PROLOGUE

We had prepared ourselves for a much simpler vacation than we were used to. We were staying in hotels four nights at a time and were planning for one event a day. We did go slower than we normally did and couldn't do things like river rafting, but to our surprise Zach was pretty resilient and could nap anywhere he was seated. We were fortunate enough to get to do 2-3 awesome activities a day. Any down time we had evaporated with logistics and packing Zach's stuff, and my journaling was reduced to this simple logging of the itinerary, but over all it was a great trip.




ARENAL AREA

1/30

- Drive to Arenal - After touching down, getting the rental car and driving three hours through the city and cloud forest we arrived at our bungalow hotel Kokoro with staff that adored Zach.

- Kalambu - We hit the Kalambu water park and hot springs. They had great water slides, Huge hot tub pools with tropical foliage and a swim up bar with good pizza .


1/31

- Mistico Hanging Bridges - Eight large hanging bridges spanning ~ football field lengths over gorges and gullys atop the foliage. We got a great baby toss shot by the falls.

- Ecocentro Danaus Ecological Reserve - Simon, the tour guide gave a great tour where he showed us two toed sloths, red poison frogs, owl moths and blue monarchs, caymans (like small crocodiles), and a myriad of birds. He also showed us the basilisk ("Jesus Christ lizard") that he scared into running on water. Christa got a mask from a local tribe that carved them out of balsa wood. I got a call, surprisingly, at the reserve... Twice. It was from our hotel trying to confirm reservations for zip lining the next day. That was pretty awesome.

- Baldi Hot Springs - a very fancy hot springs with 25 different pools of various shapes sizes and temperatures. They had walk up bars, water slides, a kids area, and even a natural sauna made from a cave and hot spring steam. It was very cool, but not quite the right speed for Zach.


2/1

- Sky Trek - tram ride and zip line. The tram was a full on ski lift that took us to the top of the mountain. We went flying over tree tops with gorgeous views of the jungle, lake and the Arenal volcano This was the best zip line ever. The forests looked like the forests of Avatar. (It turns out Spielberg filmed a few shots in surrounding jungles to fuse with animation for the movie so that made sense.) I went 8:30-10:15. Christa went from 10:30-12:30. We switched off watching Zach. He fell asleep on the tile floor instead of the comfy couch on my watch.

- Volcano National Park - A 7 km hike to see 1992 lava fields and Arenal (covered in clouds). We saw a 400 year old tree with enormous buttress roots. We also saw two crazy types of birds the size of turkeys and one relative of a raccoon with an injured paw. We adapted "jingle bus" to "jingle bus" for Zach on account of us being in the jungle. Zach loved it.

- Our Hotel (Kokoro) hot springs - one hot and one mild tub surrounded by lush greenery. We kept passing Zach back and forth between tubs. We had a few beers with fellow guests. It was very relaxing.


2/2

- Chocolate tours - we learned a brief history of chocolate. They took us to a small tourist plantation with cacao. They explained how one pod has 25-50 cacao seeds and that one 40g chocolate bar would take 200 seeds (4-8 pods) and a tree makes ~60 pods/year. That's about 8-15 pure cacao chocolate bars per tree per year; no wonder the good stuff is so expensive. Zach demanded chocolate incessantly. He spit it out when it was raw cacao, fermented cacao, roasted cacao, and ground. But when they added sugar he went nuts and the crowd enjoyed the entertainment

- Water falls - we descended to a jungle waterfall. I swam in the pool at the bottom, never being able to overcome the current and swim to the center where the falls crashed down. The cliff wall was an overhang with classic jungle vines that made it different than any Sierra falls. Zach joined at the edge of the pool to splash and throw rocks

- Los Lagos hot springs - A beautiful lattice of hot and cool pools and slides and jets. We saw toucans randomly in the tree. Best of all it was free because we accidentally snuck past the guards. Dinner at our hotel - We had one more lovely night at our hotel. We also found that the local chickens sleep like 20 feet up in the trees.




MONTE VERDE AREA

2/3

- Hotel Los Heroes - A Swiss dairy farm on the north side of the Arenal lake. Randomly it had a 30 min long miniature train ride that took us to a restaurant atop a hill. The restaurant has panoramic views of the lake and Arenal volcano and it friggin rotated like the space needle. I had one of the best goulashes I've ever had. Apparently Jimmy Carter had visited the place a few years back.

- Drive to Monte Verde - Smooth sailing and then 36 km of unpaved pothole ridden dirt and rock windy steep roads reminiscent of grizzly peak in Berkeley. My average speed was 20-30 km/hr.

- Drinks, dinner and a beautiful sunset the hotel


2/4

- Butterfly museum - the first butterfly museum in Costa Rica. They started by showing us insects; stick insects, tarantulas, a beatle that didn't have a mouth after its post-larva metamorphosis and whose exoskeleton was so strong it could be eaten by a bird, pooped out the other end and keep going (I tried to crush it between my thumbs and index finger and couldn't). We also saw spiders, including one kind from the 4th Harry Potter movie. We saw butterflies galore and learned how to pick them up. They explained how leaf cutter ants collected leaves to farm; growing fungus as food. A few minutes later Zach pointed to the leaf cutters and shouted “making food, making food.” He repeated multiple times. He actually got the concept. Wild.

- Selvatura Park - Hummingbirds, one of the world's largest insect museums (all dead, but still spectacular) and another hanging bridge tour. This forest was different than Arenal. It is a cloud forest so much of the plant life absorbs water from the air and that enables plants to grow on trees. So the forest is denser with everything growing on top of each other. Zach jumped up and down on the bridge and almost gave Christa a heart attack, but in the end she was cool with him running up and down the football field long rickety bridges suspended 100s of feet in the air.

- Serpentarium - A museum for snakes, vipers, frogs and turtles. Zach loved the turtles, but was too afraid to pet even the baby turtle.

- Dinner at the tree house - A restaurant built around a huge tree. Lights on the inside illuminate the underside of the branches in different hues. Very cool. It was rated top 10 most bizarre restaurants in the world by some random trip website.


2/5

- The Cheese Factory - We toured a cheese factory formed in the 50s by a family of ~50 Quakers from Louisiana who were conscientious objectors from WWII. They had to write the USDA to ask how to make cheese because they didn't know how. Zach was very rambunctious and Josh missed most of the tour watching him. We all sampled cheese and had ice cream at 10am

- Curi Cancha nature preserve with guide - A beautiful 3 hour hike learning about coffee beans, berries used for dye, ficus plants, the quetzal bird (which we failed to see, but did find trailed of his regurgitated avocado pits), tiny orchids and more. Also the guide, Jorge, took some sweet slow motion iPhone videos of humming birds through a 20x telescope.

- Kinkajou Night Hikes - Just a fantastic hike. We saw leaf insects, red eyed frogs, a Kinkajou (the tour company's namesake), an awesome moving sloth with baby, a toucan, snakes and a tarantula. Zach was passed out for most of the hike except for the last bit where he screamed his head off for 15 min. His favorite part was the cramped shuttle we took too and from the site. He babbled “bus, bus, on the bus, takey-offff, landing, really fast,” in miscellaneous order for the majority of the ride.


2/6

- 100% Adventura - I did another hanging bridge tour while Christa did 8 small zip lines a silly rickety bridge, two superman style ziplines including a 2 km long one, and a very cool hybrid buggy/Tarzan swing. The hanging bridges were kinda repetitive and not so majestic, but I had fun swinging Zach over the trail steps and he got very excited at almost everything (though he had about a 2 second attention span). I also got to climb up the inside of a ficus tree; it turns out it was one of the two that were filmed and then digitally merged to make the home base tree in Avatar. The second tree was propping up a hanging bridge 50m down the way. I did the zipline tour in under an hour after the hanging bridges. Christa and Zach watched the zip lines as Zach shouted “zip-a-line. Hear it, hear it! Really fast!”

- Monteverde Reserve - The first true cloud forest we’d been in (Selvatura, Curi Cancha and 100% Adventura were all transitional rain forest / cloud forests). Monteverde was dense, rich, green and had plants growing on plants, growing on plants. One tree was hosting 70 different plant species including 40 different tiny orchids. The crest of the park is on the continental divide. On one side you can see the pacific, on the other side you can see Lago Arenal. In the park all shafts of light hit something green. It felt like what a jungle should be. We didn't see many animals, save for the hummingbirds at the free hummingbird garden out front and a few other birds and bugs, but it was a great hike.

- Sarah’s “Fuckin’” Gallery - We wanted to check out a Sarah's gallery which had a sign just off the road on the way back from Monte Verde. We turned down a dirt road off of the main dirt road. The gallery wasn't right there. The road kept going and getting narrower and steeper and more filled with giant roots and divots. There was no where to turn around and the road was barely wider than a car width and nowhere to turn around. Finally a narrow intersection that afforded an Austin Powers-esque 20 point turn around to get out of dodge. No sooner had we turned around and headed down the treacherous road then a family started to follow us running down the road. Sarah and her minions, no doubt. We out drove them, barely. I wasn't going down that ridiculous road again

- Goodbye to Silvia - We said our goodbyes to our hotel receptionist/travel agent Silvia. Zach fed the hotel dog, Tito, chicken bones and shrieked with delight. We watched a stunning sunset. Christa and Silvia struggled to connect on Facebook while Zach spent 20 minutes trying to fit the room key into the keyhole of the outgoing mailbox.




MANUAEL ANTONIO AREA

2/7

- Crocodile Jungle Safari, Tarcoles - upon Silvia's recommendation we did the tico equivalent of Louisiana swamp tour. It was Zach's first time on a boat and he was very excited about the Croc-O-diiiiles! We saw a few and some nice birds and forest of mangroves down an offshoot. Zach climbed on almost every seat in the boat. It was relaxing, a great midway stop, though an unspectacular tour.

- Super Bowl at the Blue Banyan Inn - After taking inefficient google map directions and guessing our way through 30 minutes of unmarked dirt roads without GPS, we managed to find the Blue Banyan Inn and animal rescue center (called Kids Saving The Rainforest). (If we had realized that Maxi-Pali was a Walmart-esque store and not the name of a town, we would have been able to follow the directions from the website and taken the 10 minute simple marked drive to the inn.) Anyway, Chip and Jennifer, the owners, were fantastic. They made us feel right at home and even organized a Super Bowl party for us (I had called before we left inquiring about the super bowl). Rescue center volunteers (many of which didn't even know the rules of football) joined us. The party was in Chip and Jennifer's own apartment because it was the only place with satellite TV. They didn't know us and they invited us into their home with snacks and nachos and beer and three dogs for Zach to play with and pet in an inappropriately rough manner. One of the partygoers was rooting for the Broncos because of a loose connection that they had with Elway; long ago this person was the drug dealer for Elway's ‘79 and ‘80 Stanford team, though Elway did not partake. One phases summed up the game; Defence wins championships. Damn the Denver D looked good. Zach stayed up way too late and was a wreck the next day.


2/8

- Kids Saving The Rainforest (KSTR) Tour - The main purpose for this inn is as funding for the animal rescue center, KSTR. KSTR also does forest replanting, but animal rescue is their main thing. KSTR was started by two 9 year old girls that wanted to help out monkeys that we're getting electrocuted walking across unprotected power lines. Anyway, we got to see a lot of exotic birds with injuries, marmosets, squirrel monkeys, white faced Capuchin monkeys, spider monkeys and, an adorable baby sloth being nursed back to health. Zach was a terror most of the morning due to staying up until 930pm to see the Super Bowl. He still loved seeing the animals especially the baby sloth. He got peed on by a spider monkey and thought it was the funniest thing ever. But, in general he was a screaming whiney baby until we put him down for his first proper mid-day nap on a bed the entire trip (he napped in the car or in a backpack every other time). Meh, were bad parents, sue us. Zach got to see a baby sloth and a bunch of other cool shit.

- Playa Biesanz (aka secret beach) - A short 15 min drive past Quepos and we parked and readied ourselves for a 5 min jaunt down a dirt path. We're were greeted at the paths entrance by a bevy of squirrel monkeys just feet away from us. As we walked down the jungle path we heard deep growls like that of a wild boar (or what we imagine a boar to sound like). Christa made me slow down so she could get closer to me in case of attack. As we got closer we found the owners of the booming voices. We looked up and saw a pair of aptly named howler monkeys roaring. Quite the pipes those animals have (howlers and white faced capuchin monkeys are the two types of monkeys Zach can identify, sort of). We got to a lovely little clear turquoise beach/cove, rented Zach a life vest and took him into the ocean for the first time. It was like bath water and Zach loved it. He played for an hour or two in and out of the waves. Once he was all cleaned up and changed, ready to return, he plunged himself into sand, covering himself from head to toe and then proceeded to eat sand. For a 1.5 year old kid that can identify monkeys, he's still pretty stupid :-P


2/9

- Manuel Antonio and beach day - The most crowded park in Costa Rica. The lines and our guide sucked (we had 12 people on the tour and the guide just kept asking other guides where the wildlife was). 10 minutes later we left our guided tour and was rewarded by sloths, monkeys and even jungle raccoons (normal raccoons in the jungle). The whole park could be walked briskly in 2-3 hours. We only walked half of it and spent the other half playing on an idyllic beach, swimming in the ocean, watching the iguanas and enjoying the Capuchin monkeys lazing about on the beach.

- Pool at the hotel - Lots of splashing. Zach is starting to learn to catch. After the post pool shower, naked Zach took a dump on the floor.


2/10

- Villa Vanilla - A lovely tour of locally grown vanilla, cacao and various other spices. Zach ate a type of sweet cinnamon that was freshly shaved from the tree. He also had a little bit of fresh green pepper from the vine that was about 10x spicier than after it has been dried. That's my boy! It was capped off with vanilla cheesecake, vanilla ice cream, chocolate cake and cinnamon tea made from their own ingredients in a little jungle bungalow.

- Sunset Sails catamaran cruise - A lovely 4 hour sunset cruise with drinks, food, dolphin watching, crappy snorkeling, swimming and water sliding. Zach even got to steer the boat.




SAN JOSE AND AROUND

2/11

- National Museum - An old fort converted into a national history museum in 1949 when Costa Rica abolished the army.

- National Theater - A brief tour of the beautiful national theater. We hitched a ride with a private tour that let us tag along because Zach is adorable. Christa ogled the architecture while Zach and I took advantage of the vaulted ceilings with some solid baby toss

- Strolling in Downtown San Jose - We saw a couple of cathedrals and San Jose’s Chinatown. Chinatown included a very explicitly labeled gay porn theater. We saw a ton of green birds in palm trees near the town square too. Stiefel’s Costa Rican microbrew pub - A bastion of good beer in a sea of nothing but mediocre “Imperial” - the Budweiser of Costa Rica.


2/12

- Poas Volcano - It was complete white-out conditions, so we saw none of the blue pools in the active volcano, but we had a nice walk in the dwarf cloud forest (drawled by the acid of the volcano) and Zach had his first hot chocolate, which he loved.

- La Paz Waterfalls and Nature Preserve - It was rainy and we almost didn't go, but this was possibly the best nature preserve we saw (minus the baby sloth feeding at the Blue Banyan). We even got pictures holding a baby toucan. Also the waterfalls were great, particularly against the misty backdrop of the day. It was capped off with a short real life jungle bus ride from their bottom of the five falls to the entrance. Zach spent the entire time looking out the window and was inconsolable when he was pried out of the bus.

- Pizza beer and packing - We ordered a pizza, watched a dumb Adam Sandler movie with Jennifer Aniston and drank the better part of our remaining 6 pack while we packed and played with Zachy. It was a good trip.


2/13

- Homeward bound - We said good bye to ole’ squeaker (our underpowered Daihatsu compact SUV squeaked for some reason, but it was a good car) and headed home on two separate airplanes, as Zach made sure to remind us every few minutes; “twoooo air-pa-laneesss!”




ZACH SPANISH

- Agua (from before the trip)

- Holla

- Gracias (pronounced gracida)

- Muchas gracias (gracidas) (only spoken on the last day )

- Adios

- Autobus

- Capuchin monkey (kinda Spanish)

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