Friday, September 25, 2015

Costa Rica Multi-Generational Family Vacation Re-cap


The obligatory "traditional painted oxcart seen from the bus" photo, Costa Rica.

Preface: Admittedly, this was not my first trip to Costa Rica, nor my husband’s, nor even my daughter’s first. But for all of us, it was our first time doing an organized “tour” of Costa Rica, and a group tour at that, big bus and all. This was not our preferred method of travel, but when Grandma (my mother-in-law) chooses a family reunion destination trip, nobody argues. Which leads to my necessary…

Disclosure Statement: Grandma paid for this trip. She picked the trip, and she picked up the tab. For all 15 of us – needless to say, that means a generous heart, but a tight budget. The real value is in the family time spent together, right? That said, shout out to Caravan Tours – Grandma’s tried and true repeat favorite, who earned the fate of dealing with all of us...especially Grandma.

One more thing: When it comes to group tours, I’m a little jaded. I’ve spent the past 10+ years leading tour groups from as few as 3 to as many as 600. Since I’d been to Costa Rica many times already, I pretty much could have led this tour blindfolded. Thus my camera didn’t get a whole lot of use for these 9 days – there were a few “seen from the bus" shots or carefully cropped instagrams to cut out the tourists. For 9 days, instead of photos, I posted facebook status updates - daily re-caps, with my snarky jaded humor. Much to the dismay of my inlaws, who don’t read my blog anyway, and my husband, who practices anti-social media, I’m now going public. Here it is in longform.



Day 1, Arrivals, San Jose

Size of family: 15. Eldest: 83, Youngest 13.
Arriving from: shortest distance - Managua, Nicaragua; farthest distance - Seoul, South Korea. The rest: Illinois, Colorado, and California.
Last to arrive: my mother-in-law (aka Grandma, hereinafter referred to as "the Matriarch").
First to order a drink: the Matriarch. What she ordered: "Sex on the Beach".
Highlight of the evening: When the Matriarch wanted to get a second one, she asked the designated family linguist (aka my husband), to order it. He proceeded to ask the young guapo Tican server for "mas sexo." And we're rolling.

The Multi-gen family. Not pictured: Two family members still at the bar.
Day 2: Poas Volcano National Park, Coffee Plantation. 

Family count: 15, all present and jet-lagged.
Dietary dynamics: 7 buffet-loving omnivores, 7 insufferable vegetarians with buffet-anxiety, 1 easy-going pescatarian.
Non-coffee drinkers: 2 teens (juice freaks), 1 adult (tea snob).
Today's culinary highlight: Queso de palmito - regional cheese made with hearts of palm. Rating: To die for. Because, you know, it’s unpasteurized and sold by some dude on the side of the road.
Resulting Casualties: 0.

Jetlag peaked while touring the coffee plantation...before the timely free samples.

Day 3: San Jose to Volcan Arenal, via the "religious road".

Total hours on bus: 5.5, with stops at "Rehabilitation Center" (read: zoo), Sarchi - for "traditional painted oxcart artisan demonstration" (read: shopping stop), and Zarcero (read: free toilets with purchase of ice cream).
Culinary highlight: Tamales!!
Casualties: 1 vegetarian - discovered tamale was filled with cerdo, not queso.
Revised dietary distribution: 8 omnivores, 6 vegetarians, 1 easy going pescatarian.

Pop Quiz: What is meant by "religious road?"
A) a road with lots of churches.
B) a cliff-clinging winding road on which the driver crosses himself and shuts his eyes as he rounds the bends.
C) the alternate route off the Pan Atheist Highway.
D) Other:__________. Please comment.
Pop Contest Giveaway: Best comment gets a free unframed, unmounted 8x10 Costa Rica print (yes, PRINT) of my choice from my Costa Rica gallery. Winner to be selected 11/1/2015, so hurry!


Day 4: CaƱo Negro Cruise on the Rio Frio.

Wildlife spotted on river: iguanas, basilisks, bats, caiman, turtles, howler monkeys, spider monkeys, a bunch of birds.
Wildlife spotted back at the hotel hot springs swim up bar: 3 omnivores, 4 vegetarians, 5 unsupervised French children.
Number of passing thunderstorms while enjoying the hotsprings and pools: 3.
Resulting casualties: 2 French parents, apparently.
Weirdest hotel amenity: A swim up sushi bar. Yes, really.
Culinary highlight: none.
Featured drink that nobody ordered: "Sex on the Volcano".


Day 5: Swinging Canopy Bridges & hike through Monteverde cloud forest.

A photo posted by Kymri (@kymri) on


Wildlife spotted: venomous snakes, tarantulas, poisonous snails, bats.
Resulting casualties: 0.
Afternoon: Arrival at massive Beach Resort on Guanacaste Peninsula, with the largest pool in Central America.
Number of crabs rescued from bottom of said pool: 4.
Number of room key cards found on bottom of said pool: 2.
Omnivore overheard at the buffet: "HAMBURGERS! Real HAMBURGERS!"
(a stampede ensues)
Vegetarian overheard at the buffet: "Oh look, more coleslaw!"
(because, you know, vegetarians love cole slaw, they just can't ever get enough cole slaw)
New hashtags gaining traction: ‪#‎jadedtravel‬‬ #snarkyvegetarians

Day 6: Free Day, Guanacaste Peninsula.



Number of pool loungers: 14. Number of surfers: 1.
Number of people worried about crocodiles, sharks, poisonous water snakes: 14.
Number of crocodiles, sharks, poisonous water snakes encountered by surfer: 0.
Casualties: 2 broken fingernails, sunburnt back, damaged ego from wiping out in the whitewash once too many times.
Break surfed: Avellanas. (on a crappy foam rental) 6 seconds of evidence:




Day 7: Guanacaste (more surf playas), Puntarenas, crocodile cruise on Rio Tarcoles.

Wildlife highlights: Roseate Spoonbills, Scarlet Macaws, Toucans.
General consensus: Crocodiles overrated. Except the baby one, too cute.
Surf Beach highlight: Playa Hermosa. (full on drive by)
Culinary highlight: Guanabana gelado.
Culinary disaster: whatever those overpriced crap bread cookies were that we stopped the bus to buy from roadside vendors in Guanacaste.
Resulting casualties: dozens of overpriced crap bread cookies, and possibly any animal that unwittingly happened upon them.

Day 8: Manual Antonio National Park, Aerial Tram Rainforest Adventure. 

Photo Highlight: The Matriarch's bucket list item: zip-lining. It looked like this.

Wildlife Highlights: too numerous to mention.
Culinary highlights: too few to mention.
Creative culinary twist: salad leaves sprinkled with ham chunks!
Family members discovered in bar before last dinner together: 10.
Number of buffet-loving happy omnivores at last dinner together: 8.
Number of buffet-dread-filled vegetarians who had given up hope altogether: 3.
Number of buffet-leary vegetarians who made a desperate run to Pizza Hut across the street after final dinner: 4.
Casualties: yet to be determined.

Day 9: San Jose. Airport Departures.

Casualties from previous night’s dinner: 2 more vegetarians down (see salad above).
Lesson learned: Pizza Gut was actually the better, healthier option, go figure.
Number of family members ready to get back home: 12.
Number of family members flying home: 12.
Number of family members who needed a vacation from the vacation and escaped to an award-winning boutique resort in the remote jungles of Costa Rica for a week to recover from buses and buffets: 3. That would be us.

Prologue: What you really need to do in Costa Rica is get as far away from the tourist trail as possible, face to face with wildlife and surrounded by nature, to really experience and photograph the beauty of the country. We did just that, and I’ll blog about it, with real pictures, soon.

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