The motor up through the Gulf of Nicoya Islands was great. The beaches are white sand, lined with palm trees and the water is very clear. It was lovely to cruise through, but unfortunately we didn’t stop. Punta Arenas marinas are accessible only at the highest of tides, so we needed to make tracks to get there in time. Punta Arenas is not the nicest of towns, but we were hoping to get a bottom paint done, as well as leave the boat at the PA Yacht Club for a few days and travel inland. We had called ahead of time to see about hauling out, but when we finally got there they told us their winch was not in the best working order and they didn’t feel comfortable hauling out a 20 ton boat. Hmm, that would have been helpful to know on the phone. It still was the most economical place to leave our boat in all of Costa Rica, so we decided to stay and explore. We found Costa Rica to be pretty expensive, maybe we were just accustomed to Mexico and the other Central American countries, but all the other marinas in CR wanted $100 a day just for a slip. Anyway, we rented a car and spent three days in the Volcan Arenal area. This is a fantastic area, very commercial, but the rainforest is an awesome experience and worth facing the hordes of people. We hiked every trail in the national park, soaked in thermal springs and the boys tried zip lining. They traversed valleys, skirted waterfalls and skimmed over the canopy. I’m not sure if they fully appreciated all the natural beauty they were zipping past, but they sure loved the adrenalin sport of it all! This was sort of a budget buster for us, but given the lack of "things" to get the kids for their birthdays, we've promised future activities and Porter held us to this one! We also participated in a rainforest chocolate making tour, the boys are totally intrigued with making chocolate from scratch since we are in the land of the cocoa plant. Arenal Volcano is one of the 10 most active volcanos in the world, but unfortunately for us it has not had lava flowing in the last 5 years. The drive through the country side was my favorite. The highlands of the country are so lush and green and such a contrast from the coastal areas we have been visiting. The farmers make fence posts out of branches and small trees and they almost always take root and the fence post becomes a living tree, only in the rainforest would you see that (and maybe Oregon). The towns were clean and well organized and reminded us of Chile. There is a large German influence in the Lake Arenal area, but unlike other expat areas we have visited, these are expats from the 40’s and 50’s and they are fully assimilated into the culture and landscape. Swiss chalets style buildings pop up on the hillsides and everything is neat, tidy and on schedule. Just slightly different from the rest of Central America!
Later we toured the capital city of San Jose. I don’t think San Jose has the attraction other large cities have in Central America, the plazas and architecture are not outstanding, but we visited a really well done pre-Columbian museum and the kids really got into it. Maybe I have budding ethno- archeologists in the making! Porter in particular loves everything Native American, so we try to indulge his interests as much as possible. It started with arrow heads and spears, but happily has progressed to include all aspects of early Native American life.
We enjoyed our time in Costa Rica, although I don’t think having a boat gave us any special privileges, the best of Costa Rica is inland. Costa Rica is such a stark contrast to the other countries we’ve visited and it was interesting from that perspective. We’ve been teaching the kids about the history of the Spanish in California, Mexico and Central America and the conquistadors. In the 1500’s the Spanish managed to appropriate some of the Costa Rican gold from the indigenous people, but for the most part the crown left the country (at the time part of Guatemala) alone. For one reason it didn't have the amount of gold and silver some of the other countries had, so they were not as interested in the area, but the major reason was it did not have a large number of indigenous people to force into labor. The settlers needed to work the land themselves, causing them to look elsewhere. In 1821 it gained independence from Spain, as did all the Central American countries, and had a fairly non violent history from then on, again in contrast to many of it’s Central American neighbors. It has, in general, been politically stable, so much that in 1948 (or somewhere in there), they abolished the army. I don’t think communism was ever a threat here because everyone was almost level, and it was ruled as a rural democracy for a long time. Costa Rica also has retained 25% of their land in some sort of protected status. This high percentage of protected lands give it rich biodiversity and bolsters the tourism sector which the country now relies on heavily. Costa Rica also has obligatory education through high school, further distinguishing it from other Central American countries. Locals regularly asked us how we were able to keep the kids out of school for so long, as homeschooling is not an option in Costa Rica.