Names have been changed to protect the guilty.
Hello, Internet! Cole here. A long time ago – maybe 2 or 3 years prior – I had a minor obsession with international travel. The idea of going to other places with fundamentally different flora, fauna, and traditions fascinated me, and I longed for the day when I could finally exit my native country and begin exploring a different clime. That day finally came on June 26, 2017, when I embarked on my first international trip to Costa Rica. I will never forget the adventure that followed, nor will I forget the friend(s?) that I made. Join me as I recount the best – and currently only – international vacation I’ve ever had!
Days -600-something to -1: Preparation
I first found out about the trip as a freshman through an advertisement at school. The host and chaperone was my ninth-grade mathematics teacher Mr. Dexter, who’d tried to get students to go on similar, more expensive trips with him in previous years. Due to my aforementioned youthful wanderlust and my respect for the teacher, I naturally seized the opportunity and informed my parents, who supported my participation despite the sizable price tag. One boring school year, several preparatory meetings and three thousand dollars later, I was ready to go.
Day 0: Commute
This day started fairly normally, as I wouldn’t have to leave for the airport until around noon. Until then, I stayed at home and played video games, occasionally stopping to add various items to my bags or listen. At around 10:00, my parents and I got into the car and drove to the airport, stopping briefly to get Chick-Fil-A for lunch.
After arriving at the airport and saying goodbye to my parents, I followed my group to our gate. Over the course of the day, we would take two flights: one from our airport to the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and another from that airport to San Jose’s Juan Santamaria International Airport. During both, we would fly first-class; I’m not sure if that accommodation was part of the travel package or if Mr. Dexter just got lucky, but I don’t really care either way.
The first flight was relatively short and uneventful – just a regular commute. The second flight, however, had video screens on the backs of the seats. At the start of the flight, the screens played two different safety videos; the first was a normal safety video, while the second… well…
Once I’d poured my hand sanitizer in my eyeballs to clean my brain of that video, fiddled with the screen a bit while filling out a few intimidating customs forms. It provided several forms of complimentary entertainment, including movies and music. Josef, my aisle-mate, watched the LEGO Batman movie while I listened to obscure music I’d never heard before. As I listened, I stared out of the window for most of the flight and took some pictures of the view, occasionally putting my arm on the armrest and then yanking it away when I got too close to Josef and he protested.
I could crop this and set it as a background.
We arrived at Costa Rica sometime after dark and waited outside, where several people were offering various taxi services. After about an hour, we met our tour guide, Juan. Then, we loaded ourselves onto a small but neat bus and headed off to our first hotel. Several electronic billboards advertising various goods and services in Spanish lit the city around us as we passed through.
I’d expected the hotel to be modest at best, maybe a bit run-down, but I was thoroughly incorrect. The hotel we stayed in that night, the Crowne Plaza at San Jose-Corobici, was actually quite fancy. It boasted a semi-indoor pool that was surrounded by walls but had an open ceiling, a working casino, and two different in-house restaurants. We went to one of these restaurants, El Tucan, that night for dinner, which was a buffet-style self-serve line with watermelon-flavored fruit juice.
After dinner, Juan informed us of our itinerary for the next day, advised us what to wear and bring, and dismissed us to bed. The rooms themselves were modest – two-and-a-half beds (two full sized beds, one smaller bed) and one bathroom with toilet, sink and shower. I showered off, wrote down some information in my journal, and went to bed, excited for what the next day might hold.
Day 1: Transit
I woke up at about 6:28 A.M., re-packed what I’d taken out, and arrived at the breakfast section before anyone else in my group. There, I met a group from New York on our same tour; over the next six days, our group would travel alongside that group, a group from Illinois, and a group from another state I can’t remember. We all ate breakfast – buffet-style again – and then we crowded onto the tour bus with our bags.
As we rode to our first stop, our tour guide provided some background information on Costa Rica. Costa Rica literally means “rich coast” in Spanish, as Christopher Columbus called it when he visited it. It sits directly on a fault line between North and South America, and as a result it has four different mountain ranges and several active volcanoes, including the Arenal Volcano and the Poas Volcano. Due to its wide variety of biomes and its abundant rains, it contains around five percent of all known species of life, making it one of the most biodiverse countries in the world. The economy of Costa Rica, owing to said biodiversity, is now primarily based upon tourism and exotic agriculture.
Exotic agriculture, in fact, was the main function of our first stop, a coffee plantation. We gathered at the top of the fields – for the crops were planted along the slopes of a mountain – and listened to Juan discuss coffee cultivation. Coffee beans thrive in Costa Rica’s high altitudes, frequent rains and fertile volcanic soil; thus, Costa Rican coffee is considered high quality throughout the world, and their beans function as a cash crop for the nation’s economy to this day.
When Juan stopped talking, we wandered around the plantation a bit and examined the wildlife. I walked down the hill and through the fields a bit, but I saw little more than coffee beans and a couple of spiders, so I went back up and looked at some of the flowers near the top.
Once we finished exploring, we entered a coffee shop not far from the bus. Though I normally don’t drink coffee, I decided to try out some café con leche for novelty. I took a seat for a moment and sipped the coffee. It was amazing…ly bitter. I’d assumed the milk would mitigate the flavor a bit, but the coffee still tasted like condensed bitterness. I guess coffee’s just not my thing, which is okay with me; I don’t want to become dependent on bean-water just to stay awake, anyway.
After drinking as much coffee as I could handle – maybe one-eighth of the cup or so – I went back to the bus with everybody else. It was 10:30 or 11:00, and it was time for lunch. We stopped at a small botanical garden, took some pictures of the giant umbrella plants and the small olive-green hummingbirds, and befriended a stray beagle, whom we named Rafael. Then, we crossed the road to a small restaurant containing yet another buffet line. While there, I made the biggest mistake of the trip: I Tebowed for a picture with my group. From then onward, I was doomed to be mildly annoyed by fellow groupmates asking me to assume that terrible pose for pictures. Why did I do it to myself? I may never know.
Some girls then went to a building next door to go shopping, so I followed them. I assumed that going to the shop was the next part of the trip. It was not, and Juan was not pleased with the detour. To make matters worse, we had to pass a certain area further along the road before construction work started, or we would have to wait two hours for the work to finish before passing. As a result, we nearly had to pass this waterfall without stopping.
And this little coati, the first unique Costa Rican animal we saw.
Somehow, we made it past the choke point without having to stop, and after several hours of decent camera shots we arrived at the resort where we would sleep that night. We stayed in the reception for a bit, and then we rode a golf cart to our “cabins.” That is, there were several sleeping buildings, each containing two rooms, rather than a traditional multilevel hotel. Josef and I had room 705, one of the farthest rooms away from everything else in the hotel. I unpacked my belongings beside my bed (and got my wallet locked in the room safe by accident) and prepared to go to the hot springs, but then we heard thunder outside and assumed they were closed, so we spent a bit more time in the room.
Thirty-odd minutes later, we decided to take our chances with the springs. The groups were already there. The springs had never closed in the first place. We’d short-changed ourselves out of the hot springs.
After thirty minutes in the springs, three of the boys decided to leave out of boredom, so I left too. On the way, however, I remembered something important: the three boys that left resided in a different room than Josef and myself, and Josef was still swimming. I’d be all alone in the cabin instead of having a good time in the springs. I considered going back, but I’d already told Josef I’d be in the cabin waiting to take him in – we had only one key card – and I was afraid that if Josef somehow left while I was returning he’d end up at the door with no one to let him in. I’d short-changed myself again.
Eventually, Josef returned to the room. We had a clear view of the nearby Poas Volcano, so he decided to get a shot of himself standing beneath it. Because of the earlier rains, the sky was now clear, and the conditions were beautiful. It was almost dark out, but the lighting was just right for a good shot or two. We were at peace.
Then we got swarmed by moths.
After retreating into the room and terminating as many of the invaders as we could, we turned off all the lights except for the one outside to draw away the survivors. In due time, birds (or maybe bats?) came to our porch and began to eat the insects. About then, Josef decided to take a walk around the reception, so we went out, making sure to close the door extra quickly.
Josef and I traversed the area for a bit, and then we diverged. I decided to explore the resort’s small gymnasium located along the side of the hot springs. I tried to open its front door several times, only to be informed by the old man currently at the reception desk that the resort had locked it to prevent wet bathers from entering. He asked me to enter through the side door instead.
The gym was about the size of a small room. It contained a few elliptical machines from a manufacturer called Cicad-X, a weight machine, and some other machines. By the front door, a bowl of fruits sat untouched, its contents beginning to over-ripen. It was like any other sort of fitness center one might find in a hotel, but somehow it made me feel even lonelier than the hotel room. I used the Cicad-X elliptical for a bit, got some water from a cooler in the far left corner, and left, aching a bit inside.
Then it was time for dinner. I got some basic salad and some chicken tenders while Juan told us when to wake up the next morning.
Afterwards, I returned to the hotel and retrieved my swimsuit. I spent about forty-five more minutes in the hot springs with Josef, and then we both went to bed.
Cole is our young adult monthly contributor. He is an incredible asset to all of us. He is in the IT program in Henrico County, has Asperger’s and is also an animal whisperer.