So, first off, I may have overreacted to the seeming dangers of Costa Rica in my last post. Settling into a new place is stressful business, especially when combined with the added responsibility over a wife and 2 little ones. I feel much better now. I carried my camera around all weekend just fine, and felt very safe.
Our amazing trip into the Costa Rican Rainforest in Monteverde actually began August 29th on the Newark Airport runway. We happened to sit next to Monica Zuniga, a friendly Costa Rican who had spent the week in New York City with her civil engineering class. I was a bit rusty on my Spanish, but despite my stumbling, she was delightful conversation and eagerly offered whatever tips she could on all things Costa Rica. Between Spanish lessons, travel tips, food recommendations, and Zack creaming her at Uno, the 6 hours flew by.
One week later Monica’s Facebook message invited us to spend the weekend with her family in Monteverde, Costa Rica. We had no idea what to expect, but we excitedly accepted her offer. The entire experience was better than we could have possibly imagined.
Monica and her brother, Otto, study and work in San Jose during the week and spend their weekends back home with their family. They had planned to swing by some 15 minutes out of their way to pick us up in Escazu on their way back to Puntarenas, but, due to a complication, ended up driving more than an hour back from Puntarenas to save us the trouble of taking a bus. It wasn’t until later that we knew how far out of their way they had gone. This was our first taste of the Zuniga generosity and hospitality. We arrived at the lovely Zuniga home where we were eagerly greeted with warm smiles and freshly cooked food. Their mother, Marisol, had prepared an authentic Costa Rican dish, arroz con pollo, to give us our first proper taste of Costa Rica. The entire scene in their beautiful outdoor kitchen with the delicious food and warm tropical air was way too much fun.
The 2.5 hour drive to Monteverde was breathtaking, twisting and climbing deeper into the rainforest. We met more of Monica’s family at the top in Moteverde. Davis, Monica’s cousin’s boyfriend, grew up in Monteverde and seemed to know everybody and everything there is to know in the little town. Davis was the group’s tour guide for the weekend, and even managed to swing some sweet deals for us at the beautiful Cala Lodge ($60 per night, instead of $130) thanks to his plethora (3 Amigos!) of local connections. We dropped our things off at the Lodge and joined the family to eat at La Pizzeria de Johnny, where Davis works his summers when not studying in San Jose. Being in the restaurant made us feel like we were back in the California, except for the occasional glance of luscious rainforest visible from every window.
Once our tummies were good and full it was time to play soccer with Davis and the local team. The guys graciously offered to rotate me in, but I resisted. My Spanish was humiliating enough, I figured. I didn’t need to also fail at soccer. Then I realized I was being stupid. Ten minutes later the next invitation to play came, and I accepted. Turns out my delayed rotation was genius. They had been playing for 30 minutes and I was fresh off the bench. I rushed in, received a perfect pass, and scored a goal! The resulting cheers from the Zuniga family were embarrassingly loud. From there I managed to get hit by the ball a few more times before the urge to vomit suggested I rotate out. Back on the bench I was smiling to myself glad that I didn’t let this awesome experience pass me by!
After the soccer game it was time to eat again, naturally. We followed Davis back to his home for chicharrones made by his mother, Ana. These chicharrones with Ana was one of the most memorable meals I have ever had.
We rolled back into the Lodge (that’s how full I was) at around 10:30 PM. I put the kids to bed and the Zunigas took Laura out dancing until 1 AM. I was bummed I missed out, but glad Laura got to go. You should have seen her smile! We started the next day off with the delicious complimentary breakfast of fresh fruit, eggs, ham, and toast at the main lodge. From there we followed Davis from one marvel to the next to hummingbirds, to his friend’s pig farm, to his town’s party and horse races, to an old gold mine, and back down to Puntarenas for dinner on the beach. The town party and horse races were particularly amazing, I think because it was just, plain real. They weren’t putting on a show for tourists. They weren’t rehearsing old traditions for tradition’s sake. This is what they actually did. This was real Monteverde life. It was pure awesome!
The journey ended with talk of venturing out again with the Zuniga family in the near future! We can hardly wait!