One day in September, 2000 my Sister Christina sent out an email: "Anybody interested in going to Italy or Costa Rica in October?"  Chris has been one of those traveler-types ever since she was 22.  I don't know if she went to Greece with Karen first or Sri Lanka to meet up with Kyle.  Either way, she was the first person I turned to when I knew I was going to travel through Europe last summer.

"Ya gotta go", said Walter, my boss. "When you get the chance to travel, you gotta go."  With that, I suddenly had permission to take a week off of work, to voyage to Costa Rica.

The trip snuck up on me.  I was working diligently on a brochure at work, and working on my Halloween costume at home. It was very different, to just up-and-leave on a trip like this.  Chris lives in Austin, Texas, so we met in Dallas & flew down to Central America together. On the plane, they showed "Frequency", a time-traveling murder-mystery. This is Super-Dumb, I wrote on a napkin.  Chris agreed. They started the movie a little too late in the flight, so it was still running when the plane landed.  I don't care how it ended. We spent the first night in a cheap hotel, Hotel Marylyn.  I think it was $17 for our double room.

Friday, October 20, 2000

The first photo shows Chris jacking up the Kia Jimny we rented in San Jose, Costa Rica. We had a flat tire within 30 minutes of leaving the Budget rental place.  We knew we would be traveling chiefly on crumby roads, so this was a great concern.  We drove directly back to the rental place and they pointed out where our tire's sidewall had been punctured.  It looked like someone slashed it on purpose.  The Budget guys eagerly pointed out the warning sign on their counter:  Be very careful if you get a flat tire in the city.  Gangs are using this method to rob tourists. Don't accept help from strangers, even good-looking people!

Luckily they changed out that micro-miniature SUV for the mighty Jungle-taming Geo Tracker. 

Soon we were on the road to Puntarenas, a crummy ferry-port that we used as a shortcut to the Peninsula on the Pacific Coast.  We drove for about 3 hours to reach the coast. the roads were paved and smooth for the most part, with a few seriously potholed roads.  Just 3 miles outside of the city we were surrounded by jungle.  Coffee bushes, Banana trees. large birds, palm & coconut trees.  The hills were covered with greenery. We were both really excited to be out in the jungle...and we expected the jungle to get even more dense as we made our way out to the more remote locales.

We had to wait for almost 2 hours to board the ferry at Puntarenas.  We sat in a line of 50 cars in the hot sun.  Chris tried to gauge the humidity.  It was high. Costa Rica is at 10 degrees latitude instead of California's 40 degrees. We were tied to the car during this time (in case the line moved), and there was nothing to do but look at the rocks.

We struck up a conversation with the women behind us in line.  Inga & Rosemary convinced us to go to Malpais, and invited us to stay at Inga's hotel "Sunset Reef" at a discount rate. It sounded like exactly the kind of place we wanted to go.

Once we were on the ferry, it got a lot cooler, and we were entertained by one of three vacationing lawyers from Chicago.


Once we were off of the ferry, we took a gravelly, dusty road West, across the peninsula.  The potholes were starting to look like we had heard.

Chris and I were pretty excited to be in the jungle. An hour more and we were approaching  Malpais.  We stopped to pick up a beautiful couple of Swedes who were hitchhiking. They were blond and very tan, going into their 3rd week here.  They warned us that the road got quite rough ahead, and we weren't disappointed. Chris was driving when we got stuck the first time.  Within seconds a small audience of locals had gathered to watch us spin our wheels and shout suggestions at one another. With the Swedes' help, we were out pretty quickly.

We dropped off the Swedes as we rolled into town, and they pointed us in the direction of Sunset Reef. The hotel was a couple of miles outside the center of this tiny town.  A fairly remote hideaway, overlooking the ocean.  We had lost the little room-discount note from Inga, so we enlisted the help of another guest to help explain our situation.  She succeeded, and soon we were making friends with Carrie and Kimberly, the only other guests at the hotel.   

The "only guests at the hotel" theme followed us through Costa Rica, where the off-season MEANS OFF-SEASON.

We had dinner at a little Italian place with our new friends, and drove home in a sudden downpour. Two women from Vail had checked into the hotel and we talked with them while they ate.

Saturday, October 21, 2000

We woke up with plans to drive down the coast.  We walked along the rocky road back toward the center of town.  A few feet from the road, we were surrounded by dense jungle.  The road followed the beach, so we spent some time on the road, and some time on the sand. The weather was warm, and it was very humid, and I felt weary. We reached the center of town, Ate at Frank's place, and I was ready for a nap.  We examined our options and decided to stay another day.

We had breakfast and headed back to the hotel. 

Kimberly and Carrie were up at the pool and asked us to join them. We talked about American Beauty, biology and life away from the US.


I am feeling unmotivated to write this story right now, so I am going to summarize some things for the rest of these photos.

This is a photo of corn drying in the sun on the side of the road. We drove into town to pick up a toothbrush & souvenirs. 
This is what the road looked like on the way to Malpais. It was the bumpiest thing I had ever driven on.  I was really glad we were driving a rental car!
Kimberly's Birthday was that night, and Hector at the hotel made her a cake.  Carrie and Kimberly took us to a local dance later that night, and they tried to teach me how to dance. A guy in a wheelchair asked Chris to dance...she said no. We drank $1 Imperial beers. 

 In the big, broiling-hot dance hut, we saw a moth the size of a dollar-bill.

Christina stands up for her decision

Why I didn't dance with the guy from the wheelchair:

He rolled up to me the first moment we walked in the door-with flashing lights and super loud music in a oversized tin shed, it was pretty overwhelming and a bit intimidating already - have you ever gone to public fiesta on your second night in a foreign third world country?
He just caught me off guard at a vulnerable moment. He spoke no English, and his Spanish wasn't the easiest to understand even for someone more fluent than I - he had to shout at me over the music for several minutes to make me understand what he wanted. It was sort of surreal in an already confusing environment. Also, we already were a bit of a spectacle as four of the only 7 white people there among maybe 60 people, AND NOBODY was dancing yet. The dance floor was vastly, hugely empty. And I was already a curiosity enough without being the first person on an empty floor, who didn't know the steps the meringue ( ALL Costa Ricans know the steps to the specific dances. Nobody free-forms it like we do. It was intimidating) with a partner without limbs, that she couldn't understand. Gimme a break please!

Sunday, October 22, 2000

The next day we woke up early and drove back to the ferry.  It was another 2-hour wait for the ferry to get back.  On the other side, we ran into the women from Vail, who asked us if we were going South, down the coast.  We were, and they traded us gas money for a ride.  This photo is from the road up to their hotel.  It was an amazing view for an amazing hotel.

We drove a bit farther down the road to Quepos and found a hotel we had already heard of, Hotel Plinio.  We checked into the 3-story tree house room just before sunset.  We sat in the observation porch and had a drink.  This donut-sized spider had a nice view of us, but kept his distance. 

Monday, October 23, 2000

We woke up the next morning at 5am to hike the nature trails behind the hotel. I look kind of like a puffy-eyed zombie in this photo.  The spider in the center of the web looks a little like a starfish.

We saw (and heard) monkeys crashing though the trees.  They were little squirrel monkeys, and they took outrageous leaps from tree to tree.

We were extremely happy to have spotted some monkeys!



"Now all we have to see are some poison arrow frogs!", Chris announced.  On cue, she spotted one among the leaves.  It was tiny, very shiny, colored bright green and black 

We walked for 3 hours, and got back to the hotel before 9. We took showers and headed into town for breakfast. We ate at Cafe Milagro and tried to decide what to do with the rest of our day.  We were in Quepos to visit the Manuel Antonio National Park, but unfortunately it was closed on Mondays. We bought a couple of machetes and some other souvenirs.  Chris tried to withdraw money from an ATM, but had no luck.

We drove into Manuel Antonio and scoped out the entrance of the park. I chickened out on ocean kayaking, and cheaped-out on horseback riding.

We went back into town for some lunch. 

We finally decided to go swimming. The ocean was the perfect temperature, but that didn't help our lame body-surfing attempts. Chris caught me with the "giant wave behind you!" expression, and spent the rest of the day laughing.

We spent a couple of hours in the water, and walked around a bit, wondering what to do next.  In a little road off of the main street, a small crowd gathered to feed some monkeys. About 20 monkeys were running and climbing around, taking pieces of banana from tourists.  Chris and I didn't approve of it, but we got to enjoy seeing them scramble around and leap from branch to branch. 

I ran back to the car and grabbed my camera.  You can see two in this photo, one on the lower-left corner of the surfboard rack, and another one in front of the middle of the rack.

When we got back to the hotel, there were monkeys there too! Here is one climbing onto the big leaf at the bottom of the photo.


Tuesday, October 24, 2000

Finally the National park was open, and we were going to see that, and get on with our travels. 

We had heard there were lots of mammals in this park, and we found them.  We saw monkeys, Agouti and a sloth.  We also saw leaf-cutter ants, butterflies and tons of Harlequin crabs.

Here is a picture of me next to a stand of giant bamboo.
Chris grabbed my shoulder to stop me from continuing down the path.  She saw a white-faced monkey in the middle of the road.  We spent 10 minutes watching him and his friends eat leaves and shoots.
This little guy allowed Chris to get pretty close, but when she reached up he hissed, barring his teeth.  Chris backed away.
It was almost noon by the time we had finished the park's paths, and we were both hungry.  This Iguana was at the restaurant, and he got into a fight with another iguana while we were there.

We were watching the clock because we wanted to be on the road & on the way to Arenal (Costa Rica's active volcano) by noon. We had a hurried lunch and met a San Franciscan woman on her way to Argentina.  She designed bottles for the Clorox company, and told us how Budweiser's BORN-ON date is in preparation for a plastic beer bottle introduction some time in the future. 

She knew all kinds of cool stuff! I wish we could have talked to her all day. She also let us know that we HAD to go to Arenal, that it was an amazing experience. 

We drove back to the hotel and each took a quick shower. We packed up the bags and as I was loading my main bag, I realized that my little bag was missing. I had left my analog camera (see bamboo photo above) in the daypack inside the Tracker. Both locks were mangled, and the bag was gone.  

My passport was in the bag.  Things had taken a bad turn.

Crap. We looked around, talked to the hotel management, and questioned anyone in the area.  There was a shifty-looking guy digging ditches for the hotel, but no one else anywhere nearby.

We checked out of the hotel and headed to the police station in Quepos.

We reported the crime in the tiny Office of Investigation.

I lost my camera, all the film I had shot, my passport, my journal, my and Chris' postcards.

We called the US embassy in San Jose. "They won't let you on the plane without a passport", the man who answered said. Crap.  This scratched the volcano and the hot-springs trip.  Go directly to San Jose, do not pass GO, do not collect priceless memories.

Crap.  I bought a Coke and we hit the road.

These one-lane river-crossings were loud, and very scary to cross.  This one had a "danger, crocodiles" sign.

We spent the next 5 hours in the car, driving to and through traffic in San Jose. We were both in a sour mood, and my ass was getting tired of driving in third-world traffic. Chris was frustrated by the lack of an interior light, and I was getting lost and pissed. We gave in to frustration and stopped to eat at a McDonalds.


Eventually we found our way to Cartago, a smaller town outside of San Jose and checked into the hotel Los Angeles. We had a great view of the Chapel La Negrita Virgin, erected in the 1600s. 

We were both paranoid to leave the car anywhere, but we figured that drunk guy's singing would ward off any criminals.

Wednesday, October 25th, 2000

We woke up and left immediately to find the Embassy. Our plane left the next day at 9am, so I was pretty anxious to get the passport situation settled.  Chris asked me, "if you can't get your passport in time for our flight, do you want me to stay here with you?".

We loaded up the car and drove back into San Jose's center.  We couldn't find the Embassy, and we couldn't understand anyone's directions.  We asked one grease monkey, and had to refuse his offer to ride along with us and show us the way! Finally we stopped at the Office of tourism, and Chris ran inside and pestered the receptionist until she got her to draw a map.

We finally got going in the right directions and I spotted a passport-photo shop. Chris and I figured I would need one of those, so I tried to park. We realized we were right next to a giant stone was the Embassy!  

I sat for a couple passport photos and we took our stuff in to the Embassy.  We were greeted by long, snaking lines of people. Before I even had time to panic, someone spotted that we were American Citizens and ushered us past the crowd into a pair of doors.  Inside that room, there was another line of people, but again I was motioned past all of the locals and into another door.  I walked right up to the woman at window #2. She gave me two forms to fill out and told me I would need $60 and two photos.  

Within 30 minutes I was done, and my replacement passport was in the works.  I asked if it would be ready today, and they instructed me to call back at 2:30.  They would know then.

This was good news, but it meant that we were stuck in town for the day.

We had some mayonnaise tacos and weighed our tourist options. We checked out the farmer's market in the photo above.

We tried to make the most of it by checking out the natural history museum.  It was amazing.  They had a wide variety of second-rate animal displays, but the insect, butterfly and shell collections were top-notch.  Photographs were prohibited, but the museum was deserted, so I used up the rest of my camera's memory.

Here is a specimen labeled human embryo at 5 months.  There was a large disclaimer at the bottom of this shelf explaining that this fetus was not from an abortion, and a long sermon on the value of life, how abortion is the worst crime and a bunch of other stuff.  I guess I should have warned you about this photo, huh?

There were 174 insect cases around the walls of this room, and seven vast shelves of seashells in the center. Butterflies of all shapes and sizes.
Here is a look at one of  the BIG bug cases.  It had the Great horned beetle and the Rhinoceros beetle among others.

We stayed until the museum closed and then went to find a hotel, still waiting to hear about the passport. It had started to rain.

We checked into the Little Victorian Hotel and by the time we were settled, it was time to call the Embassy. Not only did our room not have a phone, but they wouldn't let me use the one at the front desk "it is broken".  I was a little pissed. The hotel manager told me where a pay phone was outside.  It wasn't raining very hard at this point, so I asked for some 10 colones coins, (3 cents US) for the phone. He gave me two.  I ran down the block and tried to call the Embassy, but I was stymied.  The three-cent phone call had a 2 minute time-limit, so I twice ran out of time wading through the voice menu. I should have been thanking God that it was in English.  I went to another hotel (The Ambassador) to ask for some more change and finally got through. My passport was done! I could pick it up anytime!

I ran back to the room and rounded up Chris.  We hopped into the car and went back to pick up my fancy new, unstamped passport. She sat in the car while I ran in. 

Taa Daa!  There it was, and I was back in business!  Of course, I had lost my passport's old stamps, cool stamps, like France, England, Romania, Bulgaria and of course, Morocco.  But now I had a passport that said "issued in San Jose, Costa Rica".

I was in a much much better mood, and suddenly I couldn't wait to get on the plane. We got some dinner at an ice cream shop and did some last-minute souvenir shopping. We watched TV in our room and talked about our fears of Gore losing the presidential election.

Thursday, October 26th, 2000

The next morning we woke up early, gassed up the Tracker and drove to the rental place. They couldn't provide Chris with a damage estimate for the broken locks and this left Chris with an open credit card statement. We protested for about 15 minutes and got into the airport van.

When we got to the airport, we found we needed $17 each to pay an exit tax. Blech.

The movie on the flight back was "Keeping the faith"...very funny. We landed in Dallas a few hours later, and by 5pm I was back in Oakland.  Mike, Sue and Jessica met me in the airport and away we went. Back at Sue's apartment, someone asked me if I would go back.  "Nope".  I said.  It wasn't that I had a bad time, but I was definitely left with a bad taste in my mouth.

Besides, I have the rest of the world to explore.

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