In the planning of our spring break vacation this year, Costa Rica emerged as a possibility and I shot it down. We were eager to do something off the beaten path, something a little different from the warm weather destinations that have dominated our previous spring break jams – Jamaica, The Cayman Islands, the Dominican Republic. We’ve spoiled ourselves with great vacations, no doubt, but I wanted to do more adventuring. Europe? Rodney said too cold. A Colorado ski vacation? (too cold again). A last-minute trip to New Zealand or Australia felt a tad ambitious, so I opened up my phone’s AirBnb app and started to dig.
Whether it was destiny or fate, or some other powers that be (Jackson, were you guiding this?), I kept landing on Costa Rica. My mum and step dad are people whom I’d describe as “repeat offenders”, visiting Costa Rica year after year, raving about the monkeys and the night walks and the poisonous Fer-de-lance they’d encountered in the jungle. And I had heard great things about the newly-renovated Four Seasons in Papagayo. Suddenly our trip was less about dreams and more about execution: Costa Rica it would be, with a Four Seasons visit on the front end and an AirBnB chaser.
Even though I was a late adopter, I’ve become a sucker for AirBnb. I’m never the first one to try a new platform (hello Instagram, 2013!), particularly when it involves borrowing someone’s home for a few days. But after a few independent stays where I could test out the process and see whether AirBnB is all that it’s cracked up to be, I felt comfortable enough dragging our three young kids down to a rental in a foreign country….two hours from the closest airport (Liberia) and a mile up a potholed dirt road. Costa Rica, it appeared, had some pretty cool properties, including one that I found built into a mountainside, not far from Tamarindo.
I’d read of AirBnB horror stories, the families who’d arrived in faraway locations only to find their island dreams dashed with shoddy villas and construction nightmares. But one of my (unfortunate and time-consuming) skills is that I’m a die-hard researcher. So you’d best believe that I read through every one of our intended home’s 80+ reviews to make sure that the vast majority of people had enjoyed a kick a$$ experience.
Our AirBnb only covered 6 nights (another non-pro tip: find the airBnBs that are usually completely booked), so we reserved the dates that we could, and filled the remainder with the Four Seasons in Papagayo. The hype is warranted, it’s a stunning resort with lush vegetation, giant iguanas, two separate beaches, great hikes, and howler monkeys whose (song? warble? bark?) greets you every morning, like clockwork, at daybreak.
“What’s that sound?” I asked Rodney on our first morning, convinced that someone from housekeeping was attempting to re-start a broken-down golf cart on the path directly above our house. Was it a bird? A dog? A machine? At breakfast we learned of the howlers, those sneaky little creatures whom we only witnessed in the flesh two days later when a furry family of 8 crept into the tree directly in front of our pad. There, they ate, climbed, and napped until it was time for us to leave.
And in spite of the warnings heeded on social media after I posted a picture of papa bear, happily munching his way through a panoply of pink blossoms (“Buggers! Keep your room door closed and tell the kids they’re not cute – they can carry rabies and can be very aggressive!”), we remained there at the open window, bending towards our subjects, gazing at their sweetness. Howlers, we’ve learned, are the friendly ones. Shy, independent, vegetarian, not likely to come near their human friends. If you’re in Costa Rica, be wary of the white-faced variety, one of whom jumped on our window before making a Spiderman leap backwards, 10 feet to the nearest tree. “Meat eaters” we were told, very aggressive. Of the two who’d been spotted at the resort, one was missing an arm, another its tail. “Adventure”, I reminded myself. That’s what we came for.
We came for the scorpion who had to be swished out of the kids’ bedroom one morning while we were cleaning the house. We came for the enormous black butterfly who snuck into the kitchen. Rodney’s 6’6″ frame was no match for the mariposa negro who batted around the house in a terrified state. Less terrified than the family of 5 city-slickers who screamed as though a white-faced monkey was in our midst, but details, friends, details. I finally managed to safely capture and release the butterfly using Rodney’s sweater right before rolling black outs hit the region, filling the skies with bolts of white light and rumbling thunder….dictating dinner by candlelight. Adventuring! That’s how it’s done.
We can’t speak highly enough about our trip and our excursions: Surfing at Playa Avellanas, lunches at Lola’s, buying enormous ripe mangos at street side fruit stands and coming home to blend up fresh margaritas. I was blown away by the size of the avocados which were triple the size of our usual imported variety, with a softer texture and sweeter flavor.
We went for a completely inappropriate and thrilling horseback ride on Playa Brasilito, a stretch of white sand and crystalline waters with only the occasional beachgoer to interrupt our view. Emma was given a horse named “Jalapeño” which gave me some pause given that it was her first riding experience (and hello! she’s six years old, no “Jalapeño”, no gracias por favor, please give us one who’s named Moose, or Kitty, or Hermosa). Jalapeño was cool ‘n all until he started cantering with Emma gripping the saddle with both hands, shrieking that her horse was out of control. She’s now pestering us for horseback riding lessons in New Jersey, assumedly to recreate what can only be described as THE BEST adrenaline rush EVER. So there you have it, future skydiver. Base jumper. Whatever it is, I don’t want to be there to witness it.
The last AirBnB reviewer before us, a woman named “Jill” had posted “If it is possible to feel homesick for a house that you don’t own, this is it!”. And as Rodney and I sipped on chilled Imperial beers (straight up for him; Costa Rican michelada-style with salted rim, ice, and lime juice for me) and looked out across the gnarled trees (the stomping ground for more of those sweet howler monkeys), the hot pink blooms, the ever-changing cloudscape and the Costa Rican seas beyond….we had that same thought. Damn, we’ll miss this place. This country. This land that now feels like our home away from home.
Until next time Costa Rica. Pura Vida, the good life.