La Fortuna and the Journey Back to the US! 

As we started getting close to La Fortuna we kept our eyes peeled on the horizon for a view of the volcano that resides in the town, but unfortunately due to cloud coverage we saw no evidence of a volcano. We arrived at our hostel around 8pm and still couldn’t see it. This hostel we stayed in a dorm with 12 beds, most of which were taken by other travelers. The dorm room was quite nice with a private bathroom and large balcony- it was also really clean. The hostel had a pool with a slack line across it which was fun, there was also a bar, restaurant, laundry, and secure parking- not bad for $12 a night! It wasn’t until after we had come back from getting some cheap local food that we got our first view of the volcano. Even though it was dark, the clouds had cleared and there, towering above the entire town of La Fortuna was a massive volcano. Kyle, Ryan, or myself had never seen a volcano before so it was pretty exciting and we were really looking forward to our hike the next day.

Trying to portray what driving in Costa Rica is like- Thank you Ryan for being such a good driver!!
 

 On Thursday morning we loaded lunch, water, and swimsuits into our backpack and headed towards the volcano. We entered at the Arenal Observatory Lodge where we got a map and some hiking suggestions. The three of us decided to take the longest hike, which was to hike up a smaller, dormant volcano next to Arenal and end at a crater lake at the top that allowed swimming. The first half the hike was easy going, walking along a dirt road. We had a great time taking photos of the volcano, laughing and goofing off along the way. About 45 minutes in we arrived at the actual trailhead, and started heading up towards the crater. And then we kept going up, and up…and up. And this wasn’t just a gradual incline, we literally were hiking straight up the side of the volcano, no switch backs or easy paths. In the thousands of miles of hiking and backpacking I have done, this was by far the hardest hike I have ever done. It just was so steep and we all felt like we were climbing, rather than hiking. It was a bit entertaining how hard it was for all of us, towards the end we were all groaning and exhausted out of breath. It was interesting terrain as it was a clay mud like substance. We were all feeling thankful it wasn’t raining because it would have been almost impossible to hike up. And of course when we got near the top, thunder started grumbling above us as a huge cloud came in and surrounded us in the white mist that had become rather familiar in Costa Rica. Arriving at the top, finally, we laughed in disbelief as our view of the large crater was blocked by the clouds. We found a trail that led down to the lake so we could go swimming, but as we descended it began to pour and we made the decision that it was too dangerous to attempt it in the pouring rain. Plus we were all a little nervous about the descend with the wet conditions. Fortunately as we ate a snack before heading back down the mountain the clouds moved for a second and we got a view of the green lake. It was magnificent, and the fact that we only got a glimpse just for a second, seemed special.

 The hike down the extremely steep mountain was rather interesting. It was literally like hiking down a small river. The water just rushed down the crevices of the trail and we were all completely soaked. I leaded the way and had a great time splashing in the mud, sliding on my butt, and singing loudly. As always getting down was much faster, and we were all thankful that it wasn’t as dangerous as we thought it was going to be. Plus we were thankful for a true rainforest experience! That evening after hot showers and a nap we walked into town and had a wonderful dinner together (thanks Fred and Nina!) and enjoyed reminiscing on our trip together so far.

 Being that we were staying in the dorms, we met some friends: two girls, one from Michigan and one from Austria, and a guy from Florida. The following morning we packed the car full of new friends and headed to this free hot springs river we were told about. Not far from the hostel we piled out of the car and followed a local to a small trail on the side of the road. The trail led to a small river, which looked like any other stream: surrounded by trees and dirt, large rocks causing tiny waterfalls, and clear water. But what was different was the steam! The surface of the water had steam rising from it. The 6 of us quickly took off our shoes and backpacks and waded into the water- it was hot! We found a deep spot and all sat around in a circle, giggling in joy of what we had found. A natural hot spring river- for free! It was awesome. After an hour or so of enjoying the hot spring and chatting, we ventured down the river a bit and found a way down to the lower hot springs without having to walk across the road- instead we were able to walk under it. There we found a small waterfall caused by the structure under the road. Ryan laid on his back and had the water push him down the cement and into the waterfall, which was rather entertaining. Due to a tip from someone in our dorm Kyle swam under the waterfall and just as the guy in our dorm had told us, there was a small cave! The 6 of us all swam under the waterfall and into the cave- it was a really cool spot and we all laughed and enjoyed the interesting spot we found ourselves in.

 The time we spent with the people from our hostel was really enjoyable and Kyle, Ryan and myself all agreed that the hot spring experience was definitely one of our favorite parts of the trip- especially since it was the morning of our last day. After we dropped everyone back off at the hostel we said our good byes and packed up the car with all our packed bags. Driving East we headed back towards San Jose where it was time to drop off the car. Kyle and I had a flight out that night, and Ryan had a flight the next morning. It was a long drive as San Jose is just the most awful place to be in a vehicle. I was so thankful for Ryan’s patience and skill driving because the traffic there is like nothing I have ever experienced before- I do not think I would have been able to handle it with the ease that he did. (Although his hands were shaking when we finally arrived at the rental car place! Haha- it was awful, I strongly suggest never having to drive in San Jose if you can avoid it!)

 We made the walk back to the bus station and hopped on a bus headed towards Alajuela, the town the airport is located. There we checked Ryan into his hostel and then walked to get some dinner before Kyle and I had to get a taxi to the airport. Kyle and I arrived at the airport with plenty of time before our flight, because it was both of our first times flying Spirit. We saved a lot of money by choosing the flight we did: San Jose to Ft. Lauderdale to Boston and then to Minneapolis- haha an 18 hour journey that should only take 8, but it was totally worth it. The San Jose airport was really clean and not very crowded considering our flight was at 1:15am. Right before our flight started boarding Kyle and I heard our names called over the speaker to come to the desk at the gate. That is when we found out we had been “randomly” chosen for extra security screening. They pulled us aside and searched us with a wand and went through our bags. Little did we know this was the start of a long journey home!

 Considering we were leaving a foreign country, we didn’t think too much for the extra screening at the San Jose airport. But when we arrived in Ft. Lauderdale and cleared Customs and Immigration we had to go through security again. This time before they even scanned my ticket at the TSA check point to enter into the security area, the woman just looked at my ticket and got on the radio “We have a quad. We need a supervisor.” She then took mine and Kyle’s passports and pointed to a small cubicle box and told us to stand against the wall. We sat there and watched as everyone else on our flight went through security with no problems. After 30 minutes of sitting there waiting I had to go to the restroom. I told the lady and she had to close her TSA lane and escort me to the restroom! She stood outside of my stall and I felt like some sort of criminal being escorted everywhere- it was crazy. Finally the supervisor showed up and told us we had been selected for “selective secondary security screening” and that we would be undergoing special screening. They then closed down an entire TSA lane and had us go through the scanner twice, and then the full body scanner. With my shoes off I stood on a black mat where I was given the most intrusive pat down. They then took everything out of our bags- and I mean everything- and swabbed them all for residue. The woman also made me turn on my electronic devices- for a second I couldn’t get my camera to turn on because the lens got messed up, and she told me that if I couldn’t get it turned on they would confiscate it. In fact, if any of our electronics were dead and we didn’t have chargers they would have taken them. Finally after my entire bag had been dumped and tested for residue they let us go, without repacking my bag!

Bummed about SSSS
We then had to get our boarding passes stamped from the Department of Homeland Security with this fancy raised stamped that told the Spirit ticket people that we were allowed on the plane. TSA then told us that when we arrive in Boston we would have to go through the same process- ugh! I will say that all the TSA people who were involved in our extra screening were all very nice and Kyle and I could tell that they weren’t any more thrilled about it than we were, but it still sucked. I felt rather invaded. When we arrived at our gate I was looking at our ticket and that is when I saw “SSSS” printed on the corner. I googled it and learned all about what selective secondary security screening entails and why people get “randomly” chosen for it. Kyle and I bought a one-way ticket from a foreign country back into the United States, which must have flagged us. I guess it makes sense, but it didn’t make it anymore enjoyable! Oh well, we finally landed in Minneapolis where Kyle’s parents were there waiting for us.

 It was wonderful to see family and we had a great time chatting and hanging out while we dealt with getting our checked bags. We arrived at their house in St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin about an hour or so after leaving the airport and chatted for a little bit longer before Kyle and I couldn’t keep our eyes open anymore. We had been traveling for almost 40 hours and had only taken a couple naps in that time period. I sure slept well that night!

 Kyle and I have now been back in the United States for about a week. The adjustment took a few days but we are on to our next project and have been enjoying our time in Wisconsin. I’ll post soon about our next project and small journey we have planned!

 

The Ocean to the Rainforest! 

**Half, if not more, of the photos in this post were taken by Ryan! So I wanted to give him photo credit 🙂 **

6/20/2017

Montezuma 


After spending a night at a hostel in San Jose, Kyle and I hopped on a bus headed to the airport. There, after a bit of searching and avoiding extremely pushy cab drivers we found Ryan! We said our hello’s and headed back to the bus. From the bus station in San Jose we took a 30 minute walk to the rental car place, where Ryan had made reservations to rent a car. Within 30 minutes we were in the 4-wheel drive, white Daihatsu headed West.  

Driving in Costa Rica is known to be rather difficult and treacherous, particularly for someone who is not used to driving on non-paved roads. Fortunately both Kyle and Ryan grew up in rural Wisconsin and have plenty of practice driving on dirt trails and in not-ideal conditions. The first few hours after leaving the rental car place we drove on the highway, which eventually led us to Puntarenas, where we took a ferry to get across Nicoya Bay (driving around would have taken 6 hours longer). Being a 70 minute ferry, we all got out of the car and walked around the ferry during the transit. Nicoya Bay is scattered with small islands, one of which was covered in a mossy grass with steep cliffs reaching down to black beaches. Watching the waves crash on the rock face and observing the vivid green covering on the top of the island was pretty magnificent. Being that we were close to the Pacific coast there were lots of mountains lining Nicoya Bay, with clouds drifting past their tips. By the time we got off the ferry it was getting dark, and the roads were no longer paved. The dirt roads had lots of pot holes and large rocks to avoid, but Ryan did such a great job driving I never found myself nervous or worried in the back seat. It was an enjoyable drive, passing through tiny villages along the way. We arrived at our Hostel around 8:30pm and could hear waves crashing on the shore just below the hostel. Dropping our stuff in our room we walked into town to get some food and wander the small streets.

 The following morning we awoke to the most spectacular view of the Pacific Ocean. Just below the grass yard of the hostel rocks scattered the shoreline, creating tidal pools that we could sit in. The sound of the waves crashing on the rocks and shooting up towards the sky filled my ears as I sipped on hot coffee in the hammock on the porch. Our morning was rather relaxing, just all of us fully appreciating the beauty of the hostel we chose. Later that morning we headed to a waterfall and had an awesome time swimming and jumping off a small cliff into the crashing falling water.

The rest of our time in Montezuma was spent walking around the small downtown, checking out some stores, making delicious meals at the hostel, and really just relaxing and enjoying the slow and calm pace of life the people of Montezuma seem to have.

Monteverde

 On Monday afternoon after checking out a beach called Playa Grande, we hopped back into the car and took a 5 hour road trip to Monteverde, a town Northeast of Montezuma. Monteverde is known for its luscious rainforests, which is what we wanted to check out. It was an enjoyable drive as Costa Rica has the most amazing views- rolling hills and mountains of green just seem to expand forever. Taking our time we stopped along the way to eat lunch, check out some views, and even found this little “rest stop” with a walkway that led to the most spectacular view of the mountains and the Pacific Ocean. The morning after arriving in Monteverde we enjoyed some free breakfast included with our hostel stay, before heading to the Santa Elena Cloud Forest. The name of the forest is pretty spot on, because when we were getting close we quite literally drove into a cloud. Mist and white fog encapsulated us as we ascended up the mountain leading to the Cloud Forest entrance. Paying a small entrance fee we grabbed a map and opted for the 4 hour hike around most of the park. I don’t say this lightly, but I am pretty sure that this hike was the highlight of our entire trip in Costa Rica for me. Walking through pure jungle and rainforest- just the three of us- was like nothing I have ever done before. The depth of green and fullness of the trees was something special. Where we hiked was a first growth forest, so the trees were just massive and they were covered in a vivid green moss that was soft to the touch and covered the tree all the way up into the sky. Every once in a while we would come to an opening in the trees and if we waited a few minutes for the clouds to pass, a view would open up and take our breath away. Another highlight of the hike was when we would be walking in this dense forest and suddenly the sun would shine through a thin layer of clouds and all of us would just stop and look up- observing the sun glistening and dancing on the leaves. We would close our eyes and let our face soak up the sun for just a few minutes before it would be gone again. Towards the end of our hike we saw some monkeys playing in the trees that we took some time observe. As we made our way back to the parking lot it began to rain, and Ryan drove us back down the mountain to our hostel. Feeling comfy and relaxed in the rain I made a colorful veggie stir fry over rice for dinner which we enjoyed in the open air porch near the kitchen.

 The following morning we decided to do the “touristy” thing for a couple hours and took a shuttle bus up to a park near the Cloud Forest. Here we paid to walk across 8 bridges that hung above the trees in the canopy. It was totally worth the money, because being level or even above the tall trees was a totally different perspective than the hike we took the day before. When we were hiking the day before I kept looking up, trying to find the top of the trees but finding them too tall to really see. Whereas this time we were at the top of the trees, and I found myself looking down, trying to find their roots. Since we booked the tour through our hostel they gave us entrance to a hummingbird garden. We weren’t really sure what to expect, but it ended up being another highlight. The three of us walked into this veranda that had 8-10 hummingbird feeders hanging up, almost all of which were full. And hummingbirds were just everywhere! They could have cared less that people were around, they just buzzed right by our faces, allowing us to feel the wind generated from their fluttering wings. One of them landed on my finger for a second before heading to another feeder. Ryan and Kyle got some pretty cool photos, but their wings move so fast and they are such quick little creatures that they are hard to capture. I had never been so close and intimate with a hummingbird before, their variety of colors and small size amazed me. That afternoon we hopped back in the rental car for our last visit of the trip: La Fortuna.​​

The Caribbean Side: Cahuita 

6/13/2017

After our couple days in Puerto Viejo we hopped on a 20 minute bus to Cahuita, a small town 20 minutes North. Arriving to our hostel around 10:30am we were greeted by the kindest woman named Andrea. She and her husband have been running the hostel for over 30 years and now that her husband has passed she and her son run it. It is located a 20 minute walk from downtown Cahuita and just a couple minutes to the beach. Surrounded by a beautiful garden and trees our private room was tucked back in the corner of the property- hammocks swaying gently on the porch when we walked up. After enjoying a “welcome” juice which was delicious, Kyle and I packed a small bag, put on our swim suits, and headed to Cahuita State Park. 

There we spent our afternoon hiking, swimming, and observing various wildlife, particularly white-faced monkeys- although we did see a couple howler monkeys.
The trail of the state park ran parallel with the beach, which provided shade that I found myself very thankful for. Finding a bench we stopped to make veggie sandwiches for lunch and then walked down the trail a bit and found a place to go swimming. The water was scattered with rocks and coral that could be seen vividly through the crystal clear water of the Caribbean. Swimming was enjoyable, but definitely not very refreshing as the water was almost as warm as the air! Kyle climbed a tree and grabbed two young coconuts which he then cut open, we floated in the warm clear water sipping on cool coconut water.  

That evening after showering and relaxing for a bit we headed into town and had our first restaurant meal since arriving in the country- thank you Patti and Rick!!! We had a local meal called Casado which was delicious. I really enjoyed sitting at our table along the side walk and watching the night life of the small town of Cahuita. Local children ran around happily and carelessly while adults chatted on the corner.
We saw two sloths moving rather quick for their species across the electrical wires which we called “sloth highways”. Pretty cool! 

On Friday we spent our morning playing frisbee on the black sand beach before taking our 4pm bus back into San Jose. Kyle and I downloaded a couple movies from Netflix before the bus ride, and it made the 5 hour bus ride go by much faster! That night we stayed at a hostel in San Jose, while waiting for Ryan to fly in the next morning.  

Since Ryan has arrived we spent 2 days in Montezuma, 2 in Monteverde enjoying the rain forest, and are currently in La Fortuna checking out volcanos. Traveling by rental car has been quite the adventure! I’ll write more about it later. 

The Caribbean Side: Puerto Viejo

6/09/2017
A large sloth is eating fruit in the tree above my seat on the covered patio. Gentle music is playing in the background, a few birds are singing their late morning songs, and howler monkeys can be heard every few minutes in the far distance. I am sipping on freshly brewed coffee from a large French press and I pause every once in a while to take in the smell and sight the garden surrounding me. Kyle sits across from me working on plans for a wooden bicycle he wants to make in the future, and soon we’ll head to the beach.

We arrived on the Caribbean side on Tuesday afternoon after spending a night in San Jose. Taking a bus from San Jose to Puerto Viejo took about 5 hours, and despite the lack of A/C and the long distance it was actually a rather enjoyable ride. The windows opened so the air flow was plenty and the view as soon as we left the big city was absolutely stunning. The bus was rather empty so Kyle and I sat at window seats, allowing us to take full advantage of the open window and this also allowed me to nap for a while. Around noon the smell of the sea filled the bus and ten minutes later we made a turn onto a road running right along side the crashing waves. The bus followed this rode for a half hour longer before stopping in Puerto Viejo, our home for the next two days. Hungry from the long bus ride Kyle and I hopped off the bus and headed straight to a grassy spot on the beach. There we made fresh salads from the ingredients I’d been lugging around since San Jose, and enjoyed a picnic on the grass. Just from where I was sitting I could see the Main Street of Puerto Viejo and was instantly obsessed with our cute and colorful everything was. A somewhat busy little down filled with colorful shops, restaurants, and bars. The people, wearing equally colorful clothes, were all happy, friendly, and seemed to be genuinely enjoying life. After lunch Kyle and I loaded our packs on our back and went to find a taxi; despite the walk to our hostel only be 15 minutes, our bags are heavy full of stuff from the boat so we take advantage of the cheap taxi rides!

Arriving at Vista Verde Hostel we were greeted by a luscious garden, a friendly dog, and a nice guy named Juan. Being the only guests at Vista Verde (it’s the slow season in Costa Rica so things are pretty quiet around here) we were taken to our open-air room and shown around the hostel. Juan allowed us to use some bikes, and after settling in we headed down the road to the beach. The beach was rather lively with lots of locals surfing, playing volleyball, and lounging in hammocks. We went swimming for a bit, but due to strong currents were isolated to one area. That evening we walked into town to buy food for the next couple days. The hostel has a kitchen set up for guest use, and I made a really yummy tofu stir fry for dinner with rice and teriyaki.

The following day, after a lazy morning and omelettes for breakfast we explored the town of Puerto Viejo. Checking out little shops, talking with some locals, and strolling along the beach I fell in love with the small Caribbean beach town. That afternoon during the hottest part of the day we napped and made sandwiches for lunch. Early evening we headed to the beach again, where Kyle rented a surf board for an hour and I enjoyed watching from the shore. Two sloths lounged in the tree above me, and I had a lot of fun watching them- such awesome creatures!

Yesterday morning we said goodbye to our wonderful hosts at Vista Verde and made the 15 minute walk toward the bus stop in Puerto Viejo. There is a small town called Cahuita (ca-we-tah) 20 minutes north of Puerto Viejo that we are spending our last night on the Caribbean side in. Puerto Viejo is an awesome little Caribbean town that gives off the most positive energy- I am thankful that we found the time to spend some time there.

For his first time surfing he did pretty good! It was fun to watch
The common area at our hostel

Goodbye to High Climber: Golfito to Playa Flamingo 

6/07/2017

Well, I have gotten behind on writing the last week, so will do a quick summary of what we have been up to. Last Monday we motored away from Golfito, turned out of the bay in to the Pacific, and headed North towards Nicoya Bay. It was a 150 mile journey, with absolutely zero wind. Therefore the engine was on the entire time.. this has both negatives and positives. The positive being that we can use the autopilot, which means for the entire 36 hours no one touched the wheel, making our watches easy going. Another positive is that because there was no wind the sea state was fairly calm, so I didn’t get scared or sick. The negatives, which are a bit more powerful than the positives, are that the engine is extremely loud. And also it’s a sailboat, we all wanted to be sailing, not motoring, so the moral is a bit lower than when there is good sailing. The other thing is that when motoring, because the boat is not healed at all, we roll with the large waves of the Pacific- so it’s just a bit uncomfortable, although not enough to make me sick. Anyway! Regardless, it was a beautiful motor and we were close to shore the entire trip, which was mountainous and beautiful. Arriving in Nicoya Bay, we dropped anchor in a small bay within Nicoya called Ballena. Settling right outside a small fishing village around 9pm, we made pasta with red sauce and Kyle and Max had theirs with some freshly caught Tuna. The following day Max went to do some engine work and discovered an issue with the fuel line, which explains some of the other engine problems we had been having. He had lots of work to do, so Kyle and I went and explored the surrounding villages for a couple hours.

 Pulling the dinghy up on a black sand beach covered in large rocks, I tied it to a tree and we turned left, walking towards the fishing village along a dirt road. The village was small, with lots of open air houses and children running around. Everyone was friendly and waved or said ‘Hola’ has we walked around. Coming towards the end of the village we decided to turn around and walk the other direction. After about 20 minutes of following the dirt road to a paved road, we ran into another small village, but this one was much different. The tiny town of Tambor was very tourist orientated with lots of cute shops and restaurants right on the water. We found a little shop that had all sorts of beautiful tapestries and I bought a really colorful one that I am in love with. The woman who sold it to us was very kind and gave us information on the area and some tips on making sure we don’t get “gringo’d” by taxi drivers as she put it haha.

 The following day we made a venture into a town 15 miles away to find a new fuel hose for the engine. It was a nice bus ride up a mountain, providing us with awesome views of the Pacific and Nicoya Bay below. I am amazed at how incredibly green everything is in this country. Even when we spend time in populated towns, the greenery is more prevalent than the development. I feel like wherever I am standing is just the most beautiful 360 degree view. With some groceries and a new fuel hose we headed back to High Climber. The following morning we took off around 11am for mine and Kyle’s last hop on the boat. About 130 miles and 24 hours of being underway and we’d arrive in Playa Flamingo. This time we had wind for about 4 hours of the trip and while the rest of the time was spent motoring, those 4 hours were glorious. A light breeze along with a current pushed us along at a constant 6-7 knots. The sun was setting over the tall mountains protruding from the sea to our right and a few dolphin swam at the bow of the boat. Unfortunately it didn’t last long, but we were feeling fortunate to have finally had some time under sail, the only noise being the boat pushing through the water and the occasional bird. We also saw 2 sets of sea turtles mating on the surface of the water.. pretty funny and interesting that we saw 2 set within 20 minutes!

 Around 5am on Saturday morning while I was on shift I made the turn in towards Playa Flamingo Bay. The sun was just coming up over the mountains and there was a low mist on the lower half of the mountains, causing part of the mountain to disappear before its peak reached out into the sky. Despite the motor, it was quiet morning and I waited to wake Max as long as possible, enjoying the solitude and quiet of the rising sun and towering mountains. As we started to get real close to land I shouted down to Max, waking him to come help me bring us into the anchorage. With Max taking over the wheel I attempted to help with the anchoring, but ended up having to wake up Kyle- it’s just a bit too heavy for me! Being that none of us had slept much the last 24 hours (it’s very different having 3 people instead of 4!) we put up the sun tarp and went back to sleep for a few hours. Around noon we headed to shore to find some wifi, the bus stop, and explore the town of Playa Flamingo.

 The next day Kyle and I spent the entire afternoon packing our gear, cleaning out our cabin, and consolidating what we are bringing with us and what Max is going to ship back to Florida. It was a bitter sweet feeling packing up all our gear, and by late afternoon we had everything ready to go. The following morning Max rowed us to shore around 8am and walked us to the bus station. Saying our goodbyes Kyle and I waved goodbye to High Climber and wished Max luck with his new crew and the next half of his journey to California. I was filled with anticipation and excitement as we boarded the bus to San Jose about what the next 2 weeks of exploring Costa Rica by foot would bring. One of Kyle’s best friends, Ryan, is flying into Costa Rica on the 9th, and we have rented a car for the week before we all fly out on the 17th- so Kyle and I are heading to the Caribbean coast for a few days while we wait for Ryan to arrive. I’m really looking forward to seeing the other coast of the country!