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Dec 13- Last day of Fall Semester for my live classes, which means I’M FREE!! My last class ended at 5:30pm. Brian and I were on a flight out to Costa Rica at 12am.
I had lived on the Pacific side of Costa Rica in Ojochal for 2 months during the summer of 2016. In fact, that was my very first housesit! Then, Brian and I went to Panama in March of 2017 (like an idiot, I didn’t blog it 🙄), and we both REALLY loved Bocas del Toro- a collection of islands on the northern Caribbean coast. So much so, that we started looking at the possibility of buying property there. Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica ended up on our radar, as it’s on the southern Caribbean coast of Costa Rica, and I figured that being so close to Bocas that the wildlife would be fairly similar (especially poison dart frogs!!). It was high on our “to do” list.
Christmas 2015, I was in England. 2016, France. 2017, South Africa. This year, I really didn’t want to do a long haul flight, especially since I spent almost 3 months flying all over Europe this summer. So we decided on a nice, easy 5 hour direct flight to San Jose, Costa Rica, where we’d rent a car and drive to Puerto Viejo for a week, then drive to the La Fortuna/Arenal area for a few days before returning home.
We aren’t going to talk about how Delta is the crappiest airline I’ve flown on in a LONG time. Ok, I lied. We are going to talk about it. I have flown what I call “chicken buses in the sky”- Romanian and Hungarian super budget airlines- and they run 10 times smoother than stupid Delta. The seats we were assigned were both middle seats- in the same row but across the aisle from each other. No worries, we expect that from buying the cheap tickets. We get to LAX, get to our gate, and not a single one of the multiple plugs/usb ports worked. Ok, whatever. Then, we get an announcement that our gate is changing. Not just the gate, but the terminal. So then we have to get on a bus to go to the other terminal- where, not a single outlet worked. I look at my online boarding pass again and oh my gosh! They changed our seats to row 26 A and B!! Next to each other!! Woo-hoo!! Finally they start calling for boarding. I pull up the boarding passes again so we can give them to the lady, and our seats and bar codes have vanished. What the hell? I restarted the app. Same thing. Went up to the desk and the lady said we had never checked in, were no shows, so they gave our seats away. I explained we HAD to have checked in, otherwise we couldn’t get through security without a boarding pass (duh). She wasn’t having any of it, and swore up and down that she called our names. She never did, because both Brian and I had listened every time they were calling names. Anyway, she was able to seat us together further back on the plane. Come to find out, the seats that “disappeared” were coveted exit row seats and no one was in the other seat. Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrr. Sit down, and find out that they had double assigned Brian’s seat to a lady. I mean holy crap- the entire thing was a disorganized, chaotic, mess. Jesus.
I slept ok on the 5 hour plane ride. Landed in San Jose at a little before 8am. Went and got our car. We had pre-booked with Budget online through the Costa Rican office’s website and got a SCREAMING deal on a 4×4 SUV for….hold on…..$55 including taxes for 10 days!! That’s not $55 PER day. That’s $55 for TEN days!!!!!!! They tried to sell us their supplemental insurance for $20 a day. We declined because we have coverage through our credit card. That means that if we wreck, we have to deal with American Express and their rental coverage department instead of it just being taken care of by Budget. To save $200, we decided to risk the potential aggravation. This required a $3000 hold on the credit card. We took a ton of pictures and video before we left to prove the condition of the car, noting every single scratch and dent and making sure it was on the paperwork as well. Headed off through town!
Found a Wal Mart. We had heard the guy at the rental desk with another customer saying it’s easy to go there, buy what you need, pay in US dollars and get Colones back, so we did that. Bought a few groceries, including a case of my beloved Dr. Pepper (woo-hoo!!!), and got back on the road.
Apparently this is normally a 2.5 hour drive. It took us almost 6 hours. There was SO MUCH construction on the road. Oh my god. We were at dead stand stills for what seemed like every 20 miles at least. Plus a couple of big trucks that had gone off the side in different places, causing even more of a slow down. A 4 lane road through here, considering the amount of traffic (especially large trucks) would sure be handy… We were STARVING by noon and in desperate need of protein, so we stopped at a little roadside restaurant. We both got “Platos Tipicos”- choice of meat (pork, beef, or chicken) with rice and beans, potatoes, and steamed veggies. DELICIOUS!
Continued down the road. The mountains turned to flat coastal plains. I shouted “STOP!!”. Me and my jungle eyes had spied a SLOTH!!!!!! He was on the power lines. We parked and took a few pics. Poor guy- totally exposed and so tired from the exertion that he had to take a nap half way across. I worried about him for a long time, wondering if he was going to make it across.
Finally made it to the turn off in Limon and headed south toward Puerto Viejo. Not long after, the road met the coastline, and we were met with an awesome view of the Caribbean!! No pics, but there will be some on the coastline. Went straight to our home away from home for the next 6 nights- a gorgeous jungle home in Playa Cocles that we found on AirBNB! I’ll post pics of it in a few days (don’t like people knowing exactly where we are!). Suffice to say, this is quite possibly my most favoritest AirBNB EVER!!!! It is just PERFECT!! We got checked in, and decided to head down and find dinner out. We knew we wanted ceviche for sure! Found a little restaurant and ordered one order of ceviche with plantains (my fav, Brian hates ’em, which means I get to always eat them all1) and one order of jumbo shrimp in a Caribbean sauce with salad and French Fries. The ceviche was to. die. for!!! OMG, perfection! The jumbo shrimp were MASSIVE and good, but the ceviche beat them. Oh! And we ordered two fruit smoothies which instantly made me feel healthier than I have in the last 4 months….
Speaking of the last 4 months, it’s been insane. Between working my ass off keeping my online school running smoothly, and teaching 7 live classes on Wednesdays in Los Angeles, my sanity and health level have been on the steady decline. I can’t keep up the pace. I have been seriously exhausted, and I mean absolute fatigue, from the moment I wake up until I stumble into bed. 10-12 hour workdays 6 days a week are the norm. It’s not healthy, I feel like CRAP constantly, and I have no life outside of work. It’s killing me. Between the sheer exhaustion of my normal work schedule, on top of the fact that I taught 7 classes the same day we left, and we had a red eye flight at midnight followed by a 6 hour drive…yeah, I was beat. I took 2 zzzquils, and hit the sack at 7:30pm (that’s 5:30pm home time). I heard a rooster and figured it must be about 5:30am (sunrise). I fell back asleep (something I NEVER do at home). I heard howler monkeys, checked the time, 6:30am. Talked to Brian for a few minutes, said I felt like I could go back to sleep, and did for 45 more minutes. Basically, I slept 12 hours straight!!!! God, my body and mind needed that so bad. Woke up at 7:18, got Brian up, and we had to rush around so we could get out the door at 8am for our tour! I can’t believe we almost overslept. We were both just beat. Oh, Brian said two super loud roars woke him up in the middle of the night and he couldn’t believe I didn’t hear them. Probably jaguars…..
Headed off to meet our guide for the day, Able Bustamante. Due to the fact that a) I work constantly and b) I am so exhausted from working constantly that I don’t even have the mental capacity to plan a trip, Brian put our itinerary together. I’m just along for the ride! Able comes highly recommended by TripAdvisor. We’re taking two tours with him…a hike through the Gandoca-Manzanillo National Wildlife Refuge later in the week, and today’s tour to one of my favorite things to do in other countries- visit indigenous people!! First, we had to drive to Puerto Viejo (about 10 min away) to meet Able. We encountered a traffic jam along the way…
We met Able at the bank. He got into our car and we headed off toward the BriBri territory. We made a stop in BriBri town for some wildlife spotting. Can you see what we saw? It’s in the middle of this picture.
Yeah, you can’t. Neither could we until Able pointed them out! A HUGE pair of iguanas high up in the trees! They hang out here because they’re safe- across from the police station so no one will shoot them for dinner! I so love my camera with what I call “jungle zoom”….
A few more miles down the road and we arrived to Catato’s home. He’s a BriBri man who does indigenous chocolate and medicinal plant tours on his farm. When I was in Costa Rica a couple of years ago, I visited the indigenous people just on the other side of these mountains- the Boruca. I had a wonderful time in their village, without a guide, just figuring out how to get there myself, praying someone spoke English, and using my toddler Spanish to get me through an amazing private demonstration of how to make dyes from plants and dye handspun yarn. That said, if you speak Spanish (or Bribri- these people are one of the few who have actually held on to their native language and keep it alive), you could manage this tour yourself. If you only speak English, you need a guide.
First up, chocolate making. Brian and I have done two other cacao tours- one in Panama and one in El Salvador. They’re always a little different! Here, we worked with Catato’s wife- only women are allowed to prepare cacao in Bribri society (which interestingly enough is a matriarchal society). First, we took dried cacao beans that had been harvested right here on the farm, and stirred them over an open fire. After about 5 minutes of stirring, they started to pop- some popping right out of the pan!
After they were roasted (under the watchful eye of Catato’s wife!), she poured them into a bowl and kind of tossed/shook them to remove the large hulls. From there, we learned how to grind the beans into powder the old fashioned way…rocks! Brian and I took turns at this. That rock was so heavy I couldn’t even pick it up! Fortunately, you don’t have to pick it up to grind the beans- you just kind of rock it back and forth over them.
Think we’re done making chocolate! There’s a lot of work involved in this…. Next up, Catato’s wife did another toss/shake to remove the fine hulls. Then, we put them into a quite modern hand-crank operated grinder. I let Brian have the honors of doing that one alone. He had to turn the crank really fast, and it was so cool to see wet, dark chocolate emerge from our dry power! Press grinding like this causes the cocoa butter (fat) to come out. We tasted it and ewwwwwwwwwww. Too strong for me! 100% pure dark chocolate. I’m strictly a milk chocolate girl, but Brian loved it! Able added some sweet condensed milk to the mixture. Still too bitter for me, but Brian was pleased- so he put his on some pineapple and started eating. Able just gave me the milk so I could add as I pleased. I added a lot. 😀 And even though the color was still almost black, it was sweet and perfect!! And on a piece of pineapple? To. Die. For.
So we were done making the chocolate and eating it, but not quite finished yet! There was a huge pot of cinnamon water boiling over the fire where we roasted our beans. That, mixed with some of our chocolate and some sugar and milk made the BEST HOT CHOCOLATE EVER!!
Now it was time to continue the tour with Catato. First, he made me a beautiful necklace with different types of seeds, that were strung on a string he made from palm leaves (we watched him do that process, but I got it on video, not pics. Trust me, it was super cool to see him scrape the top layer of the leaf off to reveal the stringy fibers inside!). Then, we learned how to blow a whistle made from a large sea pod. Then, how to blow a conch shell (those things are LOUD- watch the video!). We also learned about the different types of spears the Bribri use for different things- hunting different animals like deer or birds, fishing, farming, etc….
In the garden, Catato painted my fingernails yellow with tumeric root, and then used some red plant to put dye on my finger. I used it as lipstick (and seriously, it’s MY color!!). Brian painted stripes on his face. We ate nutmeg right from the tree! We learned about which wood was best for spears, best for houses, best for roofs… I took a ton of videos for class, but not really any pics. Sorry. It was really interesting though, and I wish I spoke better Spanish. Sigh.
And then we went into a little structure covered over with green mesh. I figured it was a greenhouse of sorts to keep the animals out. Um, wrong! This was the Holy of Holies…..the reason why I love the Caribbean coast more than the Pacific coast. This was A POISON DART FROG HOUSE!!!!!!!! EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEK!!!!!!!! (That is literally the sound I make every time I see one. Ask Brian.) Oh my god. There were red ones and green and black ones (that were pretty shy) and a yellow and black one. Able put his phone on video and played the sound of a dart frog. The yellow and black one came hopping over immediately, ready to defend his territory against the intruder! It was awwwwwwwwwwwwesome!! I seriously could have stayed in there for.ev.er.
It was time to go. Honestly, I wish there had been more information about the Bribri people themselves. Their traditional ways and stories. Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot online about them. We bought some chocolate, cocoa butter, and a water container decorated and made out of a gourd.
Next up, a waterfall. It was right off the road on the way back from the Bribri territory- really easy to get to. You can park on the man’s farm (there’s a sign on the road for La Cascada) and pay him like $10 or something to go down to the falls. There’s a place to change and snacks for sell. We hiked down. Saw a howler monkey all alone above our heads (Congratulations! It’s a boy!). Brian and Able swam in the falls and talked, while I wandered around looking at fish, studying the ecosystem, and generally being my nerdy scientist self. I’d always rather look at fish than pretend to be one.
We had a nice long talk with Able about living in this area. We’re both really digging it… Dropped Able off, grabbed a few groceries at Mega Super in Puerto Viejo. I couldn’t remember everything I needed for Gallo Pinto (Costa Rican beans and rice), and I didn’t have a cell signal, so we came home and walked down to Super Cocles. The road is just gorgeous, and we even saw white faced Capuchin monkeys in the trees just a few yards from the driveway!! Brian made dinner of chicken, rice, and green beans while I worked and blogged. Internet here is super slow and rather painful… But other than that, it’s Pura Vida!!
Slept until 6:30am, which was about 6 straight hours. You’d think that that, combined with the “sleep” I got on the plane, plus the 4 hour nap I had taken when I arrived would be plenty of sleep for 3 people! Apparently not, because I ate some breakfast, video chatted with Brian, and fell promptly back asleep about 7:30 and woke up to my alarm at 9:30. Why an alarm? Because I had an adventure to attend to at 10!
One of the best ways to get orientated when you land in a new city is to seek out the “free” walking tours. Pretty much every city has them, some have multiple organizations that do it. Now, let me start by clarifying “free”. It doesn’t mean you should be a total cheap ass and suck up the guide’s time and energy and pay nothing. It means you should donate whatever amount you think the tour is worth at the end. Tours are generally about 1.5-2 hours long, and depending on how many stops we make (more stops = more information), the personality of the guide, how much I learned, and the size of the group, I pay anywhere from $10-$20. There were two free walking tours in Reykjavik that I found, and I decided to go with City Walk Reykjavik, mainly because I like the idea of starting at 10am AND they offered the ability to pay online with a credit card. I hate exchanging currency and try to avoid it at all costs! FYI, if you want to do this tour, you MUST book in advance.
The group was about 25 people, which was quite large. People from all over the world, which was cool. We started at a little park called Austurvöllur that is just a couple of blocks from my housesit in front of a statue of this dude, Jón Sigurðsson. Don’t ask me to pronounce any of these names or places. Like the guide said- just try to get the first syllable right and mumble the rest….
I learned that Iceland used to be a colony of Denmark, and that the Danes weren’t very nice to the Icelanders… they wouldn’t allow them to have their own businesses or anything. Denmark had a complete monopoly on the island. Well, it was good old Jón Sigurðsson, who was a native Icelander living in Denmark, who plead the cause of independence for his people in the mid-1800s. However, Iceland didn’t receive independence until 1944 (spoiler alert: Denmark was kinda getting crushed by WW2, so Iceland said, “Yo, Denmark, we’re going to be independent now. Toodles, and good luck with that Nazi thing.” Denmark wasn’t really in a position to argue…). But because Jón had fought the good fight and kinda sparked the whole idea, he is known as their father of independence.
Directly across the street from Jón’s statue is the parliament building. It was built in 1881 out of a type of volcanic rock (I forgot the name), the only natural building material on the island! It isn’t very big, and here’s the crazy thing- it took 1/3 of the entire budget of Iceland to build it!!! Iceland was a super poor country, being under the thumb of Denmark… That crown on top of the building represents Christian IX, king of Denmark at the time. And over each of the four sets of windows, there is an animal. A dragon, an eagle, a bull, and a giant. Each are the spirits that watch over the 4 regions of Iceland. Now, without getting too much into politics, when Icelanders get pissed off at their government, they literally come to this park across from Parliament with pots, pans, and spoons- banging them to make noise that they are unhappy!! This isn’t some protest from generations ago- it still happens today! I couldn’t help but envision millions of Americans on the White House lawn with pots and pans and spoons…
A short walk took us to another statue, that of Skúli Magnússon. He was the first entrepreneur in Iceland. He started out as a young man working for a Danish owned (because there wasn’t any other kind) business. His boss would tell him to charge the poor people more, and Skúli hated this treatment of his people. He became a sheriff, and as sheriff he had connections to the King of Denmark. He was allowed to open a wool factory in this little area of homes that was barely even a settlement. People flocked (god, I crack me up!) to the wool factory for jobs and opportunity- things that were severely lacking in this Danish colony. Over time, the area around the factory grew and grew. That little settlement was Reykjavik, and Skúli is known as the father of Iceland’s capital. Interestingly enough, the little area where his statue is is on one of Iceland’s oldest graveyards. Construction on the hotel next door has to constantly be stopped because they keep finding bones. Remind me not to book lodging there if it ever opens…
Speaking of supernatural construction issues, next on the stop was something I was really excited to see! The Elf Stone! The story goes that the city was building a road in a suburb of Reykjavik. There was a large boulder, and every time a machine was in place to move it, the machine would break down. This happened to FIVE different machines!! So the construction company did the logical thing- called in a woman who can speak to elves. She struck up a conversation, and learned that the elves would be willing to move if they were given one week’s notice and moved to a more central location in the city (even elves hate commutes!). The construction company complied, and the stone was moved to its present location without further problems. Fun fact, polls show that over half of Icelanders believe in elves. 🙂 If you like this story, stay tuned- I have more elvish enlightenment coming next week!! #believer
Next we walked into the oldest part of Reykjavik, a neighborhood called Grjótaþorp. Here you can find the oldest homes in the city, back to the mid 1800s. Yes, by European standards those houses are infants, but Iceland is a different kind of Europe, having been colonized rather than its own country. This is the neighborhood where Skúli set up his wool factory, and people came to live. The houses are built out of timber that was imported from England and Norway (rumor has it that those pesky Vikings cut down every tree practically in Iceland to build ships!). The timber is covered with corrugated sheet metal (also imported) to protect the wood from the elements. The home owners are not allowed to change anything about the houses except for the paint- so many of them paint the homes in bright colors!
We now walked to a park surrounded by a lot of little restaurants. It’s called Ingólfstorg Square, and is a place where locals hang out. In the winter, they turn it into a skating rink! Notice those two pillars toward the back with steam rising out of them? Interesting story… The early history of Iceland (800’s forward) is written in sagas. Of course, these sagas weren’t written until the 1200’s, so take them for what you will. However, here’s what’s really cool. The modern Icelandic language is still EXTREMELY close to the ancient Norwegian language. So these sagas that were written over 800 years ago are still readable by people who speak Icelandic. How cool is that?! Anywho, let’s focus on that “ancient Norwegian” language for a second. Iceland was founded by Norwegians- which is where the language comes from. Quick detour- Icelandic children learn Icelandic, English (from age 6), Danish (from age 13), and then they get to pick another language (generally French, Spanish, or German). So pretty much every Icelander speaks perfect English (for those of you freaking about about all of these words I’m posting that look impossible! btw- they are!). Ok, back to Iceland being founded by ancient Norwegians. The sagas tell the story of Ingólfur Arnarson, a Norwegian nobleman. He got into a feud with the earl, ended up losing, and in the process lost all of his land. With nothing left for him in Norway, he packed up his wife, children, slaves, animals, and the two huge pillars that held up his house, and sailed west. He saw land, threw the two pillars into the water, and prayed to the gods to wash those pillars on the shore of the place where he should settle. The pillars landed ashore in 874 at a place where smoke was rising from the land (thanks to all of the geothermic activity). Ingólfur named this place Reykjavik, which means “steamy bay”. And that is how the first settlement of Iceland came to be! The two pillars with smoke are a symbol of the city, and can be found almost everywhere you look!
We then left the park and walked up a little hill with a statue on top. It’s the statue of Ingólfur Arnarson, who will forever overlook the city he named from his hilltop perch. And the symbolism is just amazing. It’s just so darn….VIKING! Love it!
It was really windy and cold on top of the hill (back when I thought that was windy….see Day 3….yowza). We walked back down into town, down some touristy streets, and toward the tourist information center where the tour ended. Here were some of the sights we saw along the way…. Very nice tour and highly recommended to get some of the backstory of Reykjavik and a feel for the layout of the city.
After the walk, I came home to get lunch, ate, and promptly took my 2nd nap of the day for 3 hours!! What in the hell is wrong with me? I couldn’t sleep to save my life in South Africa, now all of a sudden I’m a narcoleptic! Anyway, woke up and decided I had time for another adventure. Looked at my nifty little map I’ve created of all the places I want to go, and decided on the Settlement Museum- mainly because it was a) like a 2 minute walk away and b) reviews said it would take about an hour and I was kind short on time since I had already taken 2 naps and one tour today! Paid my $15.50 to get in, and I must say, that although it’s pretty small, this is a very well done, modern museum!
Came back, made some dinner, did some work, and went to bed with the sun still shining at 11pm.
Day 3- This’ll be fast…
Woke up at 8:30!! Dang!! Even after two naps the day before! Made breakfast, and promptly took a 2 hour nap! What. The. Hell.???? Brian thinks it’s exhaustion from such an intense spring semester. Could be true. Summer semester starts next week. Ugh. It was windy outside. Like seriously tropical storm force winds. Internet said 33 mph winds, and that was steady, not even including the gusts that would shake this entire 3 story house. What a shame, because it was actually kinda sunny outside! But I know my constitution is not up for such conditions. So I stayed inside and worked all day instead of going to the museum I had planned. No worries, I’ll go tomorrow. It’s 7:30pm now and the wind is already dying down a bit. Supposed to be back to normal tomorrow.