Costa Rica: Chapter 3

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The La Fortuna waterfall is probably Costa Rica’s most famous waterfall – every tour stops here for lunch, which is why you want to get here at 8am or 9am  to enjoy your hike down the steps to the falls and go swimming before you’re interrupted by throngs of people. Six years ago, there wasn’t a park ranger, much less a life guard. You used to be able to swim behind the waterfall. Now, it appears there’s a park ranger watching over everyone.  Each time I tried to swim behind the waterfall, I got whistled at. Whistled at. You know, with a loud summer camp whistle with that dreaded hand motion to get back here NOW!  I lament.

It’s one of the few things that’s difficult to miss if you’re driving yourself, because there is signage everywhere. Follow your Costa Rican GPS.

You can bring food and I encourage you to, because it’s a nice, somewhat slippery trek down to the bottom and you’ll probably get hungry by the end of it. If you’re the planning type, you’ll bring a waterproof / water resistant bag for a change of clothes, or at the very least, shoes, because no one wants to schlep back up the side of a mountain in soggy shoes.

The thing I always forget when I get close to a waterfall is how loud it is. It’s a solid THWACK of water against water and it is thunderous. It’s windy, too. We had to coordinate our photos to make sure our tripod would stay upright in the water. Mist sprays everywhere. We’re lucky both of our cameras didn’t get obliterated with the mist. The water was chillier than I expected, with the trees and midmorning cloud cover blocking most of the sun.

Get to the waterfall before 8:30am, for a view all to yourself.

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You can climb all over the rocks, swim in the river, and have a beautiful morning to yourself. Be prepared to leave around 11am, which is when the tours start arriving for lunch. And if you decide to bring your food, please bring a bag for your wrappers. This is a beautiful place that’s existed for eons – keep your human traces to yourself.

Did we swim? Hell yes. I swam everywhere I was allowed and everywhere I wasn’t. This was my first original happy place. The first place I felt at one with the world and completely, totally at home. Waterfalls are kind of my thing. When I go again, (really early in the morning), I’ll definitely bring a dry pack and wear Teva sandals instead of the Nikes.

Next up – La Fortuna (the city) and our ziplining tour! Next on Costa Rica: Chapter 4

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Costa Rica: Chapter 1

October 2 – 6, 2014

Mark’s 26th birthday, recapped after two glasses of wine.

Highlights – Tenorio National Park / Rio Celeste, renting a car / driving in Costa Rica, Volcan Arenal, Ziplining Arenal, town of La Fortuna, ATV 4×4, La Fortuna waterfall, won free night in 5-star resort from chatting on an airplane

This was our first trip to Costa Rica together and I wanted it to be special. October’s a fine time to go because it still rains a bit but it’s shoulder season so you enjoy smaller crowds and lower prices. I also wanted to see as many waterfalls as possible because Costa Rica is rugged, volcanic and full of dramatic cliff faces – all of which are very fun to look at but less so when you’re driving your own vehicle.

Mark insisted on driving and I said that as long as we did not drive at night that I’m cool with that – it isn’t that you’re going to get taken hostage in the middle of the night – it’s that there is no signage, direction or street lights to help move you along. Add in a couple marginal passes around a mountain bend and if you so much as sneeze you’re falling 1,000 feet and abruptly ending your vacation.

So, no night driving. When we picked up our tank of an SUV we opted for full coverage because, as the salesperson put it:

You can total the car, drive it off the cliff, set it on fire, whatever, and we will come bring you a new one – no charge.

How could we argue with that? We also opted for the GPS in the car because our phone GPS could not track us as fast as we needed to veer / make turns / drive otherwise recklessly.

Our first stop was Tenorio National Park. It’s a few hours away from San Jose – it looks deceivingly close on a map but here’s a Costa Rica tip: Take whatever time Google maps tells you and multiply it by 3. 1 hour? Means it’s 3 hours. The roads are very narrow 2 lanes at best, sometimes over 1-lane rickety wooden bridges, prone to flooding and trucks breaking down.

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This was the bridge we took on our way to our hotel / cabanas, just outside Tenorio National Park.

We arrived to our humble abode about dusk, and exhausted from our day’s journey, prepared for an early rise. Food and coffee is wonderfully fresh, refreshing and well flavored. You can get either an American breakfast or go with the Tican breakfast, which we highly recommend.

Tenorio is nothing short of a natural wonder. It’s far flung which means you won’t get hordes of tourists but it’s big enough that you can spend a whole day here. The paths are well marked and you will see the water change from crystal clear to a brilliant aqua blue.

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The minerals in this pool of water give it its brilliant blue color. Due to the sensitivity of the habitat, swimming or playing in the water is not permitted, but we’re fine with that so long as it preserves this incredible view. Below is the Laguna Azul, aptly named Blue Lagoon.

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For more on Tenorio National Park and the best of La Fortuna, go

Onward to Costa Rica: Chapter 2

Costa Rica: Chapter 2

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This is a panoramic view with the waterfall hidden just beyond the foliage to your right. On the left, Mark is setting up the camera for a long exposure. We spent the entire morning around the waterfall and saw two people the entire morning. It was everything I wanted in Costa Rica – natural, rugged, secluded. I would go again and bring a lunch. If you’re looking for off the tourist trail, go Tenorio National Park.

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Our itinerary took us to the farthest place first – so we flew into San Jose, CR and drove north to Tenorio, then drove back and visited our next destination, La Fortuna.

This was a stark contrast because  La Fortuna is heavily touristed, even in shoulder or off season. There’s no language barrier (Spanish to English) and there are too many tours to choose from. To see our picks for La Fortuna, visit Chapter 3.

Back to Chapter 1                                                                       Onward to Costa Rica: Chapter 3

Travel Diary: Random Selection and US Border Control

13 hours later with Kiev in our airline rear-view mirror…

we arrive at JFK, and begin the slow-mo shuffle down to passport control. For some reason, people in New York thought it was too cold outside (It was 45 degrees…) so the heat was on in the airport. Heat on. Five planes arrived at the same time and emptied hundreds of people into the same border control. One by one, the passport control booths empty of the control agents, until it’s just one person at each end of the border control.

When it’s finally our turn, Mark and I give each other a look and had decided earlier that we would be “randomly selected.” Mark hasn’t trimmed his beard in about 3 months – it’s a week away from having its own zip code and town hall.

The border agent is a portly, pale balding man in his 50s and we’re giving him the run down of the places we’ve been when the agent scans Mark’s passport. He turns to Mark and tells him that he’s been selected for interrogation.

We called it. I look at the agent and say, “OK, it will tell you the same thing for me, then.”

But it didn’t, Isn’t that interesting? Portly man stamps my passport. You’re good to go! Welcome home! he says.

Our passports have the exact same stamps, dates overseas, and “questionable” countries visited, yet I wasn’t selected for interrogation.

Portly man steps out of his border control booth and walks us to the interrogation room, where a dozen other people could not be more excited about their interrogations, too.

/There really isn’t anything quite like sitting in an aluminum tube for 13 hours and taking your first steps in America after 5 months abroad to an interrogation room./

I could tell you a bunch of other waiting games and things in that interrogation room, but the thing is I wasn’t allowed to speak to the agent. Only Mark was. And about 2 hours later we were free to move about our home. And wow, nothing could have prepared us for how we felt coming back to America.