Day 1: Asia on my mind
Oh man, this was hard. I teared up on the train station in Hong Kong and felt miserable arriving in LA for my layover. It was SO HARD leaving Asia, especially after 2 and half months. I felt like I really owned it and now to start over again in another continent was giving me major anxiety. I had a 2 day stop in LA and it was brutal as I was not ready to go back to the states (even for a quick layover to re-pack). I felt that I just didn’t belong and it was a constant reminder that my journey wasn’t going to last forever. Instead of updating my blog and preparing to re-pack (which I did at the very last minute), I cried all day.
Arriving in Costa Rica was an easy flight, but again I was really sad. Upon arriving to my guest house, I just felt out of place. The staff member working there wasn’t warm and didn’t help me with my bags and my room felt really sterile. I kept thinking I paid a lot less in Asia with fantastic service and super warm accommodating people (Best hospitality experience I’ve had was in Cambodia and Bangkok). After dropping my bags at the room, I went to search for a SIM card and bottled water (yup, they don’t provide any here. You’re not in Asia anymore Janice!) Downtown Jaco was HOT, but I was used to this weather. I first went to a mobile provider to get a SIM card and the woman helping me only spoke Spanish so it took us awhile to communicate as I’m very rusty with me Espanol. After collecting my SIM card, I went over to buy a ton of bottled water then headed back to the room before it got dark (Vampire syndrome is back, ladies and gents!)
I knew staying in this sad looking small hotel was going to make me miserable, so I immediately made a call to schedule a canyoning and zipline tour the following morning. This was probably the hardest day of travel thus far as I felt it was like starting over again. In Bali, I had the same initial sadness when I first arrived in Asia, but the staff was so awesome that it helped me recover quickly. I didn’t feel connected here and I was honestly still so heart broken from leaving Asia that I cried till I fell sleep.
Day 2: Look ma, no hands!
I woke up still feeling weird being in Costa Rica and got ready for my Canyoning and Zipline tour! I was actually pretty excited because the main reason why I wanted to go to Costa Rica in the first place was for canyoning. I had a chance to do it in Da Lat, Vietnam but was in such a time crunch that I told myself it’ll be saved for Costa Rica. The tour van arrived and there were about 7 other people in the van (2 older couples and a family). Christian (Costa Rican) and Vincent (American) were our guides for Jaco Canyoning and both really did a fantastic job. Vincent is only 16 years old, originally from Utah and helps out as his parents who own Jaco Canyoning. As the youngest of like 9 siblings, Vincent’s parents fell in love with Costa Rica years ago and took him down there permanently! He is now fluent in Spanish and will start applying for University back in the states (he’s thinking Oregon) and I think he’s got such a bright future ahead of him!
We first start a steep hike up to the mountains and damn was it HOT. The weather here so reminds me of Bali (funny because they were my first countries in different continents) and I kinda was used to it sadly. I can probably re-read my posts in Bali complaining how flaming hot it is, but I think that definitely helped me prepare for Costa Rica. So we huff and puff to a higher elevation for our first zip line! Unlike the Philippines, we didn’t have to lay on our stomachs, it was pretty standard straight positioning. Since I’ve done it before, I totally let go of my hands and glided across the awesome greenery! Across the way, we hike up some more and Christian would offer some cool background of the forest and stop to talk about some of the animals/insects and also about the plants.
Now it was time for us to practice canyoning! Basically you have to be in an “L” position: legs spread apart and straight and you sit your bum back. From there, you hold the front of the rope with one hand and the back of the rope with the other hand. When you start moving your foot and legs to go down, you release part of the rope that’s behind you. Doesn’t sound too bad, right? One of the women had a hard time during the practice run and said she couldn’t do it. We all encouraged her that she can and to try again. I was up next and did fine, but again we were practicing on dirt and not on slippery wet rocks with water splashing down at us! Ok we’re up on our first waterfall and I opted to go last. I watched the others go and thought, “Hey if these guys are double my age, I can TOTALLY do it.” So your girl was up and I LOVED it! I did lose my balance when the waterfall was rushing right on top of me, but was able to get back up and start going down just fine. We went down 2 more waterfalls and since I thought I was such a bad ass, I decided to hop down (plus it’ll make you think less and go down much faster), lost my footing and veered off all the way to the right of the waterfall! I gained some composure and carefully climbed down (I did get a bit of a scrape on my arm though). So much for showing off!
After rappelling down the 3 waterfalls, we had 2 more zip lines to go! The first one was a straight shoot, but second one was quite long (averaging a minute and a half). I taunted Christian to go upside down and he did! Everyone else held on to the rope and then one of the Dad’s went upside down too like a total bad ass! I told myself, “Ok if Dad over there can hang upside down, so can I!” Vincent let me go and I proceeded to lean back and put my foot together to go upside down then had a flashback of the last time I showed off and quickly went back to the standard position! hahaha I didn’t even let my hands dangle free this time! Our adventure was over and we all chatted over fruit and refreshments. The 2 older couples are from Florida and Maine and were quite hilarious! One of the guys calls himself “Mr. Wonderful” and the other one “Mr. Dabber” (google the name haha). The family was great too (Dad, Mom and adult son). The adult son took videos of me and mentioned that he’ll send them over. They were all impressed with my travels and very excited for me! =)
Day 3: Hold on tight, its gonna be a bumpy ride!
Mr. Wonderful and his wife told me to do the AXR ATV tour in Jaco as they and felt it was the funnest experience they’ve had in Costa Rica thus far! I called and asked for Eddie as he was the guide for their group. Around 9am, Eddie was ready to pick me up and DEAR SWEET BABY JESUS was he good looking! Why didn’t my friends from yesterday warn me of his good looks? Sheesh! Eddie then drove over to their offices and asked if I wanted to drive the ATV on my own. I was a little reluctant as I’ve only tried once in Canada years ago. He said “Ok, lets take one and I can do the hard trails and you can do the easy trails.” GAME ON. Eddie was about to leash up his dog, Cookie and I asked if he can bring her along too. He mentioned earlier if we take a bigger ATV, he would like to bring his dog along. Eddie was happy to hear that and so was Cookie! So all three of us gear up and ready to go in the ATV!
I was worried Cookie (a yellow lab) was going to fall off the ATV, but Eddie assured me that she does this all the time with him. He said when she was younger, she decided to jump off once, did a couple of somersaults and never attempted to jump off again! We first drove over to the beach (Playa Blanca or Punta Leona) and I was super excited because I heard this beach is really beautiful. When the ride started to get a little turbulent, Eddie told me to put my arms around him. OK, since I’m a totally awkward Asian, I loosely place my arms over his chest. He told me to hold tighter for stability and I thought “Ok let me just hold one of your six packs and I’ll be alright.” JESUS. We arrive to Mantas Beach first as Eddie mentioned that they are trying to make Playa Blanca a private beach and you have to pay for entrance. So we go to Mantas Beach first, I take a dip into the water and take some pics and Eddie takes his shirt off (lord jesus), exposes his glistening sick pack and plays with Cookie on the beach. Don’t worry ladies (and gents), I have pictures!
After Mantas, we hop over to the secret entrance for Playa Blanca and it really was a pretty beach. Nothing can beat that white sand! I think from all the white sand I’ve encountered, Phi Phi Island in Thailand takes the award for the softest, finest sand. In regards to beach, Bohol in the Philippines wins in that category! Costa Rica, you ain’t bad though (especially with those glistening 6 pack locals). Extra points for you! After enjoying this beach, it was my turn to drive the ATV! I was little excited and nervous because I wasn’t used to the gears, but as I soon drove it’s very similar to switching gears on a bicycle (but 1000x faster). At first, I was going at the pace of a golf cart (LOL), but hey I wanted to make sure Mr. Six Pack and Cookie are safe as my passengers! Then when things started getting turbulent my dreaded fear would soon occur (Eddie would have to put his arms around me!) I thought “Ah hell no, he’s going to be holding on to one of my rolls as I held on to his six pack!” Please make this go by fast, please make this go by fast. So then it clicked–I started accelerating faster and sucked it in just in case his hands shift over to the soft spots! I’m not saying I’m Pilsbury doughgirl here, but at the same time, I ain’t packing 6 under this shirt either!
So we start doing a cool mountain trail and I take the reigns halfway, then Eddie told me to switch with him because it starts to get steep and he has better control. Ok time to hold on to the six pack again! Cookie is meanwhile in the backseat, rolling her eyes as I imagine lol We head up to the top of the mountain and its pretty damn awesome! Eddie mentions he doesn’t bring a lot of tourists up here because its dangerous (only the really skilled ones can go or people like me, who don’t drive the way up.) We took some cool pictures and head down to a waterfall trail. I took control on some of the parts and really started to enjoy it. Like, look at me in this bad ass ATV with a hot guy and adorable dog in tow! EVERYTHING IS AWESOME! We park and take a short hike to this really cool waterfall and swimming hole. The swimming hole was pretty deep so I opted to stay in the shallow part and Eddie wanted to dive right in. I told him I’ll take a video of him diving and he said, “take it in slow mo!” OK sir, as you wish! (Cookie rolls her eyes again). Cookie was so adorable though swimming! She would hesitate at some of the deep parts and swim back just like me! hehe
After the waterfall and swimming hole, we ride up to grab a drink and lunch! I asked Eddie if there were any bad accidents that ever happened and he said one time a guy drove off a cliff and got pretty beat up (broken rib). Then he tells me that him and his friend accidentally drove off a cliff as well when he was about 20 and walked away ok! I was like SERIOUSLY?? How effing scary is that! But he mentioned that experience made him a much smarter driver. As we were riding down the mountain (he drove this time), Eddie would point out some of the cliffs that he knew someone drove off on! I thought “Um ok, maybe you should tell me this AFTER we are done.” Thank goodness he was driving and he was driving fast too because we had to get back to the office at a certain time.
OK so we all made it in one piece! I really had a blast and it was fun to spend the day learning how to ATV to some really cool locations with Mr. Six Pack and Cookie! Eddie mentions that he and about 10 of his friends are having drinks tonight at the Orange Bar. As tempting as that sounds, I didn’t think it was a good idea to join the 60 pack at the bar! I’ll just watch that slo mo video tonight jk LOL
Day 4: Womp Womp Womp
So for today, I decided to check out the Manuel Antonio National Park as I’ve heard so many fantastic things about the park. There was only one problem: a lot of the tour companies don’t offer a pick up in Jaco. So my only option was to take the public bus. I was hesitant to do so, but everyone reassured me it was safe and a nice ride. Eric, the hotel manager (who is great by the way as I met him later) told me to be at the bus stop by 6:15am as the bus will pick me up promptly at 6:30am. He even jogged by the bus stop to see if I was ok and waited with me a bit. Ok, so it was like 6:45am and I was freaking out because I had to meet my tour group by 7:45am in Quepos or meet at the park by 8:30am. From what I read, the bus ride takes about an hour 30 to get down to Quepos. While I was impatiently waiting for the bus, some homeboy drove by in his car and yelled, “CHEEENAH!” UGH so much for NOT sticking out. Asshole. So at 6:48am, the bus decides to show up! I was already annoyed, paid only about $4 and sat down.
I do admit, the bus was pretty nice and comfortable for the price as Costa Rica is EXPENSIVE! To do excursions and tours out here, you’ll need to drop $100 for each one. So ridiculous compared to Asia, but if you want to experience Costa Rica, you gotta drop the cash. So the fact that I was only paying $4 for a bus ride, then like $16 for park entrance, it sounded like a steal of a deal! I arrive to the Quepos bus station at 8:08am, hop on a cab (who I feel probably accelerated his meter, but I didn’t give an ish because I didn’t want to be late) and made it to the park entrance like 12 minutes before 8:30am! WHEW! The tour group was the one that was actually running late and finally showed up at like 8:45am. I was so happy to make it at that time and catch the group!
Since the group was big, we had to split into 2 groups. The larger group with families went with a tour guide named Jason and 4 of us (another solo female traveler from NY and a couple from Australia) went with our tour guide, Edgar. The park was crowded and it was HOT. So the guides basically bring their fancy binoculars when they see an exotic critter and have us take a look. It’s pretty cool, but I wish the critters were up close and personal. Edgar also took pictures through the binoculars so our cameras capture what we see through the lens. We were getting impatient at some points and some things I didn’t care to look at (lizards, butterflies, frogs) because I was able to see that up close and personal on my hike 2 days before. The Australian couple and I start to strike up a conversation and I soon learn that they had quit their jobs as well and are traveling the world for 7 months! They also just got married too so what an awesome honeymoon! As we were chatting away, Edgar seemed annoyed we weren’t paying much attention to his binoculars. The Australian girl even snipped back, “Hey you wanted us to get to know each other!” I mean, if there was something interesting to see, then I’ll pay attention. The NY girl kept whining that she wanted to see some monkeys and I thought “Girl, go to Bali and have them sneak jump your ass. You won’t be whining anymore!) We did see sleeping sloths and monkeys through the binoculars, but overall I felt the park was pretty underwhelming, a big womp womp womp. Its hard to enjoy especially since I’ve had a monkey jump on me, held toucans and parrots and even went to 2 butterfly parks in Asia.
After the park, we head over to the beach at Manuel Antonio Park and although beautiful, it was super crowded! I opted not to stick around and head back to the bus station. Edgar was on his way there as well and told me he would go with me and thank goodness because the car ride to the station was cheap and didn’t feel ripped off like the cab. The car drops me off at the station and I have about an hour to burn in downtown Quepos, but stuck around the bus station and I am not familiar with the area and didn’t want to walk around. BUT damn I was getting sleepy and was trying so hard not to doze off and would stand up multiple times to wake myself up. Its the damn sun, it totally drains you! So the bus arrives, we take our seats and I go on and off sleeping with my bag sandwiched behind my bum and the chair (to avoid any thieves.) We arrive to Jaco in a little over an hour, I grab some food, eat, then knock out! I was EXHAUSTED!
Day 5: Merlin The Magnificent!
I woke up feeling so exhausted that I contemplated canceling my horse riding activity to head over to San Jose early. Something told me to just go as the hotel was totally ok with me checking out late (my shuttle bus was going to pick me up at 2:40pm to drop me off at San Jose for the night). My van arrives to pick me up for the horse riding tour and I started feeling pretty pumped to go as this was my last expensive activity in Costa Rica! We arrive to a private ranch at Discover Horse Tours to meet Chris, the owner and Leah, one of the horse handlers. What attracted me to book this trip was the fact that the horses are rescue horses that are nursed back to health. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I don’t condone to any kind of abusive animal activities and avoid them like the plague (elephant rides, tiger park, animal shows and what not). This place was different– the horses are healthy, beautiful and have tons and tons of land to happily roam around! They also have a rule that you cannot be over 200lbs because the horses are not made to handle that much weight (even though they are quite strong, just showed how much they care for them).
Our group was quite small– just 6 of us. One woman from Miami (her husband opted not to go) and 2 couples in their mid 20s from Philly. We were all assigned our horses and I was assigned the only white horse in the group, Merlin. We meet our horses and offer the back of our hands to sniff and Merlin turned away when I offered my hand. I was super bummed then Chris reassured me that Merlin can be shy and compartmentalizes his emotions as he had it rough. =( We all were taught the basics of riding and ready to go! Merlin was really great, and I made sure I had a calm energy and showed him that I cared. There was one moment he straight up stopped and would not want to cross the creek! I even tapped him a couple of times and Leah had to come over and walk him over! The greenery from the ride was very beautiful and you can see and hear a ton of wild life (way better than the park yesterday).
After riding, we tie the horses up near a creek, have some refreshments and eat some fruit before getting into the water hole and rub some volcanic mud all over ourselves! It was so fun and we all chatted and got to know each other more. The mud was pretty awesome and its amazing for your skin! We all took some fun camouflage pics and dipped into the water holes to relax. Once we cleansed the mud, it was time to ride back to the ranch. Merlin did gallop at one point which made my heart race, but he only did that to go up a steep area a bit faster. Once I started to see the ranch, I was so bummed to leave Merlin and this amazing place. It’s so touching to know that people out there care about animals and do not treat them in horrid conditions for tourism. I had such a great time and this was definitely be my favorite activity in Costa Rica (you’re 2nd place Mr. Six Pack). Chris also mentioned that he think’s I’m amazing for traveling alone and he did it as well when he was younger, but knows its way harder for a girl and hats off to me!
Overall, Costa Rica is EXPENSIVE and I probably would of skipped, but I did some have some magical moments (with Merlin) 😉