Costa Rica Trip
Costa Rica was just wonderful. It’s hard to really come up with the right words to describe how successful this trip was. We had a group of 10 Great Outdoors people who got along well with each other, a tour bus and driver all to ourselves, perfect weather, spectacular scenery, fun activities, the best tour guide we could ever ask for, and excellent accommodations.
The Riverboys at Play
When we researched this trip, we looked for a tour company which primarily would give us a good value, and which as a secondary matter could deal comfortably with a gay and lesbian group. We were lucky enough to find a quality mainstream tour company, Costa Rican Trails, which was enthusiastic about hosting a gay and lesbian group, and who assigned Gustavo, a well-educated, handsome 24-year old Costa Rican enjoyed our company, and really made an effort to get us to appreciate his country. He really was charming!
On our city tour the first day, we discovered that the National Theater was presenting a performance of Shakespeare’s Julio Cesar (Julio Cesar?) that evening. For 60 Colones (40 cents), it was a bargain we could not turn down. We figured, even though most of us knew not much Spanish beyond “Media Noche sandwich”, that we could appreciate the staging and then duck out at the first intermission. Of course, there was no intermission. We were seated in the first row, so no ducking out. We were there for two and an half hours. Since this was one of those productions in which the actors would come down into the audience and address individual members of the audience, they must have wondered about the lack of dramatic appreciation from the entire first row who just wanted the senators to stab Caesar and get it over with.
White-water rafting, the activity that prompted the trip to Costa Rica in the first place, was scheduled for the next day. We rode a bus up a road that most us would have been concerned about traveling over in a four-wheel drive vehicle with emergency aircraft capabilities. We assembled for the safety chat. They proceeded to scare our pants off about how dangerous the river was: If you fall out of the boat, hang on, keep your toes up, and let someone pull you in. If you drift away from the raft, someone can extend a paddle to you. As a last resort, they can throw a safety line in an emergency bag, although some people have been strangled by the line, so be careful. ....And if you attempt to stand up in the river, the current can break your legs. We resolved to hang on.
The first rapids were exhilarating. This could be habit forming. No sooner were we in the second rapids, though, that Harry fell out. Within a second, he was away from the raft. In another second, he was six feet away. Two more seconds and the safety line was thrown and failed to reach him. Some of us were beginning to plan on an empty place at dinner that evening. In a couple more seconds, however the raft maneuvered next to him and he was popped right up in. He was fine.
In the next rapids, our guide told us the rest of us could jump out and ride them in the water too. This was apparently not a big deal. As long as you are positioned properly, being outside of the raft is not dangerous, and was delightfully cooling on a very hot, bright day.
We spent four and a half glorious hours on the river. One of Bill’s duties as the group leader was then talking the group out of canceling the rest of the planned itinerary and going back for white-water rafting every day for the rest of the trip.
Gustavo suggested the Deja Vu as the gay bar of choice for Saturday night (yes, bars have nights, even in San Jose). They did a midnight show that was unlike anything in the US. This was not some amateur show...this was a sixty-minute professional production. Dancers! Lights! Music! Drag Queens! The costumes were unusual. The theme was “Inferno” and the dancers had flames painted on their backs coming out of their butts. The choreography was imaginative. I don’t believe anyone entered stage left or stage right--they entered and exited through trap doors in the floor and the ceiling, and sometimes just waved arms and legs through them.
The Poaz Volcano was the trip for the next day. This is a dormant volcano with a crater lake of Sulfuric Acid. A cloud of vapor rose from the Sulfuric Acid lake. Gustavo quietly advised us to run if the wind shifted.
Great Outdoors at the Poaz Volcano
We stopped at lunch for what most of us consider our favorite meal of the trip...a small country restaurant called “Pura Vida.” The meal had been pre-arranged, and two women had cooked it in the morning over a wood stove, and served it in enameled metal plates, in an open-air thatched dining area. Lots of beans and rice with stewed meat, plantains with cinnamon, and fresh raspberry juice to wash it down, followed by home-made cake and coffee. “Pura Vida”, an all-purpose expression which conveys enthusiasm, satisfaction, and enjoyment in Costa Rica, was appropriate.
We continued on to Monteverde Private Reserve, traveling for hours up a dirt road into the mountains. Some of the steepest land is used for cattle grazing, and narrow cow paths criss-crossed the hillside. Bill wondered out loud how they kept from falling, and rolling out of control into the valley. Of course our giddy group just jumped on this Gary Larsen scenario. When the bus driver, who did not speak English, asked what the commotion was, Sean tried to explain in his own type of polyglot language, that we were amused by vacas tombe’ing down the mountain. It just didn’t translate well.
In Monteverde, we stayed at a stable--El Establo--converted into a rustic mountain inn. At night the wind howled through the trees, and the temperature dropped. Gustavo took a group of us up to the top of the mountain to try to catch sight of the active Arenal Volcano. We took our little bus for part of the way and then were shuttled in four-wheel drive vehicles. The first group of five of us sat on a log in complete and utter darkness, enveloped in mist and light rain, as the driver went back for the others. When Katie offered to take a picture, we faced her voice. The flash was so startling in that darkness, that we will probably look like four raccoons caught in the pantry.
On Monday, we hiked around the newer area of Monteverde--the Children’s Preserve. Gustavo knew the area well, and pointed out sights for the entire walk. Fast-moving clouds created interludes in an essentially sunny day. Arenal rumbled in the distance, sending tremors through the earth. Toward the end of the day, most of the group walked ahead while Bernardo walked with Gustavo at the rear. It was then that they saw an unforgettable sight--the Resplendent Quetzal, symbol of Monteverde. a magnificent large green, red and gold bird. (Bernardo has it on video, and will be screening Quetzal flicks at the April Social at his house.)
In the late afternoon, the more macho part of the group went horseback riding, and the rest of us visited the Hummingbird Gallery--a feeding station which attracts dozens of wild hummingbirds at a time. These birds are amazingly fast and colorful--like little speedy Christmas tree ornaments. We also visited the native crafts store and a wonderful old fashioned bakery, and sampled locally-grown Monteverde coffee.
On Tuesday, we drove back down the mountain and stopped at the Carara Biological Reserve. From the cool mountains, it was a remarkable change to a hot, dry climate. It was so hot, in fact, that Gustavo decided that the wildlife would be better later in the day. We packed up and went to the beach!
We lunched in a pleasant restaurant nestled in a valley, beside a running stream, with live toucans in the rafters. Gustavo then stopped for cocktails at a most impressive and elegant antique-filled hotel. The Villa Caletas is perched on the edge of the cliffs overlooking Jaco beach, and has a 360 degree view of the ocean, beaches and the mountains.
We returned to Carara in the late afternoon, looking for monkeys and macaws. We spotted lots of white-faced monkeys playing in the tree canopy hundreds of feet above, but no macaws. When we had almost given up, we heard the shrill squawk of a macaw and spotted him in a tree to the left of the path. Even for non-birdwatchers, it was exciting seeing the startling green bird and brilliant red breast. These birds are so large that their wingspan can be six feet, and this one had to be that big. We then saw two more macaws fly into the sunset.
The drive back to San Jose in the dark seemed too short. We were content, and comfortable with each other and life in general. It didn’t hurt that Gustavo had stopped off and bought us a bottle of Guaro (national booze) which we were passing around.
Most of the participants had made arrangements to extend for a few days, but we parted ways in San Jose the next day. Bernardo and Katie went on for diving in Panama. Bill, Dennis, Alan and Greg drove down to the gay beach in Manuel Antonio.
Gustavo (AKA: Gus-Gus, Bam-Bam, Vito) suggests that next year that we visit the northern Pacific Coast, and spend a few days camping and horseback riding near the Rincon de la Vieja volcano. (He may be the first Great Outdoors member in Costa Rica.) Any takers?