Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Costa Rica Recap: Day 2

Since everyone went to bed so early, the kids were up and ready to go before 7:00, so we got a decent start on the day. The hotel provided a breakfast buffet, wherein buffet means there was cereal, toast and juice with a couple of local dishes. Gallo pinto (guy-o peen-to) - rice and beans with tomato, cilantro, cumin and other spices. It's basically the national dish of Costa Rica and part of almost every meal - definitely every breakfast. OMG it is SO good! Everyone really enjoyed it. There was also plantains cooked in sweet syrup and fresh chicharrones - that's fresh pork rinds. I didn't have the plantains because I've just never been a plantain fan. I would have given the pork rinds a try but the guy in front of us scooped up the last of them.

Back at the table, the waiter had brought us each a plate of beautifully sliced and arranged fresh fruit - watermelon, papaya, and pineapple. Then he made eggs to order for each of us; just simple scrambled or fried eggs but perfectly prepared and spiced. Especially when mixed with the gallo pinto it was so tasty.

After gathering our belongings and a few tantrums and sobbing fits (a mandatory part of every day, even on vacation) we were on the road again. Driving here is INSANE. Lanes are not clearly marked. You can't always tell if you have two lanes or one or if your road has suddenly become one way only.

Drivers take crazy chances, especially motorcycles, who will zip past any obstacle with no regard food oncoming traffic. Other cars pass you impatiently in dangerous stretches. Any vehicle might just stop at any time, suddenly turning your lane into a parking area.
The guy over there on the sidewalk - he's driving there. Too impatient to wait in the traffic with the rest of us. Motorcycles were the worst. They would split lanes between cars, drive the wrong way on a one-way, pass when there was no room to pass... insane! And sometimes there were entire families on the motorcycle... 4 or 5 people, including tiny children. Thankfully, the full family motorcycles did tend to drive a bit more cautiously.

Roads have speed limits that no one pays attention to. There are hairpin turns and super steep grades with never an indication that something is coming up. We're currently falling back and forth in our seats on a twisty turn road that is just a series of step u-turns.

When you come to bridges, many are one lane only. You have to honk your horn to let oncoming drivers know that you're crossing and that they'll have to wait to go next. I'm sure glad Aaron is driving! I'm nowhere near confident and aggressive enough to dare drive here!

We went to Wal-Mart this morning. The Wal-Mart is as huge as any in the states, 2 stories with a covered parking area as the first level and the store itself is up a long flight of stairs. The parking lot is surrounded by a 10 foot iron fence and there is a guard out front who had to give you a special pass to allow you to enter and park there. Inside, it's pretty much like any U.S. Wal-Mart. Nothing exotic there - but we needed diapers and this was the best place to pick those up.

We stopped for lunch in Jaco. We briefly looked at the ocean but did not give in to the kids' begging to go play there. Beautiful beach and pretty blue water, but even if we had been so inclined, there were lots of signs posted telling us that there are lots of riptides and strong currents and swimming is not a great idea. Aaron already knew this to be true, since he went swimming at this particular beach 16 years ago and was caught by a riptide and nearly drowned. We were not going to go swimming there!

Instead, we went on into the town of Jaco to find lunch. It's a very nice little town. More modern than some. We saw lots of places we might like to eat, but we could NOT figure out the parking. There were lots of spots, but all of them were marked as pay spots and we could never find any indication of where/how to pay to park there. Eventually we settled on a lunch spot just because it had a private lot to park in. It was great food though, so we didn't regret the choice at all. More of the ubiquitous fruit drinks served with every meal. Pizza for the kids, salad for me, chicken and rice for Aaron, calimari and nachos for the table.

We ate lunch on a deck overlooking the town of Jaco on one side and the jungle growth on another. HOT but there

We continued our drive to Dominical - finally able to relax a little because in recent years they've built a new highway and it is very modern and in good repair. It has lanes and markings and everything! The other drivers are still scary, but at least the road is good. As you drive, there are huge groves of palm trees beside the road. You can tell they are cultivated rather than natural because the rows are so perfectly straight and precisely spaced. The lines of trees are an interesting sight. Also cool to see how very dark it is beneath the trees. All those leaves close together at the top block almost all the daylight from reaching the ground.

When we reached Dominical we missed the turn at first, because it's just a tiny dirt road turning directly off the highway. We turned around and went back to it (we came to call this maneuver a Costa Rica U-Turn, because roads are so poorly marked that we were constantly having to find a turnaround and go back to find someplace we missed) and drove through Dominical to find our hotel.

Dominical is basically 1 street. There is a 2nd street but it just leads to a surf camp where a lot of people camp on the beach. The road through town is rocky and bumpy and not quite 2 lanes wide. For all the tiny size of the town, though, there are lots of businesses. A couple of supers (little grocery markets - not what you think of as a grocery store in the US), probably a dozen restaurants, some surf and dive shops, and several little hotels and b&bs.

We found our b&b at the end of town. It was a little more run down than the pictures had suggested, but the rates were right.

We checked in and went to our room... down a graveled path through tropical plants and trees. There is a big spider living on a flower to the right, so we avoid him. There is a colony of leaf-cutter ants constantly toiling to bring bits of leaves and flowers back to the hive and we step carefully over their line so we don't disturb them. Iguanas live in the undergrowth and geckos climb the walls... the kids love it.

The courtyard is beautiful. I am less than thrilled to learn that our room is at the top of a long, steep flight of tiled stairs. Given my habit of falling on stairs, these make me really nervous. (Rightly so, as it turned out. I fell a couple of times on those stairs.)

Our room has 3 single beds and a double bed, a tiny kitchen area, and a bathroom. The town's plumbing is so ancient that nowhere in town are you allowed to flush any paper... no it all goes in a wastebasket beside the toilet. Ew.

The ac is blessedly effective at combating the temps and humidity - both in the high 90s. There is no tv. The kids are appalled that such a thing could be possible. The beach is a 2 minute walk, so we went to visit immediately. It is low tide, so there's lots of sand to explore. We try to show the kids how to walk through the waves and Brekken is almost immediately knocked on his butt into the warm water. (He inherited his grace from me, poor kid.) He is freaked out and will not go back in the water, choosing instead to explore the driftwood at the high tide mark.

It gets dark shortly after we get to the beach. In Costa Rica darkness falls early and quickly around 6:30 pm. We drag the kids back to the room to change and set out to find dinner as the rain starts to fall.

We choose a restaurant and the man running things comes out to direct us to the single covered parking spot and usher us inside under his umbrella. So nice of him. He makes much of the kids as we order - everyone in Costa Rica does. There's none of that suppressed dismay when you walk in somewhere with a bunch of kids. Everyone seems to just love kids and are thrilled that you've brought some. It's wonderful.

I got a tortilla and cheese. Thick, fresh-made tortilla topped with Tico cheese. It's not good. The tortilla is fine, but the cheese is a little ick. White, slightly tasteless but with just enough taste to make you think entirely tasteless would be better. It squeaks against your teeth when you chew.

Happily, this meal also introduced Lizano sauce, a Costa Rican condiment that can be added to pretty much anything. It's savory but a little tart, has a mild spice, and is addictive. Add Lizano to your Costa Rican cheese and suddenly it's ok. Add it to something good like chicken and rice or gallo pinto and it's incredible.

The rain lets up for just a few minutes as we return to the hotel. We hurry inside and the thunder and light show start again a few minutes later. Between the darkness and the lack of tv it's easy to convince the kids it's time for bed at only 7:00. Aaron and i are not far behind, still trying to recover from the first day of the trip. (I slept more on this vacation than I have in YEARS. Though I was always the last one to bed - usually by a couple of hours - that still put me in bed well before midnight every night. Unheard of on my usual schedule.)

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