Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Costa Rica Recap: Day 4

The day got off to a perfect start. We got up at 6 am to catch low tide at our local beach. Walking the 200 meters to the beach we found perfect conditions. The tide was out and waves were small. "Our" driftwood bench had been moved several meters up the beach from the force of the waves overnight. We moved out into the waves in the soft sand section. When it seemed that we were having to move to far out, Aaron decided we should move up the beach to where the waves were hitting higher on the beach. Unfortunately, that section was MUCH rockier; basically just a thin layer of sand over many many little rocks. Still, the waves were fun.

Brekken finally agreed to come sit on the sand/rocks with me and Bubba while Aaron went further in with the older two. The waves approached us gradually enough that Brekken didn't feel nervous and eventually decided he kind of liked it when the waves tickled our feet and legs. The waves in that section of the beach started to get a little high, so we moved back down to the soft sand, where the waves were now perfect.

Brekken got nervous all over again, but I convinced him to come make a sand pile that could be knocked over by the waves. Occupied with that he forgot to be nervous and soon enjoyed the waves hitting us. Before long he and Rylen were wildly chasing the waves and leaping into them. All the kids were laughing and smiling and having fun. Aaron and I were enjoying the ocean and thrilled that the kids were so happy and getting along so well. I was incredibly happy with life in that exact moment. It was just what I wanted vacation to be. Perfect.

After a late breakfast, we set out on another quest for family beaches. We had done some research and Playa Biesanz was listed as a hidden gem perfect for families. It also included a short hike to reach the beach through a jungle area populated by sloths, monkeys, and various other animals. We drove through Quepos to Manuel Antonio and looked for the entrance to the beach. We followed the road up and then down a steep track that was partially paved. At the bottom of the path we passed a couple of skeazy-looking guys standing around smoking and watching us closely as we passed. The road turned upward again and eventually arrived at The Parador - a very fancy looking hotel with a security building at the locked gates. The nice guard there gave us directions to Playa Biesanz and we turned around to try again.

Back down the twisty, steep road, past the skeazy guys and up again. At the top we drove past the frighteningly steep drop off for the road in the center and tried the third road because Haley spotted a handwritten sign saying "beach" and pointing us down this road. This one was unpaved but without the dramatic drop-off immediately after the turn that we saw on the second road. The road down started off reasonably but was soon down to only one bumpy lane twisting through the jungle. Once we saw a monkey leap overhead. The foliage was so thick around us that we could see nothing but greenery surrounding us in a tunnel curving around and over the road. At one point the holes in the road were so huge and simultaneously the grade so steep (seriously had to be 12-15%) that we were all clinging to the doors to stay in our seats.

When we finally reached the beach at the end off the road, we found one older man hanging out in a deck chair. He had posted a couple of handmade signs, similar to the "beach" signs that sent us down the road in the first place. He informed us that this was not Playa Biesanz either. It was a surf beach- he was there giving surf lessons- and waves were too wild for kids. He gave us directions too Biesanz. Up we went on the crazy road through the jungle. Thank goodness for 4-wheel drive in our rental!

We learned that the kids do not know the meaning of the phrase "all hands on deck" - they shout it whenever the road is particularly bumpy or steep to tell each other to hold on tight. LOL

We reached the top and headed down the first road again, trying to follow the directions from surfer man and watching carefully for a turn off along the way. We pass the skeazy men again and this time we realize there is a small sign offering parking, beach access, and to "guard" your car. Surely this can't be the place since we know this is a public beach with free access. Keep going and reach The Parador again. The guards just laughed as we turned around again.

Back past skeazy man, up to the intersection of the three roads again. This time we're sure it must be the second road. This road is frightening in the way it drops off the main road at a super steep grade. It looks as if the road simply ends and you're about to drive off the edge. We nerve up and turn onto the road and head down, down, down. Again it's incredibly steep and twisty, only one to one and a half lanes and full of huge potholes... which is a mild term for holes big enough to hold your entire vehicle. On corners the road is often crumbling away. And even with all this, there are always motorcycles suddenly weaving past you at high speed.

And then a bus suddenly looms up in front of us! He is coming up the hill and there's only room for one vehicle. Now it's time for a game of chicken... you each keep driving slowly forward until someone caves and decides to pull over to the side as far as possible to allow the other vehicle to squeeze past. As usual, we give in first - we're not as crazy as the local drivers. So we have to back up several feet to find a space wide enough to move to the side and let the bus squeeze past with inches to spare.

I took a couple of videos of driving on the bumpy roads... these are actually the better roads we encountered... I never remembered to bring out the camera when we were on the really bad roads, probably too busy hanging on! I don't know how interesting they are, but they kind of give an idea of what it's like driving on some of the standard roads in the rural areas. Again, this is not off-roading, these are the main roads.

When we reach the bottom this time, we are at another fancy hotel. Asking here we learn that we are STILL not at Biesanz. No Biesanz is actually that little path with the "guards." After some debate, we decide that we really don't want to trust our things to a couple of guys who just decided to set themselves up in what is supposed to be a public access area. Instead, we'll go over to Manuel Antonio national park. A hike through the jungle there takes you to a good beach and even though a fee is required, at least it's going to park officials, not some scammers.

We arrive at the park and negotiate a good rate for a tour guide. You can go without one, but it's harder to spot the various animals. Our guide takes us in and within minutes she's shown us a 3-toed sloth, capuchin monkeys, iguanas, bats, banana spiders, and howler monkeys.

There is a monkey somewhere in this photo. Can't find it now. :)

Manuel Antonio with our guide. Preston really enjoyed talking with the guide. He talked her ear off. He even held her hand on the walk back to the gate. Like all the Costa Ricans we dealt with, she loved kids so she was fine with this.

Also a monkey somewhere in here. Also can't find it now.

Just as she points out a 2-toed sloth holding its baby, the first raindrops fall. Within seconds the rain is pouring down like a faucet was turned on. I stuff my camera in my shirt in a futile attempt to keep it dry, but it is less than a minute before we are all dripping wet from head to toe. Our guide is doggedly determined to give us our money's worth and forges ahead, though there are no animals visible through the driving rain that cuts visibility to only feet. We keep walking and walking... long past the time that I would have turned around. It's obvious that the rain isn't stopping anytime soon and that we aren't seeing anything other than a tropical rainstorm. Just as I am about to tell Aaron and the guide that we need to stop already, she says we'd better had back because the park will be closing in 20 minutes. Since we entered the park 90 minutes before closing, that means we spent an hour slogging through the rain. I have no idea why she's thinks we'll cover that same distance back in only 20 minutes. Still, we eventually make it, well after park closing. Soaked to the bone and yet still too hot because the temperatures here are definitely tropical.

This is what happens when you try to take a picture with a dripping camera in a tropical downpour.
We load into the car and all the seats are immediately soaked. Drive back to Dominical and change into dry clothes then cross the street to eat at our favorite little soda. We have to douse everyone in insect repellent first since it's all outdoors. It is delicious as always. Wandering neighborhood dogs keep begging for food at our table and then a couple of them decide to play/fight/chase all around our table and under our feet.

As we leave the owner calls after us, see you tomorrow! We are regulars now.

Back to the room and quickly to sleep. Everyone else in the family seems to have adapted well to going to bed at 7:30 or 8:00. Since I almost never go to bed before midnight - and more often a couple of hours later than that - I never feel tired enough to go to bed when they do. But after reading and checking Facebook and playing candy crush for a while, I am bored enough to go to bed. Still only 9:00. Sleep for hours... wake up. Surely it must be almost morning by now... nope only 11:45. Back to bed for more hours... nope, only 2 am. Will this night ever end? 4:30 now... Finally! 6:30 and I can go ahead and get up.

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