Bungle in the Jungle

Before we knew it, we were hauling ¡Pura Vida! out of the water and it was time to leave Panama. Hauling out is never an easy or relaxing process, as you see your home and all its contents unceremoniously lifted from the sea and set to rest, unnaturally, on dirt. They call it “being on the hard” since the boat is not floating, and is on solid land, but it has to also be a reference to the hardship of the owners as they watch their precious boat that has carried them safely across the sea needing metal braces just to keep its balance. After ¡Pura Vida! was safely secured in the boat yard, we went into a frenzy of activity to prepare her for several solitary months. We spent two dirty, sweaty, insect-filled days before we could satisfactorily declare ourselves ready for departure.

This never feels normal
Scrubbing Pura Vida’s bottom
A waterfront village near the boatyard

The following morning, we hopped a van for the ninety-minute ride to the Panama-Costa Rica border at the Sixaola River. The first step is to officially clear out of Panama. This was a relatively painless as the departure lines were short. The next step seemed like a scene from the television show “Amazing Race” as we carried four overstuffed duffel bags and two backpacks by ourselves on foot across the Sixaola River bridge. Although there is a highway bridge crossing the river, we were required to go on foot. Once inside Costa Rica, we queued up at the back end of a ridiculously long line for immigration. We learned that the line that day was unusually long, but that knowledge did nothing to alleviate the sweltering heat and lack of shade. After almost two hours, we reached the officer that cleared us into the country. Stamp! Stamp! We were in. We gleefully took our bags to a different waiting van and settled in for the seven hour ride to San José.

Everything we need for four months packed for the trip to Costa Rica

We spent the first night at my sister’s house in San José catching up in person for the first time in years over copious glasses of wine. The following morning she drove us to our rental house, a small loft in the mountains of Cartago overlooking coffee plantations and a lush rainforest reserve. We were home for the next two months. We officially became landlubbers.

View from our rental house

Our mountain retreat served as a platform for exploring the nearby attractions. But we really did not have to leave our own veranda to feel the magic of the rainforest. The pictures on the website did not do it justice. The verdant landscape seemed fake, as if someone had edited a picture with a heavy hand. Every morning, dozens of species of birds would serenade us as they frolicked in the trees. The clouds would roll in daily, caressing the mountaintops and sometimes lingering in the valley below. We adore the ocean, but this was an incredibly beautiful change of scenery. Our charming hosts, Stephen and Nancy, call it Paradise Peak. We cannot imagine a better name for this idyllic retreat. (If you are interested in staying at this property, contact us for details.) To add even more charm to the place, Stephen loves to bake and share his goodies. And as a bonus for us, their Rottweilers were our daily companions. Every morning they wiggled happily into our cottage to slobber us with kisses, play fetch, and lounge for hours on the cool tile floor.

Our Costa Rica home for July and August
The house is tucked into the forest
Clouds covering the valley

Stephen, our host, frequently brought us fresh baked breads

We are used to getting up close with marine life, but now that we are living on land, we get to see all sorts of fun new critters.

Turkey Buzzard staring me down
Sloth scratching his chin
Helmet Lizard
Hummingbird hiding in ginger plants

Our favorite critters, however, were the four lovable Rottweilers that live on the property and visited us every day. These friendly girls would sometimes spend several ours just chilling by our sides, loving the affection we lavished on them. They stole our hearts from day one.

Sophie, Sadie, and Stella would hang around for hours
Sadie in her typical lounging pose

In our first month of land life, we had young visitors coming. Our goddaughters, Tes and Audrey, ages thirteen and fourteen, were visiting us from the US for a week each during the summer school break. Eagerly, we used their visit to explore and pack as much adventure as possible into their visits. We rafted rapids, rappelled down waterfalls, hiked jungles and volcanoes, rode horses, herded cows and milked cows, made fresh cheese from the milk, and toured ruins and markets. After each visit was complete, we were thoroughly exhausted.

Rafting the Pejibaye River with Tes, and my sister Melanie and her family
Milking Cows at Finca La Florita in Turrialba
Getting some culture at the National Theater
Jungle hike
Imitating art at the Cartago ruins
Rappelling waterfalls in Turrialba

Hanging bridges in the rain forest in Turrialba
Ziplining through the canopy in Tres Rios
Rafting the Balsa River was an adrenaline rush
An afternoon of herding cattle on horseback
La Fortuna waterfall
Making cheese from fresh milk in Santa Cruz, Turrialba
Playing in the freezing cold La Fortuna waterfall
“Stop drinking our hooch, Audrey!”

In what can only be called a fortuitous coincidence, one of Kimberly’s dear friends, Michelle, had planned a family vacation to Costa Rica without knowing we were here. They were staying a few hours away from our house, but you do not pass up opportunities like this. We packed up the car and went on a road trip. We eagerly crashed their vacation and joined them for a hanging bridge jungle exploration, a volcano hike, a waterfall swim, and lounging in thermal baths heated by the Arenal Volcano. It was a beautiful reunion that was long overdue.

Friends for over twenty-five years, reunited
Hiking with our friends (Photo Credit: Ginger Harris)
Arenal Volcano (Photo Credit: Kristy Lange)
Thermal spring pools at the Kioro Hotel (Photo Credit: www.hotelarenalkioro.com)

In addition to our guests from abroad, we had a lot of local family to visit. After a twelve-year absence from Costa Rica, we had a lot of catching up to do with my myriad cousins. In all cases, re-connecting was as easy as saying hello. Although the years have passed, we immediately felt the love and warmth of our Tico family. We also spent some time sightseeing on our own.

Celebrating my birthday with a “Torta Chilena” made from scratch by my sister and nephew
Happy birthday boy
Downtown San Jose
Public art in San Jose
Inside the National Theater
One of many murals at the Cartago Civic Museum
Off-roading with my cousin Arturo
Kimberly loved getting dirty
Coffee right out of the roaster

I was on a mission to expose Kimberly to as many local delicacies as possible. Some she had already experienced in previous visits, but her education had to be stepped up to master level. We gorged on pejibayes, jocotes, mamones chinos, chicharrones, stuffed churros, local cheeses, gallo pinto, maduros, dulce de leche, coquitos, cajeta, torta chilena (which is not Chilean, go figure), agua dulce, guaro, and fine Costa Rican rums. We joked that familiar fruit like mangoes and papayas tasted better here; which, of course, they do. (Author may be a tiny bit biased, but also right.)

We love street food
One of dozens of food stalls in downtown Cartago
Sweet, delicious churros
The fruit tastes better here, trust me!

Pejibayes

Stay tuned as we relocate next month from the rain forest mountains to the dry forest hills of the pacific volcanic range and continue our life terrestrial until November.

Thermal springs on a rainy day
Aaahhhhhhh