“Every traveler has a home of his own, and he learns to appreciate it the more from his wandering.”
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I’m sorry for being a week late. I’ll make up for it by having a really long blog…but at least it’s got lots of pics—haha! We’ve sure had a whirlwind few weeks of travel since I last posted.
Have you ever gone on vacation, had a lot of fun, but still find yourself missing home? For us now, home is El Salvador—it’s taken awhile to feel comfortable saying that! Don’t get me wrong—we had an amazing time adventuring around and discovering some of Costa Rica’s gems, but we’ve realized even more how much we appreciate El Salvador and the incredible community we have here.
These last few weeks have been a big blur of travel—up at 2am for our flight to San Jose, hours upon hours of driving through the mountains and farmland backroads, and so much exploring the beauty of nature in Costa Rica’s amazing tropical rainforest.
We started our journey by meeting up with Tom’s sister and her husband in San Jose, to join us for the first two weeks. We proceeded to pack ourselves, all our food, and luggage like sardines into a small seven-seater SUV. We literally had bags tightly packed around our feet during the four-hour drive to our cabin in the mountains near Monte Verde, “green mountain.” The roads often had big potholes and many of them could be incredibly steep—more than any we’ve encountered in El Salvador. If you go somewhere in Costa Rica where they say you need a 4x4, they mean it!
Our day in the Santa Elana Cloud Forest was windy and rainy—we’re guessing it rains there a lot. But we made the most of it, exploring the mountain paths in the park through thick trees, many with plants growing out of their sides! We’d hoped to see animals in the rain, but they all stayed safe in hiding. The girls and I wore four layers—it was cold! We were all thankful for our rain jackets, which we’d thrown in at the last minute.
Our cabin didn’t have any heat, so we bundled up and made lots of tea—it was only 15C (about 60F), but felt colder with the howling wind and relentless rain. Drying our clothes out was almost impossible. The next day was much better—we ventured to the Monte Verde Cloud Forest and it warmed up and was sunny in the afternoon. We were happy to see some colourful birds and butterflies, and enjoyed the huge, exotic tropical trees.
From there we drove some winding mountain roads, with cows grazing on steep hillsides, balanced like mountain goats. Over three hours later we got to Rincon de La Vieja—“the old lady’s corner”—and found our cute one-room jungle cabin. This area is a hidden gem in the northwest that my Costa Rican friend had told us about.
The girls and I went out for a walk, and got to watch some colourful toucans up close. Then we met a friendly local family by the pond, fishing. I mentioned to them that we’d love to see a sloth. The dad took a few steps and then said in Spanish, “If you want to see a sloth, there’s one right there in that tree!” He was pointing across the pond. Wow!
I sent my middle daughter to get the rest of our gang. Within a minute, they were all there—I didn’t know they could run that fast! There she was—a mommy sloth with her sweet baby clinging to her tummy, hanging from the branch of a tall tree. She was totally relaxed, just eating a few leaves. We were in awe—our first time to see one in the wild, or possibly ever. It felt like a gift, watching them for those few minutes until they disappeared. Since you can barely see them in the photo I took from a distance, I borrowed this one from a postcard…
The next day we drove up a back road, even crossing through a small river, to get to some breath-taking sights at the national park. We entered the park, and soon saw them—the “bubbling pots”—where the earth’s heat boils the water or mud at the surface, because you’re that close to a volcano. Often the bubbles spit water or mud way up into the air. The steam alone almost burnt us! Pictures don’t do these things justice, so here’s one of our group by the El Tenorio waterfall the next day…
The trees with wild spiraling vines, the exotic birds, a majestic waterfall…more walking…busy monkeys, and then dozens of white-faced monkeys, up in the trees above us, grabbing and eating some kind of purple berries. We stood there in awe, watching these incredibly agile little critters do their acrobatics for about 20 minutes.
We spent a few days in La Fortuna, enjoying the view of Volcàn Arenal from our rental and as we walked the streets. We went to the hanging bridge trails and enjoyed some beautiful waterfalls and swimming in the cool river near our place.
Traveling is fun, but can have its surprises and disappointments. One surprise was a friendly tree mouse—more like a tree rat, based on its size. It came to our mountain cabin in the wee hours of the morning to visit my sister-in-law and her husband. It was a super cute little guy, but didn’t want to vacate before leaving a pizza-sized wet spot next to a pillow on their bed, inches from my brother-in-law’s head.
Another surprise was the other day in Uvita when Tom was in the shower, and ended up with crazy fireworks—sparks shooting out in all directions from the shower head! We were all in shock, as it was like lightning, even from under the bathroom door. Almost no one has a hot water tank here. Instead they have these electrical attachments that heat the water as it flows through the shower head. We found out from the gringo guy who came to help us fix it—the nickname for them is “suicide showers” and now we know why! Yikes!!
Just when we had planned to have a chill Sunday—laying in the calm river, taking the girls to play at the park…mid-afternoon, that all changed. We have stayed in dozens of different places in the last 15 months, many with doors that lock when you close them from the outside. This particular afternoon, I was making some popcorn on the stove for a snack. I had just given the girls and Tom a bowl to share outside, and was bringing out some napkins, when I accidentally let the door close behind me, trying to pull it to ALMOST closed. I gasped, knowing this was bad. We were all outside, now locked out, with more popcorn still popping on the stove. Because we’d been running the a/c, we’d closed the windows, or I could’ve reached in the kitchen window and easily opened the door. But it was firmly shut, and I wasn’t about to throw a rock through it! As we went into panic-mode, I said, “I’m so sorry! I don’t know what to do now, but pray! PRAY!!”
The bathroom window above the shower was open, so Tom went to work trying to shut off the breakers with a mop handle. He succeeded with turning off a few, but didn’t manage to get the kitchen one. Worried the house would soon start burning from the popcorn, and feeling like I had to do something, I ran down to the neighbors’ place. He said we could use his phone, but I realized that Tom would have to figure out who to contact, as he’d been in touch with the Airbnb lady. When I came to get him, he seemed hopeless, so I said, “Call anyone—the fire station, the police. We just need help!” He ran down the road to the neighbors’ place.
Then I went to work with the mop handle on the breaker, and somehow got the right one off this time. Phew!! I went around the front of the house to yell down the road to Tom, “We turned off the stove!” He was relieved.
Suddenly, my four-year-old daughter slid open the dining room window, which till now had appeared latched. The metal “security” bars over the window were making me angry at this point. But my oldest had an idea, “Mommy, open the door with the mop!” I sent up some desperate prayers, as I grabbed it, reached my long arm inside, and over to the far left. She was pushing on the door, as I felt around with the mop handle, trying to push out the little latch. I was fairly sceptical that this plan would work, but I was also out of other ideas. Suddenly, as I prodded with the mop, and she pushed against the door, it flung open! It was nothing short of a miracle as far as I’m concerned.
When we told Tom, he was amazed that the window wasn’t latched. He had closed it himself. All that to say, I am incredibly grateful we “broke in” to our place, and didn’t burn it down or cause any smoke damage! The whole ordeal was about 15 minutes, but sure had all of our hearts racing. I really believe in the power of prayer, and was reminded once again that God is bigger than “bad” or seemingly hopeless situations.
We all calmed down, loaded up the kids, and headed to the beach to jump in the waves and catch the sunset as planned. It was breath-taking, and the girls noted that you could see all the colours of the rainbow in the sky after it had set.
We managed to go to Manuel Antonio National Park, on our third attempt. Apparently it’s a very popular place…and they limit how many can get in each day. We were happy to get to see another sloth, up closer this time, but this one was injured, and we got to watch her get rescued. We also saw lots of monkeys and a keel-billed toucan (see pic below). We spent a couple hours at the beach there—our favourite in a long time. The calm, clear blue-green water and the white sandy shore was such a treat!
One recurring theme on this trip has been that we’ve missed El Salvador. Mostly we missed our wonderful community. Costa Rica is much more touristy which has its pros and cons. There are many more options for eating out, and we never felt like the only foreigners around. Exploring the national parks and hiking trails was an amazing experience. There are many more exotic birds and animals in the wild in Costa Rica, like the toucan below. But there are also multiple vendors on the beaches, calling out, trying to make a sale, and people on the streets wanting you to buy their overpriced tour. We don’t have those touristy things here. We often missed the lower costs of things in El Salvador—Costa Rica could be quite pricy.
We missed the quiet beaches back home, going to pupusa stands, working on our property, having a well-stocked kitchen, sometimes even sleeping on our pillows. But like I said, we mostly missed our community here.
I bumped into some friends yesterday in town, and we had a good chat. Talking about our common dreams reminded me of why we’re here. In just a couple weeks we’ll be moving closer to the beach, so being around our community will be much easier. Tom and I are looking forward to that, and the girls are excited to have friends around.
We went up to our property to watch the sunset and check on the mangoes and avocados yesterday. They are definitely getting bigger, but aren’t ripe yet. Then I noticed an orange tree full of bright oranges down the steep slope on our land. Tom went and with a lot of branch-bending, managed to pick a giant bag full of delicious mandarins. We feasted on them after eating our pupusas.
We’re so thankful for all the gifts in our lives—the wild beauty in Costa Rica and here, friendly, welcoming people, answered prayers, so much delicious fruit, and the ability to dream big dreams…and make them a reality 💖
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What a great post. I am heading to Costa Rica in March for a couple of months. I will be staying at Lake Arenal. I already spent about 6 months there a few years ago. But I know what you mean about it being very touristy and filled with expats. I am interested in traveling to El Salvador at the end of my time in Costa Rica. I'd love to know more about it. Getting out of the US is my goal but not too far away by plane from my kids and grandkids in California. I look forward to making my experiences part of my writing. firstname.lastname@example.org
I've never come across that Dickens quote before - love it. Have been meaning to write a post collecting all my favourite quotes about travel on there and will have to include that one when I (eventually) do.
That tree mouse reminds me of these huge rats that ran around the roof beams of a hostel I stayed at once in Kampala. I remember trying to sleep wondering if the mosquito net would keep them out if they decided to drop down from the ceiling!
Really enjoyed reading this, glad it all worked out in the end!