Christmas in Costa Rica: the country for all seasons by Derek Wyatt (Published in KCW Today)
We travelled to San Jose in Costa Rica by BA; the flight was delayed by 90 minutes as the fuel gauges did not match (the recent crash in Columbia was a thought but not spoken) so understandably we had to wait for them to be rectified.
The flight was packed and given it should have left at 0830 most people must have started out around 0200 or so to arrive at an already heaving Gatwick. Still it is such a better experience than Heathrow. The flight was ten and a half hours.....which in cattle class is hard going....no internet, not a single film worth watching, no games to play, rubbish wines and indifferent food. This is not the BA we once knew. It feels like the airline equivalent of Debenham's.
We arrived just after three in the afternoon local time (a six hour time difference); customs was a struggle with two planes arriving within five minutes. As ever there were not enough staff or booths and it took a further hour to clear.
Finding the Avis car rental desk was a nightmare. It was not at the airport.......and no-one could tell us in our GCSE Spanish where it was which was two miles away! Naturally, there was no signage at the airport and somewhat tired we floundered. Eventually, by luck and gesticulation we made our way to Avis where naturally dear reader they could not find our details even though I had them on my iPhone with all their references et al. This was another wasted hour and another crappy service company just wanting to skin you.
Someone will do an Uber on hire cars some day soon and modernise the whole process with a single card which both pays for the experience and opens the car. After all this is what the Oyster card is morphing into. The process is a scam. You hire a car for £500 in the UK but by the time you have paid for the insurance and sat nav at the rental desk it has doubled and that's just for a week! Maybe a UK insurance company could offer a deal to insure us for a week to drive a rental car overseas for £100. It is a £multi billion business waiting to happen.
We set off for our hotel exhausted but strangely exhilarated. This was a first for both of us. Six miles down the road in San Jose we found all the roads blocked which confused us and of course our Mrs Waze. We went round and round and round. This was not the start we would have wished. It felt as if the sun had set on us: we were completely in the dark. We spotted a taxi and with good grace we followed him to our destination: the Hotel Grand De Oro. Their they explained that it was the annual Christmas festival which the whole of the city turns out for. Pity Avis did not warn us. We showered, had a quick sundowner, before joining the hundreds of floats and bands. It was odd hearing White Christmas but it was definitely worth the effort. We crashed.
I awoke the next day feeling poorly and so, given we would be up in the mountains today and tomorrow and then a long way from life on a beach, I called a doctor. He said he would be at our hotel by ten and arrived just before midday. In fifteen minutes, I had lost $200 to his fee.
Finally, we set out for Nepenthe, a small hotel, high up in the hills close to Lake Arenal about 160 miles away. It took us longer than we could have anticipated and we were grateful that the weather was warm and the roads quiet and largely free of potholes. I was tired and nearly five hours of driving added to my general feeling that we should have just gone straight to the beach!
The wish for a 4x4 began to dominate our conversation as it took nearly fifty minutes to make our way off the "main" road by the Arenal, a huge man made lake, for us to reach our destination. It was barely five miles but the dirt track made it more difficult in our car as we bounced from side to side. Our eco-style lodge was cold and uninviting. This is not what we planned. We settled for supper a mere 100m down the road as we did not fancy any more driving (well I didn't).
On Monday we woke to torrential rain... buckets of it......I guess we should have been a tad smarter given we were actually in a rain forest. We managed a Butterfly centre, saw some monkeys and parrots and simply lusted after the sun.
Gratefully, we drove next to Playa Azul on the Pacific coast where we had hired a five bedroom house with three bathrooms, an infinity pool and a cook courtesy of Airbnb. (In 2006, just under one thousand people used Airbnb this last year nearly 2m have hired a house of rooms in a house). En route and a dozen calls later, we wore out Avis's patience and swapped our car for a 4x4 at Budget. It was the best decision we made all holiday! Whilst we were keen to see the animal and bird life here in Costa we really just wanted to be by the beach with our children.
Our families live in Seattle, New York, Pimlico and Brixton and had travelled via LA and Houston to Liberia a small town in the north of Costa and from there to Playa Azul. The road system was impressive and though "highway 190" remains unpaved for 20 miles or so it was an easier drive than Arenal.
It would be hard to describe the house we rented. There was not another one in our sight lines as we looked over the pool to a wondrous beach with waves crashing around us. We were not its only inhabitants. We were joined by the pelican fly pasts (the Black Arrows) on the hour every hour, the iguana competitions to see which one of them could climb up the palm trees the fastest, the humming humming birds and the extraordinary vultures, parrots and butterflies. And at night the frogs took a free dip.
Aside from playing Pandemic or Piquet we read, caught up with the gossip, eat, swam, walked and played in the sea or simply slept. Day after day after day we chilled. Chilled champagne, chilled Chilean whites and plenty of mixers.
Of course we talked endlessly about Brexit and Trump and of Obama whose eight year presidency has been so quickly forgotten plus naturally, the end of the world as we understood it. There was one wondrous surprise when my daughter's boyfriend proposed to her on our last night. Hooray. All too soon planes were dispatched to take us home. Except. Except we were heading next to Havana for the New Year to join the celebrations of the 58th year of the Republic.
I had previously been to Venezuela, Ecuador, Brazil and Argentina so Costa Rica was a first. I cannot recommend it enough. The countryside people are friendly, helpful, kind and generous. The animal and bird life is fantastic and on the Atlantic side there's a chance of seeing cougars and jaguars. On the Pacific coast, there is sailing, snorkelling and surfing but be wary of the riff tides if you swim. Most of all remember that 4x4!