It's been a very fast two weeks but we have packed a ton in and the last days of our time here were no exception. And the final opportunities to experience all that the roads of Costa Rica could throw our way. I'm pleased to say that they tried their best but we had their number!
Well, that would be stretching the truth. We actually had no real idea what the name or number of any road in Costa Rica really was at any time and even the GPS of our rent-a-Hyundai was stumped. Half the time it simply referred to our location as "unpaved road". The other half of the time it referred to our destination as "unknown - you can't drive there from here".
We threw caution to the wind. Or more precisely, as I was driving, I threw caution to the wind and, as they say in Spanish, "adelante!". Which may mean something like "ahead, advance, or proceed". Or maybe it means "don't be an idiot - you can't drive there!". I don't know and just didn't care.
Road, schmoad. Roads are for sissies! I was driving a 4x4 and had enough clearance for a 3 foot high tree stump or a 3 foot deep pothole and, dammit, I drove over every last one of them in Costa Rica.
But the country saved the best for these last two days. The drive up, up, and up to 3,500 metres (that's like about 48,000 ft., I think) from the Pacific Coast at Dominical took us to the top of the Continental Divide, en route to our final day at the Trogon Lodge in San Gerardo de Dota.
We lost count of the number of curves in the road as, in reality, the road was just one big curve and I think we just did circles for about three hours. We drove through mist so thick that you couldn't even see the cliffs you were about to drive off of. Which may have been for the best for my poor passengers, who were mostly cringing as each 18-wheeler or touristico bus came careening around the bend.
The trucks and buses were apparently hell-bent on getting somewhere fast. Heaven, maybe, at the speed they took some of the curves. And, of course, the narrow road meant that the clearance was no more than 3 inches. At one point Miguel noted for me that the side mirror folded in and that perhaps I should consider doing that. Feh, where's the challenge in that?
But the best was yet to come. At the very top we turned off onto the single most funnest road in Costa Rica - the one lane wide and steep unpaved bumpiness that took us down to a mere 7,000 ft. above sea level to the Trogon Lodge, deep in a valley. Straight down. Well, curved straight down, if you know what I mean.
But at the bottom lies actual heaven - the Trogon Lodge - replete with trout ponds, waterfalls, babbling brooks, cloud forest mist, fairies, unicorns and rainbows. It was so beautiful we all just kind of grinned. I was in a stupor from driving and mostly just babbled like the brook but truly, I had no idea places like this really exist.
Trogons are the name for the species of bird that include the most famous of all in Costa Rica - the quetzal. It's gorgeous plume was used by Aztec nobility for their royal cloaks. The quetzal is our pet name for Costa Rican money and deep in this cloud forest and others in Costa Rica (such as Monteverde, where we were on the lookout for them a week ago) is where the quetzal makes its home.
It is entirely right, then, that our last day in this amazing and diverse country should be spent in the cloud forest, home to the quetzal, and where we've happily spent plenty of our own quetzals.
We surveyed our favourite places in Costa Rica while "cruising" through traffic in San Jose this morning on the way to the airport. Me had the time. Think Super Mario crossed with a traffic jam from hell just to make a left turn at a light that never turned green long enough.
Anyway, our cloud forest homes here and in Monteverde were the easy winners in the "What was your first favourite place?" game. And that's not to take anything away from the volcano, the rivers full of crocs, birds and monkeys, or the beautiful beaches, waterfalls and caves that came included with our great accommodations in Arenal, Manuel Antonio and Dominical.
But it's so serene in the cloud forest that you don't even want to talk loud, afraid that might scare away the serenity. Instead, after arrival at the Trogon Lodge we just kind of lallygagged through what seemed like a 17 hour lunch (what's the rush?) and then wandered around the trails, waterfalls and gardens. Well, I did 'till I fell asleep sitting on a perfectly placed bench in a glade in the shade of some trees overlooking the babbling brook.
At dinner, our waiter and my new good personal friend Melvin happily served Debbie and Colleen the trout from the pond that I had watched Alvaro, the onsite trout master, catch a couple of hours earlier. Melvin is funny. At breakfast this morning he said, "Michael, you have a poached egg face!" How perceptive of him. I've always thought so, too.
Trickster that he is, Melvin switched our dinner orders so that Miguel and I ended up unwittingly "sharing" a meal which consisted of, well.... let's just call it "iguana, the other white meat". Much hilarity ensued. And then Miguel bet me that I wouldn't eat the large moth on the window for dessert. I did and have photographic proof. Kind of like a perverse last night of Chanukah meal.
Hmmm... I just re-read that last paragraph. Clearly, some things just don't come through in translation from Spanish very well so I think it'll be easier if you just ask us to tell you about it.
Our rustic cabins deep in the valley came complete with gas heaters to complement the thick duvets on the bed as well as hot water bottles delivered to our door to keep the tootsies warm. It got quite cool at night, in the cloud forest.
And now, a word about weather. Each of us consulted the various weather apps on our iPhone about 8 times daily prior to departing for Costa Rica to see that the forecast for our two weeks was pretty much the same for every day: Thunderstorms and 90% POP. The little icons were as sad looking as we all felt about those forecasts, getting on the plane in Edmonton for our red-eye flight to Toronto what seems now like eons ago.
Well, I'm here to tell you that the apps are idiots. We had simply brilliant weather almost all the time. Sure, it rained. We spent half our time in a rainforest after all. But it was kind enough to rain only when we were asleep, at a meal, or resting. We saw plenty of sun everywhere we were, and we were everywhere.
We had no idea what tchatchkes we might find to bring back from Costa Rica. Turns out that the entire Costa Rican souvenir industry is focused on making stuff for Jewish holidays. Don't believe me? Well, here's a list of the "Made in Costa Rica" stuff that we are bringing back for Yom Tovim in the coming year:
- Little frog made of wood that croaks when you rub it's back with a stick. This will be great at Pesach during the Seder.
- Toucan whistle made of wood that will serve as a Shofar next Rosh Hashanah.
- Puzzle box made of wood in shape of a parrot that will hold one piece of jewellery along with a piece of jewellery to go in the puzzle box. (This was NOT my idea, for the record, but Chag Chanukah Sameach to my wife anyway).
- Painted mask made of balsa wood with pictures of birds. Will wear this for Purim.
- All of the coffee in Costa Rica. Not just some of - all of it. We stopped at a MegaSuper in Cartega this morning on our way to the airport and literally cleaned the shelves of Costa Rican coffee packaged in cute bags featuring Juan Valdez and a burro that we'll serve sitting around the bonfire on Lag b'Omer or maybe in the sukkah next fall.
A couple of other thoughts on driving in Costa Rica. The clerk at Mapache Rentals in San Jose was very clear. If we were stopped by the police, we were not to pay any bribes. Well, today we were. And we didn't. Ultimately, the reason for the stop was unknown as the language barrier was just too much.
They thought I might be Swiss, when looking at the bewildering Alberta Driver's License, which features a profile of the Rockies, so I showed them my Passport and smiles all around - Canada. Esta no problema, Senor - Hasta Luego and we were back on our way. I presume that if I was Swiss a hefty fine might have been levied as there was no question that the Escolars in the Zona Escuela would have vouched for the fact that I was going just a tad faster than the posted 25 kph limit.
Bewildering as that encounter was, even more so was the roasted chicken that Miguel bought at the MegaSuper in Cartega. Really, though, we saw this one coming down the road from Day 1. As we left the little village of Zarcero and our visit to the Iglesia and Topiary gardens we were hungry and passed by a joint roasting chickens on the spit in the open air and Miguel announced that he had himself a hankering for that little chicken. He didn't want to hurt it - he just wanted to eat it.
But the joint was on the other side of the road and as we zipped by Colleen assured him that we'd pass by tons of that kind of place. Famous last chicken words - we never saw another one. And so, Miguel's hankering was finally sated at MegaSuper. I doubt a roasted chicken from the MegaSuper in Cartega has ever been de-boned in the washroom at the San Jose airport before, placed into a ziploc, and then consumed bit by roasted bit on the flight north to Toronto. But then, Costa Rica has never seen the likes of Miguel before, either.
And now, as I type this final blog entry, we are on the flight home from San Jose. Miguel is busy working on the final version of his slideshow. It's been a work in progress for the past two weeks. Daily, we've swapped our camera SD cards and downloaded one another's photos on our iPads. His sleepless nights have been spent adjusting the slideshow; mine on the daily blog. Perfect complements to the perfect travelling companions.
I still don't know what I was thinking last May when I innocently asked if Miguel and the wonderful Colleen might be interested in joining us on an adventure to Costa Rica but I'm willing to ask a psychiatrist about it someday.
Me esposa Debbie (not to be confused with me mujere, I learned, which would apparently be a reference to my mistress as opposed to my spouse) was particularly brave these past two weeks and deserves major credit for going well outside her normal and perfectly sensible parameters for danger. Frankly, just getting in the car in Costa Rica qualifies. But here I'm talking about things like going face to face with a tarantula in the deep jungle at night. Or staying married to me. For her, every day is indeed an adventure. I just wish she'd stop keeping her list of "Ways in which you can kill your husband and hide the body".
Adios Amigos y Hasta Luego
(I love that the auto-correct changes that to read "Have some Lego?")