Getting around Central America can be a challenge, and the trip from Nicaragua to Costa Rica is no exception. It’s an all day affair punctuated by some customs mumbo jumbo and multiple buses. When I finally rolled in at 8pm., a car was waiting for me to take me to the house of my host family for five days of Spanish classes and six days of cultural immersion. CRLA (Costa Rican Language Academy) is a beautifully run and well organized facility overflowing with “Pura Vida” and happy helpful people. Comprehensive orientations, a well stocked kitchen, and an on-site restaurant with tasty inexpensive food round out this truly wonderful introduction to Costa Rica. They help to facilitate the joining of volunteer programs, as well as, travels and tours throughout the country.
I couldn’t have found a better place to polish up my Spanish and bide my time until I meet my brother, Craig, in an EcoLodge three hours to the North. Don’t worry this place doesn’t rely on filth to establish its bona fides on the sustainability front like that nightmare on Ometepe Island. No indian hair tampons or watercooler bottles filled with cigarette butts in the dining area at Finca Luna Nueva.
The Most Awesome Costa Rica Language Academy – The place ran like a fine Swiss timepiece, and the teachers were so helpful, competent, and kind.
Cindy on the front desk was like having a personal advisor and travel agent. She coordinated everything for everybody. Talk about busy! Her directions involving two buses and two cabs to Finca Luna Nueva were a lifesaver. Like an idiot, I left my camera at the Lodge when I traveled North. Cindy dropped off $20 at my hostel for the driver who brought down my camera while I was at a beach resort. These are the kind of people I found all over Costa Rica which went a long way in restoring my faith in humanity. Cindy and I are both major Francophiles, and she even cued me in on a beautiful city in France that I was unaware of. It’s called Annecy, and it’s just east of Lyon. Do yourself a favor and Google it. It will blow your mind. I’m stopping by in May.
Olga La Profesora – Our class consisted of people from Germany, Japan, and the United States. There’s Yuko, Michaela, and Niklas. In never could remember the German girl’s name.
The cozy patio where we took our meals.
I was really tired from the trip from Nicaragua so I dragged one of those lounge chairs into the shade and had myself a nice siesta.
Graduation Day – I’ve never learned so much of a language so easily in such a short period of time. Between the three hours of classwork a day, and the immersion in the evening with my host family, I will have a much easier time of it during my next six weeks as I head into South America. One of the best parts of the program is living with a real Costa Rican family especially if you’re lucky enough to get the one that I was assigned to.
My Tico Family and fellow student Elisa, from Switzerland – We had just finished a feast of beef, shrimp, and fish and were just about to slice up that cake in the foreground. The three youngest ladies are my host’s granddaughters. Denia the head of the family really knows what is important in life.
Denia – More than just a great hostess. She not only cooked the best scrambled eggs in Central America, but she also showed what the spirit of Pura Vida was all about. She saw to our every need. So much so that I felt like a kid again. This second year of travel is starting out in a very good way. It finds me far more social and connected with fellow travelers, having a family rendezvous here in Costa Rica, and making friends with Denia. Things are flowing beautifully, and the outlook is bright especially since my “joie de vivre” has returned in force merely by spending time among the happiest people in the world.
Finca Luna Nueva
Holy Sustainability Batman! This is one hell of an EcoLodge. Beautiful wood, comfy beds, hot showers, functioning wifi, and great food. Not to mention being surrounded by some very pretty Costa Rican Rainforest. Quite the step up from that filth haven on Ometepe Island. Two buses, three hours, and a taxi transported me from San José by noon at which time I had lunch, got acclimated, and settled in before indulging in a nice siesta before dinner.
Love this place – Not bad for $95 a night – A welcomed splurge.
Dining Area – Overlooking pool
The Bros discuss the advantages of a well-shaped skull in the treatment of male pattern baldness. Also touching on the point that the vast amount of the world’s population doesn’t know the difference between a van dyke and a goatee. The beards we are sporting are van dykes which are not to be confused with lesbians who prefer a particular brand of sneakers. Soon the conversation turns to our activity of the day. Ecoglide zip lining fifteen stations through the Costa Rican rainforest canopy.
Craig and Reneé – All geared up for their big Valentines day adventure.
A quick orientation and mini zip line tryout.
Riding up the hill to an amazing series of fifteen zip lines, including the notorious Tarzan swing.
Sandwiched between Craig and me, Reneé gets her zip lining freak on.
AWAY SHE GOES!
CRAIG – Ready to Rock
Ecoglide employees shove Reneé into the gaping maw of the Tarzan swing.
After plummeting twenty feet Renee swings to a point 200ft. away. Then, back and forth until they manage to slow you down and grab you by the legs.
Reneé takes one last very long glide.
LA FORTUNA – A sweet little town North of Finca Luna Nueva sporting a picturesque park.
HANGING BRIDGES PARK
SLOTH – Just up a tree on the side of the road.
ARENAL HANGING BRIDGES PARK
COATIMUNDI – It’s basically the raccoon of Central America, but they aren’t quite the garbage hounds of their counterparts in North America. They enjoy a nice piece of fruit and are not shy about seeing if someone might have a mango handy as this fellow is doing. We caught a family of seven cutting across the clearing behind us.
My daughter Dina’s nickname is raccoon, but I think she is sleek and elegant like the raccoons down here. I’ll have to take it up with her husband, Steve, who gave her the name in the first place.
This tree is home to approximately 3,000 species of plants, insects, birds, and animals.
Cutter Ants – Carrying bits of leaf.
THE FINAL BRIDGE
My brother Craig, just may have distinguished himself by discovering a new species. Photos will be sent to experts in the field to try and identify this little fellow who was about ten to twelve inches long.
Upon careful inspection, we determined this was a freshwater eel and not a water snake. The shape of the head, the lack of scales, and speckled markings were even reminiscent of many eels I have encountered on my numerous scuba encounters in the oceans of the world.
Spot the camouflaged frog
A WALKING STICK
WAITING FOR AN OPPONENT
TOM NEWMARK – Our wonderful host and guide through the Sacred Seeds garden.
DRACONTIUM GIGAS – A most unusual flower that gives off the smell of rotting meat when in bloom.
CINNAMON – A different form of nutmeg encased and presented as a piece of fine jewelry.
OBSERVATION TOWER VIEW
This is the tree where the essence for Chanel no. 5 comes from.
Casa Luna – Our building with our bedrooms upstairs, and our “Chocolate Tour” downstairs.
ISHMAEL – The nicest guy on the property, producer of “Two Monkeys” chocolate, the backbone of Finca Luna Nueva, and resident chocolate expert.
The Essentials For Making Chocolate – Cacao, sugar, grinding stone.
ISHMAEL ROASTS THE CACAO BEANS
3,000-Year-Old Volcanic Stone Cacao Grinder – It was found fully intact when a plow kicked it up out of the soil. Upon further investigation, the oblong grinding stone that went with it was also found!
APOCALYPSE NOT – What are we chocolatiers or tourists? We’re neither. We’re gringos sent to Costa Rica to run up a bill.
Trying my hand at this wonderful artifact while Craig uses a more modern device.
Beverage of the Gods – I agitate the elixir of hot chocolate with a wooden swizzle stick in preparation for consumption.
Our chocolate has been squeezed into the molds and is ready for refrigeration. In twenty minutes it will be ready for consumption. We had plenty left over to take on our journey.
Tabacón Resort & Volcanic Hot Springs
This 5-Star Resort is benefitted by this beautifully landscaped and executed natural hot springs. The higher you climb the hotter it gets.
TOP LEVEL – Hot & Steamy
The Restaurant – Included in our resort package for the evening was a sumptuous buffet which included amazing grilled steak, chicken and pork. Also soups, salads, a pasta station, and many other appetizing dishes.
Mini Desserts included panna cotta, tiramisu, and pumpkin pie.
VIEW FROM OUR TABLE – You can see the swim up bar in the pool heated by the hot volcanic water. We had some drinks there before changing for dinner.
A STROLL THROUGH SHANGRI-LA TERRACES AFTER DINNER
Craig and Reneé’s resort featured a large property with plenty of wildlife. Here you see a sign indicating that there are animals in the roadway. Pictured on the sign is the Coatimundi, my favorite creature in Central America.
Sunset over at Craig and Reneé’s resort. The sand was finer than on Jacó beach.
Thanks to that tall wall there was shade on the pool during the day where you could escape the strong rays of the sun. People were turning red very fast.
My hostel was at the South end of Jacó beach away from the noise and confusion of the town. Thankfully the place I stayed had great A/C, comfortable beds, and a nice pool. They also served hearty food, and there was a small fish market 300 meters away that had amazing swordfish ceviche for sale.
One last sunset before leaving Jacó, and driving back to San José with Craig and Reneé.