Costa Rica – Arenal, Monteverde, Manuel Antonio

Our hotel in La Fortuna was awesome in every way. It had its own hot springs, and 13 mini rock pools of varying temperatures. We also had a perfect view of the famous Arenal volcano.

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Group photo at the hotel lobby with a random dog (Steve’s photo)
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Bruise check! I acquired most of these from walking into beds.

Our first night in Arenal, we went to a fantastic water park. Since it was the evening and also pouring rain on and off, we had the entire park to ourselves. All the water in the park was hot because of the thermal activity, so that was really neat. There were several decent slides, and a huge hot pool with a swim-up bar. We spent hours racing up the stairs and down the slides and generally being big goofy kids. I didn’t have a waterproof camera, so I couldn’t take any pictures, but I have incredible memories burned into my brain. When we got back to the hotel, we all climbed into one of the mini hot pools and talked (and in almost everyone else’s case drank) for hours and hours. Waterslides and hot pools: exactly my idea of a perfect night!

The next morning’s adventure was canyoneering. I had been before in New Zealand and loved it, so I was excited to go again. For my New Zealand adventure, I didn’t know anyone else in the group, so although it was somewhat more “extreme,” it wasn’t quite as much fun. This time, the group made the experience spectacular. We had such a blast abseiling down waterfalls, crawling down the rocks, and jumping into tiny yet startling deep pools.

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Group shot before canyoneering (Brittany’s photo)
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I am at my happiest in these moments
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Weeeeeeee!
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No hands!
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🙂
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Drenched!

To recover from the morning’s adventures, we spent the afternoon relaxing at the hotel pool.

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Perfect vacation moment (Steve’s photo)
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Waiting for the volcano to erupt

That evening, we went to a local school to watch children folk dance, and afterward we went to a farm for a Costa Rican dinner. Before eating, we took a tour of the farm and learned how they used to make sugar using oxen. We also had fun painting our faces with achiote berry juice. As far as the meal goes, it was mostly delicious. However, at this time, I’d like to take a break from my gushiness over Costa Rica to make an honest confession: I think rice and beans make an absolutely revolting combination, and I would be delighted to never to eat it again!

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Sloth on a wire getting drenched in the rain
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Taking the farm tour in style (Steve’s photo)

After our amazing two days in La Fortuna, we took a boat across the lake and drove into the mountains to Santa Elena. In the evening, we took a short hike through the Monteverde Cloud Forest.

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Lunch in a treehouse restaurant in Santa Elena (Jordan’s photo)
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Cloud forest
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Hanging out on the hike (Steve’s photo)

That night, we went to a Salsa bar that had a live band. Normally, I’m not very fond of bars, especially ones where you have to shout into each other’s ears to have a conversation. I also get terribly self-conscious dancing, particularly Salsa dancing, since I am completely hopeless at it. My excuse is that my hips simply weren’t made to move that way! However, I made up my mind to try to have fun, as I do each time I somehow wind up in a bar against my better judgment.

I decided to ditch my dishevelled backpacker look for the night and get glammed up.

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Posing in my festive frock. Not really a Salsa dress, but it didn’t matter.
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Fuzzy selfie (with some beautiful photobombers!) Azu did my hair and makeup 🙂

The bar experience was as expected. It was mostly painful for me, with isolated moments of enjoyment. I did love watching some of the really good local dancers, and it was hard not to have at least some fun with such a wonderful Contiki group.

The next morning, we took a tour of a coffee plantation. Usually I don’t drink coffee at all, because I tend to over-react to it (shaky hands, fast pulse, ridiculous hyperactivity and an inability to sleep even 12 hours later). I do like the taste though, so I tried just one cup after the tour was over.

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We’re in trouble!

Our next stop that day was the Selvatura Adventure Park. First we visited the butterfly garden and saw hundreds of butterflies, along with macaws and parrots.

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Monarch butterfly

The ziplining tour at the park was unbelievably fun. I was still feeling hyperactive from that one cup of coffee, and I was ridiculously giddy. Between ziplines, my tour friends and I were quoting The Simpsons nonstop, and I could not stop laughing. (I am a completely unapologetic frequent-Simpsons-quoter. I average about ten references a day.) The zipline tour finished with a Tarzan swing through the trees, and a 1-km long superman-style zipline over the cloud forest, which is every bit as amazing as it sounds. I think that it is the closest I will ever come to actually flying!

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Group shot before ziplining
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When ziplining, it is of utmost importance to look incredibly cool

When we were finished zipping through the trees, we headed over to the hummingbird garden. I was completely mesmerized. They are the most beautiful birds I have ever seen. I could have stared at them for hours.

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Hummingbirds

The cloud forest had a series of cool suspension bridges, and I really enjoyed bounding across them. They were so much sturdier than the ones in Nepal!

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Suspension bridge
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Group shot (Steve’s photo)
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Azu’s photo from the suspension bridge hike

Our last stop on the tour was the gorgeous Pacific Coast town of Manuel Antonio, where I was keen to do some scuba diving. I hadn’t dived since my week in Bonaire almost two years before, and I was looking forward to getting back under the sea. There was a nice dive shop that organized group dives accompanied by a dive master, so it seemed like the perfect fit. But, as with many of my adventures, it didn’t turn out quite as expected!

*SOMEWHAT GRAPHIC DETAILS AHEAD* Avoid the next four paragraphs if you are squeamish about bodily fluids.

If I were to pick a tagline for my Costa Rica scuba diving experience, it would probably be “Saw the fishies, fed the fishies!” I am horribly prone to motion sickness, which is why I sit in the “splash zone” in the front of the bus. The dive centre advised me to take a seasickness pill before getting on the boat. I declined, since all the pills available would have made me drowsy. I was terrified of the thought of scuba diving while sleepy!

Our boat ride to the dive site was ridiculously bumpy, so by the time we arrived at the site, my level of nausea was off the charts. Even while tied to the buoy, the boat would rock horribly in the waves, and I wondered how long I’d last before the inevitable would happen. Nevertheless, I put on all my gear and plunged into the water. I had paid for this and I was going to enjoy it, goshdarnit!

As I floated down to the reef with the dive master, I started to feel a little better. Although the water was quite murky, we did manage to see some pretty sweet wildlife, including a shark in its cave. The problem was the underwater surges, which would occasionally carry us away from whatever we were looking at, and we could do nothing to prevent it. Unfortunately, the surges started making me almost as nauseous as the boat. Toward the end of our dive, I started frantically signalling to the dive master that I needed to go up immediately. I knew that it was technically possible to throw up into your regulator, but I really, really didn’t want to. The second we reached the surface, I threw my regulator out of my mouth, and, well … think sperm whale, only much less graceful. To make matters even worse, my left ear was clogged and I couldn’t get it unclogged. I ended up being completely deaf in that ear for the remainder of my vacation, and my hearing only returned after a visit to the doctor when I was home in Canada.

My nausea didn’t subside after getting back on the boat, which was still rocking and rolling. I spent the next half hour or so with my head over the side of the boat. I tried to do a second dive, but my stomach couldn’t take it, and I had to surface again. I managed to scramble back onto the boat in time for round two. It was by far the most painful motion sickness that I have ever experienced. I have a newfound appreciation for precious solid ground!

*GRAPHIC DETAILS OVER*

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Manuel Antonio the morning of my disastrous dive

My second day on the beach was much better. We explored the Manuel Antonio National Park, which was walking distance from the hotel. The views of the coastline were incredible, and the monkey and raccoons were wonderfully entertaining.

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Manuel Antonio National Park
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Manuel Antonio National Park
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Cheeky raccoon in the park
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Cheeky monkey in the park

Our last night on the Contiki tour in Manuel Antonio was totally awesome. We cruised on a catamaran out into the ocean and found a pod of dolphins that jumped alongside our boat. The captain then parked close to shore, and we jumped off the top of the boat and slid down the slide into the water.

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Dolphin jumping by the sailboat
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We’re flying! (Jordan’s photo)
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Jumping off the boat (Jordan’s photo). And no, I did not manage to catch that ball 😛
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Phil’s awesome photo
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Rainbow! (Jordan’s photo)
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Sunset
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Final group shot before leaving the catamaran (Azu’s photo)

The next morning, the Contiki bus dropped me off at a hostel with a fabulous view of the ocean. I had two more days to relax before flying home to Canada. I felt a bit disoriented to find myself in backpacker world again, and for a while I thought that I had lost my “making friends easily” touch. I was smiling by warmest smile at everybody, but no one seemed to want to talk. Feeling dejected, I went over to the pool and lay down on a chair. The girl chilling out next to me also seemed to be on her own. I smiled at her, she smiled back, we started talking, and the next thing you know, we were headed out to find the waterfall a few kilometres from the hostel. Yay for friendly people!

Except we didn’t find the waterfall. We got hopelessly lost, and I got attacked by fire ants. But it was still a cool adventure 🙂

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View from the balcony of my hostel dorm
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Hammock time

My last full day in Costa Rica was absolutely wonderful. In the morning, I went to the beach and spent a few blissful hours boogie boarding, the perfect no-talent-required water sport.

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Boogie!

In the afternoon, I met up with the girl-at-the-pool from the day before, and we went on Waterfall Adventure Take 2. This time, we found it! We followed a stream through the jungle and eventually arrived at the most perfectly blue swimming hole. The best part was that we were the only ones there, which is fairly unusual in tourist-saturated Costa Rica. There was no way to climb down to the pool, so we had to jump in and trust that it was deep enough.

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Ready!
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Splash!
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Tada!

As it turns out, my first impression of the atmosphere at my hostel was all wrong. There were loads of nice people! I had a lovely last night in Costa Rica comparing notes with other travellers and hearing about their adventures. I have always wondered whether I would ever get tired of staying in hostels, but it hasn’t happened yet. Hopefully it never will.

I didn’t want to experience Costa Rican traffic on a Friday again, so instead of taking the bus, I booked a flight from Quepos (near Manuel Antonio) to San Jose. While waiting for my plane, I amused myself by playing with an adorable airport kitty.

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Hello!
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At one point, this little guy jumped on my chair and tapped me on the shoulder. When I turned around, he tried to bite my nose!
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Our sweet ride
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The runway
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I sat right behind the pilot
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We had a beautiful view of the coast taking off
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Coming into San Jose
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Runway in San Jose

From San Jose, I flew to Toronto, then home to Ottawa. I stayed on a vacation high for weeks after coming home from the trip. When I am travelling, there are moments when the combination of people, place and experience give me such a powerful rush of pure unadulterated joy that it takes my breath away. I live for those moments, and in Costa Rica I experienced them virtually every day. I can’t wait for my next adventure!

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