Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Costa Rica: Day 3

On our third day in Costa Rica, we checked out of our cabin and made our way to Proyecto Asis, which is an animal rescue center near La Fortuna. L and I stumbled across a video of this place on National Geographic Kids before our trip, and we decided to work it into the itinerary. We are so glad we did! It was awesome! First, we took a tour and our guide Adriana told us about all the different animals. Then they gave us a snack and helped us prepare a snack for the animals. Then we made our way around the facility again, feeding the animals bananas, watermelon, carrots, broccoli, etc. This was definitely the highlight! You feel much more of a connection with an animal when you feed it than when you just walk by and listen to someone talk about it! L was in heaven. I have some awesomely cute videos that I haven't edited yet because I know I won't do a great job. Do I have any awesome video editing sisters-in-law who might like to help me out on this one? :)

First up was Perla the Peccary. We got to feel her bristles and watch her run around. We learned that peccary herds range in number from 100 to 500 animals in the wild, and if you ever see one in the wild, climb a tree and wait! They have several peccaries at Asis, but we only got to see Perla because the others are too mean. Adriana showed us Perla's special "creature power" - a little bump on her back which, when pressed, squirts out a stinky smelling fluid. Eww! The other kids smelled, but L wisely declined. J was literally shaking with fear the whole time we stood near Perla.

Next came a beautiful toucan. The animals at Asis are there because they can't survive in the wild, usually because they became pets and then were abandoned or confiscated. Many of the birds had wing injuries that hadn't healed correctly and couldn't fly. We loved seeing these beautiful birds up close! We got to hear the macaw below say, "Hola!"

Next, we saw spider monkeys. It was so fun to see them swinging all around their enclosure. We got to hold their hands. Who knew that spider monkeys only have four fingers (and no thumb) on their hands?! At Proyecto Asis, they say, "High four!" so you can be just like a spider monkey. :)

Holding hands with the monkeys was so fun! Their fingers are so soft. L says, "Their fingers felt like the softest rubber ever! Sort of tough, but sort of bendy."

More macaws.

White-faced (capuchin) monkeys. These guys were so cute! L and J both enjoyed holding their tiny hands.

More spider monkeys. This guy gave me a nice view of his teeth. :)

Besides the wildlife living in captivity, there were plenty of wild animals hanging around, like this blue heron sitting on her nest, below. The daddy was perched nearby keeping watch for her. We also saw some caimans (small crocodiles), cranes, and a huge colony of leaf-cutter ants, busily making their way back and forth between their favorite tree's leaves and their home.

After we washed up, we munched on watermelon and pineapple, and then prepped the food for the animals. We got to feed most (all?) of the animals we'd seen so far. It was really fun. J kept helping himself to the chunks of fruit, which everyone thought was so funny. Every time we'd turn around, he'd have a mouthful! We tried to help him feed a monkey, but he was devastated when the monkey stole his banana chunk, or so it seemed! Poor guy!

After we made the rounds, feeding the animals, it was time to get on the road. We had a long drive to Quepos ahead of us. Quepos is a town on the Pacific Ocean, so we drove through the mountains, through the rainforest, through more of a desert, and finally to the coast. Along the way, we made sure to stop at "Crocodile Bridge." Aptly named, if you ask me! Between the crocodiles on one side and the speeding cars on the other, it was quite a harrowing experience for the parents of two busy little boys! We counted 35 HUGE crocodiles in the water below. We just couldn't believe their size! This is also the place where J learned what a crocodile says (clap! clap! with his hands).

After we stretched our legs looking at the crocodiles, we went to the nearby fruit stand for smoothies and fresh coconut water (from the coconut!), and then went on our way. The boys were great little travelers. We arrived in Damas (close to Quepos) around 5:30 that night, shortly before dark, and checked into the Kayak Lodge.

It was in a sort of weird location - no other touristy stuff around, just drive through a Costa Rican neighborhood and some palm groves, and then you find yourself at a hotel and kayak tour place! The owners, Bernard and Marlene, were SO NICE! We found all the people of Costa Rica to be warm and helpful and hospitable, but Bernard and Marlene especially. When we arrived, Bernard exclaimed that we were staying for SO LONG (4 nights) and had such a nice family that he would give us the family suite, which had a living room, a kitchen, two bedrooms, and a fantastic view of the mangrove forest where every morning white-faced monkeys swung through the trees, parrots flew from tree to tree, and iguanas basked on the balcony! It was awesome!

That night, we got dinner at the Bohemia Cafe where we met a Costa Rican baby that J enjoyed playing with. They had this great wooden xylophone which I'm still a little sad we didn't buy. J and L loved it and it was so much nicer sounding than the plastic and metal variety! :)

What a great day! We are so blessed!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Costa Rica: Days 1 and 2

We just got back from an awesome trip to Costa Rica. Our first stop wasn't in Costa Rica at all, and we actually have no pictures of it, but we had a 5-hour layover in Panama City, so we took a bus to the mall. Anything to get stamps in those passports, that's the ol' family motto! It was quite an experience! Panama seems to be a little less developed country than Costa Rica, that's for sure!

We got into Costa Rica around 7:30 p.m. local time (9:30 EDT) - already completely dark there. We got our rental car and found our hotel after a wild goose chase through the maze of one way streets. M is a super duper executive level member at the Raddison, so we got upgraded to a very nice room, and they even had dessert waiting for us when we arrived. When we woke up in the morning (6 a.m. of course!), J was eager to look out the window. 

L snoozed a little later than J.

After we got up, we ate breakfast at the hotel, and had our first taste of Gallo Pinto, the Costa Rican national breakfast food (or so it seems). Delicious rice and black beans. It was a hit for three of the four of us! We walked a few blocks to an ATM where we pulled out 100,000 colones (there are 535 of them to a dollar, so not as much as it sounds!), then a few more blocks to grab some fruit and snacks for our drive. Then we headed off toward La Fortuna and the Arenal Volcano. 

The roads are windy and skinny, and L learned not to read his Lego Movie book along the way! Luckily, we noticed his poor, pale face and found a spot to pull over before he threw up his mango. I was glad to not have a stinky rental car the rest of the trip!

We traveled through city, desert, mountain, rainforest, and plains. After a few hours, we spotted Arenal, or at least 80% of it! That RV ahead of us had a sticker on the back telling of their current trek - all the way from the southern tip of Argentina to the northern tip of Alaska! Hard to imagine!

We arrived at our destination for the night: Cabinas Faro Arenal - we rented a cabin at the foot of the volcano. Below is the view from the pool area. The weather was perfect - in the low 80s - and the owners were so kind and helpful.

They started filling up the children's pool as soon as we got there, which L thought was awesome. He loved splashing in the water, and scaring his mother as he daringly ran and jumped on the slippery tile. I told him I did NOT want to find out where the nearest hospital was!

The area was so lush and green - things growing everywhere, even right up through the deck of the pool! It was like the Garden of Eden.

Have I mentioned that our boys love dirt? They do. If there's dirt on the ground, they will dig in it. Costa Rica was no exception!

The owner of our hotel/cabin recommended a few things to do, and we decided to head to the hot springs called Los Laureles that first afternoon. We got there around 4:30, and within an hour or so, it was this dark:

There were about 12 pools, all heated to varying degrees by the volcano, and it was great fun for the whole family. We tested all the pools, finding which ones were not too hot and not too cold, but just right. L had a great time, especially in a small pool that had a little water slide. He could have stayed forever!

We watched a beautiful sunset, and then headed back to our cabins.

The next day, we hiked down about 500 steps to see the La Fortuna waterfall. It was gorgeous! The water just below the waterfall was too deep for the kiddos, but M swam there, and the rest of us swam/waded a little downstream.

L really wanted to catch a fish with his bare hands - I don't know where he got that idea! He stood still for as long is it is possible for him to stand still (not very long), but to no avail. The fish didn't get close enough, or he wasn't quite fast enough. We reassured him that people who can do that have practiced for a very long time, and now he's one day closer to being able to!

After a little while of that, I noticed a teensy lizard, about half an inch long, climbing up L's leg! I ran back for my camera, but I missed him! He jumped off before I was able to take the picture. L was a little weirded out by it.

M swimming in the pool below the waterfall - can you tell which one is him? He's the closest to the center of the frame.

After the long hike back up those 500 stairs, and a nice picnic lunch, we went for a drive, partly to let J nap, and partly to see the sights. We drove around to the other side of the volcano and saw the pristine lake and a great view of the mountain.

After that, we debated about what to do, and eventually decided to head back to the hot springs since we'd enjoyed it so much the day before. It was a relaxing way to finish off the day! While there, J learned the word goggle (gogg - gull) and L said, "I have a great idea! What if we came back here on my birthday?!" If only, kid! :)