Costa Rica Day 12: And Unexpectedly, Day 13

Here’s a tip for the savvy traveler: When guidebooks use phrases like “gritty charm” and “a few surprises under the rough and tumble exterior” to describe a destination, it might be a place you want to avoid.

(Note: You should also avoid blind dates with those same descriptions.)

Despite myriad warnings, we decided to spend a day checking out the gritty charms of downtown San José, and I can now safely report that downtown San José has a nice personality and — hoo boy! — I’d love to come up for a nightcap but I have an early meeting and I’ll call you sometime.

Anyway, it turns out that our San José Bed and Breakfast should have technically been called a Bed and Make Your Own Damn Breakfast, since they provided a kitchen and some ingredients but didn’t actually provide any “cooking.” I’m somewhat surprised they didn’t provide a hammer, 2x4s and a goose and have us assemble our own bed.

Undeterred, we whipped up some eggs, went for a brief run in La Sabana Park and then caught a taxi to the Mercado Central in downtown San José. Mercado Central is a block-sized building filled with food vendors, fishmongers, meatmongers, vegetablemongers, and various knicknackmongers. (Pro internet tip: is still available. Snap that up and get rich. You’re welcome.) The mercado was not particularly exciting, so we lingered only long enough to enjoy second breakfast at one of the many food counters. Hadas had a delicious bowl of beef soup with various exotic root vegetables. She ate half of it and we put the rest in my backpack to show the owners of our B&MYODB what assembled food looks like.

From there we wandered around downtown a bit, poking our heads into the Teatro Nacional (looks like a theater) and generally getting the feel that downtown San José was more gritty than charm. There was also an overwhelming police presence, with uniformed officers and police towers on nearly every corner. The feeling was a city that is fighting very hard to remain orderly. Strange, considering how laid back, charming and kind the rest of the country is.

As is traditional, Hadas had injured her leg while running that morning, so we cut our walking tour short and hopped a taxi back to the B&MYODB, enjoying the traffic patterns through central San José that could best be described as “lane-curious.” After a nap we went out for a walk in Parque Sabana, where we watched children throw rocks at muscovy ducks and lamented the state of humanity.

Back at the B&MYODB we discovered that pretty much all the guests except for us had come to Costa Rica for dental tourism. The George Bush doppelgänger we had met the day before announced that his tooth surgery had healed up completely, after which he went into his room and proceeded to take a shower that included loud groans of either pain or pleasure. I guess I had missed the part of the AirBnB description where it said “Meet exotic guests from around the world and listen to them masturbate painfully in the shower.”

Luckily, we were distracted from the shower noises by the obnoxious guest from Portland, who proceeded to whine and moan about Costa Rica, her lodging options, her dental work, the airlines, food, health insurance, the city of Vancouver Washington and the general state of the building’s wi-fi. I was moments away from flying across the room and performing an amateur root canal, or at least inviting some children in to throw rocks at her.

Today we were up at 3:45 a.m. for the drive to the airport. Hadas had a flight at 7 a.m. and I had a flight scheduled for 9:30 a.m. It is currently noon and I am sitting on the plane. We have a malfunctioning navigation radio on board, which technicians are trying to troubleshoot. I’m not really sure what the big deal is — the USA is a big country and I’m sure they could just point the plane at it and come reasonably close to hitting it. Worst case scenario, we end up in Kiev and I get an extra week of vacation. I hear Kiev has gritty charm.


The plane never took off. After 45 minutes sitting at the gate they unloaded us back into the terminal, and another 30 minutes after that they announced that the flight was canceled and we would be re-booked. We had to go down through customs to have our passports checked for re-entry back into Costa Rica, then past the baggage claim, outside the airport, across the street, up the escalator, across the skybridge and back into the terminal. Luckily, I’d anticipated this dance, so as they announced the cancellation I’d sprinted the entire way like Usain Bolt on a Hadas-quantity of coffee.

I was second in line for rebooking and was swung over to Delta to fly home with an overnight in Atlanta. The line to go back through security was punishingly long, but I made it to the gate with a few minutes to spare and actually got onto a plane that departed the airport, 11 hours after I’d arrived. Delta wins the travel day because they showed us this safety video.

After an overnight at the lovely Springhill Suites, which is two minutes from the Atlanta Airport by SkyTrain, I flew home this morning. It’s good to be home, although my cats still haven’t gotten used to wearing the saddle for giving monkey rides.

[Hadas and I are writing he-said/she-said blogs about this trip. You can read her blog at I stole the Kiev joke from my cousin Sara. Hi Sara!]

Costa Rica Days 10-11: Iguana Be Sedated

Part of the joy of travel is meeting new people from around the world, learning about their interests and their backgrounds, and then figuring out how to ditch them during a hike so you don’t have to tell them to shut up to their face.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Yesterday was our final day in Quepos, on the Pacific coast. We got up at sunrise and drove 7 km to Manuel Antonio National Park so we could enter right when it opened at 7 a.m. Manuel Antonio is the most popular park in the country, so we wanted to beat the crowds of pasty Germans wearing safari gear who would descend on tour buses after breakfast. We were on our way into the park by 7:15 a.m., right after Hadas stopped for her 17th cup of coffee of the morning. She hasn’t so much tanned in the Costa Rican sun as bold roasted.

Before entering the park we had the option of hiring a guide for the day, who would carry a powerful spotting scope and help us spy wildlife or assassinate world leaders. We declined, on the theory that by now we were excellent sloth spotters. Which is true, inasmuch as we had already spotted one sloth in the wild, although technically that was only because Hadas bumped her head on it while walking beneath a tree.

The 1.5 km path into the park was lined on either side with sloth-ready trees, but unfortunately there were no sloths that morning; it’s possible they were still waiting to get their coffee. Emerging from the trees at the end of the entry road we discovered an impossibly beautiful cove, lined with a white sand beach and gorgeous jutting rocks out in the sea. Breathtaking. We walked along the sand and soaked in the view, keeping our eyes peeled for the myriad wildlife that was certainly hiding in the trees.

Near the end of the beach, a wild-eyed woman stopped us and asked in VERY LOUD SPANISH if we would mind taking her photo. Of course not, I said – but something was not working with the camera on her phone. Maybe it was because it was an Android phone from 1977. Anyway, she soon lost interest in having her photo taken, and instead proposed that she should join us on our hike.

This seemed like a splendid idea to me, as I couldn’t think of a better way to enhance a romantic early-morning animal-spotting hike than to have a potentially-insane woman tagging along and speaking Spanish at the top of her lungs. OK, actually I can think of infinite better things, but unfortunately I never got to Chapter 34 of Berlitz Spanish for Travelers where they cover “Polite rejections for possibly escaped mental patients,” so I said sure that seems like a splendid idea.

We left the beach and proceeded into the jungle, but Hadas and I dilly-dallied at the first scenic overlook near the trailhead, and when the woman walked ahead on the left fork in the trail we made a beeline for the right fork and successfully ditched her. We are not proud.

The trail was a loop through the jungle, high above the beach and the crashing surf. After a few minutes of hiking we heard crashing in the brush, and up ahead we saw a family of capuchin monkeys playing in the trees. Capuchins are a bit larger than the overcaffeinated squirrel monkeys at our cottage in Quepos, and considerably more chill. In fact, when we stopped in the middle of the trail to watch the monkeys, the monkeys stopped to watch us. They wandered over to branches within eight feet of us, sat down and hung out. One of them flopped down on its belly, letting its arms and legs dangle in a position that recalled a bored teenager on the sofa on a Saturday afternoon.


We spent 15 minutes of quality monkey time contemplating the quiet of the jungle, until our VERY LOUD SPANISH SPEAKING FRIEND came around the other direction on the trail and stabbed the monkeys to death with a metal shank she had hidden under her tank top. Not really. Actually, we just continued on our hike and left the monkeys behind.

A few minutes later we climbed up to an overlook and had a spectacular view of the ocean from high up on a cliff. We had a snack and then continued on the trail, where we saw a gray necked wood rail (that’s a bird) and an agouti (that’s a mini-capybara). After emerging from the jungle we finally had our first Costa Rican iguana spotting, although it was a tiny baby iguana that didn’t even seem up to the task of selling car insurance.

It was still before 10 a.m., but it was HOT in the park. Every time we stepped into the sun it was like jumping into a furnace. We were both soaked with sweat and our energy was flagging. We decided we’d seen enough wildlife to call it a day, so we headed back toward the parking lot on the path leading out of the park. We searched the trees for sloths, but alas there were no sloths in any of the trees.

As we got closer to the park entrance we began to see swarms of visitors making their way into the park. Every 10 feet or so, a party of pudgy Germans or pasty French tourists were stopped along the side of the path to look up into the trees at a sloth pointed out by their guide. It turns out that virtually every tree in the park contains a sloth. We just suck at slothspotting.

After the drive home and a nap, we spent a couple hours in the pool. Alas there was no monkey hour on this day, though we were joined by a loud Canadian woman who implored us to never open a Bed and Breakfast. Done and done. Then in late afternoon, as we were sitting out on the deck enjoying the sunset, Hadas noticed a large iguana climbing in the tree directly across from us. She said it was still smaller than what she had been picturing — apparently Hadas believes that iguanas are the size of Godzilla.


Today, sadly, it was time to leave Quepos and our beautiful view of the ocean. As we had been every day, we were awakened at 5:15 a.m. by the birdsong of Costa Rica’s myriad avian species, by which I mean a rooster. By 8 a.m. we were on the road, and by 8:25 a.m. Hadas had tired of my law-abiding driving, so she took over and proceeded to drive the rest of the way to San Jose at 390 kph.

After only two wrong turns and a brief detour through Ecuador we made it to Heredia, a small town just north of San Jose, where we had planned to take a coffee tour at Britt Coffee. The 11 a.m tour had 30 people and the 2 p.m. tour had 90 people. Sandwiched in between those was our 12:45 p.m. tour which had … us. We got to know our tour guide Maria very well over the ensuing 75 minutes; frankly there’s a lot of pressure being the only two people on a tour. She kept asking if we had any questions, and I felt obligated to come up with something. So I feigned interest in coffee bean hull shucking technology or somesuch. Really, the tour was mainly an excuse for Hadas to sample upwards of 84 cups of coffee.


Anyway, we learned how coffee beans are planted, grown, picked, sorted, fermented, hulled, dried, roasted, ground, folgered and packaged. At the end of the tour we learned how to prepare perfect coffee:

  • Grind freshly.
  • Use hot — but not boiling — water.
  • Steep in French press for 3-4 minutes.
  • Replace with cocoa, which is really much more delicious.

OK, I made up that last point, but I don’t drink coffee. I sampled some anyway, and declared it to be bitter. Hadas sampled it and declared it to be not at all bitter. We agreed to compromise, by which I mean she told me to buy her a souvenir t-shirt and I did.

After the coffee tour I got us lost on the way to our new B&B. It’s in an upscale neighborhood in the northwest corner of San José, operated by a couple from Canada. So far we’ve met two of the other guests — a man who probably works as a George W. Bush impersonator and an incredibly-annoying woman from Portland who is down here to get dental work. Hopefully she will have her jaw wired shut.


[Note: Hadas and I are writing he-said, she-said blogs about this trip. They should have done this with the Bible. You can read her blog at]

Costa Rica Days 8-9: Swimming in Monkey Water

So it turns out that every tourist in Costa Rica is from Canada.

In the last few days we’ve met people from British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba and Ontario. I just need Quebec and Yukon Territories to win Canadian bingo. It’s like all of Canada collectively says “Screw this!” in March and heads as far south as they can get. We’re not complaining. Canadians are very nice, especially the elderly retiree at yesterday’s vanilla plantation tour who tried to convince Hadas that he was in arms dealing and gold smuggling. He quickly found out what it’s like to go toe-to-toe with an extrovert improviser. By the end of the conversation she was close to calling his bluff and forcibly removing his pants to look for prison tattoos.

Anyway, the vanilla plantation tour was very interesting. We learned how vanilla beans in the wild do not pollinate fast enough for farming, so they have a manual process that involves poking the flowers with a stick to spread the pollen. They also increase the vanilla plant’s libido by showing it dirty movies.


This farm also grows pepper, turmeric, coffee, cacao, pineapple, coconut and cinnamon. The latter is really fascinating. We watched a worker shave the bark off of cinnamon tree logs, and when you pop a strip of the bark into your mouth it’s an explosion of cinnamon flavor, like if you passed out face down in a food court Cinnabon.


Skinning cinnamon trees.

After learning about spice history and sampling some cardamom, cloves, allspice and other goodies, we joined the rest of the Canadians for a walk through the plantation where our guide (Giselle) showed us how the plants grow. We then retired to an open air tasting loft overlooking the valley, where we sampled cinnamon tea, cinnamon ice cream, chocolate cookies, biscuits with cacao nibs and a hot drink with cacao, vanilla and chili pepper. Everything was incredibly delicious and – as this is the most sugar I’d eaten in four years – I immediately bounced off the walls like a hyperactive 2nd grader until the inevitable sugar crash where they had to call my mom to drive down from Alaska to pick me up. Actually I was fine.

Then we walked to the spice shop, where we purchased vanilla beans and cinnamon bark. After a stop at the grocery store on the way home, Hadas cooked up a pulled pork with vanilla, which is about the most delicious thing I’ve ever eaten. If she were to open a restaurant in Costa Rica she’d be a gazillionaire. After dinner, we sat in a hammock overlooking the ocean and watched the sunset, and then Hadas engaged in the traditional passing out at 9 p.m.

Today we went ziplining. We had ziplined in Mexico a few months ago, but because the Yucatan Peninsula is flat as a tortilla the zipline towers were man-made and we didn’t so much soar through nature as soar through a large flat lot covered in scrub brush. Today’s ziplining was the real deal, as the zipline course is built into a mountainside in the jungle and we were able to whiz over and through the forest, with trees shooting past our heads as if we were in Return of the Jedi. Our ziplining party included a couple Canadians (of course), two Texans, a pair from Boston and two Belgians who were wearing shorts that could best be described as “insufficient.”

This particular zipline company’s claim to fame is the longest zipline in Costa Rica — nearly a mile long. And let me tell you, riding a zipline that goes for a minute and a half is the way to go. While waiting for our turn to fly I enjoyed chatting with the guides in Spanish, and Hadas enjoyed imploring them to let her ride the zipline upside down like a suicidal opossum.

Besides ziplines, we also walked from tree to tree on crazy bouncy suspension bridges, and climbed platforms high into the top of the forest canopy. While standing near the top of one tree we saw three toucans up close — our first toucan sighting in Costa Rica. They are bigger than I was imagining, but every bit as exotic-looking. After watching the toucans for 10 minutes I had an irresistible urge to down an entire box of Froot Loops, so they had to call my mom to drive down from Alaska to pick me up.

After finishing the course they fed us a traditional lunch and engaged in the traditional hard sell to try to get us to purchase photos from our day. Hadas is smiley and photogenic in each shot, and I have an expression that says “This harness is cinched exceptionally tight around my toucans.”

Back at our casa we had a nap and then decided to get in a small CrossFit workout, so we raced down the hill to the marina and back up, resulting in heat-induced asthma. We were sweating and panting like we were watching vanilla porn. Then we did a timed squat workout and finally finished off our workout in the pool with an hour of intense standing around (it’s tiny and four feet deep).

Just when we were about to get out of the pool, monkey hour started. At first one monkey crossed 10 feet above our heads on a telephone wire, followed by another and then another. Soon there were 15 monkeys cavorting around the pool, climbing trees, chasing across roofs and scurrying down drainpipes. Three of the boldest monkeys actually came over to drink out of the pool we were currently occupying, not four feet from us. This was both (a) adorable and (b) gross. I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with drinking MY pool water, but earlier it had been occupied by a number of sketchy Canadians.

After a half hour or so monkey hour was over, so we returned to the room for more vanilla pork (the dish, not the bestselling adult movie) and then walked into town for a sunset trip to the grocery store. The long hike back up to our cottage was made even more challenging by the fact that I was carrying 25 pounds of watermelon, pineapple, tortillas and wine on my back, but it gave me a heck of an idea for a Crossfit workout when I get back home. I need to talk to the trainers at my gym.

[Note: Hadas and I are writing he-said, she-said blogs about this trip. I’ve changed a few details for artistic license. For instance, we are actually vacationing in Norway. You can read her blog at]

Costa Rica Days 6-7: Slothspotting

So there are definitely competing interests at work here.

On the one hand you have the sloth, a creature whose entire evolutionary path has been predicated on remaining inert and tree-colored so as to remain invisible to predators.

And on the other hand you have Hadas, whose entire vacation is predicated on the desire to spot sloths in their natural habitat.

After a five-hour hike in Cahuita National Park yesterday, the sloths are definitely winning.

Cahuita National Park is a large swath of jungle, smack up against the ocean just north of the town of Cahuita. Knowing that animals are — like Matt Lauer — friskier at dawn, we awoke at 5 a.m, in order to be in the park right when it opened at 6 a.m. After signing the entry log and donating $10 ($500 billion in colones) we were immediately rewarded by a family of frisky capuchin monkeys cavorting in the trees above our heads. Unlike sloths, monkeys make plenty of noise and occasionally rifle the telltale fruit pit at your head. They’re not hard to spot. Hadas clapped her hands and made a noise like a toddler with a kitten. The day of animal watching was on!

But not so much animal photographing. I have discovered an amazing knack for not being able to capture photos of wildlife. If I worked for the Sears Portrait Studio, the vast majority of my photos would contain a tasteful mottled background and perhaps a blurry elbow.

Parque Cahuita’s trail winds along the edge of the jungle within site of the ocean shore. The path was wide and flat, and soon we were deep into the park, enjoying the (relatively) cool morning. The jungle was alive with bird and insect sounds, plus Hadas imitating all the bird and insect sounds. She has an uncanny knack for mimicry, which will come in handy if she ever pursues a career as a parrot.

As the very first people in the park we were rewarded with quiet, solitude and the occasional horror of walking through a web strung across the path by a spider the size of Matt Lauer. It didn’t take us long to get the heebie-jeebies, especially because we were walking along the path with our necks craned to the treetops looking for sloths. Every so often we would glance ahead and just avoid an enormous spider that was about to luck out into a kosher meal.

After ninety minutes we had still seen no sloths. We stopped at every tree that looked sloth-habitable and did a slow scan. We pulled out the binoculars and examined the branches, trunks and treetops. No sloths.

Above us a family of howler monkeys swung down to take a closer look, and then sat on the branches eating fruit and watching us with disdain. A family of raccoons cavorted around the base of a tree, just feet from us.


Bats swooped around our heads. A snake slithered through the grass. Lizards and crabs danced quickly away as we walked down the path. We even saw a tarantula eating a giant moth on the side of a banana plant.


But no sloths.

After three hours of hiking we were hot, tired and slothless, so we turned around to make the long trek back to the trailhead. Within a few minutes we came across two friendly park rangers, who examined our park entry ticket and asked us what animals we’d seen. We gave them the list: monkeys (monos), raccoons (mapeches), bats (murcielagos), snakes (serpientes), tarantulas (spidero grande).

“No peresosos (sloths)?” they asked.


“Oh, we thought you were looking at the sloth in that tree over there?”


“That tree you were looking at. We thought you were looking at the sloth.”

And there it was. Directly above our heads, in a tree we had just been looking at, a sleeping sloth. We all had a good laugh and the park rangers went on their way while we gazed at the sloth through our binoculars.

About one minute later, one of the park rangers poked his head around the bend ahead of us and whistled, gesturing for us to come along the path. We hustled down the trail and, yep, he’d spotted another sloth. This one was actually climbing a tree. Hadas squealed and clapped her hands while I took a series of photos that did not, technically, contain the sloth. I joked to Hadas that even though we were terrible at spotting sloths, by the time we got back to our car there would be a sloth sitting on the hood.

“Do not make promises you can’t deliver,” she said sharply.

The last two hours of the hike were tiring. The temperature was rising, our feet were sore and our stash of hiking food had gotten down to the dregs that one brings just in case one takes a wrong turn and ends up in Bolivia. Finally, the park entrance mercifully appeared and we signed out of the entry log to avoid having a search-and-rescue team burst into our bedroom at 3 a.m.

We crossed the small footbridge from the park to the parking lot, and suddenly Hadas froze.

There was a sloth.

Eight feet above our heads in a tree.

Climbing around with a tiny, adorable baby sloth clutched to its belly fur.

After five hours of not seeing the thousands of sloths in the National Park, the closest, cutest, most obvious sloth was cavorting about just steps from our car.

I’m a man who keeps his promises.

After I snapped a few more photos of parts of the tree that did not contain the sloth, we drove back to the B&B and napped for three hours. Then we went out for an ill-advised walk on the beach (feet: still tired) and strolled into town for a drink and some delicious guacamole with plantain chips. I actually drank a few sips of Hadas’s alcoholic beverage (some strawberry and lime concoction), at which point I removed my pants and tried to lead the restaurant in a Caribbean-flavored version of Hava Nagila. OK, I made that last part up, but I did sip on her drink. I’m a lush.

After a dinner of meat on a stick from our favorite street-side vendor we strolled home and Hadas passed out at 8:30 p.m. She slept through until morning, no doubt under the influence of my drinking.

This morning we checked out of our B&B early and made the long, long drive from Cahuita on the Caribbean coast to Quepos on the Pacific coast. It’s not often that you make a trans-continental drive in six hours, but Hadas was up to the task. And by up to the task, I mean she wouldn’t let me take the wheel because apparently I become pouty and unpleasant when driving. I protested by taking a nap.

It was a much faster drive along the same route as the one last Thursday, primarily because there was less Sunday traffic, more passing lanes in this direction, and Hadas drives like Mario Andretti after a six-day binge of cocaine and amphetamines.

Notable events along the drive:

  • We were stopped at a police checkpoint, questioned, asked to show our passports, had our backpack examined and were queried as to why exactly we had a baggie full of red pills. In Spanish, I explained that they were Ibuprofen. I also made a mental note not to pursue the career of drug smuggler, as it probably isn’t a great strategy to keep drugs in the same pocket as one’s passport.
  • We witnessed an actual fistfight between two drivers on the side of the road, that result of which was the stouter of the two being flung into foot-deep water in a drainage ditch and temporarily strangled until he cried “Tío” or perhaps apologized for whatever transgression he had performed. In comparison, I look like a pretty calm driver.
  • We made it through San José with only one wrong turn and sailed onto the tollway toward the Pacific coast with nary a u-turn. This, despite the fact that all road signs are painted on the side of sloths so as to be invisible to gringos.

The last two hours of the drive to Quepos were long and pretty boring. Hadas occasionally tried to goad her introvert into talking by starting a conversation in Spanish, but things quickly petered out when I couldn’t remember how to say “I see” in the past tense, which pretty much put an end to any hope of playing “I Spy.”

Luckily, the monotony was interrupted by a stop at the Rio Tárcoles to peer down at the crocodiles sunbathing below, which we both characterized as “Horrifying.” I made a mental note not to go river rafting. Or showering.


Before re-starting the drive, Hadas ordered an Agua de Pipa from a roadside fruit vendor, which turned out to be a coconut with a straw stuck into it. Delicious, if not easy to drink while driving one-handed. I’m not sure how the open container law works when the container is a coconut and the opening is a hole the size of a straw.


We rolled into Quepos around 3 p.m. and drove to our cottage, which is straight up the side of a mountain overlooking the marina. When I say straight up a mountain, I mean STRAIGHT UP A MOUNTAIN. We were planning to go ziplining in Quepos, but I think we pretty much got the entire experience just winding up the driveway.

As soon as we got into the cottage we were thrilled to discover a family of monkeys swinging through the trees directly outside our screened windows. We stood out on the deck and made monkey noises back and forth with them. I took a few photos of the sky. Being monkey-adjacent is a strong selling point of this place. Hadas claims she is always monkey adjacent.

After a brief nap and a shower we headed out to look for a grocery store. Unfortunately, the street leading into downtown was packed with people and horses, as we had landed smack-dab in the middle of some kind of city-wide horsey parade. We ditched the car on the side of the unpassable road and walked around downtown, looking for groceries. Almost every business was closed for the Sunday afternoon parade, so we eventually settled on getting dinner at a Mexican restaurant while watching the parade of trotting horses and pickup trucks with loudspeakers blaring Latin American pop music.


Upon returning to the cottage, using 4-wheel-drive and rocket boosters, we discovered that the internet in our cottage had gone from barely usable to dormant, so the nice innkeepers arranged to move us into a different cottage that turned out to be in every way nicer than the one we were in. Somehow she had convinced the two people in the nicer cottage to switch cottages with us, and they had agreed. Suckers. We met them later out by the pool and offered to buy them a drink, which they graciously declined. It turns out that he’s a commercial real estate appraiser from Alabama and she’s a gymnastics coach from Calgary — they had just met an hour earlier at the bus station and agreed to share a room. If anyone from NBC is reading this, feel free to contact me for rights to this hilarious sitcom premise.

Now we’re sitting on the deck overlooking the harbor, watching upwards of 20 geckos munch on bugs above our heads while availing ourselves of the gloriously mediocre Internet speeds. It’s raining furiously and every so often we glance into the trees looking for monkeys, sloths or parrots. So far all I’ve spotted is Matt Lauer.


[Note: Hadas and I are writing he-said, she-said blogs about the trip. Because we both want to save all of our jokes for the blog, we stopped speaking five days ago. You can read her blog at]

Costa Rica Days 3-5: Lust, Gluttony, Wrath, Sloths

Part of the fun of world traveling is to “Expect the unexpected,” which is one reason they never tell you beforehand that your airplane is going to crash into a mountain. Although if they did, I’d spend way more time choosing a seat near someone who looked delicious.

Anyway, after a day and a half of tepid Internet connectivity in San José we were not wholly surprised to receive a note slipped under our door on Tuesday night that said there would be no water from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. the next day due to water shortages. Based on my previous experiences in Central America, I would not have been completely surprised if they had announced oxygen rationing. We dutifully took showers on Tuesday night to prepare for our day without water.

On Wednesday morning we awoke to discover that the water was still flowing. We were less pleased to discover that our B&B hosts had received some misinformation and it was electricity that was to be shut off all day instead of water. It wasn’t quite clear if it was rationing, a worker’s strike, or if the city electricians had been eaten in a tragic plane crash. The bottom line is that there was no power (and thus no Internet) for the rest of the day. We took this as an omen, canceled our meetings via my cell phone, and went sightseeing.

We headed out to visit nearby Volcán Poás, which, like me in the Costa Rican heat, is semi-active. “Nearby,” might be a bit of a misnomer, because “map distance” and “actual time to drive there” are vastly different values in Costa Rica. For instance, Google Maps pegged the trip at 38 minutes, which would probably be true if you were traveling by spaceship. By car it took close to two hours. This is because Google Maps does not account for the following variables:

  • Costa Rica contains no road signs. Navigation is — like the biblical travels of the three wise men — based largely on faith and avoiding livestock.
  • Highways plunge through the middle of cities, becoming unnamed city streets and finally emerging essentially “at a whim.”
  • For some reason they put the volcano at the top of a very steep mountain.

Eventually we reached the top of the volcano, where we parked the car and hiked a quarter mile to an overlook above the crater. The previous day the volcano had experienced its strongest eruption of the year, spewing gas, smoke and ash into the sky, so there were news crews napping nearby in case Poás decided to blow again. It did not, but it did have a steady stream of steam and smoke pouring from the hot lake in the crater. Lacking any virgins to throw in, we just took pictures and elbowed French people out of the way.


After viewing the raw destructive power of the earth, we then took a 2.5 kilometer (1.3 gallon) hike through the cloud forest and experienced the raw destructive power of 8,500-foot altitude on our lungs. We huffed and puffed and wheezed our way past a pretty lake and through beautiful trees, climbing steeply through the jungle foliage and then descending on the way back to the car. I’m sure this is exactly what it must feel like to climb Mt. Everest, and I would have given anything for a Sherpa to carry my fanny pack.

On the drive back down the mountain we were famished, so we stopped for lunch at a small Costa Rican restaurant and had the “comida tipica” dish of chicken with french fries. The restaurant had Christian quotes hung on the wall and plastered to the menu, the gist of which was “Don’t trust Google Maps on your way to Bethlehem.” By the time we got back to Casa Primo the power was back on and the Internet was screaming along at the speed of continental drift, so we worked until bedtime and then slept after Hadas engaged in a lusty heavy petting session with the resident Bichon Frise.

Thursday we checked out of the B&B while I examined Hadas’ suitcase to make sure she hadn’t smuggled the Bichon Frise in a side pocket. We headed out for the drive to the Caribbean coast and the small town of Cahuita. Being prepared, I had not only consulted Google Maps, but also many other web sites for directions and driving time estimates, which disturbingly ranged from 2.5 to 6 hours. That seemed like a rather wide range unless we were going to be detouring through Iowa.

Nor surprisingly, the first hour of our trip was spent going the 11 miles from our B&B to the highway, as we became horribly lost, disoriented and confused. After an unplanned journey through the heart of San Jose, several zigs, many zags and a couple of false starts, Hadas finally managed to navigate us onto the highway toward the coast. Keep in mind, we were attempting to navigate from the largest highway in Costa Rica to the second largest highway in Costa Rica, two roads THAT INTERSECT, and we couldn’t do it without getting lost.

The drive to Cahuita took about four hours, primarily because we spent most of it behind semi-trucks doing 30 kph through the mountains. As is traditional, I spiraled into frustration and road rage until Hadas gently suggested that she should take over driving, at which point I spiraled into screaming “Oh my God!” every time she pulled out into oncoming traffic to pass a semi. It occurred to me about three hours into the trip that I hate driving. There’s a reason I typically pick vacation destinations based on the number of subway lines they have.

Cahuita is a tiny town on the Caribbean coast, and by “town” I mean “one street.” We’re staying in the Coconut Love B&B, which sounds like something that they were trying to ban in Arizona. The B&B is currently being run by an older couple with charming accents who — thanks to my Linguistics degree — I immediately pegged as being from The Netherlands. (They’re from Hungary.) Like many Caribbean accommodations, our cottage is clean and spartan, but with all the comforts of home, if your home contains a billion tiny ants and a beetle that is currently on the blinds above my head with the words “Volkswagen” stenciled on its forehead.


Yesterday we explored the entire town, which took about seven minutes. For dinner we had spicy meat-on-a-stick-wrapped-in-a-tortilla from a street vendor, which was delicious if not entirely the most convenient way to experience what amounted to a taco weapon. Thankfully, nobody was stabbed, although I think I ate about 50% tortilla and 50% napkin. So far everyone I’ve met in Costa Rica has complimented my Spanish, or at least that’s what I imagine they must be saying.

Today was sloth day!

I’m not sure what it is, but chicks dig the sloths. Two weeks ago at a party, I watched Hadas and three female friends huddled around an iPad cooing and squealing at YouTube videos of sloths. Every time Hadas has even thought about sloths before this trip she’s let out a little squeal. I was pretty sure that she was going to explode when we actually saw sloths today.

We visited the Sloth Sanctuary, where they rescue and raise abandoned, injured and orphaned sloths. Within minutes of arrival we were face to face with a sloth in a basket and Hadas was making sounds like helium escaping from a weather balloon. I gotta admit, the sloths are pretty cute. Also, true to their name, pretty slothful.


The first part of our tour was a canoe ride through the shallow river next to the Sloth Sanctuary. Our boatman was not the loquacious type, so it was a bit of a do-it-yourself tour. We had to ask him questions to get him to volunteer information. I felt like I was on an episode of Are You Smarter Than The Dude That’s Driving Your Sloth Boat? Along the way we saw bananas in their natural habitat, a pile of tiny bats sleeping under a hollow tree, huge expanses of bamboo, and … a wild sloth! It hung by its toes and scratched its face.

Squealing occurred. I finally remembered that I had binoculars (this is day five) and we used them for the first time. I attempted to take a picture of the sloth and realized that as a photographer I am more Gomez Addams than Ansel Adams. The boatman recounted a wonderful, detailed anecdote, that went something like “Sí.”

Back on shore we met baby sloths and watched them eat, which is as adorable as you are probably imagining right now. Then we met some adult sloths who were also adorable, but larger. I continued to take incompetent photos, but luckily Hadas took both competent photos and video, the latter of which contains the soundtrack of squealing.


After the Sloth Sanctuary we drove five miles past Cahuita to the nearest supermercardo, which was more mercado than super. It appeared to have mostly hair care products and corn oil. Somehow, using only the scant cooking utensils in our cottage, Hadas was able to cobble together a delicious lunch (deep-fried shampoo). Actually it was Caribbean-spiced chicken and sausage on rice. Yum!

Then following a long workday, a nap (me), a run (Hadas) and a second lunch of eggs and tortillas, we headed out to the oceanside Sobre Las Olas restaurant, where we sat outside overlooking the pounding surf and enjoyed a lobster and chicken dinner by candlelight beneath the palm trees. It was one of the most lovely meals of my life.

We lingered for a few sublime hours, listening to the ocean waves, until it was time to head back to the cottage to let the Bichon Frise out of Hadas’s suitcase.

[Note: Hadas and I are writing he-said, she-said blogs about the trip. I’m the he-said. You can read her blog at]