Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Moms and Dads on Vacation, Oh My!

When we came to Costa Rica we warned our families and friends that the only way that they would see us during our 27-month Peace Corps adventure would be if they visited us. At the end of November, 21-months after arriving in Costa Rica, our parents were finally able to make it down for a visit. We had a great time showing them what Costa Rica is to us and they (or so they've said!) equally enjoyed seeing how we have been living for the past two years and meeting some of the people that we have been fortunate to get to know over that time period.

Together again!
Our time with them started as all trips to Costa Rica must, in San José. This is not to say that San José is a must see, simply that the airport is located nearby. Chris' parents got into the country first and we spent the following morning catching up with them and taking them to see some of the sites in San José's center. The cathedral, post office, national theater and central market are surely things to see if you are going to visit the city. Later that afternoon I met my parents at the airport and took them back to the hotel, at which point all six of us went to a soda on the corner and our parents were introduced to Costa Rica's typical lunch, a casado. Everyone enjoyed their plates heaping with food and we left with full bellies.

The remainder of the afternoon was spent walking in the city some more and visiting the city's artisan market. My mom was very excited and purchased her first souvenirs of the trip. When our bellies started telling us that it was time to eat again Chris led the way to one of our favorite vegetarian restaurants in the city, Vishnu. There we were able to introduce our families to another typical food in Costa Rica, tamales. We returned to the hotel and spent some time chatting and catching up until we realized that it was late and we had to be on a bus the following morning at six.

Thanksgiving was spent in Cahuita, one of our favorite beaches in Costa Rica (OK, I admit, we've only visited two beaches since our arrival, but we love the quaint town of Cahuita). It was no where near your traditional turkey dinner, but our parents were able to taste one of our favorite foods here, rice and beans. These aren't your every day rice and beans though. They're cooked in coconut milk giving them a delicious, rich flavor. We topped off our Turkey(less) Day with a walk through the national park where my mom happened to spot a sloth hanging out near the trail. (We also went out to dinner at an Italian place in town where we had to translate for my dad... the waiter had been speaking in English and he hadn't realized it! I guess that happens when you're expecting to hear Spanish, right dad?)

The next morning we got up with the sun and wandered into the park again as soon as it opened for the day. After walking for a little while we started hearing the howler monkeys sound and shortly thereafter they made an appearance. As we continued on our journey we also saw white face monkeys, an iguana, a vine snake (eating a lizard for breakfast), lots of little crabs and lizards. When the mosquitoes started eating us for breakfast we decided to head back into town and grab some of our own. We stopped at our favorite breakfast spot, a little bakery in the center of town, for some gallo pinto, fresh fruit and delicious bread. Bellies full and ready to get the bug spray and sun screen off of us we all went back to the hotel and cleaned up for our trip to Sarapiquí.

White Face Monkey
We spent the next five days at Selva Verde Lodge a couple of kilometers outside of Puerto Viejo. While it wasn't quite what was expected (including a little blunder with Chris' parents being put in a bungalow that wasn't finished yet) we enjoyed our time there and its proximity to amazing adventures that should be on everyone's to do list in Costa Rica!

We spent our first day in the lodge just hanging out. After four days of travel with little stop overs here and there everyone was ready to sit back and relax (and enjoy the sound of rain on a tin roof). We did a little bit of walking on the trails (though this was one of our disappointments as guests do not have access to all of the lodges trails unless they pay a guide to take them), played some Canasta and Amish Dice, read, ate... all of that good stuff that comes with a day set aside for relaxation!

Blue Jean Poison Dart Frog
Green and Black Poison Dart Frog

On Sunday morning we got moving a little earlier and hopped onto a bus into Puerto Viejo. Our parents decided that they would travel as we do while in Costa Rica, meaning no rental car and plenty of bus rides! One of the nice things about this is that no one had to navigate the roads and everyone could enjoy the view. Once in Puerto Viejo we walked around for a little while and Chris negotiated a trip down the river with one of the locals. We started out on a one-hour tour, but after being on the river for an hour we were asked if we wanted to turn around or stay for a two-hour tour. We chose the two-hour option.

Blue skies - perfect day for a river cruise!
While cruising along the beautiful Sarapiquí River our skilled captain pointed out abundant wildlife. We saw more than our fair share of gigantic iguanas, two caiman, two crocodiles, a river otter, a florescent green basilisk, a family of howler monkeys and a wide variety of birds. One of the crocodiles decided to jump into the water as our boat was trying to get closer to shore for some better photos, everyone was a little startled and curious as to where the crocodile disappeared to, but we clearly made it out alive! When we finally returned to the dock we were greeted by some very muddy boys who had been playing in the residue of recent floods, one of which happily left a hand print on the back of Chris' dad's shorts. We headed back to the lodge and relaxed for the afternoon, playing some more Canasta.
Crocodile on the river banks
Giant iguana posing for us

Monday brought us into La Colonia where our parents met our host family, our counterparts, some of the kids and some of our friends. We took them to our escuela and colegio and walked around town for a little while. With the sun shining bright I took the opportunity to introduce the moms and dads to ice cream in a bag. They did a pretty good job of it, each developing their own technique, each getting a little sticky in the long run! Chris had had to sneak away for a little bit to take care of some issues with the grant, but we all met up again back at the house a couple of minutes before catching a bus back to the lodge. Once again the afternoon was spent playing some Canasta and Amish Dice!

Ice cream in a bag anyone?
Tuesday morning we headed in the other direction, toward La Virgen, to Tirimbina Reserve (where we decided that we would rather be staying; you win some, you lose some. Note to others: if you're coming to the Sarapiquí area and have some money to spend on lodging, check Tirimbina out!). We had set ourselves up for a chocolate tour at the reserve and it was well worth it. We had a short hike through the rainforest (all of Tirimbina's trails are open to guests and individuals that choose to go on tours there) and ended up at a cacao plantation. Cacao grows in the middle of the rainforest - we were later told that this is an excellent reason to eat high quality chocolate, because you are ultimately protecting the rainforest! We learned about the chocolate making process and were able to sample cacao beans every step of the way and then we sampled some freshly made chocolate. It was delicious! We loaded up on chocolate after the tour and then returned to the lodge for an afternoon of hiking and relaxing, and yes, more Canasta and Amish Dice. We may have finally thrown in a game of Bananagrams at that point too!

The chocolate process, from fruit to yummy goodness

Wedneday morning we went a little past La Virgen to San Miguel for a coffee tour. One of our friends is a volunteer in San Miguel and has worked with Mi Cafecito. She had told us that they offer a great tour and she was right! It was amazing. We learned about the process of growing, harvesting and processing coffee. We walked through the rainforest and learned about the cooperative's efforts to be green and saw a beautiful waterfall. The tour ended with a delicious meal that comes as a part of the tour. Everything comes from the plantation, tilapia, yuca, coffee -  fabulous!

Coffee beans, sorted, peeled and dried

That night we went to a little Mexican restaurant down the road from the lodge. Our parents definitely prefer a little bit of spice in their food (and we were all a little tired of the restaurant at the lodge - which I must say was absolutely delicious with fresh salads, brick oven pizzas and the sort). We were surprised to have an waitress from the States who was down volunteering at an eco resort in the area, (This time my dad figured out that she was speaking English and even commented on her use of the word "y'all".)

Thursday morning we were sad to say our goodbyes to Chris' parents, but the rest of us had to go to San José and hop on a bus to... Panama!

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