Costa Rica: La Paz and La Fortuna

I was pretty nervous when we got on the plane headed to Panama. No, not a secret fear of flying (although I do have that). This was terror because it was an older plane and didn’t have TVs in each seat. So I was looking at 5.5 hours of entertaining the beasts without a suite of airline-provided media to resort to. Had I known, I would have downloaded more videos to my phone. But I’m proud to say that the kiddos got along just fine with 9 episodes of Sarah and Duck, a collection of new games I’d just bought, journals and a set of markers, and of course airplane snacks. Lots and lots of snacks. And their new favorite, guava-pineapple juice. This was our first experience with Copa, and entertainment options notwithstanding, I am giving them a rave review. The staff were so friendly and helpful, and the kids absolutely loved the food. So you can look forward to many more posts on adventures in Latin America.

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This shot is from the porch of our first Airbnb, but we couldn’t see any of this when we arrived. It was pitch dark and pouring rain, and we pulled up to find an old shed with a broken down truck covered by a tarp. I kept telling Yen there was just no way this was the right place. He disappeared for a moment while we waited in the car, and emerged with an umbrella and a grin. Not only was it the right place, he’d opened it up for us and turned on all the lights. It was a bit rustic, but clean and well stocked. And in the morning we discovered that we were completely surrounded by trees. The deck you can see the little edge of here wraps all the way around the house.

As we brought our belongings inside, a tiny cat kept trying to get into the house. We weren’t sure it belonged, so we dropped it back outside. It spent the whole night yowling at us, and the kids spent the same time begging us to let it back in. I finally asked Linus, “Do you really want a cat sleeping on your pillow with its butt in your face? Because that’s what will happen.” Oh. Ok. The cat can stay outside.

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Here we are enjoying breakfast. We only stayed one night before moving on, but the kids discovered a fine selection of books. Of course they chose one of the Magic School Bus books that we’ve already read.

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This is me desperately trying to heat water. Yen solved it by casually using a little lighter to get the stove going. I’m so spoiled.

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We had stayed in that location so we could visit a little garden and animal sanctuary we knew of, La Paz Waterfall Gardens.  It’s actually part of a resort, but you don’t have to pay the high price to enjoy the grounds. It rained during our entire visit, but we’d brought our gear so it didn’t matter.

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This guy was incredibly handsome – the photo doesn’t do him justice. Of course he watched Mina like she was a little appetizer.

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Which I suppose she is.

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Get ready for a lot of photos of Mina holding various things. This was her trip hobby: find something interesting, demand a photo, and leave it. Or refuse to leave it until you took a photo.

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All of the rain had the river very high. I was terrified each time Linus went anywhere near the edge.

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Yen brought his camera last time we were here, but this time we had to make due with a selfie. That’s a good time for a reminder, by the way. We virtually retraced the steps we took eight years ago on our very first vacation together! It’s quite a lot different with two little people in tow.

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I have to admit it really is an impressively large leaf.

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Now, Dad. No panicking. I’m promising now that I won’t show any snake photos in this post. This is actually a frog. See its little arm? There’s a room at the sanctuary where little frogs are free to move among different trees and settle where they want for the day. The man who works in that room has to find them each morning and attach little cards to the leaves they choose so visitors can see them. This little guy is about the size of your palm.

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The kids and I checked out butterflies in various developmental stages.

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This butterfly landed on me when we first arrived and stayed there during my entire visit. I finally had to (gently) poke it off with my finger before ducking out into the rain again.

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Don’t step on the butterflies!  Don’t step on the butterflies! Kids! Watch where you put your feet!

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Mina heard one of the keepers explain that toucans are actually omnivores that like to kill lizards and small birds. Then she regarded it with suspicion.

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That thing behind Mina is the aviary. See all of the water running next to her? This isn’t even the rainy season!

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Yen’s favorite subject. You’ll see a lot of photos like this. The little guys are everywhere!

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After roaming all morning, the kids were starving so we headed to the restaurant for the buffet. The kids actually ate very well on this trip. Mina in particular loves arroz con camarones (rice with shrimp). By the way, Yen and I are both trying to learn Spanish. He’s doing much, much better than I am. He actually carried on conversations with people, while I generally waved and said, “Hola!” I’ll get there.

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With all of the rain, it actually was pretty cold. The kids were happy to find a fireplace near our table.

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Then we left and drove on to our next destination, La Fortuna. We rented a small house on the edge of town. It was a beautiful location and property, and if you are headed to CR with little people, definitely ask me for the details. Later we wished we had spent the whole week using this as our base.

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I gave Linus two new LEGO sets for the trip. I’m proud of him for not losing a single piece!

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Mina enjoyed the flower planted all around.

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The house had a wide covered porch, and in the morning we lounged out there while we ate breakfast. And watched wild toucans flying through the trees!

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Mina led exercise classes each morning. Here I’m doing my Mina Presses, which grow more challenging with each passing week.

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The owner seems to be in the tourist business, as you can see from this sign. The kids are climbing into a very nice treehouse across the driveway. Farther down (I’m not sure if I have a photo) we could see that the owner is constructing another small property on stilts. It looks as if it will be a studio with a combined kitchen/living/sleeping area, and then a bathroom. It’s got a glass front so you can look out to the mountains, but it’s situated so it and the main house don’t face each other. Very nice space.

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There is also a tiny pool. It’s really only big enough for the kids. But it was extremely clean and the kids loved it.

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Our destination for the next day is the Arenal Observatory Lodge at the foot of the Arenal volcano.  In addition to being located as close as you can get to the volcano without actually climbing it, it has a network of well-maintained hiking trails which would be better for little people to hike on.  This view is from the observatory outside the restaurant.  We were hoping the clouds would clear so Linus could see the iconic shape. They never did.

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Another big leaf!

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Being on the grounds of a resort, the trails are not terribly rustic, but well-maintained which was helpful for the kids.

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These are coatis. We saw a whole… troop? of them along the trail. I suppose they were hunting grubs, and Yen invited them to come home with us. They didn’t seem interested.

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The kids are never as excited by animals as I expect them to be, especially Linus. I’m not sure what to make of that. I guess they’re just more wordly than I was.

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What they were interested in was his hanging bridge. You’ll see a lot more of these coming up.

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Yen bought two umbrells, but we quickly discovered that two adults sharing umbrellas with two kids doesn’t work all that well. Mina improvised when she wasn’t “borrowing” mine.

Fun fact: it turns out that rain coats don’t have a very long shelf life. The one you can see me wearing here is actually my old raincoat – so old that I actually bought it for our first trip to Costa Rica when we were dating! I accidentally grabbed the wrong one from the closet when packing. It’s definitely snug, but the bigger issue is that the lining has completely deteriorated. It kept some of the rain off, but every time I took it off, I had flecks of grey lining all over my neck and arms. It’s in the garbage can now.

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As you can see, we decided that a little rain couldn’t stop us from having our vacation. We knew it was a possibility that it would rain every day (it didn’t), so we packed accordingly. Even my new backpack has a little waterproof cover.

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I believe I’m handing out snacks here. These kids ate so many crackers and cookies on this vacation as I attempted to keep them from whining. We discovered that Linus loves guava sandwich cookies but Mina does not. They both like coconut wafer cookies but Mina doesn’t like coconut sandwich cookies. And they both love cheese sandwich cookies.

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That hike earned us some lunch! Here I am enjoying a local beer. I discovered that Costa Rica has a thriving craft beer culture. Who knew?

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And Mina discovered guanábana (or soursop) smoothies.

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Costa Rica has fully given up on straws. Sometimes you’ll be offered a biodegradable one, but those are pretty much useless. I almost packed the kids’ straws when we were leaving but decided against it. Probably just as well, as this gave them something to do.

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Yen and I ordered the “typical Costa Rican dish for two,” and of course had Lizano on it.

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On the way home, we stopped off at this souvenir shop and the kids found a giant carved anaconda outside. So naturally, they wrestled it.

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We got into a rhythm of going back to the house around 2pm to relax. Linus looks like he’s playing some kind of peg game, but he’s really just put cereal all over a trivet.

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There were small banana trees all over the property. We noticed that on the big farms, the bunches were covered with blue plastic bags. Judging by all of the spots on these, I’m guessing it’s to protect them for the picky American consumer.

Oh, and that big purple thing down at the bottom is actually the banana flower. You can slice it and eat it as a salad.

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When we were getting ready to leave, Linus used the net to leave the pool as he’d found it.

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Look at that! It’s Yen!

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Just like last time, our favorite thing about Costa Rica was the fruit. Last time mango was in season, but this time was papaya. I’m usually not much of a fan of papaya, but I really loved it fresh and ate bowl after bowl. Turns out it’s very good for, um, the digestion.

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I bought each kid a little journal for doodling on the plane. Mina filled hers completely.

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I’m sure I’ve mentioned before that we suspect Mina will be a soccer star. I was actually surprised at how good Linus was at controlling the ball. I’m afraid our future weekends are going to be taken up with soccer games. Ugh.

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Ah – here’s a shot of the outside of the house with the little treehouse on the right. And that’s our rental car. I think every tourist was issued a Suzuki.

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I’m writing this with Mina over my shoulder (she asked earlier, “Was I a baby then?” No, Mina. It was three weeks ago!), and she’s chanting, “Cha-cha! Cha-cha!” These kids like the rare photos of Yen.

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Purple face! Both kids were really into drinkable yogurt. Of course we have that at home too, but I suppose they were excited because it was vacation.

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What weirdos take photos of soap? People who love the soap! This tub – probably 6 inches tall – was amazing. Inside is basically hard-packed powder. When you’re ready to use it, you wet your hand and scoop a little out. It was so efficient and easy to get only the amount you need. Wish we could buy it here.

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And speaking of genius inventions, this was dinner our last night in La Fortuna. This place, Restaurante Cafe Mediterraneo, has a playground inside. We had a lovely meal and the kids just ran around. Every once in a while they came over to grab a mouthful, and then they were off again. The staff were friendly and happy to have them, and Yen and I had a lovely meal. Genius! Why aren’t there more of these?

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We packed up the next morning and started the long drive to our next destination, Monteverde. It’s only 17 miles away as the crow flies but would take us nearly 3 hours.

Along the way we stopped off at Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges Park.  It’s known for its steel hanging bridges that rose above the tree tops.  There are 6 bridges in total.

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The Jumping Viper tunnel!

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It was raining again. But we persisted.

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When too many people get on a bridge at once, you get some serious oscillation. They actually had guides posted at some of them to keep too many people from getting on at once.

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Fungus!

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This little guy came to say goodbye.

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Coming up next: the cloud forest!