Costa Rica, ¡Con Mucho Gusto!

We flew from Las Vegas (see posts under “USA 2016” for our American exploits) to San José, Costa Rica: 1 hour from Las Vegas to Phoenix and 5 hours from Phoenix to San José. The planes were quite new and the flight attendants were pleasant enough, though it has to be said that American Airlines really couldn’t organise their way out of a paper bag….

The check-in experience was terrible: a long tale involving a set of self-serve check-in machines, an assistant, a supervisor, and much faff backwards and forwards between different desks…. then once they finally got it to work (so they thought) and ran away telling us it was sorted, the machine spat out 3 boarding passes not 4. “oh, it’ll have run out of paper” was the airy-fairy response. AARRGGHH!     Then on the plane they did all the immigration / customs form announcements before realising that they couldn’t actually find any customs forms and didn’t have enough immigration forms…. We feared that the same thing was going to happen with the snack boxes when the trolley ran out with two rows still to serve; luckily a flight attendant rummaged in cupboards for long enough to find another few boxes. Mind you, as they’d sold us the flight on the basis of “food and beverages available to purchase on board” we were pleasantly surprised to be getting anything at all….. Thankfully they did seem to have remembered to put fuel and a couple of pilots in the plane, so we arrived in Costa Rica in one piece, and (miracle of miracles) both our bags made it too.

We had one night in a hotel near the airport before picking up our new wheels the next morning:

For our first afternoon we pootled to Zoo Ave, a nearby animal rescue centre / zoo. They had a lot of local animals and birds, so this was a good opportunity to get a proper look at them before, hopefully, spotting some in the wild at some point during our trip.

You can’t beat a toucan, though the macaws were nice and the sloths were very cute…..

The best thing we saw though was the multitude of iguanas running around the place (which weren’t among the exhibits!). One iguana was happily eating the food in the duck / turtle enclosure. Another huge iguana was sat sunning itself on a path…..

It was only a short drive North to our base for the next three nights. We’re in a small hotel and the “main man” (reception desk, waiter, you name it….) is quite funny. He has clearly been to hospitality school… he misses no opportunity at all to use the phrase “con mucho gusto” (“with pleasure”). Whatever you say to him, the response invariably involves a “con mucho gusto” or two. We ate at the hotel last night as we’re out in the sticks, and it was getting very difficult to keep a straight face by the end of the meal…. The food was good, so we’ll be back there this evening. Con mucho gusto….

Today (Sunday) we visited Volcán Poás. When we arrived in the area late yesterday afternoon, there was low mist and the reviews from last week on Tripadvisor weren’t great; lots of people seem to have gone to the volcano and seen absolutely nothing through the thick mist. Our luck was in though and we got a great view:

Volcán Poás was much more touristy, and the walking trails much shorter, than we’d expected. Then again, we’re still within easy driving distance of the capital, which could account for it being the most visited of Costa Rica’s National Parks. Lots of tour groups seem to visit. We did see two quite funny ones…..

From the main crater you could follow a short trail to a lagoon. As we arrived, a tour leader was just launching into his “explanation” of the lagoon (in English, the punters sounded British though there was nothing to identify the company they were travelling with). The short version: you’ve got two local tribes who don’t get on. One has a beautiful princess, the other a handsome prince. These two quite predictably run off together, pursued by their tribes. They hold hands and jump into the crater (as you do), and the volcano swallows them up. Everyone else then sees the error of their ways and they all burst into tears, with all the tears forming the lagoon…. marvellous stuff. The tour guide was bubbling over with excitement; his group visibly less so. He then explained that they needed to move on as they had a busy day ahead and a town to visit that afternoon (he didn’t say which one). Then the pièce de résistance: “Famileeeeeee, let’s DOOOOO theeeeeeeees”, whereupon he turned tail and skipped off down the path….

There was also a convention of scout / guide leaders, all kitted out in their various neckerchiefs and woggles and carrying their convention bags and big wooden poles to walk with. Well, I say to walk with; some of them seemed to think that they were for swinging around randomly. It really was safest to keep a healthy distance. The funniest part was when their leader tried to round them up to move on with their schedule; the phrase “herding cats” really doesn’t do it justice.

We didn’t see a lot of wildlife in the cloudforest below the crater, though with all the tourists thrashing about this was hardly surprising. We did see a lot of squirrels though, all quite tame and clearly hoping for a feed.

We got back to the hotel mid-afternoon, and set off on the short half-hour walk round the hotel grounds that Mr Con Mucho Gusto had recommended. This took us down the side of a ravine, across a stream, along the bottom for a bit, then back across the stream and up to the top again. It was much more peaceful than Volcán Poás!

Must dash, it’s almost time for tea. There’s two-for-one beer from 6pm until 7pm, which Mark is of course keen to make the most of! It’s a hard life, this dossing…..