I went on a group tour with Caravan, which is about as white-bread and cliche as it sounds, but it was mostly alright. I wanted to go to Costa Rica because several of my friends had been there and had amazing photographs and stories, and I was overdue for a vacation, but I didn't have a lot of time to plan. So I signed up for the "Costa Rica: Natural Paradise" tour, ordered binoculars and hiking boots and waterproof pants from L.L. Bean, tossed them in my bag along with a random assortment of clothing and more sunscreen and bug spray than could possibly be reasonable (no, really... my bag weighed 32 lbs when I checked in at Newark and I think around 8 lbs of that was bug-and-burn ointments) and headed off to San Jose.
It turns out, Costa Rica is super-bright - I was very glad to have my new prescription sunglasses - but not all that hot. Even though the latitude is only about twelve degrees, there weren't a lot of times that I was too warm in pants and a t-shirt. However, it is very very wet. You know how they say, "it's not the heat, it's the humidity?" Well, in Costa Rica, it's not the humidity, it's the fact that much of the time you are actually inside a cloud.
Quick itinerary (at least, what I can pick out from the blur of awesomeness):
- Arrival in San Jose, the capital, where they were in the middle of a holiday that lasted - depending on whom and when you asked - a day, a weekend, a week, or a month. I get the sense they have about thirteen such holidays per year. The primary celebration consisted of a daylong music festival in a park; the musicians were multinational despite the festival being about Costa Rican heritage. The attendees were mostly very young and could have easily been Spanish or French.
- Visit to a volcano, with actual steam coming out of it. In some parts of the country, there is rainforest, and in some parts, there is "cloud forest", which is what they call it when you are so high in elevation that it cannot actually rain, but it is just wet in the air all the time.
- Visit to a coffee plantation, with actual coffee samples (turns out, they are happy to give you free chocolate or coffee or whatever, almost everywhere, and the distribution center is usually the place where you can buy more of it to take home)
- In the same vein, but now largely departing from chronology, visit to a pineapple plantation, where I discovered that I like pineapple when it is not soggy, and also a visit to a banana plantation, where we learned about the bizarre and interesting lives of banana plants and the men who harvest them.
- Visit to another volcano, mostly from a distance. Visit to a "hot spring", which was more like a set of hotel swimming pools (except warm) than like I imagine a hot spring to be.
- Stay in a rustic hotel reachable from civilization only via dirt road and 90-minute boat ride. "Hotel" was actually a group of cabins separated by paths, kind of like girl scout camp. The coolest parts of this were being inside my cabin and looking out at the trees, and seeing monkeys on the way to meals and iguanas by pool. While we were there we went on a number of boat rides and such to view the more skittish wildlife.
- Stay in a way-less-rustic resort by the beach on the Pacific side, where I went horseback riding. This part of the country was much dryer, and looks a little like I would imagine the African savannah to look.
- So much wildlife: monkeys, birds - including ibises, which I had thought were mythical, crocodiles and caymans, iguanas and other lizards. Also so many plants, growing out of the soil and the water and each other.
- Probably some very important insights and conclusions and the like, but it is far too much after my bedtime to think of what they are now.