Friday, January 30, 2015

A golden birthday rainforest getaway in Costa Rica

I never realized how convenient travel was (to everywhere that I fly, in terms of price and proximity) from Miami until I moved away from Miami. I also never realized how convenient it is for friends to get married on the weekend of my birthday; it’s happened more than once, and I’m so serious. Birthday-weekend weddings make for built-in celebrations that I don’t have to plan myself, which is why I was over the moon—and not at all phased by the red-eye-connecting-10-ish-hour LA to Ft. Lauderdale to San José flights—when I found out the date and location of my friend Fio’s destination wedding. I celebrated my golden birthday in the rain forests of Costa Rica and it was, in one word, golden.

A country I’d been to twice before, Costa Rica would look, smell, taste completely different on a friends trip than on an under-21 with parental supervision trip. See examples below:

My first time in CR I was 11 years old. Mom didn’t let us go whitewater rafting; we went to a serpentarium that housed the highly venomous fer-de-lance instead. I got my hair braided. Mom stepped on a dog and it bit her. Then she had to get a tetanus shot. I say they were both equally at fault. 

Second time, I was 20. Mom got scared at the last minute and didn’t let us go zip lining; we rode four-wheelers through the jungle and a river instead. I had a very unpleasant stomach flu (you may see in future posts that stomach flus on vacation are a recurring theme for me) that only escalated with the bumpy hours-long bus rides from one city to another. One of the highlights both times was experiencing the hot springs at Tabacón. If you’ve ever listened to one of those nature-noise playlists (birds, rain, crinkling leaves) this is exactly what the hot spring sounds like, plus monkeys and other unidentified animals. 
I asked my dad for a refresher regarding what we did on those family trips and where we went. This is, verbatim, what he said: First time Tabacon/Arenal, Limon, San Jose and some other places. Second time Guanacaste, Flamingo, Arenal, Tamarindo (where the Endless Summer sequel was filmed) and other places. Very helpful, Dad. Thanks. (Then I googled “other places Costa Rica.” Not so helpful.)

On my third and most recent trip—my golden trip—I was a bridesmaid and missed the whitewater rafting excursion yet again, because it took place on the morning of the wedding. I finally made it zip lining, though. “Can we please, please, please do it? I want to take a picture hanging upside down,” was my single-most important birthday brat request and I got my picture; no hands, upside down, followed by dinner and a dulce de leche cake. 
STAY: The wedding was held at Los Suenos Marriott Ocean & Golf Resort in Playa Herradura, a few miles north of the surf town Jacó (where my family boogie-boarded once and I was almost swallowed by a riptide). The resort is massive and beautiful and I got lost between two and five times on the way to the room. We stayed there the night of the wedding and then spent the next few days about an hour south of the resort at Villa Sonrisas in Quepos. The house was actually built by and belongs to my best friend’s family. It’s a two-story three-bedroom home on a hill with a pool and a spectacular view of trees, trees and more amazingly green, lush trees. There is a lovely man named Andrés who lives nearby, takes care of the property and was there to suggest restaurants/sights and help us schedule tours. 
SEE: Capuchins on the beach at Manuel Antonio National Park, red-backed squirrel monkeys at the house, perezosos AKA sloths (saw one, also at the house, hanging out on a tree the day we were leaving), all kinds of dogs that wander the streets like pros, even more lizards, and poison dart frogs that come in every color of the rainbow. The zipline guides were awesome at pointing out plants and their medicinal (or other) value. My favorite was a flower one of our guides called labios de puta, or “hooker lips.” He put the flower in his mouth and attempted to kiss me with it—borderline inappropriate, but funny nonetheless. Four stars for him.

EAT/DRINK: Stop in at any local panaderia, grab a tray, some butter, and load up with carbs. Empanadas on the side of the road; we had these on the drive from Quepos to Herradura. Café Milagro for coffee and breakfast. Ronny’s place for dinner; we ate just-fished fish made to order, and drank fresh-squeezed margaritas and some sort of passion-fruit-and-mysterious-liqueur birthday shot concoction. I heard the sunset view is spectacular at Ronny’s Place, but in the zip lining/showering/getting dressed frenzy, we didn’t make it to the restaurant until the sky turned black.

DO: Get a massage on the beach. I did this the day of my birthday. If you’re already in a bikini, why wouldn't you? It was relaxing, inexpensive and doubled as an unintentional, but welcomed, exfoliation treatment due to me being covered in sand (like a child) and not rinsing off beforehand. On the way to the beach, visit the local market for handmade trinkets.

Plus x 4738594350234: Pura vida is not a myth. Locals say it (all the time), and they mean it. It's a way of life, a "please" and "thank you" and "have a beautiful day," not just a phrase you see spray painted across cheap t-shirts and on Pinterest boards.

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