[Sorry this has taken me so long - I've finally given up on trying to edit all of the pictures & video before I get this out, so for those of you who care, consider this a preview of the pictures/video that will show up on our picture site soon and of the upcoming, highly exciting DVD release, and for those of you who don't care, these should be enough. I'm sure Karin will also jump in at some point and fill in the details.]
Russ & Kari & kids (Russ is one of Karin's older brothers) have been in Costa Rica for well over two years now and are set to head back to the USA this summer, so we knew our window to visit them was closing quickly. We wanted to visit not just because it was a relatively cheap way to visit another country but also to spend some quality time with them and to be able to share at least a tiny piece of their experience there. I didn't have any real expectations going in, since Costa Rica hadn't been on my vacation roadmap for very long, but looking back on it a few weeks later, I'd have to say that it was one of the best trips we've ever taken.
I took Spanish a long, long time ago - almost 20 years ago I guess. When we took a trip to Barcelona about 4 years ago, I thought I'd brush up on my Spanish a little, but within an hour of arriving, someone stole my Spanish book. I pretty much gave up again after that, which I regretted slightly when we found ourselves standing outside the airport in Costa Rica on a Friday evening about three weeks ago, unable to tell the guy lugging our baggage that someone was coming to pick us up. Fortunately, Russ showed up shortly after we walked out, so we didn't have to play charades for too long.
The next morning, we headed out to do the one thing we had expected to do, which was a zip-line canopy tour (Kari was nice enough to watch Matthew while we were gone). Karin normally does much better with heights than I do, but actually the most uncomfortable part of the experience for me was the harness, which temporarily raised my voice an octave or so. The guys running this were pretty careful (you were attached to something pretty much all the time, although who knows what those "somethings" were attached to), and I spent most of my time just enjoying the view and wondering how they built these platforms that high up. My favorite part of the whole experience (and, counter-intuitively, the part that got the biggest reaction out of Karin) was the "Tarzan swing."
Sunday morning brought our first experience attending church in Spanish, which I suppose is how a lot of people in the Church actually worship. The most surprising thing to me was that - really except for the language difference - it was a lot like my experience growing up in a small branch, right down to a speaker from another ward not showing up and the branch president having to wing it. Knowing a bit firsthand how rewarding and challenging that can be, I walked away really impressed with how much Russ & Kari seem to have gotten out of being in that branch and given back despite the fact that they've had to learn Spanish along the way.
The next day Kari drove us up to Sarchi, a little town full of stores selling wood handicrafts. This was basically our one shopping day on the trip, so we picked up as much as we thought we could carry back (and actually a little more). Mostly we picked up serving dishes, which we've already used quite a bit since we've been back, but the "big" thing we picked up was a little rocking chair for Matthew, which actually didn't cost much more than a bowl for some reason.
[Matthew hanging on a traditional wagon in Sarchi]
[MJ on his chair back in Arizona]
On Tuesday, Kari again volunteered for babysitting duty, and Karin and I headed out early in the morning for an all-day bus tour. After a lengthy drive around the city picking up various fellow gringos (one of whom, when she had to walk to the back of the bus, made a quip about being like Rosa Parks ), we headed up to a nearby coffee plantation for breakfast and a tour. As a non-coffee drinker, I hadn't thought too much before about how coffee is made, but it was actually pretty interesting. Among the things I didn't know were that 90% of the coffee produced in Costa Rica goes to Starbucks, that coffee beans are actually sort of white before they are roasted, and that most of the workers on the coffee plantations there are actually illegal immigrants from Nicaragua (which prompted "Rosa Parks" to grill our poor tour guide about wages and immigration policy and to offer to send over California's illegal Mexican immigrants, an idea which must have really resonated with the Mexican in our group). Karin Here: I was very embarrassed by the North Americans on our tour. Most of them made stupid narrow minded comments. Please don't be a North American idiot if you travel out of the country.
One of the things that surprised me most about Costa Rica was how mountainous the country is. I'm sure I thought there would be a lot of hills, but on every side there were mountains in every sense of the word. From the coffee plantation, we took a narrow, winding road up the side of a volcano (with some amazing views of San Jose along the way) to a visitor's center near the summit and then hiked up the rest of the way. I had seen pictures from this (active) volcano from Russ & Kari, but I think I assumed the peak in the background hidden behind clouds was the volcano. Apparently, there are almost always clouds covering the crater, and we lucked out with an amazing view of the whole thing.
From there, we headed down the volcano and up another mountain to the La Paz Waterfall Gardens. Before hiking down to the waterfalls one would expect at a waterfall garden, we had lunch after walking through a small "zoo," which included, among other things, an actual butterfly pavilion (which turned out to be more interesting than Brian Regan suggested). The waterfalls themselves were well worth the hike, which would have been much tougher had we had to walk back up all of those stairs (the bus met us at the bottom).
[You could watch butterflies come out of their cocoons, and some of the cocoons looked like gold (see the ones at the top)]
The final item on the bus tour agenda was to be a riverboat trip through the rainforest to see crocodiles & stuff like that, but we didn't quite make it. Most of the roads we saw in Costa Rica were single-lane in each direction (except for even narrower one-lane bridges, with really no shoulder, and the road down to the river took us right next to some really steep valleys. At some point along the way, we found ourselves in a long back-up, and it turned out that a truck had overturned ahead and wouldn't be cleaned up for a few hours. Fortunately, as it was already late in the day, the tour people decided to turn the bus around and head home, which was no small feat given that they had to basically back the bus into someone driveway/yard to make that happen. Even this part of the trip wasn't wasted, because the area along that road was one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen (Karin didn't look quite as much, because somehow she thought the small wire-and-stick fence separating us from the drop-off wouldn't be enough to stop a moving bus full of people). Karin: I was so impressed by our tour guides. They were all Costa Rican and had great English. I asked one tour guide how he learned English and he said by being the tour guide. He was probably in his 20's and said that 2 years earlier when he started that job he didn't know any English. He said he just asks questions when he doesn't know what something means. That is amazing to me!!
[Taken through the window of our bus]
The rest of the trip was much more relaxed, as we headed off to a condo in a beach town called Jaco (said Haco), and we ended up seeing our crocodiles from a bridge along the way. Once we got there, we actually just spent a lot of time relaxing at the pool, and one day we ventured out to a really nice beach at a national park called Manuel Antonio (which I think is a great name for a national park - it would be like having a David Johnson National Park here, but we'll probably skip that step and have corporate sponsors - Cox Cable National Park, something like that). This was Matthew first trip to play at the beach (we walked on the beach in San Diego, but it was too cold to go in), and this one had the added bonus of raccoons and monkeys trying to steal your food. Karin: I really don't like finding Sand in mysterious places after visiting the beach but it was the most amazing beach. Totally beautiful and the water was sooooo nice! Matthew loved playing with two buckets. I would fill them up with water and then he would dip the sand tools in them and dump them out. We also walked the whole length of the beach and back.
[Morning at the beach next to our condo]
Our last Sunday was pretty quiet, although one of the more interesting experiences for me was sitting in that Sacrament meeting (Fast Sunday) and hearing gasps from people who hadn't heard yet that President Hinckley had passed away. I suppose regardless of where you lived, it wouldn't have been too hard to miss the news amid all the Heath Ledger coverage, but it hadn't really struck me until then that some people hadn't heard, especially that far from the Utah media and Utah relatives. It was one of those moments where I was reminded that we, even as visitors surrounded by strangers with whom we really couldn't communicate, shared the same prophet and the same faith. Karin: Even though I couldn't understand what the members were saying I could still feel the spirit. I really realised there how blessed I am with monetary things in my life and how blessed those members are with the gospel in their lives. I think sometimes Jordan and I take our middle class lives with the gospel for granted and don't appreciate it as much as we should.
We flew back the next morning (relatively easy - a straight flight to Phoenix, and Matthew had his own seat), and this was definitely one of those vacations it was sad to see end (sometimes at the end of a vacation you're just ready to get home). We spent some quality time seeing a beautiful country, and we got a lot of quality time with Russ & Kari & kids. We definitely appreciate them putting up with us - driving us around, watching Matthew (Kari and Kelsey - Kelsey was great with him), giving up rooms, and sharing toys (Dylan).