Costa Rica Adventure, Day Two–Part Two

The problem with tours is that they think you need to get your money’s worth and the best way to do that is to pack as much as possible into the shortest about of time possible.  When some of us complained a bit after a couple of days, we were informed that we should not confuse vacations and tours.  They are not the same thing.  We were on a tour, not a vacation.  Nevertheless, the tour did have some advantages like getting us into places we might have missed or never found on our own.  However, that was not really the case for Day Two.  That whirlwind morning in San Jose not only included the National Theatre and the Gold Museum, but also the Metropolitan Cathedral.  It does not have lighting conducive to photography with a “normal” camera, cell phone, etc.  Therefore, my attempts to photograph the endless and lovely stained glass windows proved futile.  Here is what I was able to photograph.


This is a large church.  Yes, we were there as tourists, but many others were there praying, sitting silently, worshipping.


I could not find a place where the chandelier did not interfere with the view where I could take a really good photograph.  Nevertheless, hopefully those of you who read this can get the feeling for this really wonderful place.

On a totally separate but perhaps related note, I watched Public Television for a while tonight about finding ones roots.  I keep thinking somehow my DNA results must be a bit screwy because the places where I feel most at home, the cultures in which I have an interest, the literature I love to read, and the music to which I usually listen have no relationship whatsoever with the places from which the majority of ancestors came.  I have been to Costa Rica twice now and to one particular town (besides San Jose)  twice–others were new this trip.  What concerns me is that all the tourists and people buying up property there who are from Europe, the US, and Canada will totally ruin its values and beauty.

Costa Rican Adventure, Day Two–Part One

After a buffet breakfast of traditional foods, e.g. gallo pinto and plantanos fritos–my favorites, we headed to the central part of San Jose which is only foot traffic, no vehicles.


We strolled to El Mercado where my grandson bought a stuffed sloth–I love bargaining so we got it for a good price.  My only disappointment was the rush so we could see everything–the disadvantage of being on a tour. Eventually, we ended up at the National Theatre.

Located in the central section of San Jose, it is considered the finest historical building in the capital and remains relatively unchanged since it was built in 1897–it opened on Oct. 21 of that year.  Most of its opulent furnishing were imported from Europe.  At the time of its opening fewer than 20,000 people inhabited San Jose.  It was financed via a coffee tax which was then and still is the major export and cash crop.

This theatre remains in use today and houses a small, cosy restaurant next to the main lobby.  We ate our first Tico lunch there.


This and the following photos were taken in the lobby of this theatre.




I took this and the following photo while seated in the main seating area looking up to the ornate ceiling.  Originally, the theatre was designed for multipurpose use so the main floor has seating than can be removed and the floor risen to the level of the stage and consequently transformed into a dance floor.  Rarely is this aspect used today.


We left this area and climbed the stairs to the balcony where the president and cabinet still sit for performances.  Neither the president nor any of the cabinet have body guards.  We were reminded that in 1948, the country disbanded its army and still has no military. The following two photos were taken from the stairwell.




This area is a large reception room across from the balcony level.  The incredibly intricate parquet floor has been covered by carpet for protection  so you can see only portions of it as you walk around.

We also visited what is know as the Gold Museum, my favorite.  It houses a huge collection of pre-Columbian gold artifacts and other antiquities. No cameras, purses, backpacks, iPads, nothing can be taken in so no photos.  It is literally underground.  Visitors are directed to lockers in which to put all these belongings, lock them, take the key with you as you browse the incredible collection.  There is an excellent gift shop where you can purchase copies of these artifacts, painted wood jaguar heads, and other handcrafts.  This is not our typical, touristy gift job.  As a result I now own four jaguars, three heads (two from Mexico and the one I bought here) and an entire jaguar from Mexico for a total of four.










Costa Rican Adventure-Day One

Instead of staying in the US for Christmas, my daughter, grandson, and I went to Costa Rica on a National Geographic Family Adventure for seven days and then rented a car and explored on our own for three additional days.  We arrived in San Jose a little after three in the afternoon, met the other tour members and our two guides, Jose and Josie, and headed for our first hotel, the Intercontinental.

Because the capital, San Jose, is at an altitude between 6 and 7 thousand feet, it is cool.  On the day of our arrival it was also very windy which made the air seem quite chilly.  Altitude and whether you are on the Pacific or Caribbean side are everything in Costa Rica.  High elevations are quite cool, lower elevations tropical and hot.  The Pacific side is drier, especially in the north.  The Caribbean is always wet and rainy especially in the north so the two sides are just the opposite weather wise.  Down the middle runs the cordillera, the mountains, which determine many aspects of the weather.


On the road to San Jose from the airport.  I know it says San Jose when you make reservations but the airport is not actually in San Jose or even in the same province.

The last time I was in Costa Rica it was summer here and the rainy season there–winter.  In much of the country even though it supposedly was the dry season, it did not seem very dry.  Look at those clouds.


At the Intercontinental, a large, rather elegant hotel with multiple restaurants and shops, my grandson wanted to buy a plushy sloth in one of the shops.  We convinced him to wait.  The next day we found it nearly 50% less in a shop at El Mercado.

The food we had at the hotel, however, was excellent, the ceviche especially tasty.


I was quite entranced by this bench, carved out of old wood.  It is illegal in Costa Rica to harvest certain woods considered rare and/or endangered.  This includes rosewood and mahogany.  If you find pieces made from these rarer woods, it is old wood from dead trees or at least that is what it is supposed to be.  You can find beautifully made wood furniture in various parts of the country.

We spent only one night and the next morning through lunch in San Jose.





Costa Rica 6: Adventures and Views

Without a doubt Costa Rica holds my vote for most photogenic and greenest country.  From the Caribbean and Pacific rain forests to the high mountain town of Monteverde, the words lush, exotic, verdant do not even begin to describe how incredibly rich the landscape is.  One of the first spectacular views lay before me across the parking lot from a combination restaurant and souvenir shop where we stopped for snacks.

I did not expect to see multiple mountain streams like in the Rockies, but it seemed we were crossing one nearly constantly.  This abundance of water explains their nearly total dependence on hydroelectric power with a little help from wind and thermal energy.

Several of my traveling companions decided to raft this river with class 4 rapids. Something told me I should not do this.  After flipping over several times, banged up and bruised, they decided to hike out.  In  the meantime, I experienced my own adventure, eating a raw turtle egg in salsa at a family restaurant on the top of a nearby mountain.

Beautiful mountain scenery seems endless.  I kept 00hing and awing.

This view shows the Bay of Nicoya in the distance from my hotel room in Monteverde.  The following photos all show views in the mountains near this little remote town.  There is only one road in and out and it is not paved and it is narrow.  The town was originally settled by Quakers from Canada who still believe a paved road will ruin the peaceful lifestyle.  Both the Quakers and the town are famous for their cheese which was served both plain and fried for breakfast.

This area provides both zip lining and horseback riding for tourists.  I elected to ride.  However, these horses did not seem well fed and certainly did not want to go very fast.  Although I saw a lot of horses in Costa Rica, these were by far the thinest.

The guy who lead us did not ride one of these.  He was riding a fancy, prancing, grey Paso Fino.

Look closely and you can see someone zip lining across the forested canyon hundreds of feet below.

When I asked about this tree, I was told it is related to cacao, but not eaten, not by humans anyway.

We traveled down the mountain on another dirt road to visit this elementary school.  It housed grades 1-6 with one teacher who is also the principal.  The literacy rate in Costa Rica is 98.5.

Playing soccer with the students.

A port on the Pacific on the way to the surfing town of Jaco.  Costa Rica exports many agricultural products from both its Pacific and Caribbean ports.  This includes bananas, pineapples, hearts of palms, and many tropical flowers.

While many beaches remain unsafe for swimming due to a strong undertow, the beaches at Manuel Antonio National Park are perfect.

To get into Manuel Antonio you have to walk and no parking exists really close.  Hiking out we crossed an area where the water rushed around our knees and the sign said, “No Swimming, Crocodiles”.

As a farmer, I like to look at and photograph crops.  With all the rain and heat, Costa Rica is the perfect climate for many tropical fruits and rice.  On the way back from Manuel Antonio we passed miles of rice fields and Aftican palms which produce palm oil.


Coffee, the main export of Costa Rica.  In the highlands, coffee grows everywhere even along the berms in places so steep I wondered how the person picking the beans did not fall over.  Of course, I wondered the same thing about the dairy cattle grazing on the mountain slopes.

We did stop in Sarchi, the town famous for its furniture and oxcart industry.  Oxcarts remain the national symbol of Costa Rica.  Because of the mountainous terrain, when Costa Rican coffee initially became famous and its most successful crop, the only way to get the coffee to the coasts for export was to use oxcarts.

We spent very little time in cities.  However, as we left San Jose near the end of the trip and headed for the Caribbean side, I took some hurried photographs out the window.

My first and last hotel window view in San Jose included these stately coconut palms.


Pura Vida

Everywhere in Costa Rica one hears Pura Vida.  It seems to be the national motto.  I have been here for a week.  This is the greenist, healthiest, cleanist, enviromentally conscious, most mountainous place I have ever been.  Few people smoke, there is no salt on the table anywhere, the food is mostly rice, black beans, fruit, and vegetables.  No hot peppers here unless they are on the Caribbean side where I have not gone yet.  When I return home later this week, I will post photos with written details, including some food photos and explanations.  Today I saw howler monkeys, iguanas, other lizards, numerous birds, white faced monkeys, sloths, and agoutis.  Tomorrow will start out by going to a place with lots of crocodiles and scarlet macaws.  This time of year it rains incessantly.  I have been soaked several times and nothing dries out. Even though I am not a lover of rain or being wet, it is impossible not to love this place.  Pura Vida.