from the airport and any other incidentals.
Below is the spreadsheet that I kept. Some of the credits are still estimated because we haven’t finished collecting them yet.