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Christmas in Costa Rica

A year ago we barely knew Costa Rica existed and this last December we hosted our son and his family for a week in our new home in CR, Between Christmas and New Years we made some memories, like, 'remember when Grandma served us spam for Christmas dinner?'.

Yata and I sent many of the options for fun to our family in advance of their visit and the one thing their mom Maggie, Ian and Sadie wanted to do, was go zip lining. There is a zip line between every other tree in Costa Rica - a slight exaggeration - but we wanted one close to home and in a site that would allow those of us who were landlubbers to hike while the risk takers were putting their lives at stake - another slight exaggeration.

We live overlooking the man made Lake Arenal, a twenty mile long lake created by the damming of a river for hydro electric power. The river/lake valley is encircled by the foot hills of the Tilaran Cordillera, a continuation of the mountains that dissect the length of the country, separating the Carribean Sea on the east from the Pacific on the west side. The air from the warm Gulf to the east rises up the mountain sides to reach the peaks and meets the cooler Pacific air flow which results in rain and cloud forests.

The clash of warm and cool air also brings high winds to our side of the lake. In fact it is so windy, that the country has chosen this site as the home of massive wind turbines which contribute to the horizon with their stately silhouettes. Because of this relatively predictable wind, this end of the lake is a windsurfer's mecca. I believe our home was built in the 1990's by a windsurfing fiend.

We have these beautiful views of the lake but very rarely see a boat on it. We are not far from Puerto San Luis, on the southwest side of the lake. The port is in a wind protected bay where Christian Ramos' business Club Nautica provides watersports activities including a fishing guide. The area is known for Rainbow Bass, a large colorful freshwater reputed to be a fighter and good eating!

Our son Nick, loves fishing and we hadn't yet been on Lake Arenal so we booked an early morning fishing trip and late morning boating excursion with Christian. This family friendly business was very accommodating, supplying us with rods and lures and the transport to the other side of the lake's bays. The morning's rays lit the marsh grasses - chartreuse spears while they warmed the cool humid night air. In hours of casting not a bite was felt but then, that's what fishing is about - if we caught fish every time we went out, would we still find it such an enticing way to spend our time?

After fishing, we went back to the Port to pick up Yata and the late sleepers. We toured the bay and then another and saw Howler monkeys and birds, alas no fish.

Costa Rica, with it's rain forests and mountains, means many waterfalls, usually of some size and force. Our second day we visited Cataratas la Piedra del Indio, just the other side of our hometown of Tilaran. Archeologists have been studying the black volcanic carved stones found along the Cordillera. The stone at this site is carved with designs looking like a Keith Harding painting but upon closer look and splashed with water to highlight the design, are symbols thought to represent rulers, the sun and crocodiles.

We hiked down into the forested river gorge, led by Alejandro, the owner of this site. And then he guided us under the waterfall. When I saw him doing that I thought, " I'm not going under there."..the water pounded from great heights and was drenching. Maggie led way and screamed with startled but apparent delight. Well maybe I would try it. It was intense, the force of the water could throw you into the pool below but Alejandro supported us and we made it to the other side. The crash of the water muted the soft sounds of the forest while it massaged your head and shoulders like firm but steady pistons. Once to the other side, I looked for another way back, a way that might be less intense than the way over, but no, that would have meant climbing over huge damp boulders. So back we went for a second 'treatment'. Exhilerating!

Not to waste a day of their five day visit we also went river rafting on the Rio Corobici, a crocodile infested river with an easy float and just enough rapids to make it a little exciting. Besides the toothy slinking creatures, we saw monkeys, the Jesus Christ lizard (he walks on water) and lots of birds.

Another day took us to La Fortuna, on the other end of Lake Arenal where we went hiking in Sendero Bogarin in hopes of seeing sloths in the wild. Not only did we see a sloth, the three toed sloth but also the two toed sloth. The three toed sloth was moving at lightning speed - for a sloth - as it crawled along tree top branches. We also saw some great birds including the Chestnut billed Toucan. And the blue jean frog, a poisonous amphibian which was out in daylight!

We spent the afternoon at the Baldi Hotsprings. There are many springs along the north side of Volcan Arenal heated by the volcano. The resorts have created multi pools, of varied temperature to enjoy the overheated waters. Baldi also has some wild water slides for the adrenaline seekers in our group. It was a lot of fun watching them exit the slide that ended with a centrifugal bowl. We could hear them as they spun in the bowl to then be unceremoniously flung into the pool below, arms and legs akimbo.

They had arrived on Christmas Day so we had decorated the house with lights and hung Christmas stockings on the mantel with trinkets and wrapped gifts around the fake bamboo tree. I had planned a Christmas ham but not being familiar yet with the best source of pork, I saw a canned ham a the grocery store and decided to give that a try. I grew up in pork country, Dubuque IA and the canned Dubuque hams were top notch. So my expectations were supremely disappointed when I opened the can that afternoon to find processed meat, more akin to SPAM than ham!! Being Christmas day, I couldn't go find a replacement so I thought, 'maybe if I disguise it with a slice of pineapple, no one will notice". Not so fast! Even I, the food adventurer couldn't get past the first bite. Before opening gifts we also enjoyed our traditional family talent show with the kids presenting their latest songs and dance. Where did they get all that talent?!

We finished the week with a trip to the Pacific coast beach town of Coco to enjoy the sun, surf and seafood before they departed at the Liberia airport nearby. We enjoyed flying kites - a Christmas gift - in the steady trade winds, and they getting one last feel of the tropical sun on their skin before a return to a very snowy cold Wisconsin. We were so happy to have them visit our new country home and see all its natural wonder.

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