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Costa Rica 2002




All the elements were in place for some sort of semi-exotic vacation.  My new teaching job gave me two weeks off for Christmas, Allen had not been on a real vacation in over 9 years, I had my usual wanderlust, it would be cold in Chicago and I had a lot of frequent flyer miles.  Why not a trip at Christmas?  Why not go away for some fun in the sun during the winter?  Why not?  Neither Allen nor I could of a single reason why not, so, in August, I began making arrangements. 
Initially I tried to get us to Australia, but as luck would have it, those free seats given to frequent flyer travelers were all used up for the Christmas season.  I called Allen at work the night this fact became clear to tell him the bad news.  His response came quite quickly and inquisitively - “How about Costa Rica?”.  How about it?!  I didn’t know much about Costa Rica except that it was someplace in Central America, it was a place I had never been to, and most importantly, it was a place that would be warm during the Christmas season.  That was enough to send me back to the internet and the phone.  Before going to bed that night I had us both booked on a flight to Costa Rica, departing on Christmas Eve and returning New Years Day.  Not the most ideal way of spending those particular days, but it was frequent flyer miles, so we were happy to get what we could.

After making flight reservations, we decided it would also be nice (and necessary) to have a place to stay.  Through the internet and recommendations from several of Allen’s friends who had been there, I booked us into a guest house near the heart of San Jose.  I also began exploring the net and reading guide books (again, provided by friends who had been there) to learn something about this place we were going to.

After discovering all I wanted to know - that there were beaches, that there were volcanoes and rainforests, that there was wildlife to be observed and adventures to be taken, I pretty well ended my research.  I have not, very often, traveled with someone else for pure pleasure other than to back-pack and hike.  Those sort of treks are fairly easy to plan out - locate a place, locate a trail, show up and begin walking.  I am more accustomed to showing up and flying by the seat of my pants, taking up whatever adventure presents itself, making plans as I go along.  I was to discover that that mode of vacationing does not work as well when there are two people involved and impacted by the plans - or lack thereof.

Having made minimal reservations, doing minimal research, and having decided in my head that we could do it all one day at a time, I let the entire journey sit in the drawer as I attended to the other big adventure in my life at the time - learning to be a full-time teacher and lay person.

The days, weeks and months passed.  Teaching became a day-to-day affair that continued to offer new challenges, frustrations and rewards.  I learned to tie a neck-tie without looking at my instruction book.  I learned not to assign too much homework.  I fell into a working-man routine.  Occasionally the subject of our up-coming adventure would come up, but always it seemed far in the future, nothing to get too worked up about until the days actually arrived.

And then the days did arrive.  The last week of school before Christmas break and all of a sudden the Cost Rica trip had become less an anticipated fantasy and more a reality.  I still didn’t know much about the country, what sort of activities were available, what we were going to do once we actually arrived.  In my head I was relying on the word of one of our friends who informed us that both the Carribean and the Pacific coasts were only 40 miles in either direction from San Jose (a 3 hour bus drive away) and that seemed enough for me.  Allen and I are both into beaches and sun, so there didn’t seem much to be concerned about, nor do.  When we wanted to, we’d simply hop a bus and go.  Of course, the reality wasn’t quite so simple.

The days before the 24th Allen and I began the process of deciding what we needed to take, what we could leave behind, what we needed to do before we left town, who was going to take care of Reggie (the dog) and how we would get to the airport and back.  We did our banking, we paid our bills, got our cash and travelers checks, arranged with our friend Jake to take the dog and transport us to and from the airport.  It all went very smoothly.  Allen had to work on the 23rd and I joined him at the bar late that night, staying until closing.  This meant we didn’t get to bed until after 3:00 A.M.  Thankfully we had already packed, re-packed and packed again until we were able to get everything into 2 carry-ons each.  It also helped that we had an afternoon flight.


It was a full flight from Chicago to Miami.  As we were boarding, there was a threat of discomfort by the number of small children that were also boarding with their parents.  Add to the children the very loud people sitting directly behind us and Allen and I were convinced that this first leg of the journey was going to be only mildly less annoying than dental work without novocaine.  The threat diminished once the plane took off - the people behind us quieted and the small children traveled without incident, fighting or crying.  We were pleasantly surprised.

In the air, I decided that it might be a bit helpful to actually read the guide books that we had brought with us.  I began on the one that was supposedly a gay travel guide through Costa Rica, but it turned out to be nothing more than the prurient adventures of an older man who kept hooking up with younger Costa Ricans.  It was not the sort of thing Allen and I are into, but it was difficult to put it down because we both know so many people just like the characters in the book.  It was like reading the journal of some of our friends.  I read a few chapters and handed it over to Allen. 

Taking up the more mainstream guide book, I began to realize how little was actually going on in the city of San Jose itself - some museums and buildings of interest, but the more exciting events seemed to take place outside the city proper.  It worried me a bit since we had already booked three nights at the guesthouse in the city.  Maybe, I began to think, I should have done a bit more research and planning than I did.  Oh well, that is why they call it “by the seat of the pants.”  I really felt that way during the last half hour or so of the flight as we began to hit a lot of turbulence.  Up and down, back and forth.  Allen is the kind whose palms literally sweat when he is feeling concerned and anxious - we could have washed down the entire plane with the amount of sweat coming from his hands during the turbulence.  But, we survived, intact, and with clean underwear.
We had a 2 hour stop-over in Miami.  The second we got off the plane we were hit by the heat and humidity, especially since we were dressed in the coats and warm clothing that we needed for Chicago.  The second leg of the flight was also pretty uneventful.  As we started to approach the city of San Jose, I was struck at how sparse the city lights were.  This is, after all, a city of about a million people, one of the most cosmopolitan cities of the region, and yet the lights were both dim and fairly sparse.  Given that it was Christmas Eve and that San Jose is such a large city, I would have expected much more ( typical, I suppose of first-world thinking)

An Jose stands at an elevation of about 3800 feet and sits in a wide, fertile valley (the Central Valley) surrounded by all sorts of mountains and volcanoes.  Because of its location, the city is much cooler compared to the tropical coasts, but it was still a lot warmer than Chicago.  We landed, got through immigration and customs quickly and were standing outside smoking our first cigarette in Costa Rica by 8:30 that night.  I needed that cigarette.  My last one had been at 11:00 that morning.  It gave me time to gather my thoughts and wits.

We had been warned by friends, guide books and the guest-house information packet to be sure to get the right kind of cab from the airport.  I sucked down my smoke, eyed all the options available to us - buses, gypsy cab drivers, people calling from all directions inviting us to their cab, their van, their transport, etc.  Finally, cigarette butt smashed into the ground I approached one of the more official looking cab drivers and asked in my very broken Spanish for the cost of a ride to our guest house.  Luckily, the guesthouse had sent, in their travel information, a script in both English and Spanish on how to ask for a cab.  I tried reading the Spanish part to our driver and we were both stumped by my pronunciation.  It was easier for him to read what I was reading.  We paid our fare there at the airport and were loaded in and hauled to our destination.

We had been told that our guest house lay on the edge of the city center, in a less than beautiful portion of that edge.  We passed by tumbling buildings, darkened windows, broken sidewalks and street-side rubbish piles until we were brought to the front of the guesthouse “The Hotel Joluva”.  Although on the edge of a rough area, there were other guesthouses, restaurants and even some luxury hotels all nearby.  The area felt better thanks to the neighbors that surrounded us, including a small convent and church directly across the street.  The Hotel Joluva is a former family residence converted into a B&B.  What was once the inner, open-air patio of the house has been roofed over and converted into common rooms.  The former living and dining rooms have also been transformed into bedrooms.  It was not a luxury site, but it was clean, friendly and comfortable.  I had at least had enough sense to reserve one of the two rooms with a private bath.

Edgar met us at the door.  He is a young man who lives and works at the Joluva.  He did not speak much English, just enough to show us our room and inform us that we could do all the formal registering and paying with the regular office staff in the morning.  He also provided us with a map of the immediate area that indicated some of the local restaurants and clubs  that we might be interested in visiting.  We thanked him, cleaned up a bit and changed into clothing more fit for the warm, humid weather we were experiencing.  Our room, as I said, was clean but sparse.  There were two beds, a bathroom and a small refrigerator in the room as well as a single chair and  TV, which, despite the attached cable box only got one channel.

After changing clothes, we decided to head out for the restaurant that Edgar had indicated on the map.  He saw us out and once again indicated the direction we should go by pointing to the right.  We headed in the direction he pointed.  It struck me as odd that the way he pointed seemed to be opposite of how I was reading the map, but I wrote it off to my disorientation, figuring I had been holding the map upside down.  I was later to learn that this was not the case.

Since we were in a Latin American, traditionally Catholic country,  and it was Christmas Eve, I had expected the city to be rather “closed for the holidays” with people attending church and doing the family Christmas stuff.  For these reasons, as we walked in the direction that Edgar had indicated, it did not seem too surprising that the streets were so dark, and businesses were closed.  I was also not too taken aback by the fact that the streets were rather rough and broken up - we were after all in a rather poor area of a poor area.  I, and Allen with me, did begin to worry when we walked much further than the five blocks Edgar indicated and had still seen no sign of a restaurant, certainly no restaurant that a guesthouse would recommend to its clientele.


The walk itself was fascinating.  We were on constant alert because of the deep, ditch-like gutters along the street (they make sense when you think about the rainy season), broken sidewalks, unsavory and poor looking people standing in small groups along the sidewalks.  We passed several people sleeping in doorways, a young man smoking pot (or something like it) on the stoop in front of a darkened house. We occasionally looked into the homes of people celebrating Christmas together - people eating together, sitting in their living rooms talking and laughing, and in some homes, even dancing.  There was a real sense of poverty to the area, but the celebrations seemed to be full and joyous.

We did garner the attention of many of the people we passed.  I can’t imagine why.  Two gringos aimlessly wandering the streets, looking here and there, trying to figure out what street we were on at any given time, curiously looking through windows, doorways and the like.  Not speaking a lick of Spanish and apparently in a place where we should not have been.  What was there to attract attention?

After going twice as far as we thought we should have.  The surroundings deteriorating more and more the further we went and finally ending up at a large service station area that was dimly lit and not too inviting, we thought it might be a wise idea to turn around and go back.  So we did.

At one corner on our return walk, we tried to ask two women standing on the corner if they could give us some directions.  As we approached and spoke to them, they literally jumped and screamed - thankfully, not too loudly.  We certainly did not mean to upset them.  They spoke very little English but were able to clearly tell us that they had not heard of the restaurant we were looking for and that we should be VERY CAREFUL in this part of town.  We thanked them and continued our walk, looking again and again at the map in order to try and locate exactly where we were - without much luck.
We stopped at a small liquor store that was open.  Actually, less a store and more a living room connected to a store front.  It was set off from the street a bit and business was conducted through the bars of the gate protecting the front of the house.  We showed the woman working the store our map and asked for her help with directions.  She was not familiar with the restaurant either, even after consulting with her family and friends in the back rooms.  She spoke better English than I did Spanish and told us that it would probably be best to continue in the direction we were going, and to be VERY CAREFUL in the neighborhood.  Well, that was two warnings in less than ten minutes.  Although we had not felt particularly threatened in our walk, we did begin to get a little wary.  The small groups of people on the street now seemed a bit less benign, and we began to feel some of the danger of the area we were in.  However, we did make it back to our starting point with both our bodies and high spirits still intact.

After that little jaunt, we decided to give up on looking for the restaurant, and see if we could find one of the bars marked on the map instead.  We managed to correct our orientation of the map and began to wend our way through the relatively abandoned central city, into some darkened side streets and finally to the bar on our map.  It was a big place, a clean place, a loud place.  The place was not packed, (it was only about 9:30 or so), with maybe 20 or 30 people inside.  Some on the dance floor, some on the upstairs level playing pool and watching TV, others sitting at the central bar, and still others sitting at tables along the walls of the building.  It seemed we were th only tourists present, as we were catching lots of attention (or maybe it was our stunningly good looks).  Making ourselves comfortable at the bar, we tried to order our usual bourbon drinks.  As we were to discover - bourbon was not readily accessible in Costa Rica, so we settled on the local favorite - rum.  After a couple of drinks there (at very reasonable prices - though we never paid the same price twice) we decided to go see what the other places were like.

Outside the club, we passed by a number of small groups of younger people- some apparently having been drinking, none of them appeared very threatening.  Following our map, we made our way along a rather seedy street to the other end of the central city (which, upon study is laid out very logically in a several block grid that becomes easy to navigate - once the grid is understood).  We did find the place we were looking for, but it, like most of the restaurants we passed, was closed.  It was Christmas Eve, after all.

Having had our fill of adventures for one night, we decided to find something to eat and head back to the guesthouse.  We passed many eateries, most of them closed, and ended up at one of the city’s many Chinese restaurants.  It wasn’t a busy place, the only people within seemed to be working there.  We purchased a couple of meals to go.  Waiting for our food, one of the waiters, showing a lot of concern for us, asked if we knew where we were and where we were going... because, in his words, in this part of the city we had to be VERY CAREFUL. 
With those oft-repeated words of warning, we took our meals back to the guesthouse (only 3 blocks away) and settled down to our Christmas Eve dinner - cashew chicken take-out.  We tried the television, but as I said, we could only get one channel - showing midnight mass from the Vatican.  If nothing else, it served as a reminder of the season.  Not much else in the city did.  There was a rather surprising sparsity of Christmas decorations or “feel” to the city.  I supposed that it is treated more as a religious celebration than we are used to in the states - not as much need for all the hype and glitter.  We were in Costa Rica, we were fed, we had seen something of this city, we had watched the pope on TV, we were warm, we were together in a foreign land and we had not been mugged.  It was a great Christmas Eve.  There was nothing else to be done but go to sleep and begin again in the morning.


Christmas morning, we woke up at a decent hour, ready to hit the city and see what was happening in San Jose.  Finding the kitchen, we helped ourselves to some toast, fresh fruit and juice.  As we were eating, we met Carlos, the guy who worked the day shift.  He was a rather bouncy, happy, chatty  fellow and spoke good English.  He helped us make hotel reservations on the coast, told us where to go to get bus tickets and what to see in the city.  He was really a big help. 

He warned us against the Carribean coast due to rains, flooding and other problems.  We had thought about going to both coasts, but on his recommendation we limited ourselves to the Pacific coastal town of Quepos and the beaches of Manuel Antonio.  Carlos also made arrangements for us to go on a “highlights tour” of the area around San Jose the next day.  After our briefing from Carlos, we headed out to find the bus station in order to buy our tickets to Quepos.  Carlos gave us some basic directions and with map in hand we thought we could pretty well find our way.

Our walk to the bus station took us, for most of the way, along the Central Avenue.  It is a wide avenue that runs from the Central Market through the Cultural Plaza to the Plaza of Democracy.  It is basically a pedestrian mall with all sorts of fast-food restaurants, shops, stores and such on either side.  There were also a number of street vendors offering the usual fare of jewelry, sunglasses, shoes, textiles, woodwork and a whole range of products spread out on blankets laid on the street or on small tables set up on the sidewalks.

Given that it was Christmas Day, many of the stores were closed and others were keeping minimal hours.  If a person were only paying attention to the number of street vendors they would suppose it to be just an ordinary weekend day, not Christmas.  The lack of decorations and holiday music also added to this sense of “ordinariness”.
We were making our way to the Coca-Cola terminal.  It is named after a Coca-Cola bottling plant that used to exist on the site many years ago.  There is no sign indicating “Coca-Cola” and if we had not asked for directions, there would have been no way of distinguishing the place from the rest of the rambling, smell-filled, bustling “mercado” that lay in front of the actual bus terminal.  It is a very busy part of the city, and given that there are several bus companies within blocks of each other (and so a lot of tourists and travelers) it is also an area known to have a lot of pick-pockets and other types of people preying on the unaware and the newly arrived.

We located the ticket office, and as we were giving the agent the days we wanted to travel, it hit us that we had reserved rooms in Quepos for the 28 & 29, but that our last night at the guest house in San Jose was the 26th.  When we got back to the guesthouse, Carlos made another phone call for us and added an extra day to our reservation.  He was so very good to us.

Allen had never been in a Latin-style “mercado” and the dark, maze like arrangement of the booths and stores struck him as both dirty, somewhat intimidating and fascinating all at the same time.  I was sure that if we were going to find him some sandals (and we had walked into every shoe store we passed on our way to this location looking for some) that this would be the place.  It was.  We found a pair of cheap Teva knock-offs and continued to tour the area. 

This part of the city was the busiest we had encountered all day.  Not only were there several mercados in the area, but the streets all around them were lined with booths and vendors and lots of people shopping and selling.  We wandered through the streets, looking at the wares, not really buying anything, but enjoying the variety of offerings as well as the merchants themselves.  The streets were fairly crowded and it was not always easy to keep up with one another.  The people gathered were clearly not the well-to-do, and at times they seemed a bit unsavory.  At one point I had to give Allen a “heads up” as he was about to walk into a stream of urine being directed into the street by some very young Tico (as the native boys are called, Tica for the females) needing to relieve himself.  No one else gave the matter a second thought, and luckily Allen wasn’t peed on.

The poverty in the city is quite striking, with lots of beggars and sick people sitting on the sidewalks and in the many parks, asking for help or simply getting some rest from their on-going struggle to survive.  Grand, turn of the century mansions were located right next to buildings that were falling apart, the kind of buildings difficult to believe people actually lived in.  The contrasts were, at times, quite stark and apparent.  It was hard at times not to stare at the people and the ways in which they lived and conducted their day to day affairs.  I believe that this was Allen’s first experience with the third-world and at times I worried he would offend people with his staring and apparent curiosity.

We concluded that mornings walkabout with a stop at the local Burger King and then back to the guesthouse to straighten out the Quepos reservations and take a little rest.  Allen also had Carlos fix the cable connection to our TV so that we could enjoy all the channels available to us.  Carlos suggested that we might want to go to the mall near the city college, that there should be some shops and stores open today, despite it being Christmas.

He told us to take a city bus to the mall and then walk back, claiming it was a pleasant, scenic walk.  He told us where to catch the bus and so we headed off in the direction we thought he had indicated - back into the city and down Central Avenue in the direction that we had been earlier that day.

It was a warm, almost hot, pleasant day, so we chose to meander through the streets and look at whatever was worth our seeing.  We checked out one older church located in front of a rather busy plaza where a lot of local buses were picking up and depositing riders - none of the buses were what we were looking for.  I was wearing my camera around my neck and when we stopped an officer to ask directions, he not only gave them to us but also warned me about my camera being too visible and to BE CAREFUL in this particular part of the city.  His directions indicated that we had come directly opposite from the way we should have gone.  This was no longer any surprise to us and so we turned around and continued our walk.

Several blocks into our renewed walk, we decided to forego the buses for several reasons: 1) we were not absolutely sure we were heading in the right direction, 2) we were no longer certain about which bus to take, 3) we were enjoying the walk.  Along the way, we stopped at a small  market of sorts.  It was a group of stalls and booths set up on either side of a central walkway, all sharing a common, flat corrugated roof.  They were more or less permanent booths - much like a permanent flea market (though this was not a place for used goods).

We wandered through the stalls, looking at the many hand-crafted items - jewelry, leather items, clothing, pottery and the like.  Some of it was quite intriguing, though we did not buy anything that day.  This small market lay behind the National Museum at the foot of a park that was made of a series of terraced, concrete steps and benches.

The National Museum is housed in the Bellavista Fortress, an old army headquarters.  There is a large rounded drum tower along the main street that is pockmarked with bullet holes - remnants of the 1948 civil war.  Unfortunately, the museum was not open throughout our time in Costa Rica, so we never did get to see inside.

Allen was convinced that this row of stalls was the city mall that Carlos had been talking about.  I was not so sure, in fact, I was absolutely sure that this was not the mall.  I convinced Allen to continue our walk up the street.  There were buses going in both directions and if it turned out that we did not find the mall, we could always take one back to town.

After about a half hour walk, most of it uphill,  we ended up at a major intersection with the hiway and there, on the corner, was the mall.  It was a bit deceiving at first, the walls were made to look like natural stone and the sign on the mall was very much in the style of a “Planet Hollywood” restaurant.  In fact, it was that sign that caused me to investigate the building more closely, and it was not until we were directly in front of it that we discovered the sign said Planet Mall.  We had found it.
Except for a few sporting good stores, not many of the permanent stores were open.  However, a number of kiosks were open, as well as the food court.  The mall was about 4 levels with a confusing set of stairs and escalators that connected them together.  The food court, set at the far end of each of 3 floors was all open, as were the video arcade and movie theater.  There were quite a few people in the mall, mostly young people, eating, playing games and going to the movies, but no many actual shoppers at all.

Allen and I wandered through, window shopping, watching the young people and simply taking it all in.  It was interesting that the parking areas, on each level of the mall, opened on to the mall floors.  In fact, a person could literally drive right from the parking area and into the mall if they chose.  The big double doors and wide hallways leading into the garage could have very easily accommodated any car that would want to make that little trip, or accidentally veer from garage into a crowd of mall rats at any time.  It was a different way to do mall, compared to what we were used to.
After seeing what was to be seen, we headed back.  This time we got a little adventurous and took a bus back, since it was pointed in the right direction.  The city buses that we took throughout the country were clean, surprisingly clean.  The entire city, as run down as it looks and with as much poverty as there is, was also surprisingly clean.  It was rare to see a Costa Rican put a cigarette out on the street or sidewalk, or to see someone throw trash to the ground.  It was surprising and pleasant.

After getting back to the Central Avenue pedestrian mall, we walked to the grocery store we had noted earlier, bought some sodas, mixers for the bourbon we had brought with us, and went back to our room.  Both of us nursing some aching legs and feet.

We rested up a bit, had a few cocktails, cleaned up and then headed up the street to a restaurant recommended to us by Carlos - the Orchid Restaurant.  The night had gotten a bit cooler, but not too bad, though we were both glad we were in long pants.  The restaurant was part of a hotel and was quite pretty.  The actual dining area was more an enclosed patio looking out on an outdoor area surrounding the swimming pool. 

When we got in, the host was quite apologetic about the main dining area being full.  He offered us a choice of waiting for an open table in the enclosed area or taking one of the patio tables outside.  We took the outside choice without hesitation.  We were the only ones out there, the sky was beautiful and it gave us a chance to look into the main room and comment on the diners inside.

There were only 2 people working the restaurant (excluding the kitchen staff) and so service was a bit slow.  However, it was Christmas night and we were in no hurry, as long as we could get drinks.  We had another cocktail there and then began drinking some of the local wine - not too bad.  The menu looked interesting and we ordered our meals and waited.

We were seated across from the center of the moderately sized, kidney shaped pool.  Along the other side of the pool was a low but grand looking set of stairs that led to a water slide that emptied into the pool.  There was no water running on the slide and we kept talking about how rough the slide would be without it.  As we continued drinking and eating, Allen began to plan some sort of spectacular exit from the restaurant that initially included a very showy ascending of the pool stairway, removal of clothing, sliding into the water, a grand exit from the pool, a properly expansive bow to the diners and then, with all in awe, a walk through the front doors with me in tow, bearing his cast off clothing.  I managed to talk him out of it, but I am convinced that if the water were running and it had not been so cold outside, he may well have gone through with it.  In lieu of the entire production, he settled for practicing his curtsey with lots of leg and arm action - practiced it a number of times.  He only stumbled a couple of times, losing his balance at the low point of his curtsey. The folks indoors were quite amused and duly impressed with his grace and finesse.  It was all great fun. 

Having eaten our meals and killing what must have been at least two bottles of wine, we left the restaurant, opting for a simple walking out the doors without all the show.  We were in bed before midnight, which was good considering that we would be waking up about 5:30 in the morning for our tour.


Five-thirty came very quickly the next morning, but we seemed to be well rested and ready to go. 
 After cleaning up and getting dressed we were picked up by our tour bus about 6:30 or so.  It was a small touring bus, large windows, semi-comfortable seats with a capacity of about 24 people.  We spent the first hour of that morning going around town to the various hotels and guest houses picking up other passengers. 

Even at this early hour, the day after Christmas, the streets were bustling, looking like a major, big city - shop keepers opening their doors, vendors on the streets, business people heading off to their offices, folks gathered at bus stops, pedestrians making their way to any number of destinations.  There were also a lot of other tour buses winding their way through the city streets, probably doing the same thing we were, going from hotel to hotel until they were filled.

After filling the bus, we were on our way.  Our way took us north into the mountain range at that end of the central valley toward the Poas Volcano National Park.  We passed through a number of small country towns and highland forests, all very picturesque and interesting.

At about 8:00 or so, we pulled off the main road and headed into the hilly areas to visit the Siempre Verde coffee plantation.  It was a very beautiful area, the large, green coffee plants rolling up an down the hills as far as the eye could see.  Set off against the greenery of the leaves,  the red berries of the coffee beans really stuck out.

We stopped in the midst of these plants where we got out and our guide told us about the coffee growing process, how the beans have to be harvested by hand and how many of those beans it took to get a single pound of roast coffee.  He was also very adamant about informing us what it cost the growers to produce the beans, how much they were paid for them by the middle men, and just how much we were selling them for in the states.  He seemed a bit surprised when he asked how much we paid for a cup of coffee in the states.  The answer he received was “$5.00".  This threw him off a bit, as his spiel was apparently based on an answer of 3.00, and re-doing the mathematics was proving troublesome.  He finally gave up on it and used his prepared-for $3.00 comparison.  Even at that, the price difference was quite impressive.

After his presentation, we were invited to taste the beans.  We squeezed the dark beans out of the berries and into our mouths.  I was surprised by how very sweet the membrane covering the beans was.  After eating the membrane, we would spit out the actual coffee bean (I wonder if this is how they keep the plants growing).  I always assumed they would be bitter, with an intense coffee taste, but that was not the case.

From the middle of the fields we were taken to a large, half-covered patio area behind a house over-looking the vast plantation.  These structures were set amidst a beautifully manicured lawn, lots of trees and  offering rolling vistas of coffee plants.  There was a walkway to a lower level and some park benches as well as a large cage set into a grotto of bushes that held a couple of toucans and a macaw.  It was idyllic.  From the patio, there was another small walkway to the small souvenir shop that sold coffee related items as well as beans and ground coffee.

We were there for a breakfast that was included in the tour.  It was billed as a typical Costa Rican breakfast and consisted of “Gallo Pinto” (rice and black beans with spices and onions - really quite good), eggs, fresh fruit (really fresh!) and coffee.  I am not much of a coffee drinker at all, but  since it is the native drink, I thought I should have at least one cup of Costa Rican java.  I did.  It tasted like coffee. 

It was all rather casual and we took our time.  It was really our first opportunity to meet and visit with our fellow passengers.  There was another gay couple (as we found out later when we saw them at the gay beach at Manuel Antonio) from Mexico who spoke very little (if any) English and so there was not much visiting with them.  Our bus driver spoke very little English but was as helpful as he could be, anxious to please, looking after our possible needs.  The tour guide was very pleasant and we both felt sorry for him at times.  Because there were about 4 people on the tour who did not do well in English, every time he gave his spiel, he had to do it in both English and Spanish.  It did not seem to bother him too much, though he did ask at one point if they spoke English, and he just kept smiling and doing what he had to in order to make the trip as pleasant as possible for all.  He was quick to point out whatever he thought might be of interest to us and again, really gave the impression that our having a satisfying tour was very important to him.  That went a long way to making it a more enjoyable trip.

There were several other couples with us, some older, some younger, and another, older man, named Rex.  He was from Austin, Texas and was traveling solo.  Apparently he had once been married, had some children, and was now enjoying himself as a single gay man wandering the world.  He was pleasant, spoke with the typical Austin accent (not the stereotypical Texan extended drawl) and we were to run into him time and time again throughout our week in Costa Rica.

After breakfast, we re-boarded the bus and continued our trip.  Allen was a bit disappointed with the bus we were on... it was too open, the seats did not block much view from the folks around us, so he had to keep his hands to himself. 

We were now heading to Poas Volcano.  Along the way there were a number of dairy cows in the fields on either side of the road, as well as in the middle of the road.  Several times the bus driver had to go around or slow down for cows walking on the road.  The road seems to be a fairly important and oft-used route, but it is in very poor shape, with lots of potholes and hairpin curves as we made our way up and down the mountains to the National Park.  On one hairpin bend, there is a one-way bridge without any guardrails.  The tour guide tells us it is referred to as the “Oh My God” Bridge.  We found out why as the bus sped up to make the curve at the bridge, one wheel definitely gripping nothing but air as we made the sharp turn.  It is because the bridge is so narrow and there are so many buses using this route that they have done away with the guardrails, otherwise they would not make the turn.

Poas Volcano and National Park is one of the oldest and best-known national parks in Costa Rica.   It is high enough up, and there were enough clouds that it was distinctly colder than it had been all day long, making us wish we had brought a jacket.  The major attraction of the park is the volcano itself.  It has been active since well before the 1800's (when they began to keep records of such things).  Our guide warned us a number of times that because of the clouds and natural conditions, we may not get to actually see into the crater, the clouds often settled into it, totally obscuring the view.

Our group was very fortunate.  When we got to the edge of the crater, we had a totally clear and unobstructed view into the crater.  It was amazing.  Although we were kept at a pretty good distance on the upper edge, our view of it all was grand.  It was a vast crater with a turquoise blue lake laying in the middle of it.  The colors were incredible, the blues of the water and the sky, the white clouds hi-lighting the dark gray basalt stone.  There was a thin yellow stream of steam that was the result of the bubbling, boiling sulphur spring that spoke of it still being an active volcano.  This cauldron was both beautiful and hypnotizing.  We were later told that it was because of the toxic sulfuric acid fumes that are part of this crucible that we were kept at a distance and not allowed to descend into the crater.

We joined the rest of the tourists in snapping hundreds of pictures, all of us to frame the very best photo, asking others to take our picture, getting up on the viewing platform allowing for more dramatic views, and just taking in the wonder and majesty of this marvel of nature. 

After about 15 minutes of taking in the view, slowly at first, and then very quickly, the clouds swept in, and true to our guides’ words, we could no longer see anything of the volcano.  If we had not seen it just minutes before, we would have been hard-pressed to believe that there was anything at all to see.  It was almost spooky how quickly it happened and how totally it obscured the view; it was as if someone had simply dropped a curtain in front of a stage, giving no hint of what lay behind.

As we walked back towards the bus and the visitor center, we felt sorry for the bus loads just arriving.  We knew that they would not be allowed the view we had.  Our guide gathered us together and took us on the carved out paths that led into the dwarf cloud forest that lay close to the crater, supposedly the best example of this kind of habitat in the Costa Rican national park system.

Our guide was extremely informative about the forest (wet because it so often lies in the clouds rather than because of actual rain), pointing out all sort of facts and oddities that we would have never noticed without him.  We wandered along paths that led us over gnarled roots, through twisted trees and all sorts of lichens, giant-leaved plants, ferns, colorful blossoms and mosses.  The path was a bit slick with the wet, and at times there were rather large steps cut into the path to help us ascend.  The slickness and high steps occasioned many “Oh Mama!” moments from Allen.  Because it is often so very cool in this type of forest, there is not an abundance of mammals that live in them, but there are quite a few different breeds of birds, especially the fiery-throated hummingbirds, which are high-altitude specialties in Costa Rica.  The coolness, the dampness, the vegetation - it all reminded me of the rain forests of Alaska.  The only thing missing were snow-capped mountains and the threat of bears.
After making our informative trek through the small forest, we were led back to the visitor center.  Before actually going into the center our guide warned us against buying souvenirs there.  He encouraged us to spend most of our time in the museum instead.  His claim was that the souvenirs here were over-priced and that he would be taking us to a better and cheaper store later.  I suspect though, that the major reason for warning us away from spending money here was that our guide would not be getting a cut of the action.

Although there were some items that would have been nice to have, we decided to trust our guide and put off any shopping until later.  The museum was nice, though mostly in Spanish, and was about the making of a volcano, the “ring of fire” (a chain of volcanoes that circle the globe - we were in part of that chain), and the cloud forest eco-system.  After a brief time, we re-boarded our bus and continued our journey.

Our next stop was at a small fruit stand along the highway.  There we could, if we wished (Allen and I did not wish too much) purchase fresh fruit, dried fruit and fruit based candies and confections as well as beverages.  It was here that Allen and I both experienced our first taste of Passion Fruit.

Our guide instructed us in the proper procedure for eating these delicacies.  We were to crack open the shell of skin and scoop out the roe-like interior into our mouth and chew, seeds and all.  The look and feel of the interior fruit was actually pretty disgusting, but the sweetness of the slimy berries and the crunchiness of the nut-like seeds were an incredible taste sensation.  One younger couple traveling with us were quite put off by the texture of it all, and though the woman seemed to get past it without any problems her male partner was having quite a time trying to convince himself to actually put the stuff into his mouth.  I believe he finally did so and was properly rewarded for the effort.

Continuing our way along the winding roads leading us out of the coolness of the mountains and into the heat of the coastal plain, our eyes were held hostage by the beautiful greenery and spectacular vistas and drops.  The curves were sharp, the steep climbs strained the engine of our coach (so much so that a break-down would have been no surprise), but the views were absolutely mesmerizing.  We made another stop along the road - at the La Paz Waterfall.  There was a small path leading to and behind the waterfall.  All of us took our turns making our way on that wet and sloppy path to stand behind the rushing curtain of water that spilled into a fast moving river.  It was quite beautiful.  The slick path behind the falls called forth yet more “Oh Mama”’s from Allen.

We were slowly making our way into the Carribean Plain of Costa Rica.  Before fully leaving the mountains however, we made one more stop.  This was for a coffee break at what was advertised as an hummingbird and tarantula exhibit.  It was actually a long rustic building set along the edge of a ledge overlooking the mountain valley and the 250 foot high San Fernando waterfall. 

We had been promised fresh baked pastry and coffee by our tour guide.  What was offered however did not look very fresh or very appetizing - to me, though many of the others indulged themselves.  I was more fascinated by the kitchen where the ladies who offered the snacks were working - especially the sinks they were using.  They were carved wooden sinks, covered with small gutters that seemed to have been a result of years of use, the edges of these ridges rubbed smooth by that same use.  The water source seemed to be simple out-door type water spigots and the sinks drained out pipes that emptied into the mountain ravine below the house.  I had never seen wooden sinks before.

The side of the building overlooking the valley had windows all along its length, trees were poking up just outside these windows.  On these trees were hung a number of hummingbird feeders.  At these feeders came a number of hummingbirds of various sizes and hues.  I was especially intrigued by the cobalt blue, rather large hummingbirds that also seemed to be among the shyest of the many birds taking advantage of the feeders.  I used up quite a bit of film trying to get their photograph.  They were all quite beautiful.  At one end of this wall was a cage where a very large parrot was kept.  He seemed either very old or very tired and it was quite a chore to get a frontal picture of him.  We had to be very patient and wait for just the right moment, but he seemed to be camera shy and gave us very few of those moments.

The tarantula exhibit turned out to be a simple, medium sized aquarium filled with stone, dirt, pieces of wood and a couple of very large tarantulas.  One of the guides would pick up and handle the tarantulas and allowed those who were willing to also handle them.  They seemed very used to this handling and offered no reason for fear, other than what we might have brought to this contact.  I was more fascinated by the other inhabitant of this aquarium - an atlas beetle.

I have always wanted to see an actual, living atlas beetle.  It started early in my boy scout career (sometime around the 7th or 8th grade).  At that time I was working on a bug-collecting merit badge and read about the atlas beetle.  I had no idea at the time that they were not found anywhere near Texas, so I searched for them near and far.  I never did find one, nor had I ever seen a live specimen until this day.  I was fascinated by it.  It is a huge beetle, that can grow well over 5 inches in length, though one third of this length is take up by the long horns that are used for fighting other males during mating.  They did not allow me to handle the beetle, but I was content to just watch it.  Another life-goal met in an unexpected way in an unexpected place.

After this brief stop and lots of picture clicking, we again boarded our bus and continued our tour of the Caribbean Plain.  We were definitely in the tropics at this point of our trip.   It is much warmer, a bit more humid, the plants and vegetation clearly speak of the tropics.  We drove past  and through many little towns, the buildings painted in bright, warm colors, tiled and steel roofs, all of them speaking of the part of the world we found ourselves in.  We passed cacao and banana plantations, pineapple fields and Brahma bull ranches.  The scenery was incredible.  I also found it interesting when our guide told us that much of the fruit that we would eat here, despite it being grown here, was usually not the top or best quality.  The very best is usually exported to other countries and the 2nd best kept in the country. 
We were heading toward the Sarapiqui River, which used to be an important means of getting to the Caribbean before the days of roads and railroads (which, according to our guide, was not all that long ago) and the area around the city of Chilamate.  There, we stopped at the Selva Verde Lodge, a beautiful rainforest lodge on the banks of the river.  It was once a very large private plantation of sorts that has been converted into a tourist facility.  It is about 500 acres large, almost half  that acreage given over to the forest, the rest is wonderfully landscaped grounds and lodge buildings.  We were here for dinner and sight-seeing.

The dining area was a large thatched building linked to the bedrooms of the lodge by a long covered walkway.  We were treated to a quite tasty buffet dinner.  The food was abundant and good, though I was not always sure what it was I was eating.  During dinner, Allen and I got to spend more time with Rex and found out that he is a florist and knows quite a bit about the plants that surrounded us.  He claimed that some of the information given by our guide was not altogether on the mark, but was generally accurate.

The lodge area had plenty of walking room and the river, lazily running beside the lodge, kept us busy trying to find wildlife.  We were supposed to have had a tour on the rainforest trails, but that part of the tour never came to fruition - without explanation.  Along the banks of the river we did see a rather large, green basilisk lizard, known as a “Jesus Christ” lizard because of its ability to literally run across the water on its long, webbed hind feet.  The lizard was hard to see against the leaves of the tree on which it was clinging, but once spotted, it was hard not to be impressed by the huge crest running the length of its head, body and tail.

Our guide made a point of searching the river banks for some examples of the poison-arrow frogs that he claimed were abundant in this place.  He did eventually catch one and brought it to us for photo ops and information.  The frog was tiny and colorful, bright green with black markings.  We were told that they got their name because they have skin glands that exude toxins when agitated.  This toxin can cause paralysis and death.  These frogs were used by Latin American forest Indians to provide a poison in which to dip the tips of their hunting arrows and blow-gun darts.  The toxins, apparently, are most effective when injected into the bloodstream (as with darts).  Learning all this made our guides handling of the frog all the more impressive.  He claimed that if he were to handle them too often or for too long he would probably suffer some ill effects.  Since our trip, I have learned that many other authors claim that the poison has little effect when casually touched.  Too bad, sometimes education can take the mystery out of life.

Our bus driver also discovered a 2 toed-sloth for us to gape at.  It was in the top of a very tall tree, so tall, it was hard to see with any clarity (damn, where were our binoculars now that we needed them and why aren’t they more powerful?).  It was large, it was not smooth, it laid up in the tree in a very sloth-ful way, though as Allen pointed out, it could have been a bag of garbage tucked in the branches for all we knew.  What a cynic my partner can be at times - and funny!

After taking plenty of time to digest our food, work the sitting-kinks out of our butt and enjoy the scenery, we  drove through the forest, along dirt roads and semi-paved roads to a boat dock area on the river.  It turns out we were not all that far from the Nicaraguan border, and this river is a busy transportation route between the two countries.  It was here we were to begin our mostly languorous river tour.

We boarded a fairly comfortable flat boat with lots of seats and a canopy, and floated down the Sarapiqui River.  On the river we were treated to sights of crocodiles and caimans basking in the sun.  As is their wont, they did not move much and simply let us gawk as they laid there with their eyes closed, taking in the heat.  One startling thing was that there were a number of kids swimming in the waters, sometimes not too far from the reptiles.  I suppose that they know their limits and what the animals will or will not do- I would certainly have been less comfortable than they seemed to be.

There were plenty of birds around as well as a number of iguanas.  Also in the trees were numbers of howler monkeys.  They were pretty inactive, just sort of watching us, occasionally moving to other parts of the trees.  Our captain stopped the boat in the midst of the river underneath the monkey-infested trees.  He then made a number of sounds and howls over his loud-speaker that were much like the monkey’s own sounds and they would respond in kind.  It was quite a it of fun. 

Although we did not see as much wildlife as we had hoped, the trip was pleasant, and what we did see was interesting.  There were pretty jungle homes, dugout canoes and a surprising amount of kids actually in the water.   After an hour or so we returned to the dock and were then taken to the souvenir shop that the guide promised would have much better deals than at the volcano.  He was wrong.  The items were more expensive, there was far less variety, but I believe the guide got a cut here.  We didn’t buy anything.

After this stop, it was time to begin our return drive to San Jose.  The total trip was a rather large circle, so we were returning to San Jose from a different route, this time through the Braulio Carrillo National Park, a protected area of more than 400 miles of towering mountains and rainforests.  Along the jungle road, we passed a lot more cattle ranches, heart-of-palm plantations, more banana and pineapple plantations.  It was all very pretty and pretty fascinating.  As we drove into the mountain tops, it got dark and we encountered quite a bit of rain.  The wet, combined with the winding roads and the lack of lighting made the trip a bit more nerve-wracking, but our driver seemed to know what he was doing.

We were dropped off at our hotel at about 6:30 that evening.  It had been about a 13 hour day, well worth it.  We were not the first to be dropped off, and as each person or couple departed he/she/they would be sure to say good-bye to those of us left behind.  After about the second drop off Allen became very concerned about how he was going to make his exit.  What were the proper words, which funny voice would he call upon, and what gestures would be most appropriate and unforgettable.  It was a riot to hear him try to figure all this out.  I guess our stop came far too soon because he had to settle for a relatively benign and uninteresting, straight forward good-bye. 

Back at the guesthouse, the German owner, Peter, was there.  We talked with him a bit and he told us that we could leave any luggage there since we would be returning after our time on the coast.  That was going to be very helpful for us.  We re-packed and got everything together that we thought we might need for the coast, leaving two very packed bags behind.

After getting everything done, we walked up to Central Avenue to eat some KFC (we were really getting into the local cuisine on this trip), bought some chips and mixers at the grocery store and then returned home for a few drinks, a review of the day and early bed.


We woke the next morning about 5, cleaned up and walked to the bus station.  Although it was early in the morning, there were many people up and around at that hour.  Allen had brought his bag with wheels.  We started our walk with me carrying that bag, but Allen eventually took over and rolled it behind him.  Given that the sidewalks and street were rutted, broken or cobble-stone, it made quite the clatter as we walked along.  We caught the attention of many of the people sharing the walk with us.  The looks that some of them gave us were really hysterical.

We arrived at the bus station a bit early, located our bus without too much trouble and waited.  Our destination was not all that far away if you were simply to count the miles, but it turned out to be a bit more than three hours on the bus.  This is due in large part because the route is through the mountains and so very slow.  There were a number of inclines and curves that seemed to constantly challenge the engine of our bus, but somehow it managed to keep on going.  The scenery was beautiful - the mountains, the cliffs, the expansive forests, and as we got closer, the coastal plains offering occasional glimpses of the ocean.

About half way through the trip, the driver made a very brief stop at a sort of rest-stop along the highway, in the middle of nowhere ... not for our relief, but simply to pick up another passenger (we were warned by the people at the guest house as well as the tour books to go to the bathroom before boarding the bus, because there would be no relief stops and no bathroom on board).  The new passenger was a young man who threw on two ice chests and a bag, all filled with sodas and food to sell to the passengers (wonder if the driver gets kick-back).  It was sort of amusing to watch all this happen, and Allen wanted something to drink.  I pulled out my wallet and paid for the soda - an act that would cost me later on.  The vendor was with us for about half an hour before he was dropped off at another spot along the road.  I am sure he would catch another bus going back.


We arrived at our hotel close to 9:30 that morning.  It was early enough that the full force of beach goers had not yet arrived.  Our hotel, the Hotel Manuel Antonio, was literally at the end of the road.  After dropping passengers off at the town of Quepos, our bus had continued its 4+ mile trip to the point where the road ended in a circular drive that allowed the bus to return.  At that turning point lay our hotel.  The short journey from the town to the hotel was on a very narrow, winding road that goes over a series of hills with beautiful views of the ocean.  Along this road, every hilltop vista has been taken over by a hotel advertising “ocean views”.  Our hotel lay at the bottom of the hills, across from the more “touristy” section of beach and a 2 minute walk from the entrance to the Manuel Antonio National Park.

We got off the bus and walked into the lobby of our hotel.  It was a rather newly renovated hotel, two buildings of rooms, two stories tall.  The office was at one end of the square lawn in front of the rooms and the hotel restaurant was next to that.  The restaurant was a thatched roof covered patio with outdoor furniture.  Not all the rooms had air-conditioning, though they sorely needed it.  We were warned about that reality in San Jose and made sure to reserve a room with A/C as well as a TV (again, not available in all rooms).  Though if we had to choose between the two, the A/C would have definitely been priority... it was HOT.

In the office, we told the desk person who we were and that we had reservations.  Unfortunately, our rooms would not be ready for another half hour or so.  In the midst of our conversation with the desk personnel, I discovered that I did not have my wallet on me!  Panic time.  I checked all my pockets a number of times, I checked my bag a number of times, I re-checked my bag and my pockets, I checked everything I could possibly check, my wallet was gone!  I must have left it on my lap after buying the drinks on the bus, and in getting up and off the bus, it must have dropped.  There was only about 30.00 or so in it, (the rest of our money was in a separate bag in my carry-on) as well as some of the local “colones”, but the major concern was that it also had my credit card.  DAMNATION!

We asked the desk clerk (Carlos, and his Oriental wife were the managers - she spoke English, though with an accent, a lot better than her Hispanic husband) if they could help us.  She tried to make some calls for us, but she was either calling the wrong place or local banks that were not able to give any assistance.  None of their phone calls were of any help, but they tried the best they could.  Allen and I decided to go into town and ask at the bank there (no banks on the beach).  Buses leave for town every half hour.  Before leaving, we were allowed into the room which was clean, comfortable and more spacious than I would have expected.  While putting our stuff away, we missed the next bus.  We hopped a cab instead and had it drop us off at the bus station - the bank was nearby.  Since we were at the station, we also decided to buy our bus tickets home in order to avoid any possible hassles and to assure ourselves of a reserved seat home.

At the bank, Allen exchanged some money and I waited in line to be assisted.  The gentleman helping us made several phone calls but discovered that he would not be able to help us with a U.S. bank.  Helpfully though, he did give us some phone numbers that we could try on our own.  By this time, we had calmed down a bit about it all, though we were never frantic, and decided to look around Quepos a bit before heading back to the hotel in order to make the phone calls.

At one time Quepos was a major shipping port but is now an important sportfishing center and the closest town to one of  the most visited national park in the country.  Because of this, it is a year-round tourist destination, with lots of outdoor tour companies, bars, cafes, souvenir shops and all the other sort of businesses that are prevalent in a beach town.  The people were also dressed for a casual beach town- shorts, sandals, minimal shirts, hats to protect against the heat.  Although there was a sense of it being all rather run-down, it was alive and vibrant in the people and the energy.  There were lots of tourists, and it was not unusual to hear people speaking German, French, English in its many manifestations, and a number of other languages.

As we shopped around, we were pleased and surprised to find a store that actually carried both Jack Daniels and Jim Beam... products we were unable to find in San Jose.  We had to pay more than top dollar for the bottles, but we were on vacation, it was the Christmas season and so, what the heck.  We had lunch at a local restaurant, offering both fairly decent food and a prime people-watching spot.

After lunch, we took the bus back to the hotel, a crowded conveyance whose engine strained all the way to our destination.  When we got to the hotel, we had to buy an international phone card in order to call the credit card company.  I was not sure how much it would cost, nor how long it would take, so I got the minimum card offered.  That card lasted me long enough to get another phone number from the credit card company.  I got that information just in time, for just as the attendant on the other end of the phone was going to connect me to the necessary offices, my phone card expired and I was summarily disconnected.  After purchasing another, more expensive card, we got the whole matter taken care of.  As much traveling as I have done, this is the first time something like this has happened to me.

Now we could relax and begin to enjoy this second leg of our vacation.  That meant going to the beach!  Some of our friends had informed us of the famous nude/gay beach here, as did the guide books.  All of them told us to go to the water and then take a left, around the rocks (whatever they were) and we would find a secluded beach area that was pretty much men only. 


The beach was just across the street from the hotel, we walked to it, took a left and came to a rock outcropping reaching out into the water.  This seemed a bit of an odd place for a secluded beach to me.  The area was near the entrance to the national park.  Perhaps, I thought to myself, it was around the other outcroppings that could be seen at the other end of the cove.  Well, there was nothing to do but try and find out.  Allen’s cheap sandals turned out to be cheaper than they first looked.  They were more plastic than gripping rubber.  This meant that when he was trying to climb on the rocks, they would slip quite easily.  It was volcanic rock, crowded with small crabs and other sea hangers-on, and were quite sharp when slipped on.  Allens’ attempts to climb this rock formation led to a lot more “OH MAMA’S!” and we had to eventually give up without ever getting to the other side, or even to the top of the outcropping.

We didn’t need a gay beach to enjoy where we were at, so we decided to walk the length of the beach, just to see what we could see, get some sun and simply enjoy being together.  The beach was beautiful.  Given that Christmas week is really vacation week for Costa Ricans, there were quite a number of natives there (and so, not manning the stores back in San Jose and other areas).  Families, singles, couples, all of them intermingled with the foreigners. 

The sun was bright and hot, but thankfully, there was some cloud cover that gave us respites of shade.  We walked and walked, splashing in the water, checking out the shells washed up on shore, watching the little sea slugs making their trails in the sand.  As we continued our walk, there were less and less people on the beach, most of the crowd staying closer to the vendors, the folks who provided chairs and umbrellas, and their cars.  As we continued walking, I spied another outcropping of rock at the far end of the beach, and it seemed to me that the only people coming or going from there were all male.  I had an intuition.

After about a 45 minute walk we finally got to this outcropping.  It was much easier to climb on and over, so we did.  There it was - a small swatch of beach covered with men in various degrees of dress and undress.  Those that were not on the beach were standing in the water enjoying the swell of the waves, while others were taking in the shade under the trees.  There were also a number of tourists with their “tico” boys (also a not so uncommon sight in Quepos as we discovered).  On the other side of the cove, there were a number of people walking along the side of the steep bank, going around a bend - to what, we never found out, but we had our suspicions... especially since they seemed to be going in pairs (Once back in the states, we were told by others who did explore that route, that it led to a water fall where people played, as well as other activities going on).  We’d found our beach!  Unfortunately, this was meant to be simply a scouting mission - we did not bring our bathing trunks or towels, and neither one of us are really into nude sunning.  Oh well, at least we knew where it was and we could return anytime.

On our way back from the rocks, we talked to some guys who were also leaving.  We asked about the local hot spots and they let us know that there were a few bars and clubs that we might be interested in.  They could not give us a lot of details because of the language barrier, but we got some good leads.

On our return walk, we went up to walk along the street and check out what was going on there.  At one point, as we were crossing a side street, we were startled by a rather large iguana rustling through the bushes.  It caused a momentary jump, but it was also fascinating, (after we discovered what it was).  We talked to an American in one small store-front, he was selling various tours.  He is now living full time in Costa Rica and was quite a talker.  He got us very interested in one of the canopy tours, and we both decided that it might be something fun to do on our last day there.

After taking a rest, we showered, dressed and headed out.  Sunset had come and gone and the beach had become a very different place.  During the day, our view of the beach was obscured by the many vendors and their small stalls, the many cars parked along the street as well as the upper part of the beach and the masses of people.  We were now able to look out, see the water, see the beach, take in the view.  There were still a number of cars on the street and plenty of buses heading up to town.  The buses were packed, and the people on them looked, hot, sweaty and tired.  It was enough to convince us that we did not want to be among them.  There were a number of people camping on the beach, surrounding their campfires and grills, many of them blaring their radios.

We grabbed a cab and went to the Cockatoo Bar.  It was one of the places listed in the guide book and suggested by the group of guys we talked to on the beach.  It is a two level patio bar.  It overlooks the mountain valley down to the beach.  When we first arrived, there were about 6 people on both levels.  Of course, we were a bit early for night life.  The owner of the bar, Eric, came and introduced himself to us.  He looked to be about 40ish, a Eurasian New Yorker.   He was very friendly as he showed us around his bar.  He promised us that the place would be much busier a little later, so we asked about restaurants in the area.  He directed us down the hill to the Restaurante Barba Roja.  He told us to ask for a particular waitress who was celebrating her birthday that night.

The food was good,(not spectacular) and the margaritas were strong, made with fresh fruit juices and the view from the patio was grand.  It looked down over the beach, though we could not see too much because it was so dark.   The waitress was there, we wished her a happy birthday and had intended to buy her a drink, but she bought us one instead, though we did buy her a wine before we left.  An older woman dressed as a younger one, but not ugly.  She was friendly and funny, with the sarcastic wit that both Allen and I find so very funny.

We finished our meal and returned to the bar.  It was about 10 and still there were not many people there - perhaps 20 or so.  Eric spent the evening regaling us with tales about himself, the gossip of the area, his feud with the other bars in the area, as well as what was worth doing/seeing in the area.  He was pleasant enough, entertaining, and attentive.  Based on the other patrons that we talked to, the majority of our fellow drinkers were also tourists to the beach town.  We were feeling the results of the afternoon sun, the walk on the beach and the margaritas at dinner and soon found ourselves, after only a couple of  drinks, feeling the effects of the alcohol as well and needing to go back to the hotel.  We bid Eric good night, caught a cab and called it a night.  What a full day.

Our second day at Manuel Antonio started out with a cab ride to Quepos and a shopping tour.  I think we managed to walk up and down every street in the business district at least twice.  We visited all the souvenir shops and finally settled on some gifts for a few our friends back home, though we did not find anything that we thought we would like for ourselves.  We had a late breakfast at a corner patio restaurant where we could watch the people going by, guessing who was a tourist and who was not (not a very difficult game to play at all) and reading the local information brochures.  I settled on the typical Costa Rican dish again, but it was not nearly as tasty as the breakfast we had had at the coffee plantation.

We decided to take the bus back to the beach The bus took its time loading up, and just when we thought that they could not possibly get anyone else on the thing, the driver would push the people even further to the back and allow others on.  One woman, lucky enough to have a seat at the front of the bus, kept telling the driver that he was being unreasonable, that we need to get on our way and that there was simply no more room for anyone else.  The bus driver kept proving her wrong and kept loading more people onto the bus.  Finally, she couldn’t take it anymore and got off the bus, having to fight her way through the crowd still trying to get on.  The heat of the day had sufficiently raised the temperature in the bus already, and with the addition of so many hot, sweaty bodies, it was almost unbearable.  The sweat was literally pouring off my body and settling in a minor pond on my plastic seat.  Just when I thought we would surely bake, the bus took off and the breeze through the window made it a bit more bearable.

Back in our hotel we got our swimming gear together and made the 45 minute walk back to our beach.  There were quite a few people there.  Many of them sitting under the trees, ( a number of the local beauties were also present, making clear indication of their availability) escaping the afternoon heat, others stood in the water enjoying the very active and, at times, very large waves, playing in the water and staying cool.  Almost no one was simply sun-bathing, it was just too hot to be laying out at the full mercy of the tyrannical “el sol”.  The black sand of the beach reflected the fact that Cost Rica is a nation of volcanoes, and those that chose to lay on it came away covered in dark grey, but thankfully it washed away easily.
We joined the crowd in the water.  Walking out to about chest level, standing there, letting the waves crash down on us, massaging us, occasionally attempting to body surf, throwing water at one another, listening to the various conversations going on around us.  I’d guess every northern nation was represented on that small spread of beach.  One couple seemed to be sharing the same Tico and having quite a good time at it (“Tico for Two” as Allen commented).  This stretch of beach seemed to be a local curiosity, as there were often local young people (and not so young) hanging around the rocks, watching the carrying on in the water and on the beach.  They seemed entertained.

We were there a couple of hours and then decided to head back to the hotel and get ready for whatever we were going to do that evening.  Upon returning, we purchased some sodas at the hotel bar.  An older Chinese woman, likely the mother of the owners wife, was manning the cash register.  She was a short, slightly bent, gray-haired, eagle-eyed woman.  Nothing seemed to get by her as people helped themselves to drinks out of the coolers, snacks from the counter and finished their meals at the tables.  “Anna Mae Wong,” as Allen came to refer to her, seemed to fit every stereotype of the shrewd Chinese merchant.  She seemed to know exactly what was going on, who owed what, and was not going to let anyone slip by without paying their tab.  Besides being no nonsense, she was also a very hard worker.  Throughout our time there, we would see her at the register at night, in the morning and all through the day.  She changed outfits a couple times a day, but it seemed as though she was not going to be away from that register for any substantial amount of time.  I certainly would not want to cross her.

After taking a light nap, we took another walk along the perimeter of the national park, taking photos and hoping to see some interesting wild life.  Sunset on the beach was amazing!  The lights of the departing sun were incredible - oranges, reds, raining gold on everyone and everything it touched.  The contrast against the blue of the sky made the colors all the more stark and breath-taking.  We watched the sun slowly slip behind the rocks out in the water until it finally eased away behind the horizon and fully out of sight.  It was truly glorious!

As we were walking the beach we ran into Rex again.  He really seemed glad to see us.  He had rented a car in San Jose and driven to Manuel Antonio.  He took a wrong turn somewhere along the way and the trip took him over 5 hours.  Unfortunately, despite the long trip, he was scheduled to go back to San Jose the next day.  He was searching for the gay beach, having made the same mistake we had in terms of directions.  We told him where it was and he decided to visit it the next day before he left.


We dined that night at another patio restaurant.  We were not real hungry and settled for some nachos and ham and cheese sandwiches.  There is a jet-ski rental site on the floor above the restaurant.  The owner of it was at the bar.  He was loud, he was bossy, he was barrel-gutted and beer-swilling, with a heavy blonde woman, dressed in the clothes of a smaller woman, on his arm... he was, of course, a Texan.  He was busily ordering around his young Tico employees as they were closing up the rental site from the beach.  He was from Dallas, having moved to Manuel Antonio 6 months prior and bought the jet-ski concession.  We talked a bit, he was quite friendly and very pleased with himself and his business.  After having heard enough about his antics, we moved on back to our room.

After resting a bit, watching some televison and having a “warm up” drink we got a cab and went back to the Cockatoo bar.  As was the case the night before, there were not many people there - maybe a dozen or so.  Eric was not there when we first arrived, so we sat at the bar and ordered some bourbons.  Well, that was an expensive choice and after we drank them, we settled on margaritas again.  The bartender was quite friendly and since he was not that busy, he entertained me and Allen with bar tricks - getting a shot glass to stick to his hand via setting the drink on fire, drinking flaming drinks and other amusements.  He was quite friendly and entertaining, feeding us more of the “dish” regarding Eric and the bar scene in the area.

Eric did eventually show up, but was not nearly as friendly as he had been the night before, seeming to pointedly ignore us.  We felt the snub.  After sitting a while longer, talking to an older Canadian who was at the bar with us and getting some information from the bartender about where the real action was going on, we left.

We had had enough drinks that we were slightly staggering in our walk.  The bartender had directed us to a place that he claimed was only about 5 minutes away on foot, so we decided to walk there.  It helped (or not) that it was all downhill.  We got to the place - Club TuTu - and it was packed.  It was laid out in much the same way that the Cockatoo was, and in fact, the bartender at Cockatoo said that this was Eric’s original bar.  We had to fight our way up the stair, work our way through packs of people to get to the bar, and stand in line forever to get to the bathroom.  This seemed to be the party place.  It was filled with all sorts of guys from all over the world, with an especially heavy serving of northern Europeans.  Neither Allen nor I really enjoy big crowds and after looking over the place, finishing our first and only drink there, we decided to go back to the hotel.

We were definitely in no condition to be driving by this time.  Luckily,  that was not even an option.  We decided to hail a cab, but there were none.  So, we began to walk down the hill, figuring that we would eventually find a cab going in our direction.

It soon became clear that there were no cabs and so we resigned ourselves to walking all the way back.  It was all downhill, it was a pleasant, clear and not very warm night, and we were drunk as skunks, so it was no big deal.  The only possible problem was that there were no sidewalks, barely any shoulder to the road and lots of sharp curves... but God continues to watch over fools and children.

The walk turned into a jog, which turned into a foolish dancing down the hill.  Arms waving, greeting people along the road, waving at whoever we happened to see, singing, and laughing like idiots.  At one point we were racing and I hit Allen’s back with my hand, causing him to lose his balance and fall to the ground.  This led to accusations (in a funny way) of my having pushed him down.  For the rest of the jaunt, he felt compelled to proclaim aloud to whoever would hear, in one of his comical, semi-retarded voice that “he pushed me”, pointing his accusing finger in my direction.  No one seemed sure what he was talking about, and with both of us laughing like loons, they did not become concerned.  Why we didn’t get hit by any of the passing vehicles is beyond me, but we managed to get back to our room in one piece.  Sweating from the run, laughing from the fun, and holding each other up from the drink.  What a wild, grand night.  We both simply passed out once we got to bed.


Our plan for Sunday was to be up and at it by 7 in the morning in order to get an early start in the National Forest, thus increasing our chances of seeing wildlife.  After the carrying on we did the night before, it was just not going to happen.  We did eventually get up and going, but it was several hours later than we had planned.  We both needed to put something in our stomachs, so we had breakfast under the watchful gaze of Anna Mae Wong - toast, coffee and juice.
Manuel Antonio is supposedly the smallest park in the Costa Rican national park system, but it is also one of the most popular.  With its beautiful forest-backed tropical beaches, dramatic rocky headlands with ocean and island views, and trail network... it was easy to see why.  Of course, with so many people there, the richness of the experience got a bit lost and the wildlife were kept pretty much at bay.

A small estuary had to be crossed in order to enter the park proper.  There are no bridges, and so the water must be waded through.  It was only about ankle deep as we crossed and rather than pulling off our shoes and socks, we decided to go ahead and let them get wet.  Once across, we had to go to the back of the rather long line of people waiting to get in.  The park attendants seemed to allow only a few at a time entrance.  It seemed that they were trying to space out the people and not let huge crowds in all at once.  The line was long, but it was moving at a fairly decent pace.

As we were waiting, a couple of free-lance “guides” tried to get in at the head of the line.  They were equipped with standing telescopes and a crowd of anxious tourists.  Apparently the guides had assured their customers that they would be let in ahead of everyone else.  The park attendants seemed to disagree and not allow their early entrance.  The guides huffed and puffed and tried to make their case to the deaf ears of the park personnel.  Trying another tact, the guides had their people gather together and impose themselves into the front of the line.  It was apparent what they were doing, and quite a few of our fellow line-standers were not amused.

One Irish woman in particular was not going to stand for it.  She made very loud noises about it and set to scolding one of the hapless members of the group, telling him he should be ashamed of what they were trying to do, how improper it was, what a bad thing to attempt.  The poor guy didn’t know what to say.  He was with the guide, he was part of the group and, I am sure, he felt he could not insist on the group going to the back of the line.  With true Irish temerity, the woman was not going to let up.  It was really a lot of fun to listen to, and I couldn’t wait for her to begin invoking the saints, cursing him with hell-fire and all the stereotypical Irish dressing down.

By this time, Allen and I were at the front of the line.  The guide pushed one of his customers in ahead of me, but since it was my turn I made sure to step in front of some of the others in the group.  This prevented all but the guide and 2 of his other customers entrance.  The 2 who managed to get in were not going to leave the gate area without the rest of their group.  The guide was in a frenzy - trying to get these few to settle down and attempting to get the other 5 or 6 in to join them.  One of his customers went back out to be with the rest of the group, and the guide was left pretty much alone, shaking his head, resigned to waiting all alone for the others.  From the other side of the gate we could still hear the Irish matron and several others complaining to the guide and making a minor scene. 

Allen and I waited around the gate in order to see how all this might play out, but soon gave it up and started up the path into the midst of the forest.  Walking on the path that followed the contours of the very beautiful beach, with breath-taking vistas of the ocean, and small, rocky islands laying out beyond the beach.  As we were walking the path, we watched a pretty good sized sand crab crossing the path.  Allen watched it a while and then asked if he could step on it (playing the retard, in the appropriate voice again) and kill it.  It became a funny, running joke all day long.  Throughout the day, whenever we passed small animals, this question would again be asked.  We envisioned him wiping out entire endangered species by the process of squashing them (though it never really happened).

At one point, after passing a small patch of mangrove, we saw out in the water, a cruise ship.  That was intriguing enough, but as we got to the beach area we noticed a number of white plastic beach and lounge chairs, and settled in these seats were a whole gaggle of elderly people.  It seems that they were from the cruise ship and had been brought to this beach via dinghy’s from the ship.  Among them were a few young stewards from the ship, attending the ice chests and seeing to it that the patrons were kept comfortable.  All the folks were quietly sitting there staring off into the direction of the ship.  They were dressed mainly in white, many with the big hats and big, colorful sunglasses that this breed of people tend to favor.  It was like walking into the lobby of Shady Pines Rest Home.  Well, this was just the sort of set-up that is irresistible to Allen.  He stepped out into their line of vision, waved at them (some actually waved back) and proceeded to snap photos.  The stewards seemed to be wondering about us, but did nothing to prevent us.  It was hilarious!

After capturing the moment on film, we continued our walk through the mangrove area and then the isthmus widened out into a rocky peninsula, with forest in the center.  We followed the trail around the peninsula and up to what they call Cathedral Point from which we had some incredible views of the Pacific Ocean and the rocky islets out beyond the shore.
The ascent to the point was rather steep and the trail rough.  Given that Allen is not real used to jogging, and we had done a good bit of it the night before, his legs were already sore before we started out that morning.  This ascent was not very kind to him and led to a whole litany of  “Oh mama’s”.  Give our late start, the sun was high in the sky as we made our walk up, and despite the lush canopy of green that shielded us, the heat and the humidity added nothing to making our upward walk any easier.  After ascending and looking around, we began our descent.  Along the way we ran into a group of fellow trekkers - 2 guys and a girl.  We talked a bit and they asked about the nude beach.  They had made the same mistake that we had, turning left at the beach instead of right, and so we straightened them out and continued on our way.

As we continued our descent we ran into a middle aged couple.  They were sweating like pigs - as were Allen and I, it was HOT by now - and we asked them how much further.  “Further to what?!” the man replied, and then went into a rant about crawling up and down the many hills in the humidity and heat, seeing no wildlife, finding no real sights that interested him, just wanting to get out and back to his hotel.  His wife just stood by and listened to him, indicating neither agreement nor disagreement, but her eyes betrayed her thinking that her mate was complaining way too much.  It was really funny.  We bid him adieu and continued to work our way down from the cathedral point, occasionally mimicking the complainer.

After descending we continued to walk along the beach.  This was The Manuel Antonio beach.  It was a beautiful area - lots of white sand, lots of rocks to climb on out in the water, lots of curves and coves, and lots of people picnicking, swimming, hiking around and simply enjoying this stretch of God’s wondrous creation.  I think Allen was feeling the exertion of the day and the night before in his legs, as well as the heat, and so we decided to not hike any more of the trails that were available to us and leave the park.

After getting back to the hotel, Allen realized that he had lost his bifocals.  He has a habit of wearing them on top of his head and it is quite likely that some of the branches that we had to make our way through knocked them off his head without our noticing.  He also may have had them in his shirt pocket and they dropped out when he bent over for one reason or another.  Because neither of these stories are very interesting, we later invented a tale that they were taken off his head by a monkey who then climbed away into the canopy with them.  Isn’t that a far better story?

Rather than head right back to the park, we decided that we would return in the afternoon - closer to closing time - and ask if anyone had turned them into the main office.  We wanted to get to our beach.

Our time there was pretty much a repeat of the day before.  We stood in the water and played, we body-surfed and we did some boy-watching.   We listened to the other tourists talk about their adventures both in Costa Rica and the other places they had been.  There was one older, rather large, British-accented man who was particularly annoying in his conversations with others as well as somewhat amusing.  He kept talking about “nelly boys”, “nellies”, “butch’s”, gay shame, societal oppression of gays and on and on.  I had not heard anyone talk with so many labels and stereotypes since the late 70's.  He really enjoyed going on about “muscle Mary’s”. 

Water-logged, burned, and having had enough of both the gossip and the sun, Allen and I decided to head back.  Before going to the hotel, we went back to the forest entrance to inquire about the glasses.  No one had turned in any glasses, but the attendant allowed us to go back to the beach and ask at the snack bar there.  No luck, no glasses, though we did get to see some rather large iguanas and Allen stubbed his toe on a root sticking out of the path.  I was resigned to reading menus and other small print to Allen for the rest of the trip.
We took a bit of a nap and then headed back out to the beach for some sunset photos.  Allen, having no fear or embarrassment about such things boldly took photos of the locals on the beach.  One boy, riding a horse seemed to glory in it, another, working with the jet-skis (and quite beautiful) was a whole lot less accommodating.  He scowled at Allen’s attention, but his young friend thought it was funny as hell and gave his compadre a hard time about it.

Because we were signed up for a 7 AM canopy tour the next morning, we decided against any night life.  Instead, we went to a local, nice restaurant and then spent the night packing and relaxing back at the hotel.  We had had a busy enough day that we were both asleep by 10 that night.


The next morning, our bags packed, cameras in hand, we were ready to be picked up by the Canopy Tour company for our day in the tree-tops of the forest.  This was to be our last day Manuel Antonio and we were topping it off with a little adventure in the forest.  Our bus was due to leave that afternoon, the tour was a morning long affair and so we thought it would bring this portion of our trip to the perfect conclusion.

We were expecting to be picked up by a tour van of some sort and were a bit surprised when a blue, 4 door pickup pulled up in front of the hotel, practically skidding to a stop, a wild-haired, mustachioed, beach-bum looking driver behind the wheel.  He asked if we were going on the tour and then told us to get in.  As he made his speedy-as-possible-given-the-condition-of-the-road way up-hill to Quepos, Allen and I tried to find out if we were the only two on the tour. His English was not real good, and he indicated that “yes”, we were the only two.  Although his understanding of the language seemed rather limited, he knew all the English curse words and used every one of them, LOUDLY as he made his rushed way to Quepos.  He had to be loud in order to be heard over the rock music blaring from the radio.  He seemed more a young hood than a tour director and we were tossed all about as he made his way up the hill.  It was both funny and a bit unnerving.. What had we gotten ourselves into?

We stopped at a hotel restaurant in Quepos.  We had mis-understood him, we were not his only customers.  At the hotel we found the young people we had run into the day before in the forest... the guys and gal who were looking for the nude beach.  They were with the rest of their group, which included one of the guys’ mother and her gay lover.  The mother was a blast, and her younger, thinner lover seemed to be a fun woman as well.  Just the fact that she would be sharing a vacation with her gay son, his current lover and ex-lover spoke volumes by itself.  Besides these folks, there were about 8 other people who made up the group, among them a tall, heavy-set German man and his two daughters.  After signing all the legal papers necessary, we were on our way.

The other passengers were herded into a van, Allen and I were directed back to the pick up with several other tour guides.  Basically teenage kids.  We took about a 20 minute trip outside of town and into the forest.  Our initial destination was a small house / reception area tucked away in the midst of the woods.  There, we were led to a gear room where we were outfitted with gloves, harnesses, pulleys, etc.  The harnesses were such that they fit around our waist and seemed to push out and accent our crotches.  Not the most comfortable thing to walk around in.

After everyone was properly outfitted, we were all ushered back into our vehicles and taken deeper into the forest and the beginning of our canopy tour.  After walking up a very steep trail to the “demonstration” point of our tour, one of the teens, in broken English, hooked his pulley to a short cable set between a couple of trees.  He tried to show and tell us what would be expected of us on the cables, how to control our speed, how to stop and brake and all the “don’t do’s”.  The mother (never did get her name) asked if they would have a practice session - the teen told her that the first cable would be her practice run.  That did not sit well with her, and she proclaimed that she was not going to go any further.  The rest of the group shamed her into changing her mind.  It was obvious that she was not comfortable with the idea, but she was a trooper and decided to carry on.

From the demo station, we were led a little higher up and to a wooden platform where we were all hooked up to a cable via carabineers and the pulley.  We were going to begin.  It was surprising to find out how high we had climbed on the trail, it did not seem that much of an ascent, but this first platform was really high, tree-top high, and the cable was going from the tree we were at and disappeared into the trees and stopping...well, we could not see where it stopped.  Looking down into the forest, we were hard pressed not to agree that we were high up, really high up, and that the cable, sailing us over this bottomless stretch of forest looked much more fragile than it did on the ground.

We were at least 50-70 feet above the ground, and were sent off one at a time.  The cable was not pulled taut, it had a slight slope to it, and the speed of the journey was amazing.  Allen and I were in the back of the line, and so were able to watch a number of people take off before us.  The instructions were to hold your gloved hand in a slight circle around the cable, without actually touching it.  The idea was that as you got to the end of the cable, you would apply pressure to the cable with that hand and slow yourself down, even stop you.  It was important, in order to maintain speed, to practically lay back and keep your feet up.  It was not a difficult position to attain, but it was almost counter-intuitive and so took the first short trip to get used to it as well as trust the equipment.

We watched one and then another from our group fly over the tree tops and through the branches, speeding along out of sight once they passed a certain point, the leaves and branches not allowing us to see where they were going.  The communication between the guides at both ends was done through shouts and hitting the cable to indicate that the next person could be sent along.  The mother of the group was sent on her merry way with a great deal of worry in her face.  She screamed as she began her glide, and then, out of nervousness or lack of attention, she braked herself and stopped in the middle of the cable.  The guide had to go after her and help her to complete the trip.  Unfortunately for her, after the first leg of this journey, there was no other way back out except to go ahead.

The flight along these cables was incredibly smooth and fast.  Given the position we had to maintain it was rather difficult to look around and see what you were passing, or to see the forest below, these flights were not real conducive to sight seeing.  The forest would pass you by with blurring speed, the only thing I tended to see were the trees to either side of me, the branches above my head and the next platform.  By some trick of physics, we found ourselves actually ascending, each platform getting higher and higher among the trees.  At some points, hundreds of feet up from the forest floor.  Looking down from our tree top platforms, it was impossible to see the bottom due to the branches and leaves that blocked the view.  Looking up, it was much the same - green leaves and branches, occasionally a small break in the growth to allow us to see some of the sky.  The light coming through the branches turning the leaves a glowing green was absolutely beautiful.  The only disappointment to the view was that we were not seeing any wildlife.  I guess that the animals have learned the route and steer clear from it all, but we kept looking and hoping.  It was basically all a blur until you stopped, and a rush that I had not experienced since my last repelling trip.  Incredible, breath-taking and somewhat scary at times.  Everything an adventure should be.

The German man was having a bit of a hard time.  At each leg of the journey, he seemed to be the one who would stop short of the next platform, having to pull himself along the last few yards or get rescued by one of the young guides gliding out to him and then pulling him along.  Despite these travails, he seemed to be really enjoying it, his lack of skill not taking away from his joy.  The platforms themselves were often quite shaky and small.  It really amazed me at times that we were able to get so many people on such a small space.  These platforms were made of two by fours lashed together, mounted to the trees with cables and struts.  They would often shake as we moved around on them, the fact that they could bear so much weight was really surprising.  They were cramped enough that as we moved around to get hooked up to the next leg, we were often huddling into one another to allow for the movement.  As we stopped at each platform, our cables were connected to safety cables in case any of us did actually fall off, though that never happened.            
Our guides were like monkeys on the cables.  They would turn around as they slid along, they would pull all sorts of crazy tricks, spinning, waving, turning upside down, everything that could be done on the cable, they would do.  It was great to watch with what ease and confidence they made these journeys, showing us what we would be capable of if we too did this day after day after day... it would be fun!

Some of these cables were thousands of feet in length, but the journey never took longer than mere seconds.  At one stopping point we had to climb up a ladder in order to get to our next starting point.  We were already quite high, and the ladder was rickety, as were the platforms, Allen was starting to experience his vertigo which had been pretty well kept in check until now.  We were among the last to go on this leg, and the platform we were on seemed especially small, we were forced to stand closer to its edge than usual- none of this helping his dizziness.  When the guide was hooking Allen up, Allen mentioned his vertigo, his dizziness.  The guide decided that Allen was simply being scared, and proceeded to give him a verbal lashing.  I guess, in his mind, he sounded like a drill Sargent inspiring through intimidation, his troops.  What he actually sounded like was a rude little teenager making fun of someone else’s problem in a non-understanding, crude and extremely rude way - and we were paying for this abuse.  After a few minutes, Allen felt ready to go and eventually took off on what turned out to be the longest length we had yet done.  This was the beginning of our descent from the canopy and the forest.
This length took us dangerously close to the trunk of a tree and each of us were warned about maintaining control over our flight until we had passed this trunk.  Going by it, we quickly found ourselves out in the open space, no trees below us, simply a pasture of brown and green.  It was as though we had flew through a   green door and into the open air.   The end of this stage was not another platform, but rather on the ground, in the field, on a raised hill of dirt.  We were not to brake this time, simply go until the momentum of the last few feet, level, slowed us down naturally from gravity and friction.

Those that had gone on before us were sitting under the cable watching the others come by and  rating their technique and form.  It was all a lot of fun.  I was convinced that this was the end of the trip, that we would now walk back to our vehicles.  It seemed we had come down out of the forest.  After we had all re-gathered the guides led us down a path, surely to our cars.  We were fooled.  This was not the bottom lands, this had simply been a pasture up in the hills.  We still had the 9th and final slide to go.  Real rush!            

This final slide was much like the others, except that again, we were told not to brake.  That we would be stopped.  It was probably the steepest and fasted of the trips.  It took us through more trees and ended at wall of dirt and stone and tree trunks.  Coming down it was tempting to think you would crash into this bank, and why were we not to brake ourselves!?  But, the guides had a system with a rope and brake of sorts attached to the cable, just as you were getting to the landing point, your pulley would hit the brake and then the guide, via the rope, would slowly lead us to the end.  It worked perfectly, except for one of the last passengers.  The guides’ rope separated from the brake and so the rider was left to slide forward unhampered by anything to slow or stop his progress - except for the other guides standing on the final platform, who caught the on-rushing passenger with their own bodies and an audible THUMP.  Well, at least no one got hurt.

After we were all together, we took some pictures and then headed back to the vehicles and were driven back to the house that we started from for breakfast.  It was a hearty meal of pancakes, fruit, and some sort of cheese or bean filled cornmeal empanadas.  At one point, Allen poured salsa onto his pancakes, thinking it was syrup.  It wasn’t.  After all had eaten we said our good-byes to one another and then, Allen and I back in the cab of speedy’s truck, taken back to our hotel.

We grabbed our bags, checked out of the hotel, got a cab back to Quepos and the bus station.  Our bus, of course, was late.  The sun was beating down on us as we tried to find some shade under the bus station canopies, tried to find a place to sit in the crowded area.  There were a number of park benches and such, but they were all taken up by other people waiting and waiting and waiting.

As buses pulled into the bus “docks” we would check out the sign in its windshield... is this the one, is that the one, how about this one?  Finally a bus arrived, about 12:30 or so, and it said it was going to San Jose - our destination.  We, and a number of other tourists and locals went to board, but it was not the 12:10 bus to San Jose (as our tickets read) but the 12:00.  We boarded, we grabbed our assigned seats, and we realized that this was the exact same bus that we had come down on.  In an act of great hope, Allen went to feel around between the seats we had come in on -but to no avail - my wallet was not there. it was the same with the 12:05 bus until, finally, the 12:10 arrived - almost 45 minutes late.  It was actually a scene from the comedies.  A bus would arrive, a group of refugees would swarm around it, asking the driver and the people loading the suitcases if this was our bus or not.

The trip back was uneventful and hot.  The sun was really bright, and so when we got higher up in the mountains, it was a real relief, despite the curves and inclines, because of the cooler air.   Somehow these seats seemed a bit more roomy than the ones we had sat in on the way to Quepos, and so our knees and legs were not as pained as they had been.

During the ride, Allen got to thinking that since the city was known as a destination for surgery (plastic surgery and such) that perhaps they would have a one hour or one day eyeglasses place, like in the States.  We needed to do something to help him be able to read.  We decided that once we got back, we would check it out - couldn’t hurt.


Unlike our walk to the bus station, days before, our walk back to the guest house was a journey through a sea of people.  We were again, quite a sight.  Allen dragging his bag-on-wheels, the sound of the wheels clickety-clackety over the uneven sidewalks and cobblestone streets.  People would walk into the suitcase, not seeing it trailing behind him.  Me, following behind, lugging my own bag on my shoulder, reaching down to occasionally help his bag over curbs or breaks in the sidewalk.  It caught the attention of a lot of our fellow pedestrians, and occasionally their feet.

Arriving at the guesthouse, both Peter (the German owner) and Carlos were there.  They put us in a different room than we had originally.  It had no windows to the outside world, it was a room right off the living room - not as nice as the other, the bathroom clean, but a bit dingier, one large bed and no chairs or icebox.  It was comfortable enough though, nothing to complain about.  Carlos did ask us not to flush any toilet paper though... as in Mexico, the plumbing of Costa Rica is not able to handle it.  This did not sit well with Allen, the idea of used toilet paper in the trash can was not appealing to him, and for the next couple of days he tried to make all his bowel movements in restaurant or other public bathrooms.

After getting ourselves settled in our room, we asked about opticians and then headed out to see what we could find.  We visited three or four of them and could not find any that would be able to do glasses in a single day.  It was a longshot anyway.  We settled on some “cheaters” (magnifying lenses) purchased from an outdoor kiosk.  That called for another visit to the opticians in order to buy a cord for these glasses so he would not be able to lose them. 

We spent the rest of the afternoon browsing through the souvenir shops, there were a number of nice things, but we were not able to find “it”.  The real contenders for being “it” were either too big to take back on the plane or would not fit in our home.  Our plan was to look around this day and do the actual buying on the next day.  After making the rounds through the many shops we stopped at the grocery store for that evenings’ provisions - scotch and mixers, and headed back to the guesthouse.
Our plans for supper that night were to go to one of the grand hotels off the opera house square.   After looking at the menu and gauging the waiting time, we decided to go elsewhere.  Earlier in our wanderings we had passed a restaurant at the El Presidente hotel just off the Central Blvd. and we headed there instead.   As we got to the restaurant, we again ran into Rex.  He was just finishing his meal and on his way out for a walk.  He told us that he had also gone on a canopy tour, this one out of San Jose, and seemed to have really enjoyed himself.  Allen and I shared about our experience in Manuel Antonio.  After Rex left, we were seated at the tables near the open windows and had a great meal and lots of people watching.  Then back to the hotel for a few night caps and an early bed time.

Allen was very excited about the public bathrooms that we encountered.  He kept remarking on how clean they were, how well taken care of.  We only found one bathroom that was even half way questionable and that was at the mercado near the bus station.  I guess he didn’t expect civilization all the way in Costa Rica.  It was one of the very last things that I would have expected him to have been impressed by, but then again, that is one of the joys of traveling with another person, they see and notice things that the other might let go unnoticed.

We woke up on the last day of 2002 (and our last full day in Costa Rica)  in good spirits, ready to attack the day and hopefully find just the right memento to bring back with us.  Allen’s legs still seemed to be feeling the effects of our midnight jog in Manuel Antonio and it showed as we spent our day walking about, but his spirits were good and with the help of a lot of “Oh Mama’s” he got through it all.

At breakfast, we ran into another of the guests, something we had not seen much of any of our nights there.  He was a 60 year old guy (Kevin) from Santa Fe, there to celebrate the 50th birthday of his lover.  We finished our conversation with Kevin, finished eating and then settled accounts with Peter.  He also gave us a fascinating story about the whole gay scene in Costa Rica and his role throughout it all as one of the first gay businesses in the country set up to attract the tourist business.

One of our first stops that morning was to a pharmacy.  I had gotten a number of ant bites around my ankles and on my arms during the canopy tour, and it was really irritating me.  We were able to purchase some incredibly fast working cream that really took the sting and itching out of the bites.  It certainly made it easier to make it through the day. 

Our wandering through the shops took us high and low, searching through a lot more shops than we had found the evening before.  We compared prices, we tried a bit of haggling, we continued to look for “it”.  At one point we headed back to the mercado area, wandering through to take in the sights, the smells, the carcasses, etc.  It was both disgusting and fascinating.  Allen was gong crazy with his camera, he had never experienced this type of market before.  He took photos of some pig heads hanging at the back wall of one little booth, and the proprietor seemed all right with it.  At another booth, the owner was not nearly as friendly or as accommodating.  As Allen was framing his picture, the man noticed what he was doing and abruptly pulled the trio of  heads into his booth and out of camera shot.  Allen was a bit mystified as to why the guy would act that way.
Throughout the day, as we crissed and crossed the Central Avenue and the main plaza, we ran into Rex four or five different times, and each time he seemed to be in a different outfit.  Not real sure what all that was about, but he seemed to be enjoying himself.  We also ran into the group of guys that we had met at Manuel Antonio, the group that tried to tell us about the clubs and activities going on there.  They tried to tell us about the goings on in San Jose for New Years Eve, but their English was very difficult to follow.  We settled on exchanging email addresses and went our ways.

We also had to get a picture of another familiar face.  On our many walks up and down Central Avenue we would inevitably pass a particular store with what has to be the ugliest mannequin ever conceived standing out in front.  Garish colored clothing, golden skin, heavily made up, Allen insisted on a photo standing beside the thing.  Luckily, unlike the mannequins, some of the signs that he found funny, the dead animals and shacks, he did NOT insist on photos of the many beggars and infirm that at times lined the streets.

Eventually, we wandered through a section of the city along the river that was definitely not a tourist hot-spot.  We walked through this neighborhood, turned around at cul-de-sacs and dead ends, and took in the “real life” goings on of San Jose.  Most of the homes, in the neighborhood proper were clean, small, colorfully painted, simple and nice.  As we got closer to the river banks they became very poor.  There were a number of homes built along the banks of, and half way down the ravine on either side of the river that were nothing more than shacks with tin roofs, patch-work walls, broken and boarded up windows, weedy yards filled with broken machinery and other assorted goods.  Many of these hovels were simple lean-tos, housing who-knows-how- many people.  Definitely not the Costa Rica of tourist brochures.  Allen found all this fascinating and took a number of photographs.  Places like this were definite reminders of where we were and the poverty that is a very real part of many of the residents lives.

We continued our walk back to the city center and found ourselves in a section of the city filled with nice, older homes, many of them seeming to be from the 19th century or earlier.  A very pleasant neighborhood surrounded by other, less appealing neighborhoods.  We also found ourselves in front of the restaurant that we were directed to on our very first night, but never found.  It was a lovely older home, set back from the street behind a number of trees and a natural stone fence.  It looked like it would have been a fine place to eat with a very interesting menu.  But beside the posted menu was a small sign indicating that the restaurant was going to be closed from December 21 through January 2nd.  Even if we had found it that first night, we would not have been seated.  We continued our walk along the street, gawking at the houses and guessing what they must look like inside. standing


All the museums in the city were still closed for the holidays, and the city itself was preparing for a grand New Years Eve celebration.  We walked for a while on the street where the holiday parade was going to take place.  The grandstands were all in place, as were the barriers to keep people off the street or on the sidewalk, perhaps both.  It looked tempting, but we were adamantly warned by everyone at the guesthouse to be at the airport at least two hours early, and so we were not planning on a very late night at all.
We ended our walkabout in the early evening after settling on two souvenirs for our home.  One a two-drawer box of sorts made out of a section of tree trunk.  It had been smoothed, the bark heavily shellacked, the drawers cut out of the interior of the trunk wood.  Very pretty, very unique, and hand made.  We also bought a leather sculpture.  It is a wall piece, of what looks like a childs’ face, with a smaller, womans’ face (a female spirit?) sort of floating above the head.  It is a flowing image, the leather bent and shaped and swirled in such a fashion that it almost flows with some invisible wind carrying along the scarves of the faces.  It fits our furniture very well, is handmade and quite lovely.  We were happy.

We had decided to go back to the same restaurant we were at the night before.  It was good food, they had the liquor we drink, and they were reasonably priced.  When we got there, it was pretty full, and we wanted to sit near the window again, but those tables were all taken.  It looked like a few of the tables would be clearing out soon, so we took another table where we could sip on our cocktails and watch for a vacancy.  As we waited, another couple in the restaurant kept looking in our direction.  They were both sort of large and “grizzly”, though not unpleasant, but more attentive than we were fully comfortable with.  A table at the window cleared out and we grabbed it quickly.  As we were settling into our seats, one of the “bears” made his way to us and left a napkin at our table.  It was a note inviting us up to their room after dinner for a “party”.  We didn’t say so, but this was definitely one invitation we were going to forego, though it made for some good laughs.

Just as we had ordered our meal, who did we see but Rex, in yet one more outfit.  He was heading out for an evening stroll.  He was also on his last evening in the country and so we wished him a pleasant journey and told him how much we enjoyed having met him.  We had a pleasant meal, several drinks, some relaxing talk and lots of people-watching before we decided to head back to the guesthouse. 

Back in our room, we talked about the new year as well as the year just passing.  We shared about our trip, our experiences, Allen’s new awareness of poverty and appreciation for life in the U.S.  It was an evening to reminisce, to plan and to bask in one anothers’ love.  It was also a very early lights-out.  We ended our 2002 at about 10 that night.


We were up at about 6 the next morning, dressed, choked down a little breakfast and rushed out to our waiting cab, bidding Peter farewell as we hurried by his office.  We got to the airport without any problems, got into a very long line and then discovered that we had to buy an airport tax prior to getting in that line.  We did, returned to the line, and then panic set in.  I could not find our tickets.  I knew I had seen them at the guesthouse, I just knew that I had put them in a safe place, I was sure that I had also put them in a place that was intended to be very accessible, but I was not able to locate them.

I checked the one bag, I checked the other bag, I had Allen check his bags.  I went through my pockets a number of times, over and over again.  I thumbed through my books, my papers and brochures, my clothing and my “stuff”.  I was literally dripping with panicky sweat and Allen tells me he could see my hands shaking.   Just when I had given up, was trying to weigh the possibility of the desk person issuing another ticket on the basis of my name in her computer, even resigning myself to having to purchase new tickets.... I found them!  They were in the back pocket of my suitcase, the one that held nothing but the shoulder strap, the one where I could have easily have found the tickets since nothing else was in that pocket.  What a relief!

As we were standing in line, waiting to check in, a friend of Allen’s from Chicago joined us.  His name was Harold.  He had been in Costa Rica the same days that we had been.  We offered him a ride home once we got to Chicago, as he lives only a couple of blocks from us,  and he seemed very appreciative.  The only hitch in the entire trip back was the several hour delay in Miami (expected but not a lot of fun) and the fact that we were not seated together from San Jose to Miami.

Our plane got into Chicago early.  That was good, because Harold had checked in his bags and it took a while before they arrived.  It was cold in Chicago, with a very light snow blowing - a complete 180 degree turn around from what we had left that morning.  We did not have our cell phones with us (traveling light) and Jake was not there at the agreed upon time.  We were not able to reach him on the pay phone, and were getting a bit concerned that he might have forgotten or had some trouble. 

Jake did finally show up, and his condition was such that it might have been better if he had not.  He was literally fit to be tied.  It seems that his time with Reggie (he had taken him home with him while we were gone) was anything but pleasant.  Reggie was not well-behaved - he ate plastic molding from around the house, he used the bathroom all over the house.  His incessant howling disturbed Jakes’ roommate as well as the others living in the building.  While being walked, he gobbled down trash from the street and then threw up in the house, he bit Jake, he ran away for several hours, and the list of complaints went on and on and on.  Jake was, as I said, not in a pleasant mood.  Add all the Reggie trouble to the fact that Jake’s roommate had become deathly ill (encephalitis) and needed a lot of nursing, and I am quite surprised that Reggie made it through the week alive.

As Jake was driving us into the city where he was going to get out and let us take his vehicle to our house, it was all he could talk about.  I felt bad for Jake, I felt ashamed and angry at the dog, I felt embarrassed that Harold was having to sit through this entire rant.  It was almost a relief to have Jake get out of the car.

We drove Harold home and then, as we were trying to park Jakes vehicle, we decided that it would be smart to remove the face plate from his stereo system (my stereo had been stolen some moths before and we did not want to leave any temptation around).  It was the smart thing to do, but we had all sorts of trouble trying to figure out how to do it.  We eventually got it off, but then we had to hassle with getting the key out of the steering column, but that obstacle too was eventually overcome.

To top the evening off, there were 4 tickets attached to the windows of my truck.  It seems that my license plate had an expired sticker, and the local police, once they discovered the fact (it was about 4 months expired) wrote a new ticket every other day.  At 25.00 each, it was an expensive parking charge.

Despite the swift kick back into reality, the flow of our trip was maintained (far better than our tans).  We continue to talk of it, to look again at our pictures and marvel over the craftsmanship of our souvenirs.  We really could not think of a better way to have begun our new year!  Next year.............. undecided, but somewhere!


H2 level heading

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