First international family vacation was a great success in that we eventually made it home and everyone is accounted for. It wasn’t looking good for a while there but I am happy to report that we are back on US soil and staying put for a bit while we regain courage and/or stupidity to take the next trip.
People ask if I would recommend Costa Rica for families with kids and I would, IF the kids are a little older- say 7 or 8. Our 4.5 year old loved the nature, and I’ve never seen her so brave as she was on this trip. She touched every animal she could find, was excited to see the very creatures she had been learning about in her books, and even made huge leaps in swimming with dad at the pool. Yaaay! Our 2.5 year old on the other hand said repeatedly on the trip, “I wanna go home.” Granted his personality by nature is more timid and shy than our daughter, but he really didn’t care for much on this trip. He became severely over-heated and dehydrated mid-way through and refused to walk anywhere, puked in nearly every hotel room we stayed in and at a restaurant, and fell on nearly every tiled surface there was (that’s a lot). Basically the only time he had fun was in the pool and I’m pretty sure his inhaling and drinking dirty pool water was adding to his GI problems, so that was a bit of a catch 22. It was very difficult for the little ones to actually spy monkeys and sloths and birds as the trees in the jungle and rainforest were up to 200 feet tall and getting a 2 year old to look through binoculars was as frustrating as driving in Costa Rica.
Still, we had many good times and we drank a lot alcohol after the kids went to sleep. Upon arriving we headed north 3 hours to our rainforest eco-lodge where we stayed for the next 4 days. The cabins were beautifully designed and private and the lodge was set on several acres of land which we were free to explore day and night. The pool was large and very cold but so refreshing as the humidity there hits you in the face like a wet sock the moment you step outside. Before leaving central Costa Rica we headed into town to pick up our rental car and spent a rainy day at a local hot springs. There were several pools to choose from and it was the perfect way to spend a stormy day. One great thing about heading there at the beginning of the rainy season was there were really no tourist crowds to fight, we often felt like we had places all to ourselves.
From the rainforest we headed to Manuel Antonio National Park, and this is where shit started to go south literally and figuratively. The hotel we stayed at was nice enough and at first I really liked that our room was sort of tucked away from the rest of the rooms as there was no room above us, just a sloped tin roof. That night, a large storm came through and as I lay awake listening to thunder and the rain pattering on the tin roof, I began to hear the sound of NAILS SCRATCHING AT THE WINDOWS and WRETCHED SQUEALING. Monkeys, probably just monkeys, were in a jungle for fucks sake and I saw monkeys by the pool so its probably just monkeys? It became so awful, the scratching and squealing, that it literally sounded as though rodents were crawling through every wall, all around and above my bed. I even went so far as to run out side with a headlamp to “catch” sight of the adorable monkeys (fingers crossed) on the roof but the roof was empty. It was then that I realized that there was dead space between our ceiling and the sloped tin roof and it wasn’t monkeys making noise up there but likely a family of rats (maybe agoutis which are a giant Costa Rican rat like rodent) or maybe iguanas- though I’m not 100% convinced of that due to the squeaking and squealing I heard during the storm. After my fitful night of sleep I was awoke by my 2 year old on top of me writhing in pain while he shouted, “Hold me! Hold me!!!” which I later learned was code for “I’m going to throw up all over you in approximately 20 seconds”. Good morning day 5 of trip, hello puke all over me and our bedding! This was our one day to hit the national park but due to little dude having a fever and puking, we weren’t going anywhere. So I sat in a darkened hotel room listening to rats in the attic space watching my little guy rest while my hubby and daughter played at the pool.
The following day his fever had broke and he puked just once so we pushed forward to the park. This place was amazing and huge and they only let a limited amount of people in daily, unfortunately we had just about 3 hours to see it as we had to be out of our hotel room so some other poor family could listen to rats scratch at the ceiling. I carried our son on my back and when our daughter was tired, my husband carried her through the winding trails as we spotted monkeys, sloths, iguanas, butterflies, birds, and raccoons before finally popping out to one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen. Postcard perfect, we undressed and jumped in the ocean for approximately 15 minutes before loading our over heated/overwhelmed kids onto our backs and rushing to hike back out of the park. I felt just like Ellen Griswold as she and Clark stared out to ever wondrous Grand Canyon for all of 10 seconds before having to load back up in the car for Wally World.
We packed up our pukey clothes and wet bathing suits and headed north along the coast to Jaco where we were met by a security guard who stood like Gandalf at the gates, “YOU SHALL NOT PASS”! He stated he did not have a reservation for us and therefore could not allow us (family of unassuming white people with two small sleeping children in the car) into the complex. We had that frantic moment that we had been duped and paid someone 600$ for a VRBO that didn’t actually exist. After 40 minutes of trying to reach both the home owner and property manager we finally got through and was told unfortunately due to an emergency the room wasn’t ready and we’d need to stall for about 4 hours. Again, small child in car napping who’s been on the verge of death for 2 days- insert eye roll and sigh. The manager was very apologetic and so nice and I can’t shit on her for having a bad day, so my husband sat in the rental car with our sleeping son while my daughter and I headed to the pool to practice her new swimming skills.
Soon we realized that Jaco is a beach town with a lively night life full of ex-pats and prostitutes and wanna-be So Cal taco shops and craft breweries. The beach was large and wide but was littered and it seemed more like a beach town young locals visit for a party weekend and less family with small kids in tow kind of place. Still it was a good home base for exploring around, there was another national park we hiked (carried small people) through and there were lots of different options for food, grocery stores, and my hubby finally got to do a little surfing.
Finally it was time to leave, I tossed out my toothbrush and packed all our dirty clothes into a garbage bag, some of it still smelling of puke or Fabuloso laundry detergent covering the scent of puke. We had a chill morning at the pool, went out for coffee and a bagel and left around 1 pm. Just as we were leaving I got an email from the property manager of our condo stating she had seen on the news that morning that there was a storm expected in San Jose as well as road construction on the way to the airport and we really should leave much sooner than 1pm. At this point it was too late, the shit show was already in motion and just like that a 1.5 hour drive turned into 3 hours. Molasses moving traffic, construction, a thunder storm like one I’ve never experienced that brought vehicles to a complete halt, and a wrong turn later we finally were sitting in the rental car shuttle heading to the airport just as our plane was boarding. When we finally arrived at the airport there was no one at the ticket counter to help us as they were already at the gate loading the one flight a day back to LA. The next flight our on our airline was 2 days away!!! We shopped around but it was more affordable to pay for a hotel and change our existing flight than to buy all new airfare home. We’ve never missed a plane in our lives let alone an international flight with a 2 and 4 year old. We had about 6 diapers left and half a pack of wipes and one sort of clean outfit left as we checked into the airport Hampton Inn. The staff was ever so lovely in accommodating us and they offered a great, varied free breakfast which we ate and stuffed our pockets with non perishables to eat later in our room. The next day we hired a taxi to take us to an animal rescue center where the kids actually could see animals up close and personal, and we hit up a Walmart to get some microwavable meals and more booze. We were going to need it. Unfortunatlely we were just stuck, there was no where to walk to as the airport is sort of off on its own and the securtity guards posted at every corner of the parking lot didn’t give you the sense that we were in a great location.
Eventually our flight day arrived and we showed up to the airport a full 2 hours in advance only to find out that going through security and immigration was a joke, it took all of maybe 5 minutes. None of those pesky x-ray machines or taking off your shoes, no one checked our backpack or my hands for bomb juice, just good ol’ fashioned 1990’s style airport security. The airport was tiny and we were at our gate within 15 minutes of arriving. We walked around and window shopped at Duty Free until our plane boarded. It was just half-full and we had rows to ourselves for our 6 hour flight home. We still had an hour long customs/immigration journey to get through upon arriving in LAX and a 2 hour drive back home to San Diego. It was the longest trip, the hardest trip, and so far the most memorable trip with the best people.