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11/20-25/01    Palm Tree on the beach in Quepos
First time out of the country and amazingly enough all went great! Peggy and I were able to get through security at DIA much faster than we thought so it was straight to the bar for some pre-vacation beverages. We weren't leaving until 7:50pm so it was going to be an all-night flight, good thing drinks are free on international flights. The sun started coming up during our layover in Guatemala City and not long after we were landing in San Jose, Costa Rica around 8:30am. Looking around the landscape was beautiful with bright green rolling hills everywhere and not a single flat spot, San Jose is located in a small valley surrounded by volcano's and steep hills. Marisol picked us up outside and we soon learned about Costa Rican driving! I thought that people in Philadelphia and New York City could drive, but these drivers put them to shame! All traffic travels about 2 inches from each other, it's always rush hour and everyone uses their horns non-stop. We soon were able to tell the difference between honking for "thanks", "let me in", "move out of the way", and everything else you could imagine! By the look of the smog over San Jose there isTypical city street not much in the way of pollution regulations. The streets are lined with vendors selling, begging, and haggling and every store and house has locked gates and bars over the windows. Not speaking a lick of Spanish it was quite the adjustment for me, but luckily Peggy knew quite a bit. Its a good thing that Marisol picked us up because we never would have been able to get through San Jose on our own. The plan was to go to Volcan Barva after finding the Toruma International Youth Hostel that we were staying at on the east end of town. Rooms are incredibly cheap and we didn't pay more than $20/night for both of us. After getting our room and changing it was back into the mess of traffic, potholes, and accidents. The lack of street signs didn't help much either. Marisol found the bus in Heredia that we needed to get onto after several loops around the city and asking directions, so it was off to the Volcan north of the city on the 1hr ride to San Jose de la Montana up steep roads and curvy streets through small towns and coffee plantations up the slopes. We were thoroughly amazed at the skills of these bus drivers, and amazed that these buses are able to make it up and down these roads! Passing on blind curves and one side of wheels off the road was not uncommon!  
The flora and fauna is very bright green and all different shapes and sizes. Some plants had leaves over 5 feet wide Small houses everywhere dotted the steep slopes and some tree trunks are in every imaginable shapeThese leaves were about 8 feet tall and size reaching way above your sight to the rain forest canopy above. Everywhere you look is rolling hills covered in rain forest and "cloud-forests", as they call them. It was described as similar to the movie "Gorillas in the Mist", and that was right-on. Looking on either sides of the trails and roads, it would be easy getting lost just 5 feet off the path.  The bus dropped us off and we started the hike up the steep road towards the park. We were hoping to make it to the park before having to turn around for the bus but those plans soon changed once the road turned into a mud-slide and cow shit highway! We came around a corner and the road was covered side to side with cows, we were able to climb up along the grassy sides to skirt around them. The second herd of cows had a mean looking bull that was eyeing us up so we decided that that was a great turn around point! Luckily there was a little local bar along the way that we stopped at for our first "cheers" to making it to Costa Rica. The main (and only) beers are Rock Ice, Imperial, and Pilsen. We were loving the price of beer....about 60 cents OUr first hiking obstacle! We were able to climb up the slope on the far right each! Guard dog
We got back to the bus stop covered almost up to our knees in mud for the long, steep, brake-burning ride back to Heredia with the hopes that we would be able to find our way back to San Jose. Between Peggy's span-glish and lots of pointing we found the right bus after getting yelled at by a driver, and made it back to our hostel and to bed for an early next day. Crossing the roads is a whole death-defying trick in itself in all Costa Rican towns! After being used to cars stopping for us on the Colorado streets we almost got ourselves run over a couple times. Stop signs andCloud Forest red lights are ignored everywhere!
We wanted to go to Volcan Irazu the next day, but the buses only went there on weekends. The next choice was the active Volcan Poas with a crater about 1 mile across and 1000 ft deep making it one of the largest active craters in the world. The maps and bus schedules are horribly out of date so we took the censuses of about 8 people as to which bus, where, and what time. Once again the bus flew along small curvy mountain roads through Alajuela, past Coffee fields as far as you can see on terraced slopes coffee fields, pastures, and fern plantations no wider than a bike! The drivers have no problems with passing on blind corners and driving off the pavement, but the bus can't be beat for around $1.  As we climbed up the 8,800 ft volcano the mist got heavier and it started raining. It rains there a lot but its so warm that it's not bothersome and while hiking through the rain forest you can hear the rain hitting the canopy above but not much gets down to the ground. We stopped along the way for some fresh fruit at one of the many roadside stands and when we eventually got to the Volcan Poas National Park visibility was about 20 feet. We went to the crater rim and couldn't see anything. We had a few hours so we waited and waited and hiked through the rain forest on some trails. Unfortunately the fog never cleared so we didn't get to see the inside of the crater and the smoking fumarole. After getting back to San Jose we stopped at the first seedy looking bar for some more <$1 beers and laughs at the locals, Tico's as they call themselves, and music. Most buildings are an electrical codes nightmare with bare wires running along the walls to the fuses and switches. We got our first taste of the local food at El Cuartel de la Boca del Monte that served lomino encebollado, something like tenderloins and onions with fried kiwi or bananas and potatoes. We met up with Marisol and her husband Rahol that night for drinks, shots of tequila, and a bunch of laughs. We got to hear Billy Joel's "Piano Man" in Spanish mixed in with some flamingo-style guitar which was quite interesting. They tried to convince us to come back to there house to drinks some tequila that night, not just a couple shots but the whole stinkin' bottle! Rahol swore that tequila doesn't get him drunk and we were entertained with singing his name, Louis Rahol Rodrequiez Occoneilla.
The next day we were up before 5am to catch the 6am bus to Quepos and la playa (the beach). When we got to the Coca Cola bus station (seems thatPoor Mans Umbrella plant Coke owns most of Costa Rica) the bus was full. Oh shit. Our options were to wait 6 hours for the next one or rent a car. Just before the bus left the driver told us we could get one if we didn't mind standing, no problem just get us there. We weren't in the mood to hang out in San Jose's busy bus station with all of our stuff and shady people everywhere! Not long into the ride a couple people got off so we had seats the rest of the way. It was amazing that the tiny little half-broken bridges didn't collapse with the weight of the bus. Once again the scenery couldn't be beat with huge lush green valleys and rain forests the whole way up and down through steep valleys and ridges. We got off after 3 hours in the little beach town of Quepos and loved the town right away. Much slower, laid-back pace than San Jose. Lots of stray dogs and poverty everywhere but much better than San Jose. We found the Hotel Malinche right away and a well needed shower before starting to explore. Since we only paid $20 instead of $30 for the night, we missed out on the amenities of hot water and an air conditioner! We toured the local bars and ate some more local food, meeting some great people along the way and learned the secrets of where the elephant butt, the mouse, and the tourist are hiding on the Imperial beer label! The beach was right at the end of the street and Manuel Antonio is just a short 3 mile bus ride away (along steep, curvy, pothole strewn roads of course).
The next morning we headed to Manuel Antonio National Park and hiked through the rain forest to Playa Espadilla Sur, all along the secluded beach, and up and overSmall inlet in Manuel Antonio NP a few forested thick ridges. Its amazing that the rock-jutted Pacific ocean coast, the beach, jungle, and rolling hills can be so close to each other. The hiking was slow going since everything is so overgrown and slippery. We were hoping to see a few monkeys, but no luck. Chillin' on a tree Instead we got to see a couple iguana's about 3-4 feet long and watched as a sneaky raccoon stole a bag of banana's right out of someone's bag and ate them in the tree a couple feet away! We hiked a jungle loop that took us way up above the beach to Punta Catedral, looking out over Playa Espadilla and Playa Espadilla Sur. The beaches were beautiful with large rock outcrops right off the coast and nice clean, warm, water.  We were hoping to do some snorkeling but the water was too rough where we were, instead we lounged on the palm tree lined Playa Espadilla sipping beers all afternoon after checking out. Before leaving we hit the tiny local Supermarket for a bottle each of Centenario (Costa Rican rum), and Flor de Cano (Nicaraguan rum) at around $10 each. At 5pm we caught the last bus back to San Jose, we were smart this Playa Espadilla Sur time and bought our tickets the day before to ensure an actual seat and not a seat on the floor!
Our plane was leaving San Jose at 7am the next day so it was pointless to get a hotel late that night after getting back just to get up early and find a way to the airport. Instead we snoozed in the airport under a set of steps waiting for the check-in to open at 4:30am. Got through security with ease again and started the long day of flights again, with beers of course! Nothing like screwdrivers for breakfast on the way to Mexico City. Flying over Mexico the volcano's stand out and ask to be climbed! In the Mexico City airport Peggy pointed out a duty-free shop that gave free tequila samples, so we managed to put down 3 different types before hopping on our plane. The one with a worm almost had Peggy running for the bathroom! A couple more plane rides and we were greeted in Denver with a couple inches of snow and coming down strong! Needless to say, it was nice to see the snow again but lead to a long sleepy ride back to Colorado Springs and work the next day.
A fantastic, cheap vacation the couldn't have gone smoother. We met some great folks from all over the world and a few Tico's who came for vacation and never left, including Marisol and Rahol; Fransisco who was from Denver and Philly; the guy who couldn't keep food in his mouth; the two nice women on the bus from NYPlaya Espadilla and Canada; and a heavily accented Scot. Luckily we could get by with Peggy's Spanish and hand signals, a lot of patience, and careful eye's watching everything going on around us. The Tico's must have got a kick out of letting us struggle through Spanish then answering us back in English! D'oh! Though it was nice to get home and hear English spoken all around us. We only brought back pictures, a few shells and coral, some colonies, great memories and stories, and (of course) some Costa Rican rum.

Some More Beach Pictures:  Rain Forest coming right up to the beach  Cathedral Point that we climbed up on  Playa Espadilla, where we lounged sipping beers for the day  Playa Espadilla Sur  Peggy on Playa Espadilla Sur

This was either a prison or a government bldg in San Jose that got shot up: 

Close up of the bullet holes  The tower, tons of bullet holes around the small window  View from the side  Front view

Pictures with Marisol and Rahol: Peggy, Marisol, and Rahol  Marisol, Rahol, and Me

Some of the flora and fauna:  Crazy ole lookin' tree  Huge bamboo tree in Manuel Antonio NP  Yep, tarzan was up there!

Rain forest & trails through them that we were on:  Rain forest  There's a trail in there that we were following  Trail through Manuel Antonio NP 

Silly lookin' round heads: Invasion of the round heads

More views:  From the beach in Quepos  Along the bus ride to Poas  Nothing's flat  More rain forest

On the bus ride to Quepos  More rain forest