We woke up at what seemed like the crack of dawn to pull together last minute things and get out the door to the waiting car, which took us an hour away to Newark for our flight out. Security wasn't a hassle, as it usually has been. We waited around the terminal for a bit, grabbing a bite for breakfast before the boarding doors opened.
The flight departed on time, more or less. 4 to 5 and a half hours down, I think. I don't quite recall the length. I wasn't paying attention to that. I was, however, paying attention to the Pay-Per-View type TVs on the backs of the seats. And the more or less non-existent leg room. I caught Half Blood Prince, which was meh, and some of the second season of Dexter. The unfortunate part about Dexter was that it was edited. I'll have a Dexter marathon one of these days. And I listened to my iPod for the first time in a while, finally having updated it after fixing and figuring out the transfer and what not of music files. Overall, the flight was good, despite a tad bit of bumpiness.
We landed, went through customs, collected our bags, and made our way to the hotel (Aurola Holiday Inn in San Jose) via shuttle bus provided by Caravan, the tour service. We checked in, met the tour leader, relaxed in the rooms after trying to find a place in the area to eat (we ended up eating at the hotel). Dinner time came and went and before the introductory tour meeting, I played some Ping Pong with my brother. He won, best 2 out of 3. We ended up losing the balls twice: once in the pool and another time in a potted plant.
The briefing was okay, but I was a bit tired, so ... I wasn't fully there for all of it. No big deal. But we did learn a bit about some of the couples we were going to be spending the next nine days with. After the briefing, we were given free drink tickets for the hotel bar, which was where most of the group congregated. As the legal drinking age in Costa Rica is 18, I had the chance to get an alcoholic beverage, but I declined. Not my thing.
The beds were nice, too.
We rose early, ate, and departed to see Poas, the nearby volcano. We hiked the half mile from the visitor's center to the viewing area and a few minutes after we got up there, the volcano shot sulfuric ash into the atmosphere. We ran back to the visitor's center, shepherded by the various tour guides at the volcano that day. We spent the rest of the alloted time looking around the gift shop, before heading off to lunch at a restaurant called Mirador el Valle for a little show and lunch.
After lunch, we returned to San Jose for a little tour of the city and we returned to the hotel for some relaxation. I took a dip in the pool, which was nice, and got some more reading done. That was followed by dinner, more relaxing, and an early bed time for our departure to Tortuguero the next morning.
Another early wake up, breakfast, and we departed for Tortuguero National Park. Along the way, we stopped for a rainforest tram ride, a short nature hike, and lunch at a restaurant with a butterfly garden. After lunch, we took the bus to Caño Blanco, the docking area, where we hopped on a boat and made our way to Pachria Lodge, the resort we were to be staying at. Unfortunately, the hour and a half trip turned into a two and a half hour trip. Why? The boat got stuck. But not to fear! Some wonderful people from the tour group hopped out in the shallow water and helped push the boat along!
We finally reached the resort, were greeted with fruit punch and a small snack, and given some instructions and directions before finding our rooms. The rooms ... were more like rustic cabins. They were nice. But there was no TV or internet. Not a big deal. I managed.
We relaxed for a bit, headed to the restaurant for a meeting, a video, and dinner, before more relaxing and bed.
I awoke a little before the beverage person knocked on the door with offers of hot tea, coffee, or chocolate. I had my tea while listening to the trickle of water outside and the distant sound of howler monkeys. I ate and most of the group departed on another river cruise, on which we saw iguanas, white-faced monkeys, spider monkeys, howler monkeys, and caymans, to name a few. We returned for a small snack (pizza) before heading over (by boat, of course) to the Caribbean Conservation Corporation, where we watched a short video on the efforts to save the turtles. We were quickly ushered out to the beach, where we saw two hatchlings crawling their way across the sand to the ocean. We then walked over to the center of the town, which we walked around for about an hour before heading back to the resort. Let me tell you something. We saw a lot of dogs, and they weren't spayed or neutered, from what I could see. A major difference from dogs in the US.
So, we returned to the hotel. I relaxed, ate lunch, and read some more, before heading down to the bar area for hor dourves, some dancing, and a limbo contest. I came in second place in the limbo contest. My prize? A shot of tequila. "All the way from Mexico City," the band leader playing at the bar said. I turned it down and exchanged it for some of the fruit juice. That was followed by dinner, some more relaxation, a bit of unfortunate sibling rivalry, a shower, and bed.
More hot tea, minus the monkeys this morning. That was followed by breakfast, last minute packing, and our departure from Tortuguero. The boat trip took an hour and a half this time. And towards the end, we had two dogs running alongside the boat for a bit, which was nice.
We hopped back on the bus and made our way to the hotel (Lomas del Volcan) in the Arenal area, but not before briefly stopping at the Del Monte banana processing plant, a restaurant called El Cabon (I think that was the name), and the Collin Street Bakery and the Dole pineapple fields. I learned some interesting facts about pineapple, including that non-organic pineapples are painted yellow ten days before being harvested and the greener a pineapple is, the riper it is. I also had some pineapple (which was quite good, and I'm not really one for pineapple) and some fruitcake. I had never had fruitcake before. My expectations were blown out of the water. So good and so moist!
We got to the hotel, were greeted with more fruit juice, found our way to our rooms (individual cabins, which were quite nice), and relaxed before heading down to dinner. After dinner, a few people on the tour sat down at the bar area and started watching and cheering on a televised sporting event involving grabbing balloons off of a bull's back. I wasn't sure whether or not to root for the bull or the people.
We woke up to rain. Blah. But it subsided shortly after.
After breakfast, we left to go on a river cruise 2 hours away on El Rio Frio. On the cruise, we saw numerous birds, howler monkeys, and gars (fish with lungs). And we crossed into the DMZ between Nicaragua and Costa Rica before turning around to get a photo opportunity at the sign for the Nicaraguan border.
We returned to the pier at ate lunch at a local restaurant before heading back to Arenal to walk around the town for a bit before heading to the nearby hot springs. The springs were quite ... interesting. And hot, too. The hottest pool we found was 152 Degrees Fahrenheit. I was barely able to keep my toes in. However, there was a pool that was 113 Degrees Fahrenheit that I managed to keep my right foot in for 30 seconds. It hurt a bit afterwards.
We headed back to the hotel, relaxed, went for dinner, relaxed more, and packed up.
We woke, packed last minute items, ate, and caught the bus to the Doubletree in Puntarenas. On the way there, we stopped at the Arenal Hanging Bridges for a nature walk, made our way to another restaurant for lunch (On the way to lunch, we passed a brood of coatis, which look like racoons, but with longer snouts and different coloring.), and stopped for ice cream before making it to the hotel. And on the way to get ice cream, one of the tires was punctured, so some of the guys on the bus got out and changed the tire. Nearly everyone got off the bus and helped by watching them.
We reached the hotel, had a welcome reception (which came with a nice warm chocolate chip and walnut cookie), checked in, and relaxed before dinner. After dinner, I hung out in the room and stayed up a bit late to watch the first part of The End of Time. The cliffhanger ending left me on edge when I turned in for the night.
Because of a change in plans, most of the group stayed at the hotel and relaxed in preparation for New Year's Eve that night. So, what'd I do? I sat around and read, finishing the last two books I brought with me.
The dinner was a huge American-style buffet. However, some of the food was overcooked. The lobster tails ... were a bit dry. And there was no melted butter. :P
After dinner, I rang in the new year twice: once on CNN in the hotel room and again on the beach, watching the fireworks from 50 or so yards away.
The morning brought the last early waking of the trip, as it was the last full day.
We ate breakfast and hopped on the bus and headed back to San Jose, but not before stopping for lunch (with a dance show and a bit of shopping), stopping at a metal church, and stopping for a tour at Café Britt.
We got back to the hotel, relaxed, and prepared for the final dinner, which was quite nice and was accompanied by models modeling outfits in the style of Costa Rican flora and fauna.
As our flight back wasn't until nearly 3, we had a somewhat leisurely morning. We woke, got ready, ate breakfast, pulled things together, and made a shuttle to the airport before noon.
Getting through security and customs wasn't so bad. We did have a bit of time to kill by the gate before boarding, though.
The flight back? Eh ... not the best. The TVs were the ones that flipped down from the overhead area. The movie was "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs". It was alright. The audio was crap. Might've just been the row I was in. And the high winds at Newark were forcing planes into a holding pattern, but we didn't have enough fuel, so we diverted to Philly to refuel before heading back to and landing at Newark. Both landings were a bit bumpy. And we got in over an hour and a half late. Getting through security went smoothly, though. But mind you, there was the whole snafu the following day ...
We got home late, and we turned in to rest up for unpacking the next day, bringing a nice trip to an end.
*phew* For photos, check the Flickr set and for a video detailing some of the highlights, click here.