Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Volcano, Rafting and the Caribbean Coast with the Family

I'm a little behind on my blog. Okay, I'm way behind. Sometime I'm just not in the blogging mood, but it's about time I write about my family coming down to visit during Semana Santa (Holy Week).

My family always comes to visit me during my little sister's (Juliana) spring break trip. This year, it just so happened to line up with holy week, which was perfect for me because I had most of the week off work anyway! Yay for good timing! Another bonus was that this year my sister Meggie was able to join too! So, on Friday, March 27th my mom, dad, and two sisters arrived in Costa Rica (sadly missing my brother Chris who is studying hard at medical school). They arrived very late at night, but a couple of my friends were really eager to meet Meggie so the four of us went out for a late night beer in Heredia and then we called it a night.

The hard thing about traveling with a big group is that everyone has a different idea of "vacation". For my dad and I it means covering as much ground as possible through constant activities, tours, and exploration. However, for my little sisters vacation means lying by the pool with a book and tropical drink in hand. My mom falls somewhere in the middle of those two groups. So, in order to keep everyone happy, my parents allowed me to plan the first three days of vacation and made me promise to leave the other five for beach bummin'.

After a good nights sleep, I brought my family to the Feria Verde (organic farmer's market) in San Jose for breakfast. As predicted, they loved it as much as I do. We order a few tasty treats like an amazing tomato, egg, and grilled cheese sandwich and a decadent french toast with berries as well as a few plates of caribbean style rice and beans with omelette and salad. Although I adore the Feria Verde, it's more of an artisanal/niche market so I decided to take my family back to Heredia to see a typical Saturday market. The Heredia market has lines of hundreds of tents of vendors selling fresh veggies, tropical fruits, eggs, meat, and more. I was planning to cook breakfast for my family the next day so we stocked up on some yummy produce for breakfast and tropical smoothies later on. As my sisters sipped on a fresh coconut, I introduced my family to a lot of unique produce from here in Costa Rica including roasted pejibaye (known as peach palm in English), caimito, maracuya (passion fruit), and mananzas de agua (water apples). I'm so lucky to have a family of such adventurous eaters! It sure makes traveling a lot easier. Later in the afternoon we went on a coffee tour at Cafe Britt, a small coffee plantation just a few kilometers from my house. That night we joined my roommate and her family at their house in the mountains of Santa Ana for a typical Venezuelan dinner of arepas and a wonderful view of the central valley.

Sunday we had a very early wake-up call. We were headed to Poas Volcano and everyone I've talked to recommended we get there as early as possible because it tends to get cloudy around 10am and you can no longer see the volcanic crater. So I had my family over for a typical breakfast of gallo pinto (rice and beans), scrambled eggs with onion, fried plantains and lots of fresh fruit. Then, we made the one hour drive to Poas Volcano. After completing the short hike to the crater, we were all elated to see a perfectly clear view of the smoking volcanic crater. We made sure to get lots of good pictures and then moved on to an hour long hike around the national park which took us past a volcanic lagoon and lots of lush vegetation and wildlife. After a typical lunch of casados (rice, beans, salad, plantains, picadillo and a protein) we drove over to La Paz Waterfall Gardens. Although the entrance was a bit pricey, it's totally worth it. Not only do the gardens have animals including jungle cats, butterfly gardens, monkeys and TONS of tropical birds, but they have beautifully built paths to three amazingly beautiful waterfalls (the paths even had railings! that's the first I've seen in Costa Rica!). We spent a rainy afternoon looking at the animals and visiting the waterfalls in the cloud forest of Vara Blanca. It was another long, exhausting day and we could hardly bring ourselves out for dinner, but I'm glad we did because I got to take my fam to my favorite restaurant in the central valley. It's a small Peruvian restaurant in the town of San Joaquin de las Flores and they serve up some seriously delicious seafood. Once again, we hit the hay early in anticipation of another early wake-up call for the following morning.

After packing up and checking out, my family came to pick me up at my house in Heredia. Then we drove to San Jose where we followed our tour company on a two hour drive to the Pacuare River where we were set to go white water rafting. I'd done this rafting tour before, and new how incredible it was. The four hour tour takes you through some of the most lush jungles and vegetation of Costa Rica. Most of the land that boarders the river still belongs to indigenous tribes, which leaves the nature practically untouched. My family really enjoyed the beauty of the ride as well as the adventure of the rapids. After the tour, we drove two more hours down to Puerto Viejo on the Caribbean coast. Our hotel was located just off the surfing beach of Playa Cocles, just a few minutes drive past Puerto Viejo center. By the time we arrived, we just had time to settle in and head out for dinner. I had heard a lot about the food in Puerto Viejo, and was ecstatic to finally experience it for myself! Let me say, it did not disappoint. Night one consisted of vegetable curries, tropical drinks, and fish covered all sorts of sauces from coconut to avocado sauce. It was all I could do not to lick my bowl of green thai coconut curry by the end of the meal.

At Punta Uva, our favorite beach
The rest of the week found a rhythm. My parents would wake-up very early to go on a nice beach walk, my sister and mom sometimes went to a morning yoga session down the street, then we'd all have breakfast together, go to the pool for the morning, go out to lunch, go to the beach for the second half of the day (different beaches every day), come back to the hotel, shower and get dressed for dinner, and go out to Puerto Viejo for a delicious meal. In our five days we visited three beaches: Playa Cocles, Punta Uva and Manzanillo. There were all different, but Punta Uva was by far our favorite. In fact, we agreed it might be the most beautiful beach any of us had ever seen. It's relatively small with lots of shade from palm trees, few waves and crystal clear blue water. We also found ourselves at different restaurants everyday with the exception of a double stop at the amazing taco place called Tasty Waves that was walking distance from our hotel. Every meal in Puerto Viejo was an absolute delight. The range of food offered there is like nothing I've seen in the rest of Costa Rica. Most of the restaurants offer "fusion" food whether is Caribbean-Thai, Carribean-Indian, Carribean-Japanese, etc. And of course, we found lots of places with typical Costa Rican food to have lunch at. My mom and I took our culinary journey a step further by going on a chocolate tour just around the corner from our hotel. We learned so much about the cacao tree and chocolate making process throughout our three hour tour, and of course we got to sample lots of delicious, organic chocolate. Puerto Viejo truly was a culinary experience.

Although we spent most of our days relaxing by the pool or on the beach, it was fun to drive into Puerto Viejo every night as the city was always buzzing. It's known for it's chill Caribbean vibe complete with open-air bars, mingling people and lots of reggae music.

The whole week was nearly perfect minus a couple hiccups. On Thursday half of San Jose showed up to Puerto Viejo and took over on their long-weekend of Semana Santa vacations. The beaches went from a quiet and relaxing to over-crowded and noisy filled with obnoxious Costa Ricans setting up camp (literally) and blasting music from their cars. Additionally, the regular five minute drive into town turned into a 20 minute snail-crawl due to the traffic. Luckily, our hotel was an oasis away from all of this, so we were able to hide away there. The other rotten thing that happened was my sister and dad got a stomach virus that was going around (I got it later, after the vacation) which took them out of a full day of activities.

However, other than that, the vacation couldn't have been more perfect! Even I, the girl who usually gets stir crazy laying on the beach for more than one day, really enjoyed the relaxation. It's such a special thing when I have the opportunity to share the place I love with the people I love most. Although this is my last year of living abroad for a while, I hope that my wanderlust will continue to inspire and encourage my loved ones to travel continuously throughout the rest of their lives.

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