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We almost killed the car

Thursday, January 31st, 2008

We put our rental car through hell on this trip. Not only did we drive down almost the entire spine of the country and then back up again, but we did about half of such driving on roads that are in a frightening state of disrepair. And how could we forget the getting-stuck-in-the-mud incident? After a few days of use, we could hear a lot more rattling than when we first got the car. It got to the point where I would literally hold my breath every time Mark started the car, thinking it might not start at all due to our abuse. She managed and was hanging tough until the night we left Baldi Hot Springs. Mark started the car and noticed the battery light was on. He knew right away that the belt was probably blown. Luckily, Poas Rent A Car has an office in La Fortuna. We drove straight there with the windows down (no A.C.) and with no lights on so as to conserve whatever juice the battery still had.

We made it safely to the office and thankfully it was still open. We explained to the representative what the problem was and how we’d rented the car in San Jose, etc. With almost no questions asked, he offered to give us a new rental car but we would have to wait until the next morning to get it. We had planned only to go back to the hotel and figure out something to do the next day so that deal worked out for us. His friend who was hanging out at the office gave us a ride back to our hotel.

The next morning, we called the office to find out at what time we would be getting the replacement car. (Since we had rented the cell phone, it was easy for us to communicate with the rental car company – with representatives in both La Fortuna and San Jose.) There was some discussion back and forth and it took a few phone calls to get it hammered out, but they dropped it off at our hotel as promised. They also offered to let us keep the replacement car – it was bigger and a little sturdier – for the duration of our agreement, as they were going to try to fix our original car, but it would involve drawing up a new contract. We declined and asked if we could have our first car back if and when it was repaired. I simply wanted to avoid any additional paperwork, but Mark had more sentimental reasons. He’d grown unnaturally attached to our “roller skate”, the term I used fondly to refer to our little 4WD. He didn’t want to drive anything else. Poas said sure, no problem, and our roller skate was returned to us later that evening.

During the planning stages of this trip, I was slightly skeptical about renting a car in Costa Rica. All of the guidebooks encourage readers to not drive while in the country and report that renting a car there is expensive and tourists may be prone to scams. Mark and I agree that renting a car is the way to go and we are more than satisfied with the service from Poas Rent A Car. I would not hesitate to rent from them again on a future trip to Costa Rica.

Posted by Francesca

Horses and hot springs

Thursday, January 31st, 2008

Date: January 24, 2008
Our first night in La Fortuna was relatively calm. We just checked into our hotel and then went in search of dinner. While in town we stopped in the office of Desafio Adventure Company, one of the major tour operators in La Fortuna. We had some ideas on what we wanted to do while in the area and we just wanted to see what they offer. Some of the most popular activities are whitewater rafting, zip-line tours, and hiking. We signed up for a horseback riding tour for the next morning, one that would take us up near Volcán Arenal. The cost for this trip is $45 per person.

Desafio arranged for Mark and me to be picked up at our lodge and taken to stables run by Montaña de Fuego, one of the nicer hotels (read: more expensive) in the area. The hotel also owns a large chunk of land near the volcano and that’s where we went riding. At the stables we met our guide, Alex, and our horses; Mark rode Jitano and my horse’s name was Peluso. Alex told us that Jitano and Peluso are brothers. I hadn’t been horseback riding in about eight years so I was a little unsteady at first. I got a little nervous, too, when we started sledging uphill in the mud and then over very rocky terrain. But Peluso handled it all very well, despite having my arse on his back. I became a lot more comfortable after a short while and began to really enjoy myself, even letting loose with a little Marty Robbins as we made our way. About ninety minutes after leaving the stables we arrived at a little observatory, just a small concrete, amphitheater-style shelter with views of Arenal – well, the views of Arenal are probably really awesome from there but it was cloudy so we saw little of the volcano. The observatory also overlooks Volcano Lake. We stayed up there for some time, hoping that the clouds would magically disappear but, alas, no luck. We did get to hear the volcano, though. It let out this deep grumble – sounding almost like thunder – which we heard on our ride back to the stable. It was very cool.

Our trip was three hours long and it was over at 11:30 so Mark and I thought, What should we do now? We decided to visit one of the area’s hot springs attractions. There are a few different ones in the area, one supposedly superior over the other with obnoxiously high prices to go along with that status. We decided to visit Baldi Hot Springs. The usual entry fee for non-guests (there is also a hotel on-site) is $28 per person but we were able to buy tickets at our hotel for $20 apiece. Plus we had our own car so we didn’t have to pay for transportation (our hotel offers a trip to Baldi: for $55 a person you get transportation to and from, entry to the hot springs, and a buffet dinner). I was not expecting this place to be as nice as it is. It’s not just a spot in a river where hot springs flow into it. There are several pools, each with its own little theme, that are fed by hot springs. And when I say pools I mean like swimming pools. The water is hot, just about 103°. Two of the pools have swim-up bars and Mark and I found seats at one of them. We just lounged in the pool for about four hours, had some fruity drinks complete with the little umbrellas, and watched a lot of Spanish music videos (the TVs were playing something like Latin America’s version of MTV). It was so relaxing and we had a great time. We did eat in the resort restaurant and we’ll never do that again. The food wasn’t bad but my Lord is it expensive! Twenty-one dollars for a chicken wrap? I don’t think so. We didn’t let that, or the rain, spoil our day, though. One note about Baldi, and I’m guessing the other hot springs in the area: seems the best time to go is in the afternoon. It is a lot less crowded. The tour buses start rolling in at about 6:00pm and then it becomes a madhouse. We got out of there just before the place was about to get mobbed.

Both the horseback ride and Baldi Hot Springs are recommended.

Posted by Francesca

Puerto Jimenez to La Fortuna

Wednesday, January 30th, 2008
Date of travel: January 23, 2008 We knew the drive to La Fortuna would be a long one so we were up and on the road before sunrise. I was looking forward to seeing a new part of Costa ... [Continue reading this entry]

The Palms Hotel – Puerto Jimenez, Costa Rica

Monday, January 28th, 2008
Dates: January 18-23, 2008 Looking at The Palms’ website, one is led to believe that all of the rooms at the hotel are newly renovated, are colorful and cheery, have fancy bathrooms, and have hot water (read it for yourself ... [Continue reading this entry]

Osa Discoveries

Monday, January 28th, 2008
Date: January 22, 2008 Geographically speaking, Costa Rica is a small country. But within its boundaries are myriad activities and fascinating sights. When beginning to plan our ten-day trip, we had some difficulty narrowing down which parts of ... [Continue reading this entry]

Finca Köbö

Sunday, January 27th, 2008
Date: January 21, 2008 I’d read in two different guidebooks about Finca Köbö, an organic farm near Puerto Jimenez. (Finca means plantation; Köbö is the name of this plantation.) It is a privately-owned farm that offers accommodations, ... [Continue reading this entry]

Escondido Trex

Friday, January 25th, 2008
Dates: January 20-21, 2008 We booked two trips at once with Escondido Trex. Our first was on Sunday afternoon, a mangrove/sunset kayaking trip, which we booked at the tour company’s office. The general manager, Eric, is the one ... [Continue reading this entry]

Puerto Jimenez

Friday, January 25th, 2008
Dates of travel: January 18-23, 2008 This place is hot and sticky. I have not sweat as much in my whole life (even when on safari in Tanzania) as I have these last five days. Has it been ... [Continue reading this entry]

San Jose to Puerto Jimenez

Monday, January 21st, 2008
Date of travel: January 18, 2008 Apparently, we should not have survived this trip. Everyone we talked to was shocked by: 1) the fact that we even attempted to drive from San Jose to Puerto Jimenez; and, 2) ... [Continue reading this entry]

Chicago to San Jose

Sunday, January 20th, 2008
Date of travel: January 17, 2008 Our journey started at the butt crack of dawn. Well, before that actually. More like the middle of the night. Our flight left O’Hare at 6:15am, which meant we needed to ... [Continue reading this entry]