After barely surviving our exit from Panama (it may have required beer to recover), we spent a few days working our way up to San Jose and taking care of several housekeeping matters. There was laundry to be done and our “little truck that could” was due for another spring. Once again, we found a lovely local mechanic to complete the work at a great rate and in just one day. His granddaughter, Amanda, was enchanted with Chester and the feeling was clearly mutual.
This was all wrapped up just in time for the arrival of my sister Diane, brother-in-law Mike and niece and nephew, Ivy and Ian. They were due to arrive December 17th and would be with us through Christmas and New Year’s. Diane is my closest friend and, though we talk nearly every day, the separation this past year has been tough. Dave and I were both excited that they decided to join us for this leg of our trip, and it was even more special that we would share Christmas with them. Rumour has it they were pretty excited too…
We had booked a house rental for our gang in the mountains west of San Jose. Since the Fillingers’ flight wouldn’t arrive until late in the evening, we decided to check in first and get the house stocked up with groceries and beverages. Along with their impending arrival, we were looking forward to the luxury of staying in a real house for nearly two and a half weeks….hot showers, in-suite laundry, real furniture, a full kitchen with a full size fridge. We were not disappointed. It did not hurt that said fridge had an ice maker and the house also came with a pool and hot tub perched on the beautiful Rio Grande canyon.
After picking them up at the airport, we arrived back at the house quite late. Despite the late hour, everyone was excited. We hit the pool and the hot tub: splashing, talking and laughing into the wee hours of the morning. It was a great way to kick things off and this would end up being only the first of countless hours spent in the pool.
The next morning Mike’s car rental was delivered to the house. However, despite the “must be automatic” note on the rental agreement (and multiple assurances at the time of booking) the car in question was a standard transmission. This was a deal breaker. As Mike was a bit leery about driving in Central America anyway (perhaps our previous posts alarmed him a tad?), he wasn’t keen to start learning a new skill in a foreign country. It took a bit of scrambling but we did manage to cobble together alternative transport for only 2-3 times the original cost (note to self: never again book with Vamos Rent-A-Car). Mike was a good sport though. He survived his time behind the wheel admirably despite being thrown into the fire on day one. Five minutes after picking up the rental, he had to dodge a manhole missing its cover and then a trek into downtown Grecia on Market Day.
We took some time to explore the local sights. Grecia’s “World of Snakes” received a good review in our guidebook but, while the reptiles were impressive, we were saddened to see the undersized and poorly maintained enclosures. On the other hand, though, we were lucky enough to stumble upon a gorgeous butterfly garden in nearby Sarchi. We were the only visitors and the lovely proprietor, Monica, took plenty of time to introduce us to all of her “babies”, explaining the different life stages and showing us cocoons, caterpillars and butterflies of the many species bred there. We were completely entranced by it all and, for Ivy, it was magical.
Another incredible outing was our visit to Los Chorros. With a picture perfect swimming hole at the base of the falls, it was the wonderful way to spend a sunny afternoon. At almost eleven, Ian is an excellent swimmer and didn’t hesitate to get right under the falls.
The Zoo Ave animal rescue center near Alajuela was another highlight. It was a great chance to get up close to some of the animals and all proceeds go to support rehabilitation and release.
Christmas itself was also a treat. We managed to find a turkey and pulled together (okay Diane pulled together) a very traditional Christmas meal, complete with stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy and the homemade buns my mother always makes. I think there may have been some vegetables too… Our tree was small in stature but we had a lot of fun decorating it. Apart from our little ceramic snowman ornament (thanks Jake and Haili!), all or our decorations were handcrafted from leftover wrapping paper. The gift exchange was also good fun and we were given lots of treats to help us on our continuing journey. I wonder if anyone else received ant traps under the tree this year…. 😉
We also engaged in some serious piñata making (perhaps a new tradition?). At Ivy’s request, we paper mâchéd and painted a purple pony to be busted up on the 25th. It came out surprisingly well and a great time was had by all. 🙂
We followed up our Christmas festivities with a trek out to La Paz Waterfall Gardens. This was nothing short of spectacular. Set amidst lush jungle, the gardens’ paths led us through an unbelievable array of animal habitats.
The waterfalls weren’t bad either!
We also took one trip out to the coast. We wanted to squeeze in some beach time and, at our driver’s suggestion, we decided to try the “Crocodile Jungle Safari Cruise”. I had mixed feelings about this one. The river cruise was amazing and it really was incredible to see the crocs up close. However, there is also part of me that knows how harmful it is to feed wild animals. Incidentally, I could also have done without ever seeing anyone’s fingers that close to such powerful jaws…scarey!!!!
For all of our adventures, though, my favourite part of those past two weeks was our time together at the house. Whether playing in the pool, gathered around a board game (Dave’s edit: Can’t remember who said “play with me?” more: Ivy or Kristel) or just catching up, it was great to be together.
Sometimes, though, we’d take breaks from the swimming and game playing to evacuate exceptionally large insects that made their way into the house. After three tarantulas, two huntsman spiders and one scorpion we consider Dave and Mike to be experts.
We rang in the New Year by setting off our own fireworks (best $25 ever spent), consuming copious amounts of alcohol (post fireworks) and jumping in the pool with our clothes on (post alcohol). Once again, a great time was had by all.
As fun as this was, my resulting hangover, combined with my recent weight gain and the start of a new year, prompted a new resolution: Sober January. I have decided to attempt to go one month without consuming alcohol. Dave is going along (Dave’s edit: was coerced) with this crazy plan and, as I write this, we have survived our first three days (Dave’s edit: the border crossing on the busiest day of the year, 5 hours in the hot sun, was quite a test) . Keep your fingers crossed. I will keep you updated on our progress.
Happy New Year!