A peek into our travel scores, near disasters + hard won lessons in Costa Rica.
Our first foray into the rugged, biodiverse land of Costa Rica was made so much sweeter by the obstacles we had the pleasure of managing: a steep learning curve with the language, a faulty navigation system... a baby. Here's how we fumbled our way through a vacation that ended up being one of our most transformative, and life-affirming adventures.
Car Rental Mayhem
The essence of perfectly seasoned Gallo Pinto, tiny monkeys, alcohol-filled coconuts, and salt-soaked humidity washed over me as I stepped out of the airport. We had arrived, and survived over twelve hours of cars, faulty airport shuttles, and airplanes. First step of international travel with baby complete, and I only kind of looked like a sleep-deprived lunatic with bloodshot eyes and dried spit up on my crotch.
Because we're Millennials, our first stop was a Kolbi kiosk where we bought an excessive amount of minutes for an unlocked cell phone, because we obviously have to be connected to social media as we disconnected in paradise. And, we really really needed GPS because Millennials can't read maps, and Costa Rica has an aversion to road signs... and road names.
Life was good, traveling was easy, and nothing could go wrong…. Then, all hell broke loose when we tried to pick up our rental car.
Word to the wise: Costa Rican car rental companies are infamous for squeezing hundreds, sometimes even thousands, of dinero out of you for excessive "car insurance," that is more like an expensive waiver.
We had already paid $100 for the basic insurance recommended by the website where we reserved our car. But the desk agent in Costa Rica assured us we also needed additional insurance that was $100 PER DAY. An additional $1,000 on top of the $1,000 we were already paying for car. Um, no thank you.
Here's what we learned after three hours, some raised voices, lots of tears, and a tip from a well-informed fellow traveler, who was actually an angel disguised as a tatted-up man in a Hawaiian shirt.
Tip: Many credit card companies provide primary coverage for rental cars. To ensure you're covered, call the number on the back of your credit card before you depart to get the details on how much coverage they'll provide. And, know that they rarely cover camper vans and other such large vehicles.
A call to Visa confirmed we were covered, and could kindly tell the car rental agent to shove his insurance...
With our crisis averted, we set off for Dominical, no longer worried that we'd have to buy the car if it received so much as a scratch.
Getting Lost in a Megasuper
As food costs in the more remote areas of Costa Rica can be shockingly high, we decided to stock up in San Jose's aptly named Megasuper grocery store. We learned a lot during that shopping trip...
Tip #1 - If you don't speak Spanish, get a good translator app or an old school English-Spanish dictionary for your shopping endeavors. I ended up getting fabric softener that was supposed to be laundry detergent, body wash that was supposed to be conditioner, and condoms that were supposed to be band-aids. Yup.
Tip #2 - Make a, "If we get separated, meet here" plan. I got lost. Like really lost. I peeled off from the group to find some Metamucil (because y'all, no one wants vacation constipation), and it took me thirty minutes to find my people. I even started yelling their names, and attracted lots of stares. As we only had one phone with minutes, I couldn't call them. My rescue beacon came when, somewhere in the store, my husband told our son he wouldn't buy him the three gallon vat of strawberry ice cream and he started wailing.
Crocodile Infested Waters
Stocked up on beer, eggs, floating toys, and other essentials, we wound our way through the mostly uninhabited Costa Rican countryside, eyes peeled for monkeys, or other brag-worthy tropical creatures.
We were committed to not stopping until we reached our initial destination of Dominical, until we drove across a bridge that had about twenty tourists leaning over the side and pointing.
Being the good tourists that we are, we joined the others and looked down. I immediately wished my baby, wiggling on my hip, was securely fastened to my chest - or better yet, back in the womb. There were at least 40 massive crocodiles lounging on the sandy river banks below. The guardrail only went up to my waist.
A local informed us that chickens (hopefully dead ones) were regularly dropped off the bridge, ensuring the crocs never migrated.
Location of the creatively named "Crocodile Bridge": You'll find this haunting/very cool (and free!) attraction on route 34, where it crosses Tarcoles River.
Arriving in the Boho Beach Town of Dominical
Driving into laid-back Dominical, passing haphazard collections of palm trees, colorful vendors, and smiling, tan, shoeless people, allowed us to finally settle into vacation mode. We bee-lined it for the beach, and caught one of the the most glorious sunsets I've ever seen - the type of sunset that makes you believe in something greater. The long, wave-soaked beach was glowing with the bright pink light weaving through wisps of crisp white clouds. And I know it's cheesy, but the sunset didn’t take my breath away, it gave me my breath back. For real.
Holistic Health Tip: If you never considered yourself a "spiritual type," the Dominical sunsets might just convert you. To fully absorb the magic energy of the moment, make sure your children aren't in eminent danger, close your eyes, soak in the serenity, and maybe even say a little prayer of gratitude to the Universe, God, Buddha, Santa Claus, or whoever/whatever it is that you resonate with.
Before continuing on to the Osa Peninsula, we spent some time enjoying Dominical. Click here to learn how to get the most out of this "chill vibes only" town, while entertaining little people who are wholly incapable of chillin'.
Click here for part two of our Costa Rican Travel Journal.