Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Costa Rica!

A couple of weeks ago we finally got to check out Costa Rica. Last December we tried to make the trip but we had a mishap with some official documentation and it turned into quite a nightmare having crossed the border out of Nicaragua but not being let into Costa Rica. Then Nicaragua didn't want to let us back in! Needless to say we made extra certain this time around that we had everything in order.

The border crossing is never without it's challenges though! It is a ridiculous process because there are about a half dozen different officials that need to stamp our forms. Some collect money, some require photo copies, all are grumpy and bland. Nothing is computerized so we have to walk from office to office finding out what is needed and hope we do it all in the correct order. It is a reminder to be thankful for the ways technology blesses and streamlines our lives. This particular day was even more of a "treat" because it was the day that the Central American Liberation Torch was also crossing the border from Nicaragua to Costa Rica.

**The liberation torch is reminiscent of the Olympic torch. It commemorates the liberation of Central America from Spain into independent nations. The torch starts in Guatemala and is carried on foot and passed from city to city all throughout Central America from Guatemala to El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and finally completes it's journey in Costa Rica. It is really a neat tradition and is done annually in mid-September. Each city honors individuals as it passes the torch and there are many cultural parades and events following the torch.

For us the torch meant that the border was closed to us until 11:00am. Ugh. We had stayed the night in a hostel the night before so we could get an early start. Waiting in the car from 8:30-11:00am with 4 kids in the heat was exactly as much fun as it sounds. The crossing itself was about as long and boring as usual but we made it though! 

Audrey set up a waiting area for herself in one of the offices where we were filling out paperwork. Smart girl!

We finally made it!!! Costa Rica!!!

If your dream is to become a hobo, we found a paradise for you!

Since we were so much later than anticipated in getting across the border everyone was starved! We found a little local restaurant in a tiny little town and got some delicious Tica fare. This is the standard dish, they call it Casado "married." I think it refers to the "marriage" of all of the elements of the meal: meat, eggs, rice, beans, salad, tortilla and cheese. It was delicious!

Back on the road and wouldn't you know, we're following the torch again. What should have been a 4 hour drive from the border to the Capital City of San Jose became an 8.5 hour crawl. We were exhausted by the time we arrived to our Airbnb and just crashed. 

The primary impetus for our trip to Costa Rica was for Mitchell to take an exam for a professional certification he had been working on for several months. San Jose, Costa Rica was the closest proctored exam center. In the morning he headed out to take the test and the kids and I stayed behind to see what fun we could find at our Airbnb. It did not disappoint! It was a darling cabin on a fully operating equestrian center. It did a great job validating my utopian idea of frolicking carefree on a farm with my kids. They had as much fun as me! 

What a beautiful paradise! We were pleasantly surprised by how cool and comfortable the weather was too. 77 degrees, blue skies, light breeze. It was perfect.

The kids were fascinated by the horses

This giant styrofoam dome is a mushroom farm

The kids took a little bit to warm up to the horses. We don't have pets so any animal up close and personal is a little intimidating to them. It didn't take long though and the horses loved the attention.

Each of the kids had their favorite horse and we fed them all carrots for a treat

After Mitchell **passed** his test he joined us at the farm for a while. We took a short walk out to the edge of the property to a stream and played there for a bit.

These are happy and carefree farm kids! So much fun!

Our cozy cabin for the night.
Right about lunch time it started to rain and we packed up and headed in to San Jose to check out the children's museum there. It poured the whole afternoon so we were very glad to have planned an indoor activity that day!

Future space explorers?

Pig rodeo?

We think we got all of Layne's organs in right

This was hilarious! Redick and Reid found these skin suits and were running around like crazed skeletons! There was also a model of a human skeleton also displayed in this exhibit. I showed it to Layne and told him "that's what you look like inside of your skin." The look on his face was pure shock and horror! He shook his head really slowly and said noooooo. Haha.

At the children's museum we met another American from Utah! What are the odds?!? I think it was meant to be. So glad to have made a new friend.

Our sleeping accommodations this night were so much fun. Why not sleep in a treehouse while in Costa Rica!?!?! The kids thought it was the best thing ever! And it was!

I wish we had taken a picture with a person standing under there for reference. The base of the treehouse was probably 8 feet off the ground.

This beautiful property was home to a herd of goats

and 2 flocks of chickens!

Our Airbnb host was so sweet and jumped right in as if he was my kids grandpa. He helped them pick up the chickens and check out the goats. He gave them tours all over the property and even broke out the riding lawn mower for rides!

Audrey found a Hobbit door leading to an underground passage!

Layne wasn't too scared of the goats

The edge of the property overlooks a giant ravine of densely forested land. In the cool morning hours there were tons of birds calling and flying by.

Some pictures of the inside of the double-decker treehouse. We spent 2 nights here. I am so glad we reserved one half day for just exploring the property here. It was very fun and relaxing.

The treehouse was fully equipped with running water, a full kitchen, bathroom and shower! Impressive.

The big kids slept upstairs on these custom beds built just for this house.

After chasing the chickens, watching the milking of the goats and running free in the large meadow all morning we headed out to an amusement park for a good part of the day. Our new friend from the children's museum joined us too so it was even more fun!

The first ride of the day was a ferris wheel with handles in each car that would prevent it from articulating on the axel. Redick and I went upside down a few times!

The kids were hilarious on the bumper cars! It may have been the boys' favorite ride of the day. They caught on quick and since the lines were very short they rode many times!

Can you believe these adrenaline junkies? Layne smiled the whole time! He is so excited to finally be a big kid now. He was *super* jazzed to be able to participate in all of the rides with the big kids.

The little ham asks for "foto" all the time! So cute!

After we'd had our fill of the little kids area Audrey and I wanted to try something a little more daring. The Sky Master was our choice. She was enthusiastic as we ran across the park, somber as we stood in line, and silent when we took our seats and buckled the harnesses. I asked her during the ride as we were dangling upside-down if she was ok since she wasn't screaming or saying anything. She answered, "YES!!! My eyes are closed but I'm having fun!" When we got off the ride she practically bounced away thoroughly pleased for having braved a scary grown up ride!

We left the amusement park with enough time to visit the San Jose, Costa Rica temple! It is tiny but beautiful. We had planned on having Mitchell go in for a session and I would stay in the parking lot with the kids since I was able to go the temple several times in Utah last month. However, our new friend Ashley insisted that she would be happy to watch our kids in the parking lot so I could go too. I love the temple.


After our second night in the treehouse we had to get up and go pretty quickly. We ate an oatmeal breakfast and packed up and were on the road by 7:15! Our final day in Costa Rica would be spent visiting Volcan Arenal. It is one of Costa Rica's most recognizable volcanoes. It was a 3 hour drive from San Jose but was absolutely worth the side trip!

The higher elevation on the volcano is considered cloud forest and the moisture in the forest evaporates and creates it's own self-sustaining clouds that provide rain in the cloud forest. It took a while and many attempts but we finally got a semi-clear picture of the majestic volcano.

We took an electric tram up above the canopy of the rainforest. At our highest point we were 250 feet off the ground!

We got to see the hanging bridges that are built up high in the canopy to provide tourists with a close up view of the rainforest canopy. Most of the wildlife lives in the canopy so it's a unique view!

This is a very large man made reservoir that provides a significant amount of clean hydroelectric energy to the country. Costa Rica operates on 100% renewable energy from hydroelectric sources, wind and solar. 

After our tram ride we had a delicious lunch in their restaurant. 

The view was unbeatable!

The food was also great!

After lunch we got to go on a 3.5 hour hike through the forest and cross several of those hanging bridges in the canopy. It was very beautiful. Our guide was knowledgeable and enthusiastic. 

This giant tree is actually 2 trees. The one on the outside that has all of the arms is called a strangler fig. What is interesting is that the seed for the fig gets deposited on one of the upper branches and then grows from the top down. The roots descend like vines until they find soil and burrow down to take root. What remains above ground slowly strangles the host tree and sometimes in the rainforest you can find strangler figs that are totally hollow because the host tree died and decomposed out from under the fig.

Our guide found a tiny snake

About to cross our first bridge!

We found a beautiful waterfall and got to watch as some people rappelled down it.

Mitchell cooled off in the water. The kids thought about joining him but in the end were too nervous.

Another gorgeous waterfall. It's impossible to capture in photos how huge this rainforest is! It was so impressive!

Nestled in those green leaves is a juvenile eyelash viper. EEek! Yes, venomous.

A little closer view!
We absolutely LOVED our day at Volcan Arenal! It was beautiful, educational and so fun!

Goodbye beautiful magma mountain

Our lodge for the night had a beautiful pool. We took advantage briefly before it started to rain.

Instead of the pool, Reid took advantage of the hammock for a well earned nap

We had a lovely view of the volcano from our backyard too!
Costa Rica definitely surpassed our expectations! It was beautiful, well-developed, safe and we had so much fun!