But anyway, this entry is coming to you from Manzanillo, Limon, Costa Rica, more specifically from a cabin at the Almonds and Corals hotel, our second-really-third stop on this trip (we have one more after it). I have on this trip already seen countless monkeys, birds, iguanas, and ridden on many many boats. I also haven't slept in an air conditioned room since our first night here. And I think I've eaten rice and beans as part of almost every single meal.
For the first time in a long time I'm on a trip actually planned out by a travel agent. Chris wanted to go to Costa Rica for the holidays and I didn't really have any better ideas, so he talked to someone through Google's travel services and blam, they planned us this trip. I don't even know how much most of this cost. He told them he wanted to see wildlife and beaches and volcanoes, and that's pretty much what we've gotten.
Well, our first day was just arriving in the country, really. And before that we had a snafu with the flights here. We flew United since I get miles and all, and we did SFO->IAH->SJO. (San Jose CA is SJC; San Jose Costa Rica is SJO) I spent the flight to Houston not sleeping and instead watching Hero 2015 (yet another Kimutaku prosecutor movie; I saw the 2007 version in the theater when I lived there), though the plane entertainment wifi cut out 15 minutes before the end.
At the gate in IAH, after our flight was delayed a little anyway coming out of SFO in the first place, we get to the gate and sit down, and then the agents call Chris's name to come to the counter. I have no clue what's going on as I sit there and guard our bags, but basically they tell him he's been upgraded to first class. He apparently says that he's traveling with his fiancé and wants to sit with her so don't upgrade him. Doesn't tell them my name or my status with them or anything. So they don't check on whether I had one and they don't give him the upgrade.
In the meantime, I had already *been* upgraded but I didn't know that until I got to the boarding. I even went up to the desk after Chris came back and explained my status and was like "wtf how did he get an upgrade if I didn't?" But they seemed rather annoyed by my complaining and they made up some excuse about his being the booking name or whatever.
Anyway, we go to get on the plane and when I give them my pass for my normal economy seat they go "oh, you've been upgraded to first class..." and they see Chris and it's just like "holy shit WHAT" all around. At which point the first class ticket they offered Chris is long gone so I get the choice of abandoning him and sitting in first class or staying with him in economy. So I end up staying with him which means they have to get my econ seat BACK believe it or not.
The upshot is, always ask and give enough info. Had I not been guarding our bags and let him handle it himself this never would have happened. I did spend half the flight being mad at him for essentially talking us OUT of first class upgrades because WTF.
So, we get to Costa Rica at like 11am or so. Customs and whatnot were very easy. We get out of all the things and meet with Tammy, our representative from the Costa Rica Dream Travel that our stuff is booked through. She even has one of those signs that says "RUBIN/LUHRS" on it which was kinda exciting because I've never been met at the airport from someone with a sign, at least not that I remember. She spends about 5 minutes explaining all the stuff in our packet to us and gives us travel vouchers and whatnot, and we make sure I can call her cellphone just incase we have an emergency anywhere along the line of our itinerary. She calls us a transport van and we're off to the San Jose Doubletree, which was our first stop of the trip.
Our van driver, unlike Tammy, speaks almost zero English. So to try to talk to him I end up resorting to the 6 years of Spanish I studied back in JHS and HS. I've actually always been able to understand spoken Spanish fairly well but I haven't been able to speak it pretty much ever (even in Japan I had a close friend from Barcelona who would often hang out with other Spanish speakers, and I'd listen to them and reply in Japanese). I did at least manage to find out things like the names of the volcanoes we were driving by.
We check in at the hotel and get our requisite warm cookie and then... realize we have no idea what to do, but at least we're in a reasonable hotel that has a restaurant and pool and whatnot, so we go eat lunch by the pool, and then proceed to spend an hour or two lounging around in the pool, or more like, the hot tub. Then I went and bought a whole bunch of postcards for people, since I reply to Christmas cards by sending New Year's postcards, a habit I also picked up living in Japan.
Chris and I had seen a Hard Rock Cafe on the way to the hotel not too far up the road, so we walked there for dinner. It turned out there was a live band event at like 8, but we got there at 6:30 and they let us sit in the bar area, where there was this big soccer game going on between Alajuelense and Saprissa; the waiter explained to us that this was kinda like the World Series of Costa Rican soccer, as Saprissa is like the great team of San Jose but Alajuelense was this powerhouse team from the middle of nowhere that was dominating this year. (In the last few days I have seen a TON of Saprissa gear all over the damn place; they have a maroon S that looks an awful lot like Stanford sports gear actually.) Anyway, we watched about 40 minutes of the soccer game and ate totally American-like food and whatever, it was still kind of wacky to be there. I wanted to get a Hard Rock Cafe San Jose shirt for laughs but they just didn't have any that looked like something I'd wear.
We went back to the hotel and crashed around 9pm, having done the redeye to get in in the first place. We were getting picked up at 5:30 the next morning anyway, which was like 3:30 California time, so that was going to be kinda crazy.
So, 5:30am, we get on this small shuttle bus, which drives around to several other hotels in the area before dumping us off at this Radisson hotel closer to downtown, where we transfer ourselves and our luggage to a bigger bus. It is at this point that we meet Carlos, who is our tour guide for the next two days (our meaning us and the other 40 or so people on our particular tour). It also turns out that somehow my name has been miswritten as "Pianna" on his sheet and so every time for the rest of the weekend when he is doing roll call to make sure everyone is there for whatever thing, he says "Christopher and Pianna?" and I'm like "Deanna?" and it still never got fixed.
But anyway. We do a few stops in downtown San Jose which is kind of interesting at least; we go through Chinatown and a few other areas. It is about 7am before we actually leave San Jose (our last stop is a hotel where we fortunately get to use the bathroom before the bus heads out. Chris comments that if we knew we weren't actually leaving the city until then we could have slept in and taken a cab to this hotel, but eh.)
We stop off for breakfast at a place called Selva Tropical in Guapiles. They are a butterfly-themed restaurant with a real butterfly garden in back. Breakfast is buffet-style, and is basically rice-and-beans with a few other options to add to it like plantains and bread and sausages and whatever. We sit at a table with a British-Indian couple who live in Atlanta and talk about random stuff. This ends up being a running theme through the weekend, since all of the meals are buffet-style and all of the tables seat 6-8 people.
The butterfly garden was pretty cool, if small. Lots of cocoons too and we even got to see some butterflies coming out.
Back on the bus for another hour or two to get to Tortuguero, or more like, to get to the boats that will actually take us to Tortuguero. We have a stop off at a rest stop like place... which advertises "deluxe bathrooms", where we find out one of the universal rules of Costa Rican tourist locations: it costs $1, or 500 colones, to actually use said bathroom. But, we're about to get on a boat tour for an hour so I figure I might as well.
We haven't actually changed money from dollars at all during this trip, as an aside. Pretty much everywhere is perfectly willing to accept our US money. Tammy had told us that some places will rip us off, and that the technical exchange rate is about 540ish colones to the dollar, but as long as we get at least 500 to the dollar we're doing fine. I've only received change once and it was in a little convenience store today, where I got like 3 drinks, they cost 2200 colones, I gave the cashier $5, and she gave me back 300 colones. Most times people just quote us something in dollars or leave it in whole dollars. Lunch today was 13200 colones and we gave them $26 and I think people were happy all around with the transaction.
But back to Tortuguero. We load all of our luggage onto one boat and then all of us people onto another boat. It's only about 10 minutes into the ride where I vaguely kind of regret that our gear is all in our luggage which is all on the other boat. I had sunscreen in my backpack, at least -- but halfway there the rain starts pouring down. Fortunately the boat has canvas window/wall things that we put down. Before that, Carlos was at least pointing out various things and talking about them in English and Spanish (it was sort of funny because when we were in Japan I'd have to translate for Chris, but in this case when Carlos started going on about all the types of turtles in the area and I was like "oo! turtles!" and then realized he'd just repeat it in English so I didn't have to bother translating); but with the walls down I just sort of zoned out mostly.
We got to the Laguna Lodge and basically, he gave us our room numbers and told us to get situated and then come eat lunch at 1pm or so.
Our room there was basically a cabin. They had blocks of 4 cabins together, with porches and rocking chairs. The room itself had two double-size beds, and some sparse other furniture, a few outlets that were nearly impossible to find, some shelves... a bathroom with a shower stall in it, and a fan. No AC, of course -- and the rooms were all street level pretty much so you had to close all the shutters if you were going to disrobe to take a shower or anything. It actually wasn't too horribly hot if you were in there with the windows open and the fan running, at least.
Another thing about this place -- they told us explicitly not to drink the tap water, and to fill up our water bottles from the tanks in the restaurant. Even to brush our teeth.
Lunch was another buffet, again with rice and beans and some other stuff I don't remember off the top of my head. And it was again a "hey, come find random people to sit with" situation. I think at that meal we sat down with Julie from Germany and her husband, and Sonja from Spain and her husband, odd that I mostly remember all the women's names but not the men's names. In most cases the women had better English anyway; though Julie and her husband had lived in Livermore for a while so that was kind of funny when they found out we're from California.
After lunch we explored the area a little bit and walked out to the beach, and then at 3pm there was an excursion to Tortuguero Town.
(hm, going to continue this in another entry I think, since I don't trust the internet here to reload it if I try to pick it up tomorrow)