We arrived in Liberia at exactly 23.00. And the first thing I noticed about Costa Rica was the Huge, Optimus- Prime -sized trucks cruising the Panamerican highway. No kidding, if I didn't know Optimus Prime lived in the states, I would've guessed Costa Rica was his safe haven.
Our hotel was named after that part of Costa Rica: Guanacaste. Liberia, as we found out in the morning, wasn't the hotspot or a must see, but already noticably different from other Central American cities we'd visited so far. It seemed, however harsh, cleaner. More wealthy. We walked to the "Plaza Central', which basically everything worth being called a city has here. Then, we checked out, walked with our backpacks to our bus pick- up spot in a Best Western hotel, and then roamed around the small shopping center close to it. For the first time throughout the trip, we walked into an actual store, and tried on dresses and shoes.
The curse of the delayed buses seemed to have lifted since crossing the border, for our shuttle picked us up and was actually early.
So we enjoyed the first sights of Costa Rica in broad daylight, and we noticed something other than the huge trucks. I always thought this surprising of Central America as a whole, but dang: Costa Rica is GREEN!
As in. Really green. A lot of it. Everywhere. The valleys, mountains, planes: everything is covered in gras, trees and bushes. And it's gorgeous.
Also: Costa Rica is EXPENSIVE! Now, money is relative, and of course it matters if you're on a student budget or if you have a "real job". But it's also relative in another way: souvenirs in Europe will cost probably twice as much as they do here, so really, Costa Rica's alright. The problem was, however, that we've been spoiled, sleeping in hostels of averagely $5 a night, and buying food and souvenirs that cost close to nothing. That dream ended right here. xD
Maybe that's why the country's name suits it: "Cost"-a Rica.
Our first destination was Monte Verde, where we spent the weekend (three nights). As the name gives away, it's situated within the mountain ranges, or highlands of the country. Thus, it was chillier than we had had on Utila: a sigh of relief for me.
We had an awesome hostel (actually cheap by CR standards), with nice people running the place, and two cool girls to share our dorm with: Michelle and Taylor.
The weekend ended up to be a splurge, but worth every penny.
Now, up till now, Bamba Experience, the mexican agency where we had booked our hop-on-and-off bus ticket from Cancun,Mexico to San Jose, Costa Rica, had provided us with several tours. The last one was our first activity in Monte Verde: A Canopy Tour.
And for the first time, I didn't act tough or fearless. It seemed rather like bungee jumping to me, and a lot of heights. Taylor had joined us, which was fun. Nobody coudl help taking away that dread I felt, though. Of course I knew I would regret not doing it, and I had my adventures in Semuc Champey (see Guatemala) to encourage me of a certain bravery.
It was worth it!
The ziplines were high, roped in between mountain tops. The gear we had to wear was heavy enough to be comforting, and the crew was reassuring, despite their dark sense of humor. We got to enjoy the green nature of Monte Verde from a new angle :). There were lines you had to break all the way, some where you didn't have to break at all, and some we had to double team in, so that Anouk and I got skilled in that together.
After about twelve different ziplines came the Tarzan Swing, the "bungee jump" where you jumped (or got pushed) off a platform and then ended up swinging.
I got pushed.
Last, and best, was a zipline of 1 km. The longest in CR, extending all the way over the valley back to the reception. There were two ways to rush down it: 1. The "normal" canopy way, in an upright sitting position, with your hand as a break behind you. 2. The "Superman", where you paid them $5 more so you had an extra belt around your chest, which enabled them to strap you to the line tummy down, hands outstretched.
Worth. Every. Penny.
Whilst I zipped down the line I didn't only feel a strengthening of Superwoman powers, I also realized that this would be the closest I'd ever get to the sensation of flying solo. With or without wings.
That evening we went on a Camina Nocturna (or Night tour). We got picked up by a shuttle, and ended up in a small group (the guide, a spanish couple and the two of us). Just the sensation of being in the jungle at night, in the pitch black dark, made the tour great. We also saw capuchin monkeys, a lot of insects, a beautiful bird (not a quetzal, unfortunately), a tarantula and a possum!
The next day, we got picked up by yet another shuttle, to a Finca (farm) up north. There, we were each assigned a horse for our tour. It was awesome! I got to ride Campion, who definitely lived up to his name. Whilst almost every other horse had to be called or reprimanded at some point or other, mine just obeyed every command I gave him. A good feeling, for sure. :)
We rode past sugarcane plantations, coffee ones and banana trees. We had a climb (or our poor horses did), and passed creeks, hills, little "alleys" throughout the place. Matilda, a danish girl, and I were in the front, and we were amazed at how we were just riding through a jungle, and at some point: through the low hanging clouds.
We saw toucans, and even a wild cow in labour. I'm not sure whether the calf was still alive, though.
We had bought our groceries the day before, having agreed that if we wanted to splurge on activities, we would have to budget our food. Pasta it would be, with tuna, preferably all week. But Taylor had told me that she'd had lunch that filled her well past dinner time, so I asked what? Sushi, was her response, and mine was: don't tell Anouk!
Like my cravings and missing of chocolate, Anouk had ranted on and on about sushi. Thus I thought it only fair to surprise her, and almost frustrated her at my vagueness. When she found out, though, she was happy. And she was even happier in the evening, after we had had our sushi rolls of spicy tuna and rainbow (marlin, salmon and tuna). Nomnomnom.
I was quite reluctant to leave, though looking forward to the next place: Manuel Antonio. The hostel was cute, as much as its owner and her four amazing dogs. (Even animals, I noticed, are fed and treated better in Costa Rica than we've seen so far, from Cuba onwards). We didn't do much on the afternoon of our arrival, but then again, it started raining. A good opportunity to rest. And Solangel, the pretty owner with the longest hair I've ever seen, not counting Rapunzel, invited us to use her tv, no problem. Anouk preferred lying down, but I accepted, and enjoyed a good hour and a half of no-brainer tv shows (part of something called the Grimm, and a show called the American Ninja Warrior finals. Hah).
The next morning we got up early, and at 07.00 started to walk to Manuel Antonio's National Park. It turned out to be an amazing (and quiet) hike. We'd decided not to take a tour but go by ourselves, walked all the trails we thought exciting, and ended up hiking all morning. (I can still feel my calves and shins hating me). We saw plenty of monkeys (capuchin and squirrel monkeys), as well as birds that were as noisy as they were pretty. Little lizards would shoot out in front of our feet, and as far as "new" animals, a green snake, raccoons and crocodiles may be added to the "Seen" list.
Then, as a sort of reward, we ended up on the beach, where the Pacific Ocean lay calm and peaceful and beautiful. We swam, and Anouk sunbathed while I napped in the shade, and then we swam again. We were deadtired at the end, after what we calculated was about 12 kms walking, and took the bus home, and enjoyed a calm evening in which we repacked to leave in the morning.
San José, our "ultimo destinacion de Costa Rica", was better than we expected. Everyone who had been there had told us they hadn't much liked it. It had been sleazy and shady, they'd said, and we were expecting some sort or second Tegucigalpa. We were pleasantly surprised, therefore, when it turned out to be a bit like Amsterdam. We had a hostel in the "good side" of town, walked along the most famous (and crowded) shopping street to find the post office, roamed about a market where they'd promised us souvenirs that were cheaper than anywhere else (they were not).
We were happy, this morning, to be leaving. Not because it was an awful place, but because it is a crowded capital. A good one, though, if you ask me.
And now, here's to an eight hour long busride, all the way to Panama! :D