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Costa Rica

DAY 1. 7/23/03. 10:11 PM (EST)

Since I'm a bit jet lagged right now, I'll start from where I remember.

The flight to Guatemala to Costa Rica took about two hours. I arrived at Costa Rica International around 6 in the morning. I just wanted to rest and grab lunch, but my family wanted to stop by the Multiplaza to shop.

We took a taxi to San José and stopped at a jewelry factory where our guide took us to go see how they manufacture their gold and silver pieces. Now I love jewelry, but I was running on three hours of sleep and I couldn't enjoy that tour as much as I would have liked. At 6 PM, we went back to our hotels and rested up before dinner. The first day is always the most hectic because you're getting settled and trying to establish a comfort zone. I'm turning in now. It's currently11 PM.

DAY 2. 7/24/03. 10:48 PM (EST)

I woke up at 8 AM to go grab breakfast at the Multiplex mall. Once we finished up, we went shopping around downtown San José. There were definitely a lot of cool souvenirs that I wanted to buy, but let's just say that airport security would never let me bring that kind of stuff onboard.

After a few hours of shopping and walking around, the family and I had lunch at Pollo Campero. We headed back to the hotel to rest up for the big barbecue that Tauck Bridges was organizing. I napped for about an hour and then went down into the courtyard. From there, we had a huge buffet dinner and introduced ourselves to our tour group.

I have to introduce all of you readers to the group. Let's start with our family first. Nguyen family: 5 people, Vietnamese family from Southern California. Paul McDonald: the tour leader. Cool guy, knows Costa Rica in and out... and he's only been here a handful of times. Travels along with a group of Costa Ricans who are our bus drivers. Rodrigo is the most known out of all of them. Vivian Walker: 82 year old African American women. As you can tell, she's pretty old and not too quick, but really tough and has endurance. She has the energy and vitality of a 25 year old. I really liked her. James Whitney: 45 year old Vietnam veteran. He's pretty down actually.. he's pretty funny, and he tells cool stories. He lives in Riverside, California with his wife, Debra, who also accompanied us on the journey. They said I could come over anytime for dinner... seeing as how I go to UC Riverside and all. The Kelley family: Debbie (mother), along with Matt (10 years old), and Chelsea (15 years old). They seem to be pretty much like us. I don't really talk to them, but they follow us around a lot. Reside in Florida. Peter Jensen.: Looks like a real nature enthusiast. Brought all of the essentials and more. He's tough, and he spends a lot of time talking to my dad about losing weight and jokes. Has a son named Peter Jr. also... and he is seriously the most annoying kid on the tour. He also has a wife who came along, but I don't know her name. David Fox: Physical exterior: 6'3" buff African American guy. Looks really tough, and he could beat the crap out of anyone on the tour if he wanted, but he's a nice guy. He was celebrating his one month anniversary (which is technically his honeymoon) with his wife... and she joined us on the trip too. Sloane Schneer: 8 year old girl who played with Kristine throughout the trip. She's a really bright kid. Came with her grandmother, Nola, who is also a very bright and kind woman. Connie Wilhelm: a woman who came with her 6 year old stepson, Cole. Cole plays too rough, especially with Kristine. Kind of worries me. Tyler Koepke: a kid who likes to play Game Boy as much as Ryan. He also hangs out with Peter Jr. a lot, so I try to stay away from those two as much as possible. We depart for the excursion tomorrow at 6 AM, so I have to sleep now. This is going to be one heck of a trip.

DAY 3. 7/25/03. 8:35 PM (EST)

Woke up around 6 AM as planned. The tour provided us with a continental breakfast that was free, so I went and enjoyed a nice little spread for myself. After that, I went back to the room to pack up everything. Around 7 AM, we were scheduled to take a group photo: one for the whole group, and one for the kids.

Everything went down like clockwork. Our tour bus managed to get us to our destination in 5 hours through the rain and the rocky mountainous terrain, Monte Verde. I couldn't get to sleep on the bus because it was shaking so much, but I got to see a bunch of wildlife and miraculous views.

Once we got to the lodge, there was a huge lunch waiting for us, so we did what all hungry tourists was do... fuck that shit up.

After lunch, our tour guide, Paul, took everyone on an expedition through the huge rain forest. It was really cool. We did canopy rides, dug holes, and collected dirt so we could study the patterns of certain animals. It was pretty rough out there, and the scariest thing about the whole expedition were the heights. We were about 900+ feet above ground! It definitely was tiring. I think we hiked about 5 miles.

When we got back to the lodge, we ate a nice dinner. I went online a few minutes, but the internet was dead. Around 7 PM, the power went off completely, so I'm forced to write this entry by hand in candlelight and type it up later. I had a tough time trying to get back to the room in pitch black surroundings. The thing that sucks the most is the mosquitoes. Anyway, curfew is at 9 PM... so lights out.

DAY 4. 7/26/03. 9:06 PM (EST)

Woke up at 7 AM and tried to go online to beat the crowd to the computer, but the dial-up connection sucks. We didn't have that much time to spare.

Once the tour bus arrived, we explored the jungles and rainforests that we haven't been to yet. First stop was the Monte Verde Cheese Factory, which is located on this secluded farm privately owned by a small family. This factory is the sole supplier of dairy products for Costa Rica and parts of South America. The tour guides took us through the whole factory and then they took us through the farms where the cows and pigs were harvested and raised. The thing I really didn't get was that they made everyone soak their shoes in iodine before we could step in.

We went to the butterfly farm where every single species of butterfly and bug that dwells in the Costa Rica rainforest are preserved.

It was very tiring after that, and I mean TIRING. We went through this entirely different part of the rainforest with a tour guide that didn't speak English and I almost ended up spraining my ankle a few times during the hike. It took about three hours to trek through this rainforest. By the time we were finished, we headed back to the lodge to rest. Thank god that we're young and in shape to keep up with these hikes, otherwise I would probably pass out.

It's 9:24 PM now. Lights out.

DAY 5. 7/27/03. 8:54 PM (EST)

Today, we leave Monte Verde and venture off into a danger zone that I'd like to refer to as the DEATH TRAP. It is a highly active volcano located in Arenal.

The surrounding area reminds me a lot of that movie, Dante's Peak. It took us five hours to get off the mountain and back into the city. I slept for most of the bus ride down. We went to the hot springs located at the base of the volcano in a little place called Tabacón. The temperatures were up to 40 degrees Celsius, so you could imagine how hot it could get. We left the springs around 9:30 PM, and then we headed off to our lodge.

It rained heavily as expected. Now I'm sitting here reminiscing about the day at the Tilajari Resort. We actually have a working television and recreational facilities around here, so the next few nights should be fairly enjoyable.

DAY 6. 7/28/03. 9:55 PM (EST)

Woke up at 6 AM and ate breakfast quickly. The tour bus took us 20 km north of Tilajari to go on a whitewater raft expedition. The waters were pretty choppy to say the least. It took us all the way downstream and into crocodile territory. Once we passed through, the river calmed and we got to see a lot of birds and other various river creatures.

We stopped by a farm where this old man of about 91 years old was running it, along with his younger brother... who was about... 88. They treated us to tortillas, cheese, coffee, and pudding. We were surrounded by dust, dirt, not to mention cows and chickens everywhere. My little sister was really excited because she never got to play with live chickens before. We paddled our way downstream, and in a few hours and then made our way up the slippery hill to get back to the bus.

After I woke up from my nap, it was about 6 PM. I threw all my dirty clothes in my duffel as quick as I could because my parents rushed us really quickly to get to the tour bus. We made our way up to the volcano to do our volcano watch. By the time we made it up there, it started getting really foggy and dark, so we couldn't see anything. Regardless, the volcano was right in front of us and we could hear the volcanic ambience. The whole tour group sat down at the tables, ate chips and drank cold drinks. Overall, a really cool and chill experience. We got back around 8 PM, ate dinner and then started packing for Tortuguero. It's a remote island where you can only get there by ferry. It should be fun. On a sad note, I just found out that Bob Hope died today. Lived to be 100 years old. Prayers to his family.

DAY 7. 7/29/03. 11:04 PM (EST)

We left Tilajari and began our expedition to Tortuguero in search of the sea turtles that come to Costa Rica once a year to lay their eggs. After that, they get back in the ocean and venture off into the distance. Their migratory patterns are pretty screwed up.

The first stop was the bug art museum, where a world-class display of insects and collections of artworks were shown. We spent about 30 minutes there just to settle down and have a snack, and then we took off to Tortuguero. After about a good hour of driving, we came across this university called EARTH. It was an agricultural and ecological resources university where students and professors work together in order to benefit the world both financially and ecologically. While we were having lunch, some of the university students came to talk to us about their experiences and studies abroad. I stopped by the university gift shop and ordered some safari hats to take back home.

Along the way, we came across a dirt road, which took us quite a bit of time to get through. Once we got to the water port, we split into groups to get into speedboats. Estimating the distance, we were about 50 km from Tortuguero. Along the way, we encountered a banana plantation from the Del Monte company. The tour guide Max gave us a brief overview about it while we headed down. When we got to the water taxi, it took us about an hour to get to the Tortuga Lodge. Along the way, we encountered a lot of wildlife out there. I have to be honest and say that is the worst place that we've stayed in all throughout the trip. The water is dangerous to drink and shower in, there is no television or air conditioning and a shit ton of bugs. And these aren't your regular everyday bugs, but those tropical suckers. On the bright side, the food is good and the staff is nice.

After dinner, we headed back to our rooms to change into dark clothes. Tonight is supposedly when the turtles come to hatch their eggs. It took us about 10 minutes by boat to reach the beach and about two and a half miles of walking through the beaches to get to the right spot. Fortunately for us, we were able to find two turtles out there burying their eggs. One of them retreated back to the ocean because it got scared of us.

Hiking back was a pain in the ass. No one could see a thing since it was pitch black and all we could hear was the ocean. We got back around 10 PM. Now I'm sweaty and tired and about to knock out on this bug infested floor.

DAY 8. 7/30/03. 5:31 PM (EST)

Starting this entry early because I had to pack my jungle clothes. I'm pretty much covered in mosquito bites and insect repellant.

We missed the 5:30 AM expedition to downtown Tortuguero because we woke up too late. Instead, we ate breakfast and chilled for a bit. The next expedition was around 10 AM, so I just played Scrabble and a few games of chess with Ryan.

It started raining heavily during the boat trip, so we had to wait for the conditions to improve. The first stop was the turtle museum where a brief history of the sea turtle was given to us. Afterwards, we went back to the coast of the Caribbean where we walked last night. It was pretty muddy out there due to the rain, but we walked another half a mile to get to a gift shop located in the town.

Around noon, we had lunch and then came back to our rooms to rest up for the next tour, which was a jungle safari by boat through the murky waters. The tour guide scouted out iguanas, caimans, turtles, monkeys, vultures, etc. We also visited a wildlife refuge.

As I'm writing this, I'm gazing into the sunset and reminiscing about our official last day here. Tonight is the farewell party for the Tauck Bridges tour and I am looking forward to stuffing my face at the buffet.

DAY 9. 7/31/03. 11:05 PM (EST) Woke up at 5 AM because of a massive ant attack. My parents and kid sister had to stay in our room because the infestation was so bad. I will definitely not miss this part of the tour.

We ate breakfast around 6 AM and then waited a while for the boat to take us across the river and to the plane. We split into groups. There was an 18-seater, and 3 4-seaters.The planes took us to a coffee plantation called Café Britt. It's a very well known coffee plantation in Costa Rica. The tour guides (who happened to be famous television stars from Costa Rica) explained to us every single detail about the coffee. They were definitely entertaining hosts! We watched a few videos, sampled a few different coffee selections and watched a variety show of comedy sketches. It was a blast.

Then after all that, the bus dropped everyone off at the airport. This is the part where we bid everyone farewell. Then our family decided to head to Guatemala to stay another night at the INTERCONTINENTAL.

Ryan and I just stayed in and watched some movies. Then I went to the Multiplaza across the street to grab some dinner. It rained pretty hard, so we had to get a hotel shuttle to take us there.

DAY 10. 8/1/03. 11:30 PM (EST)

It feels like I never get enough sleep on this vacation. I woke up incredibly early and packed all my clothes into my duffel bag. We left for Costa Rica International early to avoid the long wait at customs. It was a good thing because it took an hour and a half just to get through the customs gate.

Our flight arrived in Guatemala around 10:30 AM. Alvaro was there to pick us up from the airport, and he dropped us right off at the Hotel Quinta Real. I'm relieved to be back to what I consider civilization. Running toilets, Internet and no bugs! For dinner, we went to El Portal del Ángel. I would say it's the best steakhouse in Guatemala, hands down.

Looking forward to going back home tomorrow.

DAY 11. 8/2/03. 10:54 PM (EST)

Last day of the trip. Waiting for our friend, Oscar, to pick us up and take us to the airport. Around 12 PM, he arrived and we headed for the office. Traffic was horrible because there was a seven car pileup, but good thing we got there in time. Got to finish off this trip with a nice Italian meal.

Highly recommend trekking through Costa Rica if you're looking to venture out of your comfort zone and see a different side of the world. I would love to do it again sometime in the future.

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