Dianne Bascombe had never been to Costa Rica and wanted to go see the leatherback turtles lay their eggs and hike in a national park where swamps bubble. Eight others wanted to go with her.
Nine of us went to Costa Rica for two weeks this winter. There was no special occasion. It just seemed like a good idea at the time. We also had quite a collection of airline points so we decided to take the plunge and use them all in case they got downgraded or cancelled.
My partner Bruce and I took three of our adult children, two of their spouses and two grandchildren, one who was five years old and the baby who was just eight months. Taking a baby to Costa Rica may be a concern to some people but it wasn’t to any of us!
Because we were on points we had terrible flights with stopovers all over North America so it was late when we finally regrouped at the airport in Liberia. We had pre-booked a nearby hotel and a tourist shuttle van through Experience Costa Rica. When we arrived at our hotel after a long ride on a bumpy dirt road, we discovered there was no food to buy. Thankfully it was New Year’s Eve and there was enough beer, peanuts and fireworks to keep everyone happy. When we woke up the next morning we found out we were staying in this lovely nature reserve.
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We went to Arenal for three nights, which is known for its very active volcano, and we just hiked around and enjoyed the hot springs. It is gorgeous there and we had a good time. Then a shuttle van took us over to the beach town of Tamarindo on the Nicoya Peninsula. The tourist vans really worked for us; the drivers were friendly and on time and it was less money than renting cars. We’d booked a house in Tamarindo through the internet. While it wasn’t on the beach, it was big with four bedrooms and bathrooms. It had a swimming pool and a beautiful garden. The five-year-old is on a special diet and they had all the meal supplements in the house waiting for us when we arrived as well as the supplies that we needed for the baby.
The highlight of the trip for me was watching a leatherback sea turtle lay its eggs in Playa Grande, which is in a national marine park not far from Tamarindo. It is one of the most important nesting sites in the world for leatherbacks. You go in at night at low tide and wait until a ranger tells your guide that he’s found a turtle and you then go out in a small group. Our turtle was about 3 km away and we had to run like hell down the beach in the dark. It was crazy but lots of fun. The stars were out and the surf was coming in.
A scientist with an infra red headlight was there with the turtle. Apparently the turtles are deaf so they can’t hear anything but are very sensitive to light. The turtle was probably 5 feet across with enormous flippers. It was scooping the sand out when we got there and later we watched it lay eggs that were about the size of golf balls. The leatherbacks are an endangered species so it was just a privilege to see one of them. The whole thing seemed to be tightly regulated.
Another outing I really enjoyed was to Rincon de la Vieja National Park. It is one of the most amazing places I’ve been to. We took this looped nature hike that took about two hours to complete. There’s a volcano there that is gently active and because of that there is steam coming out of the earth and swamps that are bubbling. The colour of the water varies depending on the colour of the rocks. You’re in the jungle and pass several waterfalls. There are tons of monkeys and we saw a coatis (a racoon-like animal) and big iguanas. It is just a beautiful hike.
We rented a car for a couple of days and took turns doing other excursions. The estuary boat tour was really good and we saw alligators and lots of monkeys; you can also get off and hike. My partner and I rented a kayak and spent a day paddling up a different estuary.
Cashing in our points and taking our families to Costa Rica was an excellent idea. It was a special time we will all remember.
This interview has been condensed and edited.
© Riding the buses 2011