Sunday, January 25, 2009

Animal Week

On Tues this week I got home for lunch and the house was a beehive of activity. There was mom, Danica, Celeste, Matt (Dave’s friend), Jensen, Lily, Brooklyn, Sydney (Steve’s 4 year old daughter), Lucas (Steve’s 2 year old son), and two of Matt’s kids. That meant 7 kids all 4 or under and I wanted to run away. They were all yelling, fighting, laughing, messing, and erupting in general commotion. I’m getting too old for this. It felt like removing an abscessed tooth when they headed over to the park so I could enjoy my lunch. I know I will miss them, but right then peace was the #1 goal.

We had an animal weekend. Friday night after living in Denver for 17 years decided to attend our first ever National Western stock show with Celeste and Brooklyn. It was like a different world with cowboy hats, boots, and belt buckles. Brooklyn was insane and nothing scared her. She wanted to pet everything from the smallest bunnies to these massive black work horses that towered over my head. She didn’t even care which end she petted as she tried to stoke the bull’s crusty tail. What I’m trying to figure out is how she can be so brave to run up to these unfamiliar animals, in this strange environment, and want to touch them, but when I greet her first thing in the morning she runs away. I have thus concluded that I need to grow fur and a tail and smell like manure to gain Brooklyn’s favor.

Last night we went to the Aquarium and the kids got to see me dive. At least they weren’t scared of me as before. They were like old hands and the sharks weren’t biting so I had a great time of it as well. The Aquarium really wants us to interact with the guests and so I need to brush up on my “Rock, Paper, Scissors” skills. It is a fun dive as always.

Monday, January 12, 2009

We Made it to Costa Rica

We Made It To Costa Rica!!! We didn’t miss our flight this year, we didn’t experience any snowfall, and skiing was the farthest thing from our minds as we drank up the sun and surf on the glorious Costa Rican Pacific Coast. Hurray for reading the ticket confirmation times correctly. We were so excited to be on our way to adventure that the five hour flight didn’t seem all that bad (except for the last 4½ hours).
Plane seats were not designed for extended sleeping comfort.
We gathered our stuff, hopes of scuba diving, horseback riding, and surfing plus the rental car and began our search for breakfast and a drive up to a three cratered volcano. It was an incredible drive up this steep slope in a 12 passenger gutless manual shifting van. With the clutch and gear shift I was able to keep up with my exercise program shifting every few yards. The view was spectacular as we climbed above the green fields and steep cultivated mountain slopes. We got to the top and Dave was in geology heaven. He explained the titanic forces that smashed the Pacific and Caribbean plates together to create this volcano. The top was cool and we could look down on these dramatic green pools of water at the base of the craters. Then the clouds rolled in and gave this mystic feel to the whole moonscape. There was this split rail fence that kept people from falling down the sides of the 400 ft cliff into the lake at the bottom of the crater. When the clouds rolled in it brought to mind Lehi’s “Tree of Life” dream and the rod of iron that was surrounded by the “mists of darkness”. Very cool place.

We battled San Jose traffic for the next hour or two until we could find the right road to head toward the coast. The roads are amazing here. We got on this little barely two lane road and started up this mountain pass. We went over the crest of a hill and the whole countryside just fell away and 3,000 feet below was the rest of the landscape. There was this narrow track winding its way down the side of the mountain and it was too late to turn around. I had it lucky because I could enjoy the view and a smoother ride. The kids in the back had a rough time of it. It was windy, bumpy, and scary and with no comfortable night’s sleep before it made for a rough trip. Throw in slow trunks, a tight twisting detour, and a hot and humid day we were ready for the ocean.
On the way to Manual Antonio we stopped by this river with several alligators, a black sand beach,
little fruit stands, and a crazy one lane bridge. The most insane thing was the traffic as we got within a mile or two of the hotel. It was a holiday so the roads were packed with cars and people and commotion everywhere. The skinny asphalt trail snaked around hills and thru the jungle laced with tiny hotels, restaurants and cabinas. We didn’t think we had much further to go when the traffic basically stopped. Here were these massive tourist buses slowly crawling down this road half as narrow as my driveway. Cars were parked on both sides of the street and traffic was trying to move in two directions. It made driving thru Branson, MO seem like the freeway express lane. I saw one bus drive by a couple of parked cars and you couldn’t put your hand between the bus and the cars. I was freaking out in our rental van trying to mentally force people to not drive into me. Too many hours with too little sleep, too many miles of clutch work and mountain passes, too little understanding of where we were going with way too many distractions and commotion and I lost it. It reminded me of something out of “The Amazing Race” in India and eventually we found the hotel ate some fried fish and I fell peacefully to sleep.
We found this great little hole in the wall backpacker’s restaurant with pre-ordered breakfast for cheap. It became the restaurant of choice in Manual Antonio. We tackled the National Park when the new day broke and had a guide to help us see all the animals around in the trees and bushes. We saw tons of sloths, Jesus Christ lizards (they walk on water), crabs and birds. We were walking through the jungle with the full blast furnace of it’s heat and humidity with the beach just steps away. It was difficult for me to stay on the wooded path cause I wanted to see the fishes. We did visit the beach after a fruit lunch and I loved the cooling warm waters. The snorkeling was lame but the company was fun. The day also afforded us the time to hike up to a hidden waterfall where we saw our first monkeys and a woodpecker.
We finished the day at our favorite restaurant with $3 all-you-can-eat plates of spaghetti. It wasn’t like any sauce I’d ever eaten before but it was good and Brad ate 3 plates worth. Afterward we had a fun card game with treats of banana splits and nachos. Dave and Brad entertained us with funny comments and trash talk. The next morning we headed off to Dominical.
After a long dusty and bumpy trip we arrived at the next stop – Hacienda Baru in the midst of a regrown rain forest. It sounds romantic but believe me it was like a primitive cabin at a remote fishing resort in upper British Columbia. Bare walls, bare floors, and bare furniture, the only accessories were heat and humidity. Three tiny bedrooms of Spartan living. It was a great contrast to the main lodging of our trip – Casa Incognito. We couldn’t believe how incredibly nice the house was. Private gate with a covered garage led to a main level house with a large kitchen, dining area, family area with couches and a cable TV, big bedroom and large tub and bath space. The deck overlooked a crystal clear deep blue private pool complete with air mattress, snorkel equipment, and boogie boards for the beach. Upstairs was another massive bathroom, walk-in closet, and bedroom with a balcony with two delicious hammocks. Past the grill, outdoor dining area and deck was a manicured yard with a fire pit and a trail to the beach not more than 30 yards away. Iguanas and toucans lived in the trees and bush surrounding the yard. I had died and gone to heaven. So much for Hacienda Baru.
We spent the afternoon on another nature hike with particular interest in the leaf cutting ants. We learned that the worker ants can carry up to 11 times their body weight. Imagine lifting, maneuvering and walking long distances while hefting nearly a ton of dead weight. There were also smaller ants performing quality control and if they didn’t like a particular leaf it was cast aside. We tried to trick them and they still caught us and rejected our deformed decoy. Danica had the most fun with the solider ants called upon to guard the nest that occupied a large space on the hillside. The solider ants were the largest and were more than happy to use these giant pincers on any threat no matter the size. Danica volunteered to allow the solider ant to demonstrate their pinching ability and show why they have been used as a method of stitching up a nasty cut. The ant bit into her hand and held on even when the guide removed the ant’s body. We were all amazed.
The highlight of the hike was an 8 station Zip line through the canopy. Dave did great even though he is scared of heights. The tree house platform was the best to view the jungle below and a number of brown bats perched on a branch a few inches above our heads. On the way back to the lodge we came across a family of monkeys and they were climbing, jumping, screeching, and running around right above our heads – putting on a show. It reminded me of Don and Austin whenever we buy new furniture. One final note on the day we ate at a place called Nanyoa and everyone found a favorite treat, especially Preston who went nuts over the Watermelon smoothie. I think Tiana is the only other thing that causes him to respond so happily.
Half of us went ATV’ing in the morning and the rest played in the waves on the beach. Other than the dust on the ATV’s and the hidden large rocks on the beach the experience was classic Costa Rican vacation perfect. Sand, sun, waves, and family what could be better. The afternoon brought reality and I had to have cash to pay for the private home and the internet connection didn’t work at the ATM – so that meant spending all afternoon in a bank line. There were about 25 people waiting in line with only two tellers and each transaction taking about 30 minutes. Not a great afternoon.
Preston had made the comment that we seem to change our minds all the time on vacation. We took up the challenge and carefully laid out plans for our Tues activities. We weren’t going to be called wafflers – we can make plans and we can keep them. Well within 3 minutes of arriving at Ballena Marine Park we talked to this German couple and our plans changed. Dang that Preston, he pegged us pretty well. But with the change in plans we were rewarded with a visit to the open waters of the Pacific and viewing three humpback whales doing their thing. It isn’t during whale season so it was very unusual for us to see anything. Then a relaxing snorkeling dive off of a local island where Danica spotted an octopus and we all saw a ton of fun colored fish. We also made a run through a narrow churning sea cave and headed back for lunch.
On the way back to the house we shopped for some fresh fish to grill on our own and save some money. We dined on Mahi Mahi and built our very on beach fire. Dave engineered a 6 ft. high wall of flame and because it was so hot out we all sat back from the fire about 20 ft. It was fun to see it come crashing down.
I got to live out a dream the next morning as I piled into a small skiff and rode for 1½ hours over very choppy seas to arrive at Cano Island for a diving adventure. This is not a coral area, but a rock and big animal location and it didn’t disappoint. I got to handle turtles in the wild, sneak up behind and try and snag shark tails, and best of all see a manta ray. I can’t get over the feeling of flying around under water and being in the midst of all the flashes of color and Dr. Seuss rock formations. The boat ride back seemed shorter, maybe because I was so happy.
The rest of the trip was a nice relaxing time playing cards, playing in the waves, playing in a waterfall pool, and generally being on vacation. We all got along very well with lots of choices for different passions. Preston and Tiana’s PDA was an inspiration for all the old married folks. After a 4 hour drive through the Costa Rican country side in the middle of the night and the 5 hour flight home to cold weather we were greeted by a snow storm. Welcome home. Man, it was a great time away and to bring back a tan made it all worth while. Let’s do it again next year.