Guess What. I went to Costa Rica. And it was AWESOME SAUCE.

March 27, 2011 § 2 Comments

As most of you know, I work in advertising, as a media planner. I love my job. The strategic nature, the connections, the people (and the copious amounts of free alcohol…)

Recently, my agency was awarded the honor of representing a new and very exciting client- the Tourism Board of Costa Rica. And yours truly was chosen to work on the media portion of this account. While this was ALREADY very exciting news for me when we learned of the win earlier this year, to make it EVEN SWEETER, the client determined that in order for us to be able to truly tell the right story about Costa Rica and convince Americans to visit, we really needed to experience the country ourselves. So they set up 3 7-9 day visits over the course of two months for us to come out and immerse ourselves in the experience. I was lucky enough to be included on the final (and BEST!) visit. Here is a recap and some photos (disclaimer- I have no shame in admitting that I am totally stealing photos from our fabulous David Rollo).

(Day 1 was travelling and presenting in San Jose, so I’m going to move directly to day 2)

Day 2: The second day of our trip, we woke up mega early in order to be on the bus by 6am (which was to be a theme for the remainder of the trip, although, the sun comes up so early there, it just doesn’t FEEL that early!). We headed off to catch a little puddle-jumper plane (NatureAir) that took us from San Jose to Drake Island in the South Pacific region of the country. Once there, we met up with Johan, who would be our guide for the next couple of days, and jumped on a motorboat to head towards Cano Island, nearby which we would be partaking in our first real activity of the trip- snorkeling. Johan mentioned as we were settling ourselves- keep your eyes peeled, because we have a 45 minute ride across the ocean, and you might see some sea turtles, sting rays, or dolphins, and possibly a whale.

20 minutes later, one of my coworkers shouted out- “There’s something BIG over there!” And sure enough. WHALES! 3 of them- humpbacks, two adults and a baby. We were in a tiny little boat, but we motored over as close as we could and just watched them, mesmerized, for the next 30 minutes or so, before we kept on moving towards the snorkeling site. As we got closer, suddenly we could see something else coming out of the water- some sting rays were flapping their “wings, and the tips were visible. As we pulled up and stopped the boat, suddenly Johan said, ahhhh, our boat is resting directly above a huge school of barracuda. And sure enough, we could look down and see a TON of silvery barracuda sitting directly beneath us. Shortly after (way TOO shortly, in my opinion, considering the giant school of barracuda we had just seen…) the boat approached it’s final anchoring spot for snorkeling. Now, I have only been snorkeling once before, in Puerto Rico, and we were in a lagoon, standing up, putting our faces into the water. I have never been full on jump in the water and swim with flippers on snorkeling. It was intimidating, because, a) the ocean really freaks me out and b) I am not the world’s best swimmer. But, once in a lifetime, right? So, I jumped in (sans those crazy flippers) and commenced with the amazing experience. Parrot Fish! Moray Eels! Angelfish! Puffers! Needle Fish! And then suddenly, right in front of me, maybe 3 feet away- a sea turtle. I LOOOVE sea turtles, and having this guy all to myself (since everyone else had the flippers on and totally abandoned me) was pretty amazing.

After about 45 minutes or an hour or so, we were all exhausted, so we climbed back into the boat and headed to Cano Island to explore a little, rest, and have a morning snack. Then we boated back towards our final destination of the day- Casa Corcovado, our resort for the next 24 hours, accessible only by boat and nestled directly against the Corcovado National Forest. This ride back consisted of a sighting of a huge pod of spotted dolphins, two more sea turtles, and the same family of whales we had happened upon on the way out.

For those of you who don’t know much about Costa Rica- one of the points on which they pride themselves MOST is their level of ecological and environmental sustainability. The Tourism Board actually has implemented a system that indicates to tourists how highly sustainable resorts are- you can earn anywhere from 1-5 leaves, and the requirements for certification are FIERCE. I had always heard about this mission statement for this country, but until you are there and experience it for yourself, it is really hard to get an idea of JUST HOW MUCH they live this. The country has a higher percentage of its land preserved as national forest than any other nation in the world. As a result- you can see 4% of the world’s biodiversity in what amounts to less than .03% of the world’s landmass. Pretty amazing, and it made for a spectacular trip. This resort was a 5-Leaf Resort.

That evening (after a quick but amazing monkey spotting in the trees RIGHT behind my cabin!), we headed out to the “Sunset Pavilion to enjoy some margaritas/Imperials and a beautiful sunset over the ocean, complete with a toucan fly-by. After touring the resort with the property manager, we enjoyed a delicious dinner, a sarpe, and headed to bed.

The next morning, I awoke to the sounds of the rainforest. Birds, insects, howler monkeys- what an amazing alarm clock. We gathered for breakfast (my first ever experience with gallo pinto– the traditional Costa Rican breakfast of rice and beans), and after loading up our luggage, met with our guide from the day before, Johan, to embark on a hike through the nearby Corcovado National Park. Corcovado has been deemed by National Geographic to be “the most biologically intense place on earth”, and I can completely understand why. Mammals to be found include the Jaguar, Ocelot, Margay, Jaguarundi, Puma, all four Costa Rican monkey species, Two-toed and Three-toed Sloth,Collared Peccary, Northern Tamandua and Silky Anteater- and that’s just a sampling. As soon as we stepped into the forest, bam, three-toed sloth with a baby in the tree. Amazing! Throughout the remainder of the two-hour hike, we also saw macaws, a giant colony of leaf-cutter ants, a colony of bats, a troop of white faced capuchins, a family of bats, and a ton of really amazing vegetation.

Our hike ended up on the beach, where we loaded into another motor boat for a 1 1/2 hour ride that would take us to our next destination, Sierpe. The first half of the boat ride was on open sea, and the second portion took us through a mangrove river. As we rode through the river, we kept our eyes peeled for crocodiles and caimans. We never came across any crocodiles, but we did find several caimans resting on the banks of a little tributary.

Once we arrived in Sierpe, we loaded into our bus and headed off towards our next destination, the beach town of Ballena. As we were headed towards the destination, our clients presented us with the option that, although we were supposed to be heading toward a whale-watch, since we had unexpectedly seen whales the day before, if we chose, we could skip this activity and spend the day and evening on the beach instead. We all agreed that seeing two whales in two days was not usually an option any of us had, and we would be thrilled to go on the whale watch. So, we loaded into yet another small motor boat, and headed out into open sea in search of whales. Our guide was apologetic when he told us that they had only seen one whale the entire day, so it wasn’t guaranteed, but maybe we would see some dolphins, or sea turtles, and if nothing else, we would definitely visit some local sea caves, and it’s never a bad day when you’re on a boat, right??

So, we headed out without much luck until about 20 minutes into the trip, our boat driver shouted that he had just seen a whale’s tail, which, unfortunately, meant that the whale, although around, could potentially be underwater for anywhere from 20-45 minutes. But, we would wait around for a while, they passed out some homemade sandwiches for us to enjoy as a snack (I mean, the hospitality of the people in this country is just without equal). The guide then jumped into the ocean in order to see if he could hear the whale singing. He emerged from the water and said, yes, indeed, the whale was singing, and if anyone wanted to hear it, they were welcome to jump in as well. I was not wearing my suit and frankly, am not the biggest fan of floating around in the middle of the ocean, so I passed, but a couple of people did jump in. Suddenly though, I thought I could start to hear the singing. Others heard it as well, and we all became silent. Over the next fifteen minutes, we all 8 sat in intense silence as we listened to the sounds of the whale’s singing grow gradually louder and louder. Eventually, the sound became so loud, it felt as though it was RIGHT NEXT TO US, and suddenly, our boat began to sway. We all just sat, holding our breath- and about 20 seconds later, the whale emerged suddenly, no more than 10 feet to the left of our boat. We all screamed and almost crapped our pants, but once we composed ourselves we realized how AMAZING it was that this whale was close enough to our boat to, well, potentially capsize it! We stayed for about 30 more minutes and watched her dive and breach.

After that, the rest of the tour consisted of visiting some rock formations and some very interesting sea caves.

From there, we headed out to our resort for the evening, the Cristal Ballena. We actually had a decent amount of free time to enjoy the sun and weather before a delicious dinner of sea bass and some drinks.

The next morning, bright and early, we headed out. Our first stop was the Baru National Park, where we took a quick hike in order to see a pretty amazing tree and take some photos. On the way back out, we came across not one but two sloths up in the trees.

Our next destination was the town of Manuel Antonio, and specifically, a stop in at the beautiful Arenas Del Mar resort. We toured through this resort, which is the epitome of sustainable luxury. They built the hotel AROUND the trees, so you will see many trees coming straight up through the floors, and have achieved the 5-leaf status for sustainability. (My favorite part, I have to admit, had to either be the two semi-private beaches or the giant iguanas that just hang out everywhere).

From there we had lunch, and headed towards Quepas, where the clients had a surprise for us- a sunset catamaran party boat ride! We all grabbed a drink and a seat on the top of the boat and enjoyed the view, the live music, and the company as we literally sailed into the sunset. At the docking point to watch the sunset, we were able to jump into the ocean and do some snorkeling (although, the water was very choppy and visibility was not great). Then we had some snacks, more drinks, and enjoyed the sunset. It was beautiful! From there, we checked into the evening’s resort, the Hotel Lirio. After a delicious tuna dinner, it was not hard to fall asleep immediately upon hitting the bed.

The next morning, the original plan was to go deep sea fishing, which I was SUPER excited about, as I’ve never been deep-sea fishing before, however, the night before, the boat we had reserved broke down, so we had to move on to Plan B- an RV tour. I was considerably less excited about this, as I’ve never really had much desire to ride an 4Wheeler. But, I figured, at least we’d see some good scenery, and hey, it might be fun. And was it ever. After getting a quick tutorial and driving lesson, we all lined up behind the guide and took off. Initially, when they told us the 4-Wheelerss could go up to 60 mph, I was thinking, right, as if there is ANYWAY I will be driving more than 20- but after a 30-minute or so learning curve- I was ready to go. We were cruising through the mountains, up and down big hills, through rivers- with a brief hour or so stop to hike to a couple of beautiful waterfalls. On the way back from the waterfalls, we really kicked it up. I think I topped out at 50 mph- managed to keep up with the guys up front wh had driven before, and had an amazing, exhilarating time. I want to go AGAIN!!! SO much fun, and not something I would have necessarily planned for myself.

From there, we grabbed some lunch and then headed towards Manuel Antonio National Park, where we met up with a guide who would take us on a hike through the forest, which would end with a nice couple of hours to be spent on the beach. To this point, although I had seen a few monkeys, they had all been very brief encounters, and all from a great distance. I was feeling like this might be my last real opportunity to truly see some monkeys, and I was getting anxious. About 20 minutes into the hike, BAM. A MASSIVE GROUP OF HOWLER MONKEYS, up in the trees. They were far, but our guide had a scope, so we were able to see them pretty clearly. It was fabulous, and of course, I was the last one to reluctantly leave the area. However, about 45 minutes later when our hike finally approached the beach, I heard yelling ahead of me. The beach was full of a giant troop of White-Faced capuchins, moving through into the forest. They were RIGHT IN FRONT OF US- on the ground, low in the trees, everywhere! I was FASCINATED, and spent the next 30 minutes just mesmerized. There were also a ton of howlers up in the trees, much closer than the ones we had seen earlier, and I just couldn’t stop watching. Most of the rest of the group went ahead and posted up on the beach or went for a swim, but myself and a couple of others continued to watch and take photos. As we were photographing the last really close capuchin, one of my team members, Ashley, sat on the beach and applied unblock. Suddenly, she left her spot to go wash her hands in the ocean, and the monkey we were observing BEELINED for her towel, reached two hands DIRECTLY into her beach bag, and took off into the woods. It was as if he had just been biding his time. He got two packs of cookies. It was hilarious. We spent the next hour or so just relaxing on the beach and swimming, a fabulous way to close out the hike.

From there, we made a quick stop into a reptile preserve run by the owner of the resort of the evening, the Si Como No resort. The preserve serves as a temporary home for crocodiles, caimans, turtles, etc. who have found themselves in dangerous situations. It also boasts a beautiful butterfly sanctuary. That evening, we dined with the owner of the resort, an American named Jim, and heard all about the mission statement of his resorts and many other projects on the island.

The next day, we got to see one of these projects first hand. We met with another guide who loaded us into a truck and drove us through the mountains to the village of Santa Juana. This village is extremely remote, and is inhabited by less than 100 people. At one time, the people in this village depended on farming to live, which was hurting the local ecosystem, as they are currently located in the heart of the rainforest. However, Jim identified this area and offered to buy the land from them in exchange for the chance to reforest the area and give the villagers a chance to make a different, easier living- helping to sustain an eco-tour that he offers to tourists. The tour starts out with a delicious breakfast of fruit and empanadas, especially made by one of the villagers. I am not a coffee drinker, but after hearing that the area produces some of the most famous and delicious coffee in the world, I didn’t want to miss out. It was good- for coffee. After breakfast, it was time for a 2 hour hike down the mountain and through the forest, We encountered many birds, and learned a lot about the area and the wildlife from our guide. At the bottom of the hike, we encountered a tall waterfall and crystal pool, in which we all swam, jumped from the rocks, and just had a great time cooling off from the super muggy hike.

From there, we headed over to a small lake, where we were able to fish for tilapia. I caught six- the most of anyone. 😀 Next, we all hopped on a horse, which was our method of riding back UP the mountain we had just hiked down. Once we had ascended, it was time for lunch- another delicious meal provided by Roxy- chicken and rice, fruits, and vegetables. YUM

!

This was our last true activity of the trip, and a fantastic way to end it. From there, we headed back to our own bus, and loaded up for the trip back to San Jose, from where we would load the plane and head back to America.

If you’ve made it this far in this ridiculously long post, I’m sure you are amazed at how many activities we were able to cram into what really amounted to just under a week. I can not even begin to relay what an amazing and packed trip it was. EVERYONE MUST SEE IT FOR THEMSELVES!!!!

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