14 August 2012

Costa Rica: Coffee, parrots and hotels

Now that we had decided to travel to Costa Rica, it was time to work out where we were going to stay. Since this was our Coffee & Parrots Tour, I started off by looking up the coffee plantations that offered public tours, and locating them in Google Earth. Next, I searched the Internet for information about Costa Rican parrot sanctuaries and breeding programs, and locations where parrots were often seen in the wild. I plotted those locations too. Finally, I located a few random additional places that sounded interesting, like volcanoes and orchid farms.

The result suggested pretty clearly that we wanted to stay somewhere around Costa Rica’s central valley region. The coffee mostly grows on the south slopes of the mountains to the north. Parrots are found in the national parks on the coasts, but the central valley is home to both The Ara Project and Zoo Ave. The former is a breeding and release program, the latter is a zoo that started off as a sanctuary for wild birds that had been illegally kept as pets, and then expanded into rescuing and rehabilitating monkeys and other endangered wildlife.

Here’s where we eventually went, according to Google Latitude:

I’ve never been on a package vacation, but for Costa Rica I was willing to consider it. The problem, as always, was the itinerary. Package companies all seem to build their tours on the assumption that you want to pack as much as possible into the time available. As well as spending a lot of time on buses, generally you end up in a different hotel every night, meaning you have to pack and unpack every day. As the joke goes, “If it’s Tuesday, this must be Belgium”. So, we decided to look for a hotel in the central valley area. That would be our home base for the entire trip, and we would take day trips out to the places we wanted to visit.

I soon found Hotel La Rosa de America. They had excellent reviews on TripAdvisor, and a series of pages on the web listing tours they could organize. The hotel was in a suburban location west of Alajuela, with restaurants and a bank within walking distance and easy access to public transit. A pool, buffet breakfast and gourmet coffee seemed like excellent features too. I dashed off an e-mail with a few questions, and discovered that the owners were helpful and communicative. I booked us a room.

Many people only stay in the central valley on the first and last days of their vacations, heading off to one coast or another for the rest of their time in Costa Rica. As a result, central hotels are keen to try and encourage longer stays, and we ended up getting a discount when we booked for ten nights.

One thing I wish I could change about myself is that I’m a nervous traveler. I understand that there are people who can toss some clothes in a suitcase and casually head off to the airport; I am not one of those people. I need to have a map of where I’m going, printed flight details, lists of phone numbers and addresses for emergency contacts, and so on. I need a packing list I can double-check, and it needs to specify things like number of socks to take. I don’t need to know what I’ll be doing day by day, but I need to know that I’ll have what I need to do it.

Back before smartphones, I traveled around Europe with a paper printout of a travel database I built in Hypercard. Nowadays, it’s all far easier–for example, my Google Earth bookmarks automatically turn up on my phone, and I can dump the flight itinerary PDF and other online maps and information pages on Google Drive.

I managed to remain mostly panic-free, so either I’m getting better, or at least learning to cope better. The thing I don’t really understand is that once I’m actually doing the traveling, I’m fine, and not at all unbearable to be around. We can decide to drive across a mountain range to a distant town and have no idea where we’re going to be sleeping, and I’m fine with that. We can get temporarily lost, and I’m not bothered, because at that point I’m having an adventure, and that makes it all OK. In fact, my nervousness typically vanishes as soon as I get on the first plane.

Before the plane, though, there was the Security Theater performance. I opted out of the useless pornoscanner, and had to wait while they found someone to give me an ‘enhanced’ screening. Most of the time required for the screening itself was taken up by the TSA operative explaining to me in detail exactly what he was going to do, and getting confirmation that I was OK with him doing it, which I was. Maybe I’m weird, but it’s radiation and cameras that I object to; if the TSA wanted to see my cock, I’d be quite willing to get it out and show them, so long as they didn’t plan to photograph it or shower it with X-rays. Is it just me?

Before long, though, we were on the plane. My stomach quietly unclenched itself and said “Hey, you haven’t eaten much in the last few days—feed me!” I told it to shut up.

We switched plane at Houston. I had allowed over 2 hours for delay, so we had some lunch, then sat around reading books and drinking coffee. Every now and again a recorded voice would recite a lengthy security warning starting with “To ensure transportation safety, certain actions have been taken…” It sounded just like one of the announcement voices in “THX–1138”. It felt like there should have been an announcement that consumption was being standardized.

The journey went according to plan, however. A few hours later we were in Costa Rica.

© mathew 2017