The Costa Rica Adventure – It Starts to Come Together

So luggage claim made, I went through Customs and made it to the outside of the airport in Costa Rica. Not quite like the US… was a madhouse! Everyone has drivers waiting for them….signs with names on them are in every direction. It was a bit disconcerting….especially when your name was not among them. I looked over one side of the crowd, then the other. Walked back and forth, peering around looking for either Ruthi or a sign with my name on it. There was no way to communicate that I was out there. Finally Ruthi spotted me and we were able to head to the van and on to La Fortuna, where we would stay in the Arenal area.

The roads in Costa Rica….not quite what we are used to here. That makes what sounds like a pretty quick journey take a lot longer. We would travel about 2 1/2 hours, I think it was, to get there. Our driver was a cute young guy, very sweet and hospitable. About half way there he stopped so we could get food. We hadn’t eaten much at all….no food was served on any flight. Oh, we could have bought the $10 sandwich box on one of them, but we thought we could wait.

We stopped at what amounted to a roadside open air cafeteria. Lots of undiscernible food…and I realized I need a refresher course in Spanish. But I am an easy eater. I chose rice, black beans and salad. An excellent choice…. it was delicious. But I would eat this a lot in the next week….it is a staple of the diet there!

Our travel agent called when we were on the way and apologized once again for the mistake with our reservations. I found out that our hotel name our driver had was wrong….which meant that the hotel name I left with the airlines was wrong. Quite frustrating! The travel agent said he would tell the hotel to send the luggage to the correct hotel. He also said something about us changing hotels the next night. At that point I didn’t care. I just wanted a bed for the night.

The hotel wasn’t fancy, but it was definitely adequate. I have stayed in much worse places. (The worst being for business….I’ll tell you that story sometime if you want to laugh.) We have a great view of the Arenal volcano stepping right outside our door and looking backwards. It was beautiful. The people were nice. The beds were comfortable. There were no complaints from us!

We were supposed to zipline the next day….our tour was actually called the Adrenaline Adventure. It began with zip lining, which required closed toed shoes (I only had open toed sandals with no straps), and ended with tubing, which required a bathing suit. So….we decided to focus on the shoes and something to sleep in. Tourist towns…..not the best place to find adequate clothing for active adult people. We found a shoe store, which had a really cute pair….that cost $78. No…these were not running shoes, so I couldn’t bring myself to pay it. Plus they just felt OK….not comfortable. I didn’t want to chance it. I finally found a store that had water shoes. $11 and I had my closed toed shoes! I bought a man’s 2x tank to sleep in. Are men’s arms really big enough to need those armholes?

I figured I could force my travel clothes to work for me if necessary the next day, so we found a place for a bite for dinner. The cheerful waitress lifted our spirits….as did the sangria.

The wifi at the hotel was really great…..way better than hotels in the U.S., as a matter-of-fact! I went online to track my luggage. The status now said “Unknown.” It also wouldn’t let me edit the hotel. I had to call Customer Service. Well, the travel agent had said we were moving hotels the next day, so I didn’t know what hotel to tell them actually. It was obvious the luggage would not be there that night. So….I sent an email to my travel agent… of many he received from me in the course of things! Then I decided if we switched our activities the next two days, it would work better for us. I sent another email asking him if he could change Monday’s thermal springs visit to Sunday and Sunday’s Adrenaline Adventure to Monday. Then we got some sleep.

While at breakfast the next day, the travel agent called. He started spouting out info about possible hotels for us. Finally he said he would send us links about each one. We looked at them, and after some thought (really we didn’t care!), we chose one. He ended up calling me back and saying that one wasn’t available (so you couldn’t have checked this before?) Without asking Ruthi (though she was fine with it) I said “Can’t we just stay here? It’s fine.” He said “Do you feel safe there?” “Well, yes.” (At least I did until he asked that question!) It was decided….we would not move hotels and would stay where we were for two more nights. It was not a bad decision….it worked out well for us and made life much easier. And yes, we did feel safe!

The travel agent also switched our Adrenaline Adventure tour to Monday….and was trying to change our thermal springs visit to Sunday, but was having issues getting hold of the resort. He said even if he couldn’t we would be able to do the thermal springs after the Monday activity. So we had to wait to hear word from him on that, antsy to know so we could make alternate plans if necessary. We were on vacation….there were things to do, people to see! Meanwhile the travel agent said he had talked to the airline and my suitcase was on the way. As he talked to me he said it should be there in about five minutes. Yea! I could wear clean clothes! I ran down to the lobby….and was able to greet the delivery guy. The desk clerk at the hotel waited with me. She had probably been warned by our travel agent that I was a bit crazy. OK, maybe she was just nice.

We had an online itinerary which I kept looking at to see if our hot springs visit was changed. Finally it comes up as changed, but it showed no transportation. It said the time as from 10-3 and since it was after 10….well, you can guess what we did. We asked the front desk to call us a taxi, she asked how long it would take us to get ready and we said we were ready any time. It was a lie….I had to change. But before I had a chance, the taxi was there. I threw on a bathing suit and coverup and we were off to the thermal springs. (We learned later that he had arranged transportation. I just jumped the gun before he had everything arranged. Oh well…more time at the spa for us!)

What a perfect place to regroup! The Tabacon Hot Springs Spa….oh, I definitely recommend. It took a minute for them to find our reservation, but finally it was all in order. We get our wrist bands, set up our lunch time, then ask about getting massages at the spa. They point us in that direction. We go right over. We find we can get appointments at 11:30, which would allow us to be ready for lunch at 1. This was our big indulgence for the trip. The time you spend more money than you usually would…..because it is vacation!

We both decide on their signature massage, which is medium pressure, and includes volcanic mud being massaged all over your body, with a mineral shower with water from the hot springs at the end. All are done in your private massage bungalow. Well, private and completely outside. When you are the daughter of a British woman, you just may grow up to believe you should not be stripping naked outside. Those sensibilities only extend so far in me, so if I have to strip naked outdoors for my massage, then so be it!

Oh….but first….I am forgetting the preparation stage. We were assigned our spa boy….I can’t remember his name, but he was cute and smiley. He showed us where everything was, gave us a locker key where our turquoise robes and our spa shoes were found, then told us if we wanted to relax in the hot tub (with water from the hot springs) we needed to wear our bathing suits. So….we kept those suits on and made fast work stowing our belongings and got in one of the hot tubs. Or let’s just call them Jacuzzi pools. They were really warm and relaxing, and yes….we were quite happy. The stress from the past few days was starting to fade away. Spa boy brought us smoothies…. because you need a bit of extra nutrition as you relax in the hot springs. Then he brought us cucumbers with dipping sauce. All very yummy. Yes, we felt quite spoiled. When he came to tell us massage time was there, it almost felt like a disruption to the bliss. But oh no….more bliss was yet to come! (No cameras were allowed in the spa, so I don’t get to show you photographic evidence of all of this!)

We meet our massage therapists who led us to our private massage bungalows. And we’re back to the getting naked outdoors part. So….did it. Jumped on the table. Rang the bell she left to alert her that I was ready. (Diana McLaughlin can testify I can strip and be on that massage table in no time flat! No wasted massage minutes for me!) There is some soft music playing, but mostly you just hear the sounds of the outdoors. A creek is below us, so the sound of the water over the rocks is incredibly relaxing. Diana (who is my regular massage therapist, for those of you who haven’t heard me go on and on about her before) would be surprised that I only said a couple of words through the whole procedure. “Yes, thank you” to the question “Are you feeling OK Mrs. McKinney?” (I always feel the need to correct everyone and tell them I am not Mrs….but have finally learned to just let it go!)

So lava mud is supposedly good for your skin. I guess it is. Honestly I couldn’t tell much difference. But when she asked me if my skin felt soft after it was applied, of course I said yes. The Southern manners prevail. But really….I don’t know! (It was available at the gift shop for me to take home, if I was so inclined. I wasn’t.) After my massage she told me to rise slowly and walked me over to the shower. It very rustic, but pretty good water pressure and so very warm. Now it was naked shower time. The massage therapist discretely left the bungalow. I could have stayed there all day. I loofah myself until I thought my skin may rub off, but still at the end of the day had remnants of clay on my legs. I don’t know….maybe I just did one leg twice. The ADD does come out often. After I didn’t think I could justify staying there any longer, I threw on the robe and rang the bell again, for my therapist to escort me to my next “station”. This was a little lounge area where I ordered another smoothie (mango this time) brought to me by my spa boy, along with a fruit plate. Ruthi soon joined me for green tea with her fruit plate. Yes, it was awesome. We didn’t want to leave, but had to get to the restaurant for our appointed lunch time. Feeling rushed is not generally a good thing….but feeling rushed to go from one great place to another….certainly tolerable! So, I wrung the water out of my bathing suit using their cute little bathing suit wringer machine (spa boy came running….evidently he was afraid that me doing it myself was a bit taxing…or maybe he thought I would break it), and put it back on along with my cover-up and went to lunch.

Lunch was a buffet with views of the hot springs and gorgeous grounds. The food was delicious… dishes (such as their version of bbq pork, arroz con pollo, etc.) and salads and a whole host of little cold soufflé things….with flavors like beets, carrots and such. OK, they were interesting …. but a bite or two was definitely enough. Ruthi discovered some really yummy calamari that I had missed. I went in search of some….it was tender and so very good. We ended with dessert and coffee. They had little mini dessert dishes so you could have a bite of this and that. Nice.

Then it was time for the hot springs. They had all different sorts of these hot spring pools around the area. Some like small swimming pools, some the size of a big Jacuzzi tub. You hike around the different paths and see what you can find. The water was warm. Sometimes even to the point of hot. It is amazing that the earth warms it like that. I think we tried all of the pools, but I wouldn’t swear to it. There were a lot of them. Many with waterfalls that you could stand under and enjoy. There were a lot of people, but you just had to pace yourself. We went from one to another, enjoying each. They also had a cool water swimming pool you could use….we never made it to that! Our itinerary said we were to stay until 3:00. We stayed well past that. No one seemed to mind. All I can say is this….we felt very different when we left the resort than when we came. It was the perfect way to start a vacation. Total relaxation. A bit of bliss. It was Sunday, and I definitely was a grateful child of the king!

We head “home” to our hotel. As we were going in, the guy at the desk waived us to him. Seems someone (me) left the room key in the cab we took to the spa. The lovely cab driver brought it back for us. Not long after we get back to our room I discover my camera case is missing. I tried to think back to when I had it last. I realized it was probably in the cab. Yep…turned out I left it there on the way home. Getting it back took a whole group of folks, though mostly was the result of the persistence of someone at our travel agency. I tell you….working with travel agencies “in country” is a good thing to do! The awesome woman told us to go out to dinner and she would continue to work with the spa and the taxi company to find it. Turned out the spa had their own taxis and we were in one of them. They found the camera….and had it delivered to the hotel by time we got home from dinner.

And that was our first full day of vacation in Costa Rica. Started a bit crazy, had a few stressors, but pretty amazing overall! It would not be the only time that week I called myself blessed.

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