October 2009 Road Trip: Part 1

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Flag of Costa Rica  , Alajuela,
Monday, October 5, 2009

For years I have heard friends and tourists rave about this great lodge near the Rio Celeste, so I decided to finally check it out and plan to take my first road trip with my 4 year old son.  I selected three destinations for our 6 day adventure with the main criteria being a place with low rainfall during October, and (mainly) paved roads.  We left mid morning on Monday and made our first stop in Liberia.  My son wanted to go to McDonald's (OK, so did I) and I wanted to stock up on some snacks and drinks for the week.  As soon as we left Liberia it started POURING!  Since we have unseasonably had hardly any rain yet this year in Playa Grande it has been awhile since I had driven during a downpour.  Luckily, it only took a little less than 2 hours from Liberia and the road was well paved except for the last 5 miles which was a bumpy gravel road, but very passable.

We arrived around 4pm to tranquil La Carolina Lodge.  This rustic retreat is comprised of typical wood style farm homes and cabins and operates almost completely electricity-free.  Aside from two night lights in our cabin and a working outlet to charge my cell phone, all light was provided by candle or fire.  We had rented a private cabin just behind the main house that featured one of the biggest bathrooms I have ever seen.  The beds and linens were much nicer than I expected and we settled down early the first night to the crackle of the roaring fire. 

All of your meals are included in the room rate, as you are not really close to any type of restaurant or market, and are served family style.  Since we were the only guests during our two nights here, we ate when we wanted.  The food was really good and featured typcial casados (rice, beans, salad plus protein) for dinner and gallo pinto with eggs, cheese, bread & fruit for breakfast.  The first night our main course was beef in red sauce, followed by trilapa for lunch and then BBQ rip tips for dinner.  I was really surprised at the quality and quantity of food served here.  I have been to similar lodges that include your meals and have often walked away hungry with no where to buy a snack.  The ladies who cooked the meals were very friendly and very accommodating and did an awesome job preparing all of our food on a single wood burning stove.

We awoke early the first morning (having gone to bed at 7:30!) and ate our hearty breakfast.  As we were the only guests and it was a clear, sunny morning our guide Alejandro suggested that we leave early for our guided hike into Tenorio National Park.  We drove about 20 minutes over the bumpy, gravel road to the entrance to the park.  The entrance fee is $10 per person.  We followed the well marked trail and set off for our 3 hour hike.

We saw an amazing array of flora and fauna as we began our adventure and Alejandro was happy to share his knowledge of the plant and animal life that exists within the park.  He explained that the park includes both primary and secondary cloud and rain forests in which these exotic species co-exist.  Our favorites were the citronella plant, the wallking tree, a white faced monkey  and the bright orange millipedes.  About 40 minutes in we began our descent towards the spectacular waterfall at the Rio Celeste.  Named for the brilliant blue color of the water ("celeste" means sky blue in Spanish), I was impressed with the beauty of the river, although Alejandro informed me that the water was quite 'dull' due to the recent rains which dilute the water.

After a steep decline, that is made easier with the insertion of cement blocks along the way, we were able to feel the spray in our face.  It is a breath-taking view, but I have to admit that I was dreading the climb back up.  I was hoping we would continue our trek along another route after viewing the waterfall, but common sense told me otherwise.  Shockingly, both myself & my 4 year old made it back up, but I could barely walk for the next 4 days!

We next headed towards the Mirador (look out point) where on a clear day you can see the three cones: Tenorio, Montezuma & Carmela.  From this point we continued on until the Blue Lagoon, which like the Rio Celeste gets its color from the huge amount of minerals in the water that combine to make this color.  After the lagoon, we crossed a series of hanging bridges that lead us down to the thermal waters.

The natural thermal waters we visited were a small pool that had been blocked off by river rocks.  The water in the pool is scalding hot, but there is a stream of water from the icy cold river that runs through it.  Once you find the perfect balance between these two water sources, you won't ever want to leave.  We hung out for about 20 minutes, ate a quick snack and then retraced our steps back to the entrance.  The overall hike lasted 4 hours, which is longer than normal, probably due to the pace of my son, but it could have been all the breaks I took trying to climb back up from the waterfall!

We arrived back at the hotel around 2pm and ate a quick lunch and took a nap.  The plan was to take a horseback ride around the property which features a lake, citrus groves and acres of pasture.  Unfortunately, it started to rain just as we were going to ride so we decided to check out the fire heated jacuzzi to kill some time before dinner.  The spa, which is made up of laid river rock. takes water from the river and directs it to the wood burning fire and then drains the heated water into the spa.  The area is covered, and actually turned out to be a great place to listen to the rain and the raging river.

We awoke early the next morning and ate breakfast before setting off to Tortuguero.  I LOVED this place and will definetly return to explore the property without the rains and to kick back in the jacuzzi.
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Where I stayed
La Carolina Lodge

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