La Paz Waterfall Gardens

The 15 passenger van is careening around curves and buses and school children and parked cars and hairpin turns. Oddly, we are careening UP the mountain. The roads are two lanes: no shoulder, no guard rails. We are traveling at maintained speeds of at least 40 miles per hour and only stop when we are impossibly blocked by other vehicles. The van is cool; the air conditioning is on full blast the entire two hour trip. This is a good thing, because I am getting a little nauseous and if it were warm in the bus there may have been an incident.

We are heading to La Paz Waterfall Gardens, just north of Alajuela in Central Costa Rica. Just a little day trip. My driver, Ray, is competent, even skilled, and the danger I sense is real, but no worse for us than any other vehicle on the road. Our guide, Arlin, and the other passengers, a mother and adult daughter from Mexico and a couple from Argentina, are relaxed and talking, seemingly unaware that the edge of the road drops directly into a deep ditch which would flip us over and send us hurling down the beautiful jungle mountainside should our driver miss the road by anything more than 12 inches.

My husband and I are in San Jose for a sketch workshop he is attending. So while he is walking the streets of San Jose, I am taking this tour alone. The traveling together is fun and good, but he loves to sketch and can spend hours doing so. I ultimately end up entertaining myself for several hours at a time or sometimes full days. Today is one of those days.

Recently I’ve been working intensely on my Spanish. I spoke Spanish fluently as a child because I was raised with a Spanish speaker in my home. But as I grew older I used it less and less and I’ve spent more time trying to get it back than it took me to lose it -many times over. Sometimes I can barely remember English words, lol, so remembering Spanish words can be a challenge. But fortunately I understand it better than I speak it. Since the entire tour group (besides me) were Spanish speakers, we got this tour in Spanish. All day, for ten hours, Spanish in the jungle. I had told our guide that if I missed anything I would ask questions and it worked out wonderfully.

Upon arrival at La Paz Waterfall Gardens, we were treated to a personal tour of the animal sanctuary. This is a beautiful place with photo ops galore. It’s like a small San Diego zoo… only the zoo is exactly where the animals would have originally been found. Lush and green, lovely walkways and enclosures, the nature park and animal sanctuary is a perfect place to spend a day.

After a buffet lunch of local cuisine and typical American fare, we headed toward the falls.

I was a little concerned about taking this trip because I don’t get around as well as I used to. Warnings abound on the tourist sites mentioning the level of difficulty. Not for the first time, I found the warnings to be overstated. In fact, all I had packed for our trip to Costa Rica were some heavy-soled flip flops and that’s what I wore. I was fine. My takeaway is wear whatever shoes are comfortable to you and you’re good to go.

There are a LOT of steps. These warnings of internet lore are true. The upside is most of them are downward. You start at the top, walk down, and a shuttle takes you back to the top of the park. It’s really not too hard and there are handrails the entire walk.

We didn’t experience any rain (yay!) but it is typical for it to rain at some point, so bring along a raincoat or poncho.

This is a perfect trip for people like me, who are not hikers and backpackers, to get out and experience the jungle in the mountains. Don’t let the internet tourist warnings about the difficulties put you off. I saw lots of people older than me and dozens of school children taking the walking in stride. Unless you’re in a wheelchair, you’ll be fine!

My warning to you is this: the ride up and down the mountain is the hardest part. If you are prone to carsickness, don’t stare at your phone or read, try to get a seat towards the front of your tour van or bus, and keep your eyes on the horizon! You will pass coffee plantations, strawberry fields, cow pastures, cute villages and school children walking along the road. As hard as the ride was, the ride was almost my favorite part. I highly recommend this tour.

¬°Pura Vida! ūüá®ūüá∑

Playas del Coco, Costa Rica

Usually when we travel, we stick to the big cities. We spend our time walking city streets or trying to figure out train schedules. We Uber. And we do love the city. But this trip out, on a lark really, we decided to visit the arid and quiet western coast of Costa Rica.

The airport near Liberia is a short three hour flight from Houston Intercontinental and we were in our rental car headed to our hotel on the Pacific Coast well before noon. By 2:00 pm, we had eaten a delicious traditional Costa Rican lunch of arroz con pollo, checked into our room, taken a walk, seen monkeys sleeping in a tree and realized those loud birds carrying on high up in the trees were parrots.

We saw so many iguanas it was funny how impressed we were with the first one we saw. By the way, I am told the black ones are not actually iguanas, they are called ctenosaurs, but it seemed like the general consensus was that all large lizards are iguanas. Ctenosaurs lay real still until they don’t, and then they move fast like a tornado. We were walking along the road and got too close to one which unexpectedly bolted and scared us half to death. I actually attempted to jump into my husband’s arms. I thought surely those things must weight 20 pounds, but I looked it up and they only¬†grow to¬†four pounds. I’m telling you when a three foot, four pound lizard goes from zero to TWENTY MILES PER HOUR in a split second it will send a shock right through you. But I digress.

We made our way to Playas del Coco on our second day. I’m not saying this place is some major tourist destination, but it was perfect for us. It’s basically about ten blocks of shops and restaurants all on one street that dead ends into the Pacific Ocean. They have created a lovely space along the water with sidewalks, landscape, restaurants, shops and seating areas. It’s a wonderful place to spend a lazy afternoon.

In Playas del Coco I met Tina, the best snow cone maker in all of Costa Rica. I know this because it says so on a sign posted on her cart. And my snow cone was very delicious and topped with a large marshmallow covered in sweetened condensed milk and sprinkles, then a strawberry and a little pink umbrella. I’ll have to take her word for it that it was the best snow cone in Costa Rica, but it was definitely very good!

We both fell completely in love with this quaint corner of Costa Rica. More than its raw beauty, its amazing wildlife, and the laid back atmosphere, it was¬†the Costa Ricans we didn’t want to leave behind.¬†We knew very little about the country before we visited. We picked it¬†for the criteria it met: warm climate, close destination. What we¬†discovered is that the people there are kind, warm, friendly, funny and easy-going. They love to visit with you in your broken Spanish and tell you how well you speak the language after you’ve only managed a few words. They are quick to tease and quick to laughter.

Costa Rica is a rare find indeed. I can’t wait to go back to explore and learn more!