Subject: Costa Rica, Part III
And finally the last part....

Ruth Marie Colorado

Wednesday, April 4, 2001 - Corcovado Tent Lodge When I woke at 4:00 a.m. I knew I'd never get back to sleep and besides we were having breakfast at 5:30 so we could begin our hike at 6:00. It was already warm in the tent so I moved to the little porch where it was cooler and listened to the crashing waves of the Pacific. The stars were still bright and the Southern Cross was visible. For me this was a time of introspection, a time to again re-visit all the places we had seen, the things we had done and the people we had met.... I am at my best in the early morning hours.

Our final hike as a group with Charlie began promptly at 6:00. First, along the beach until we reached the ranger station of the Corcovado National Park. After signing the register we picked up the trail in the forest running parallel to the beach. The promise Charlie made was easily kept. The trail wasn't bad except in a few places. It took us about 90 minutes to reach the Rio Madrigal with stops for sightings of birds, plants, insects and anything else interesting along the way, such as the rusted remains of some gold mining equipment. Charlie said that gold is still found in this area but not in great quantities. According to him, throughout history the goldminers were pretty disreputable characters.

It was incredibly cool along the river which flowed to the sea. Irene, Arnold, Jim and Charlie went for a swim while the rest of us enjoyed the shade and breeze. I was very happy just sitting and watching the world go by. It turned into another time of contemplation. Leaving this beautiful country was going to be very difficult for me. That much I was beginning to realize; so I needed to begin dealing with my thoughts and feelings. Quiet times such as this would help.

After an hour's rest, our fearless leader emerged from the water along with the other swimmers, and we began our trek back to camp. It was amazing how much more intense the heat had become in the forest! And the ending walk along the beach took a bit longer as well. As we climbed the bluff back up to our tent, Jim and I agreed that cold showers were the next item on the agenda.

During lunch Charlie announced one more hike at 4:00 - up the trail toward the platform one more time. Jim readily agreed and I readily said, been there, done that. It turned out that Ann and Arnold also decided to go, but the rest of us were content to be lazy for the afternoon. I spent a great deal of the time writing in my journal and watching an elaenia building a nest. She used lots of kapok fibers to line her little home.

By the time the hiking group returned the rest of us were at the Hammock House watching the birds in the trees nearby and having drinks. As it began to get dark most of the group dispersed but Jim and Charlie were talking about star gazing. So Charlie went to his tent and gathered up the spotting scope and a book on the heavens. He set up on the lawn in front of the dining area, and along with Mary and Jack we looked at the heavens until dinner time. It was amazing to see Jupiter and four of its moons as well as Saturn with its rings in a different aspect than we see it from our latitude. The moon was almost full so it was quite nice to view as well.

After dinner we settled our bar bill, had a chat with Erick, the manager, who had been most accommodating when Charlie asked for early breakfasts, and then went to take one more cold shower before the generator shut down and the lights in the bathhouse went off.

Thursday, April 5, 2001 - Xandari Plantation ( Breakfast at 6:00, bags turned over to the cart driver as we started the walk out at 7:15. It was a bit easier than walking in around noon as we did 3 days ago. It took me a little less than an hour (which was good for me) and I walked most of it alone in contemplation. I knew that I would never return to Corcovado and I needed to savor the fact that I had confronted several of my fears and overcome them.

We waited for the planes under the trees by a little general store drinking cold Fantas and making small talk. All of us realize that we are coming to the end of a fantastic trip and none of us want to think about it. It will be difficult to say good-by to each other.

Our flight was pretty smooth till we reached the mountains around San Jose. Due to the wind currents and the mountains we had another roller coaster ride right to the landing. The pilot managed to put us down pretty smoothly and there was reliable Luis waiting for us with our excess luggage in the back of the bus.

Have you noticed that I have not mentioned shopping even once? That's because we were far too busy doing other more important things and because we were not really a shopping group. But we did need to get some presents to take back to friends and relatives. So the time was now. Luis headed the bus to Sarchi, one of the towns where handicrafts are for sale. Sarchi is such an artisan center that even the trash cans and bus stops are decorated with colorful paintings. The most famous product is the painted oxcart but we managed to resist buying one. Charlie took us to a local restaurant which was part of a shopping complex. We ordered our meals and then went away for an hour to shop while the food was being prepared (good plan, yes!). After lunch, we took about 30 minutes more for those who needed it and then we headed back toward San Jose stopping in the suburb of Alajuela for our last 2 nights in Costa Rica.

Alajuela was the home of Juan Santamaria, the country's national hero and for whom the airport is named (more on Juan later). Alajuela was also the home of Xandari Plantation, our final destination and what a destination it was! We had truly fallen into the lap of luxury! One of the group referred to it as 180 degrees from Corcovado. They were completely different, that's a fact! The hotel is located on a coffee plantation and belongs to an American couple. He is an architect and she is a graphic artist. They split their time between Xandari and California. Each villa is slightly different although each has a large bedroom, a sitting area, a small food preparation corner, a wonderfully spacious bathroom with large walk-in shower and a delightful veranda complete with palapa. The villas are strung out on a hilltop on either side of the reception and dining room. The view is toward the central valley which is surrounded by mountains. Watching the sun set and the lights of the city come up was enchanting!

Since we had been living in each other's back pockets for almost two weeks, I suggested that each couple have dinner on their own. No one disagreed. The meal was quite different to the ones we'd been having but as far as I'm concerned the high point of dinner was dessert - tiramisu for me, chocolate fondant with raspberry sauce for Jim.

Friday, April 6, 2001 - Xandari Plantation The central valley was so beautiful at night that we left our curtains open. Awaking early, I slipped on my robe and, so as not to wake Jim, quietly made my way to the veranda to watch the sun rise and listen to the birds serenading. I'm feeling very nostalgic and it is going to be very hard to leave tomorrow.

We went to breakfast at 7:00 - a nice buffet. Charlie and Luis were to arrive at 8:30 to begin our city tour, but they were there by 7:30 so we had them pull up chairs and join us along with Mary and Jack.

By 8:45 we were on our way into San Jose. Luis carefully maneuvered that huge bus through the morning traffic taking us right down town to the National Theater which is a source of pride for Ticos. Inaugurated in 1897, the building was paid for by coffee growers through a voluntary tax on every bag of coffee exported. The reason? A famous European opera star who was appearing in Guatemala had refused to perform in Costa Rica for lack of an adequate theater. National honor in this case resulted in a work of art. The theater is built in the European manner with lots of marble, gold leaf and trompe d'oeil. The marble had to be imported from Italy but all the beautiful exotic wood in the building was local. There are murals on the ceilings and a smoking room which was used by gentlemen during intermissions. Charlie told us about his grandfather, a musician, who had come from Spain. He played many times at the National Theater as well as for silent movies when they came into vogue. He also was an impresario and brought other musical groups to the theater. His financial demise came when he agreed to fund an opera which would star a local tenor who had made good internationally. Unfortunately, high living and loose women had taken their toll on the tenor who could not perform on opening night. He had lost his voice in the process which meant that Charlie's grandfather lost his fortune.

Although the major portion of the Gold Museum was closed, what we saw was very impressive. The Jade Museum was definitely closed so we made our way to the National Museum which was a real treat! Housed in a nineteenth-century building converted from a military fortress after the army was abolished in 1948, the museum is small but rich. An exhibit on the modern history of Costa Rica joins pre-Columbian art, natural history and religious art. Even though the indigenous people of Costa Rica have not been studied in depth, they produced some excellent art work in the form of flying panel metates along with pottery, gold and wooden artifacts. Even the medal for the Nobel Peace Prize won by their president in 1978 is displayed.

Leaving the National Museum we headed for lunch. I was sitting in the single seat on the right side of the bus right where the door was. As we rounded the corner of the next street, Luis slowed down and opened the bus door. Very strange, I thought, why is Luis opening the door? but the very next moment a young man hopped on board, turned to me and said, Ruth Marie? Just about blew me away! It was none other than Marco Madrigal who had been my correspondent for the past 18 months while this trip was being planned. Tall, slim and personable, he jumped right into a conversation asking how the trip had been, if it had met our expectations, were we pleased with our accommodations at Xandari, etc. He was just as nice in person as he had been during our exchange of e-mail. As we got off the bus at the restaurant, I introduced him to each couple so he finally had faces to put with the names on his list.

The menu was extensive and based on past experience I knew that the portions would be generous. So I declined an appetizer and had Charlie help me decide on a main course which he also had to help me eat because it was even larger than usual. Since he had only ordered ceviche, I was able to put at least half of the beef, plantains, gallo pinto and tortillas on his plate with no trouble at all. The food was delicious - there was just too much of it!

The restaurant was in a courtyard surrounded by little shops so we spent about 30 minutes after lunch for people to make a few last-minute purchases. Marco left to go back to work but before he did, Jim and I told him he was welcome in our home in Colorado any time he might decide to visit. We made the same offer to Charlie who told us he was visiting friends in Minnesota later this spring. We welcome the opportunity to extend the hand of friendship to those who have helped us so much in their country.

Charlie's last act as mother hen was to determine from the CRE office who was picking each of us up at departure and at what time we needed to be ready. So each of us knew what was happening to us tomorrow.

The time had arrived to return to Xandari and tell Charlie and Luis goodby. Jack made a group photo with his digital camera and promised to send it to all of us. There were good-by hugs all around and then Charlie and Luis walked back to the bus and out of our lives just as they had walked into our lives almost 2 weeks ago... And our lives are much richer for having spent that time with them stretching our brains, testing our stamina, learning new information, tasting new foods, hearing different views on ecology and the political situation in Latin America. It was a bittersweet moment to watch them leave....

There had been no time to walk the trails at Xandari yet, so even though it was 4:00 p.m., Jim and I decided we needed to try to get to at least one of the waterfalls before night fall. I did not take my hiking staff which was a mistake, but I managed anyway with Jim to help me. We ran into Mary along the way so we joined forces and saw waterfalls 1, 2, 3, and 4 before the sun began to slip down behind the mountain. The trails at Xandari are, for the most part, very well groomed. Only waterfall 5 eluded us.... we just ran out of light! The sunset that night was the most spectacular we had during the entire vacation so I have taken that as an omen we will return. In fact, as we walked, Mary indicated that if we did plan another trip, she and Jack would like to be on our list of participants. We are planning another trip and they are on the list. We just have to save the money and earn the leave time from work in order to return.

All eight of us had dinner together, each of us taking a turn to say what we had enjoyed the most. There were lots of votes for Tortugero and the Savegre Valley but all in all we were glad that we did everything that was on our itinerary.

Mary and Jack leave very early in the morning. Ann, Charles, Jim and I leave around midday. Irene and Arnold are the lucky ones. They have an extra day because MartinAir does not fly every day of the week from Costa Rica to England. So we bade the Dodges good-by after dinner with promises of getting together in the US before we return to Costa Rica. The lights of the central valley continued to sparkle this evening just as before but perhaps a bit more poignantly......

Saturday, April 7, 2001 - Home Tried to get the major part of the packing done before we met Irene and Arnold for breakfast. It will be a long time before we see them again and we still needed a bit of time together. We spent from 8:30 till 10:00 eating a leisurely meal.

When Jim and I returned to the villa to close the suitcases in order to be ready for our 11:20 pickup, we had a phone call from our transfer guide Aron telling us that he would be there to take us and the Bradfords to the airport at 11:20 and asking that we be sure to have our tickets, passports and money for the required exit stamps easily accessible. I assured him we would be waiting with all in order.

At 11:10 we walked to the pickup point. Ann and Charles were there as well as Irene and Arnold to bid us good-by one last time. 11:30 came and went and then 11:45 and no Aron. It was rather strange because this was the first time in 2 weeks that CRE personnel had not been on time. After having been in the local traffic a number of times with Luis, I was concerned that there might have been an accident. I went up to the reception and asked the young lady to call CRE. After several minutes and some checking, we found that Aron and the driver were in festival traffic in Alejuela. They were hoping to reach us by noon. They actually arrived at 12:15. We threw our luggage onto the bus and jumped on. Aron was great! The first thing he did was ask to see our passports, tickets and exit stamp money. When he was satisfied that we were prepared he proceeded to tell us what had happened.

There is a Saturday market in Alejuela and they thought they had allowed enough time to deal with the traffic for the market; however, they had not realized that Alejuela would also be celebrating Juan Santamaria Day on Saturday. The actual day is April 11 but that falls in the middle of the week this year so the celebration was taking place today. On top of that it was the beginning of Holy Week and more people were leaving the city for vacations.

So, just who was this Juan Santamaria fellow anyway? Back in 1856 there was a war that had an impact on Costa Rica. A US adventurer, William Walker, who had gained control of the armed forces of Nicaragua and who dreamed of controlling all of Central America, invaded Costa Rica. The strong national identity that had been forged during the colonial period of isolation brought volunteers from around the country to defend the nation. In a battle that lasted only a few minutes, the well-armed invading force was routed at Hacienda Santa Rosa in Guanacaste. The army pursued Walker's forces into Nicaragua, where a second battle occurred. In the fighting at Rivas, a brave young campesino from Alajuela named Juan Santamaria volunteered to set fire to the Walker stronghold, losing his life in the act. He became the national hero for his part in this crucial battle. Walker's dream ended in 1860 before a firing squad in Honduras. So much for dreams of grandeur!

The traffic seemed to be lightening or else the driver was finding ways around it. Aron continued to do a good job of distracting us by asking us where we had been on our journey and what we had liked the most. He had his paperwork so I didn't think to reiterate that our airline was Delta. We pulled into the airport, jumped out of the bus, threw the luggage on a trolley and purchased our exit stamps in quick order. Following Aron we raced into the terminal. I was looking all over for the Delta desk and did not see one! So I remarked to Aron that I did not see Delta which caused him to recheck his papers. Out we went, back to the bus and a quick drive got us to the proper place. Finally we were standing before the immigration official who took our exit papers, checked our passports, and very cordially bade us good by. The line was rather long and now we had 40 minutes till take off. Somehow Aron managed to get us into the business class line for check in and it was accomplished in a matter of about 5 minutes. We bade him good by, passing through security with about 30 minutes to spare. Actually I really didn't relish sitting in that waiting room any longer than that so our wild ride to the airport worked out just fine. CRE came through again, although a little breathless this time.

I even had time to purchase a bottle of Costa Rican rum to take home. While walking out to board the plane, nostalgia overtook me. Of all the traveling we have done this has been one of our best trips. Most of the time we travel on our own: this time I'm glad we decided to have CRE help us, and we will use then again when we return. In fact, Charlie and Marco are already conspiring on our next itinerary.