Living the Pura Vida in Costa Rica

Trip Start Sep 23, 2012
1
7
13
Trip End Oct 15, 2012


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Flag of Costa Rica  , Puntarenas,
Friday, October 5, 2012

So now we have 3 days of 'nothingness' until our next port of call, Costa Rica. I’m not intending to give a blow by blow account of what we got up to in these days as apart from writing this on our third day at sea and struggling to remember what I had for my tea last night I will present you with, if you have PRINCE II Project Management qualification, a highlight report. If, on the other hand, you don’t – think ‘Match of the Day’ - not necessarily a true reflection of how the day went (but makes good reading!!)

I can, however, although now becoming a distant memory, recall ordering Eggs Benedict for breakfast. Not ever having had this delicacy I wasn’t too sure what to expect. I do know it comes with Hollandaise sauce. When my dish was served, it was a bit thin on the sauce. I assumed it must have soaked in to the egg and muffin. I got stuck in and chomped away only for a few minutes later to be aware of a waiter standing over me.

 ‘Sau…’ he started before realising I was practically licking my plate removing the few morsels that remained. It was at that point I realised that the sauce was added separately and I had just basically eaten poached egg on muffin for my breakfast!!!

So much for catching ‘rays’ in these 3 days of nothingness. The first 2 days, despite being mid to late 70s were very humid and overcast. The sea became a bit choppy and the wind was, at times ferocious.

The ‘captains log’ can be found on a continuous loop on your cabin TV. This gives you the exact position of the vessel and the weather outlook as well as air pressure, time zones and other useful info. The weather reached a force 9 – strong gale yet, according to the TV, the sea state was only slight. I think that was a miscalculation as even the dolphins, by this stage had buggered off to calmer waters!!!

I’m surprised the doors to the decks weren’t blocked off as the ship, being relatively narrow had started reeling and the promenade decks were becoming very wet. This didn’t stop the diehards from remaining in the pool despite it replicating a wave machine at Disney’s ‘Wet n’ Wild’. I’m surprised Princess didn’t see a money making opportunity and start hiring out the restaurant trays as make shift surf boards!!

This weather continued in to the 2nd day. It was announced mid afternoon of the 2nd day at sea that we would be heading into a storm but only catching the tail end so be prepared for some rain. Sure enough, the rain came. I heard some French passengers curse.

Blimey!’ I thought. ‘I’m on a cross-channel ferry’!!’

All Roisin kept repeating was: ‘This shouldn’t be happening! This wasn’t in the script’

One thing I noticed during the rough weather. The number of sick bags wedged up between the handrail and the bulkhead near each lift. I’m still trying to work out if the severity of the weather can be calculated by the number of sick bags laid out?? Conversely perhaps the worse the weather, the fewer sick bags remain!! I have worked out that there is a weighting factor to take in to account. The nearer to a restaurant the lift, the more sick bags you’ll find (for obvious reasons). If this has been the height of my observations the past 3-days, I need to get out more (but I’ll wait for the bad weather to pass, first!!)

By late afternoon, the Force 9 – strong gale had subsided to a Force 8 – gale!! Things were on the up!! Now it is mid afternoon on the 3rd day at sea and the equilibrium has been restored. The sun has been shining all day. Temperature is in the 80s. Roisin and deck 15 have been reunited and all is well in the Kingdom of Denmark (No! Dave B it’s just a figure of speech. We’re off the coast of Nicaragua!!)

Last night we decided to eat at the restaurant known as Sabatini’s. This is badged as a gourmet style restaurant and for this reason it is a $20 per person cover charge. As it was our wedding anniversary within 30 days of departure, we received a voucher that entitled the bearer to present it to any headwaiter for a ‘festive treat’. We had witnessed these ‘festive treats’ first hand in the main restaurant and it entailed all the waiters gathering around the ‘victim(s)’ whether it be for a birthday or other occasion…and singing whilst being presented with a small cake…for the whole restaurant to witness. I had held on to this voucher like a ‘Willy Wonka ‘golden ticket winner trying to pick the right instant to cash it in. What we needed was a moment with the least spectators and to pick the waiters that seem to have a bit more decorum about them. I know - Sabatini’s! There was only a party of 8 and another table with 4 occupants. Hopefully by the point at which we get to our ‘time’, the other customers will have nearly finished. I produced the ticket and the headwaiter seemed for a slight moment to turn his nose up as if to say: ‘we don’t want any of your riff raff, singy-songy celebrations in my establishment!!’ Great!! Hopefully this will be low key. Perhaps there will be such a thing as having your cake and eating it after all!!

The meal was fabulous. I felt like one of those guest judges at a Masterchef final cook-off. The dishes just kept on coming. The only difference was that I got to scoff the lot. Our main course was a Masterchef favourite, Sea Bass cooked in a salted crust. The waiter brought the fish to our table and began to fillet it in front of our very eyes with such aplomb he could have well doubled up as the ship’s surgeon!!

After our coffee crème brûlee served in a cup (I’ve never had that before!!), the time had come. A cake was placed in the centre of our table and three of the waiters gave an Italian operatic rendition of Happy Anniversary. That over, and returning to my normal colour, we asked for it to be bagged so we could take it away.  (‘I’m stuffed’ is probably not the term you should use to the headwaiter in a swanky restaurant!!)

What happened next literally took my breath away. From the kitchen came the waiter holding aloft the cake that had been wrapped in foil but moulded into the shape of a swan; a perfect finish to a perfect meal.

The evening wasn’t over yet. After dropping our cake back at our cabin we headed for the show, Motor City. This was a song and dance review that celebrated all things great about Motown. Still buzzing from our dining experience, I didn’t even realise we’d sat in the front row.  By the time the show had started, I thought ‘What could go wrong? It’s not as if they’re comedians and will pick on anyone sitting in the front row, is it??’ This miscalculation of how the entertainments industry works almost cost me my dignity!!

During the number ‘Dancing in the Streets’ made famous by Messrs Bowie and Jagger a line says: ‘..every guy, grab a girl…’ (I can hear Helen C singing it as I write!!) At that point 2 male and 2 female dancers made their way off the stage and along the front row. ‘Shit!!’ I thought as I slumped further in to my seat as if to say ‘You can’t see me’ Normally comedians and the like sense this kind of fear but I am safe to say, on this occasion it was a false alarm. The 4 of them spread out along the front row and continued to sing and dance. The only shock I got was one of the male dancers stopped in front of me and carried on jiggling his bits. He was so close I felt I was almost being ‘lap danced’ by a bloke!!

We have arrived in Puntarenas in Costa Rica. This name literally means ‘rich coast’. The country, often referred to as the Switzerland of Central America was discovered in 1502 and named by Christopher Columbus. He certainly got around a bit. The number of cruises he got through he must have been top of the loyalty list.

Although Costa Rica is the second smallest country in Central America, It is one of the most biodiversified (not sure if that is a word!!) countries in the world not only because it is a land bridge between N and S America but because the terrain is so varied. There are 12 ‘life zones’ each with their own climate, vegetation and wildlife.

Our journey this far has taken us down the West Coast of America, to Mexico and since leaving our last port (Cabo san Lucas) we have travelled 1798 nautical miles down the coast of Central America skirting countries such as Nicaragua and El Salvador.

We are in port today from 7am to 7pm. Puntarenas is only a small village with 1 main street so there are only so many times you can walk back and forth the same street!!. For this reason we decided to book a trip to see a bit of the country as we are unlikely to return to this party of the world anytime soon.

Our excursion took us to a coffee plantation and then on to a small town called Sachi, renowned for its hand crafted and hand painted ox carts.

A local tour guide called Jonathan greeted us. He turned out to be very knowledgeable and informative. Jonathan spoke for almost the whole 90 minutes it took to travel from our ship to the coffee plantation. We learned about the social, economic, geographical and political layout of Costa Rica. He could have been talking about Costa Coffee for all I care, as it was a case of information overload!!! Someone even asked what the inflation rate was?? He wasn’t sure and as the art of bullshitting hasn’t crept in to Central America yet he sat down and actually googled the question!! (Instead of just making one up!!) How dedicated is that!!?? The actual rate is 2.6% after the first semester if anyone is interested!!

When we arrived at the coffee plantation, the 45 strong tour was split in to two groups. Our group was lead by a Steven Gerrard lookie-likie. He spoke perfect English and within the first few minutes, we had already learned that his favourite soccer team is Barcelona and his favourite player Lionel Messi!! BUT WHAT ABOUT THE COFFEE??

Oh yes, we walked around a trail that took us among the coffee plants and shown close up the cycle of a coffee pod (which normally contains 2 coffee beans!) before being led down a trail to the shed where they ‘roast their beans’ (that’s not a euphemism for anything, by the way!!). Most coffee plantations are co-operatives and have a number of partners who share the expense and the profits.

We entered the shed just as one of the employees had finished sweeping the floor and had created a neat pile at her feet.

‘And dat, amigos, eez de next shipment for Aldi’, I muttered to Roisin, just loud enough so no other could hear me, in a rather crap Spanish accent. Nobody flinched. Obviously Aldi hasn’t made the jump to the States or Canada yet. I could have said Wal-mart but as the majority of the coffee from this plantation is actually sold to Wal-Mart, I didn’t want to offend our hosts by insinuating their coffee tastes like floor sweepings!!

Only about 5% of the coffee is dark roasted, the rest is just washed, cleaned and then bagged before being shipped out. We saw the washing and cleaning process then followed ‘Stevie G’ in to a workers village where we all crammed in to this poor workers house. We were taking photos of her unmade bed while she was probably slogging her guts out in the fields totally ignorant of how many times her sleeping quarters will likely appear on Facebook or other travel blogs!!

Our guide used the kettle and filter facilities to show the group how to make the perfect cup of coffee. There is nothing like making yourself feel at home!!!

Tour over; we all had the opportunity to sample different types of coffee. I asked for a taste of the mild, medium and dark roast coffees. I then poured them in to one cup to enjoy ‘a free cup of coffee’!!

Back on the bus and within 15 minutes we had entered the small town of Sarchi.

Sarchi is a small and seemingly friendly rural village. We were here to see the world famous factory that makes oxcarts which are then decorated by talented local artists.

We stopped in the village square, although we weren’t allowed off the coach, to see the largest oxcart in the world.

The yard of the factory was a hive of activity with the artists creating patterns and decorating oxcart wheels in intricate and vivid designs. It wasn’t actually made clear who these carts were made for. We never once passed a retail shop specialising in highly decorated ox carts. Likewise, we never passed one oxcart on the roads from Puntarenas to Sarchi, highly decorated or otherwise.

There are still a lot of people in Costa Rica who the west would see as living in abject poverty. That’s because not everyone needs an I-phone or flat screen TV to survive. The people we met generally seemed happy with their lives. It wasn’t too much trouble for youngsters and their elders to wave to the bus with smiles on their faces as we passed through their villages. All have food, clothes and a roof (of some description) over their head. Costa Rica is by far the most stable economy in Central America. I had preconceptions about this tiny nation before seeing first hand what this diverse country has to offer. I am glad I didn’t title this blog: ‘If the universe had an arsehole…’ I couldn’t agree more with the Costa Rican slogan ‘Pura Vida’ – Their inhabitants certainly do lead a clean life.
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Comments

Helen C on

Thanks for the mention Chris, I'm well chuffed now- fame at last!!!! ;))

Dave on

Taking photos of young kids around our way is usually a prison sentence.

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