Costa Rica

Day 6- San Jose to Houston (3 Mar 2019)

This morning, we took the hotel shuttle bus to the airport, quickly cleared the airline queue (Thankyou A list on Southwest!), customs, security, and were immediately surrounded by gift shops. We decided to try one last time to find the coveted tostone maker. We asked the cashier at the first gift store, but she told us they didn’t have any. We then walked to the smaller store across from the first one we had been in. After asking, they walked back to the first store we had been in and showed us where they were! Success, with delicious plantains in our future we set out to a couple airport lounges for snacks and then headed home. After 5 weeks we are looking forward to getting back into our “normal” rhythm. Friends, church, and home cooked food are top of the list for things we have missed.

Day 5- Punta Islita to San Jose (2 Mar 2019)

After one last swim in our private pool with baby, we enjoyed a healthy Nicoyan breakfast at our hotel and then checked out. Goodbye Punta Islita! We decided to drive around the Nicoyan peninsula until we ran out of road. The area has been designated as one of the world’s 5 blue zones because the number of people that become centenarians is significantly higher than average in the world. For example, in the United States, one out of 50,000 people might live to be 100 years old. Here, the number is more than 1 out of 500! What’s different about this place? Well, the peninsula is known for having the worst roads in Costa Rica. Really, it’s almost all dirt roads. Since we are visiting in the dry season, they are mostly passable, but parts of the peninsula become impassible with the rains. We drove a couple hours and eventually got to one of the river crossings where they have not built a bridge yet that flows even during dry season and decided to turn around rather than risk our rental car. Up until that point, out observation was that there were basically no services. No western grocery stores, no gas stations, etc. It appears that you either have to drive a long way for anything or mostly live off the land. Apparently, testing has identified mineral rich drinking water for the residents. In addition, the plentiful exotic “organic” tropical fruits such as Guanabana are eaten consistently by the residents throughout their lives. Perhaps the combination along with other factors including life long hard work and strong social circles has resulted in the lowest cancer rate in the country and one of the longest lived peoples in the world? Perhaps.

After leaving the peninsula we headed to San Jose and poked into a huge mall in the hopes of finding a plantain smasher. After a few hours of walking we gave up our quest for the device that enables making the perfect tostone and hit the food court, where Porter insisted on eating at the Golden Arches (Aka McDonalds). The people in line here did not resemble the ones we had seen on the Nicoyan peninsula. What a contrast to the blue zone we had visited in the morning. We gave up eating the barely digestible food and headed back to our hotel for the last night of our trip.

We then dropped off our rental car and caught the shuttle back to the hotel. We had an unfortunate incident in Costa Rica a few years ago where we were delayed by the rental car return process and missed our flight as a result. Now, we find it safer to just drop off the car the night before. Again the return process took far longer than it would if it had been in the United States.

Day 4- Punta Islita (1 Mar 2019)

Today was one of those relaxing days. We never even made it to the hotel pool or beach. In our defense our villa came with a private pool. Baby loves the pool! We took a walk in the morning searching unsuccessfully for howler monkeys, saw a “wild” deer at lunch, participated in a candle making session in nearby Islita where we saw plenty of Macaw’s in the trees, and took a bug walk at night. The bug walk was the highlight! We saw many things like tarantulas, giant grasshoppers, and various species of bats, but the highlight was seeing a scorpion with babies on its back!

Day 3- Punta Islita (28 Feb 2019)

Today we celebrated 3 years of marriage. It was not our anniversary, we only get one of those every 4 years (leap year). To celebrate, we are staying at the same resort we honeymooned at! Our private villa is actually next door to the one we had on our honeymoon. We woke up to room service, and had a very nice private dinner on the beach. Sherpa shaved off his beard and then learned to play the Ukelele for the occasion and serenaded his love over dinner. It was a beautiful day. We hired a babysitter through the hotel so that we could enjoy the dinner without baby. They were very professional and took great care of her. Where did 3 years go?

Day 2- San Jose to Punta Islita (27 Feb 2019):

This morning we left San Jose and headed to our destination, Punta Islita on the Nicoyan peninsula, by far the most remote and least touristy part of Costa Rica. The drive went smoothly and we were careful about our stops since we had suitcases in the car. Theft is common. Sherpa’s brother had his rental car broken into on a recent trip to Costa Rica. We were warned while picking up the car to be careful about our stops. They even told us not to let a stranger help with a flat tire, instead call the police to help. With that in mind, we had breakfast in plain view of the car, stopped to feed baby at a place that had wonderful tropical smoothies and a security guard in the parking lot, and stopped for a coffee tour that was a safe tourist spot before checking into the hotel.

The coffee tour was very informative, we learned that the nation regulates pay for the coffee bean pickers that work on the various farms. We were told that the workers get paid $2 per basket regardless of fair trade certification, organic, etc. The country also regulates which types of coffee plant can be grown (only arabica plants are allowed). We were also told all about the growing process, it takes 2 years before a plant produces and even then it only makes 200 beans (enough for 8 cups of coffee). Needless to say, we will not be growing our own coffee plants. They then showed us how they are sorted, dried, and packaged. Basically, the bigger beans that are ripe end up in premium coffees and get professionally dried and sold to the Foreign purchasers for export. The location we visited sells to Costco in the United States. The smaller beans and ones that were not harvested fully ripe get set out in the sun and are called black honey. They told us that the lower grades get sold locally to the farmers who want the cheap coffee. We bought some of the black honey coffee to try (it wasn’t cheap for the tourists!)

Day 1- Santiago, Chile to San Jose, Costa Rica, (26 Feb 2019):

This morning we left our hotel (a Sheraton we booked with points on a card we opened for this trip, hotel would have been $300/night otherwise) and headed to the airport in Santiago frustratingly early (you have to be at least 3 hrs early). We checked ourself into another airport lounge and waited out the departure. The food options were limited in the first lounge we visited so we hit up a second one. After a 6 hour flight on Copa airlines, we landed in Panama City for a short layover. We did manage to squeeze in another airport lounge because Porter was thirsty. After downing some bottled water, we headed to our gate and departed for San Jose Costa Rica. If you have been following the whole trip, you may think we are taking an unusual route, with a layover in Aruba and an end to a South America trip in Costa Rica.

Basically, that was a travel hack to get free plane tickets. We had accumulated points on United, but not enough for direct flights to Santiago or Buenos Aires for two people from the continental US. Worse, booking for points one way and paying for the return trip would have cost more than just buying a round trip ticket due to squirrelly airline economics. We did have enough Southwest points for trips to Aruba and Costa Rica though, and we noticed that flights with United partners could be booked with fewer points from those origins than from the Continental US. So basically, we traded some South America days for tropical ones to get free plane tickets for the whole trip. Costa Rica made a lot of sense since we will be able to spend our third wedding anniversary in the same hotel we honeymooned in 3 years prior. And who can argue about a day in Aruba? We had been wanting to visit for awhile and this timing worked out great.

Speaking of travel hacks, our philosophy is not to have a free trip. We have not tried to go cheap by any means on this trip. Easter island is very expensive any way you visit. An 8 night cruise for 3 (they charge for babies!) on the newest ship in the Carnival fleet is not cheap. Staying in geodesic domes at the foot of a glacier in a remote village in Argentina is not cheap. An 8 day glamping experience in Patagonia is about 3 times the cost of a similar trip would be in Europe around the high point of France traversing 3 countries (we learned from Mark and Tom) which would not be cheap. Going back to the place we honeymooned at is not cheap! Despite traveling in Latin America, the meals we chose were almost always more expensive then we would have back home.

The point of travel hacking is not to be cheap. It’s to get you where you want to be for free so that you can enjoy the experiences you can afford while you are there.

By the time we finish, we will have taken free flights from Houston to Ft Lauderdale for a cruise, Ft Lauderdale to Aruba, squeezed in an afternoon in Panama during a planned layover to see the canal and a day in Brazil before continuing on to Buenos Aires. Then we will have returned from Santiago Chile back to San Jose Costa Rica, and from there back to Houston all for free for three people. Not too bad. We did have to pay for some of the smaller flights once down in South America for the regional carriers in remote destinations which was expected but overall we were able to redeem a lot of free flights. We also took full advantage of our priority pass which came with a credit card and visited airport lounges in every airport except Ft Lauderdale. We also redeemed hotel nights at both Hilton and Marriott for 6 free nights when in the larger cities where we were more interested in proximity to airports then the boutique experience. We could have redeemed more nights but prefer botique accomodations when possible.

Travel hacking tips:

If you are planning a large block of time off and want to save on the travel costs so you can spend more of your money on the experiences at your destinations, we suggest getting 1-2 airline cards and 1-2 hotel cards well ahead of the trip (perhaps start a year in advance) so you can spend the minimums on the cards to collect signup bonuses, and book sufficiently in advance to get the flights you want. Also, make sure one of the cards comes with lounge access.

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