What the what?!?
The adventure bug. It doesn’t just sting, it bites with the ferocity of a moray eel and doesn’t let go until you get yourself out there. That’s the excuse we’re going with anyway. So on September 24th we said “hasta luego” to our much beloved Cliff Island and Tiny Bubbles 2 (our Shannon 28 sailboat) and flew to Liberia, Costa Rica. We decided to head to Costa Rica, with side trips to Nicaragua and Panama. We plan to return to Maine and the sailboat in June ( and all our dearly missed island peeps!) In the interim we hope to give the boys some exposure to the Spanish language, a new culture, and lots of surf –anything else is just bonus.
Reality vs. um…us?
I’d prefer to make this glossy and pretty. The perfect family adventure of nothing but perfect perfectness, golden sands, warm water and gorgeous sunsets. There has definitely been some of that. My pictures will show you that ideal, happy, smiling children, adoring parents, and some shy howler monkeys looking on. My pictures neglect to show the mosquitoes, the Sherpa like parents shlepping the ridiculous amount of luggage. I did not take pictures of the meltdowns, the screaming, or the crying, mostly because I do not have a selfie stick. Do.not.get.me.a.selfie.stick.
Josh and I had both traveled before. Josh had even lived and taught in Costa Rica and Panama 20 years prior (a lot changes in 20 years, but more on that later). However traveling oversees with kids is a whole new bag (actually several bags and a stroller).
So let’s just get down to that reality part, shall we? The flight was easy. As far as international flights go, flying to Costa Rica is relatively painless. We left at 6am from Portland, Maine and arrived in Liberia at 11am with a two hour time difference. We changed planes in Baltimore and barely had time for a quick, but very important, business meeting in the family restroom. Boy 1, 2, & 3 are pretty good little travelers and as long as the snacks are flowing, everyone stays pretty copacetic.
Intrepid travelers! Keep the snacks coming
First taste of the tropical heat. Waiting for rental car
We had rented a house for our first month through HomeAway.com. The pictures on the website had us dreaming of short strolls to one of Costa Rica’s premier surf beaches — Playa Avellanas. We wanted something simple, fairly kid friendly, and walking distance to the beach and local store. The listing promised all that and more. There were trees to climb, fruit to pick, surfboards to rent etc. etc. However (and another bonus in our minds), it was slightly remote and since it is the wet season, the local shuttle wouldn’t resume until November. The only good option for a family of five was to rent a car at the airport. We were strongly encouraged to rent a 4×4. We would later be very glad we took that advice… After some amazing feats of strength, and some very advanced yoga moves, we managed to get all our luggage, three car seats, and 5 sweaty non-acclimatized bodies arranged inside the now very cramped vehicle.
Getting into the nittie gritties.
Our first stop was to stock up on food. We’re all pretty fond of the stuff and if sport eating ever makes it to the Olympics, boy123 will be in serious medal contention. We had been told that the only place for serious stock ups for eaters of our caliber was the sexy sounding Super Mega. Sham wow. Culture shock. This place was no Whole Foods, but it did have variety, and stock up we did — to the tune of two cart fulls, which we then had to Jenga into the car. Advanced pilates moves achieved by all.
stop at the Super Mega
Some fun at the Super Mega!
We safely arrived at our destination after a dozen or so wrong turns that enabled us to see much more of the area. But hold up, where’s the pretty little beach bungalow we rented for $872?!?
We were met at the gate by Maria, a sweet Tico lady who spoke not a word of English, and seemed to be a caretaker. There were also two rambunctious, but friendly dogs who were jumping all over us and tracking mud everywhere.Boy 1 & 2 were already deciding amongst themselves which dog would be whose, and scouting out which tree to climb first. Boy 3 was just thrilled to be out of the car and looking for a good mud puddle to jump in. He had lots to choose from because the property was a mess of potholes, mud, and tree debris. Luckily Josh’s Spanish kicked back in, and he was able to communicate quite well. Maria brought us to the back of the property and showed us what good photographs posted to the Internet can do. Lie. It was a mess, with rotting food left in the yard and a strong smell of feces. The biggest issue was the ripped screens and buckets of standing water breeding mosquitoes everywhere. It didn’t take us long to realize the place was uninhabitable.
At this point I’m sick as saccharine of the whole thing so I’m just going to copy paste our complaint to Home Away. Which has so far given some big talk but neglected to walk the walk. It ain’t pretty so if you don’t have a strong stomach, look away.
A description of situation and desired outcome (your complaint)
This property owner rented his property to us knowing that we would arrive and find something unlivable. We were forced to rent a different property through HomeAway, and the property owner has still not issued us a refund. When we arrived, the woman who greeted us shook her head woefully and agreed the property was not fit for habitation — and we have 3 small children. The property was full of mosquitos INSIDE the apartment because the mosquito screens were all torn, ripped, or nonexistent — THIS IN A COUNTRY WITH ZIKA! There were large amounts of dog feces around the entrance, stagnant standing water breeding mosquitos all around, food scraps beside the house, and rotting material in the yard, the bathroom smelled strongly of urine. The unit smelled of cat spray, there was a dirty towel draped over the door to the shower, and there was mud tracked everywhere by the dogs and they were allowed to run everywhere including inside the rental. Everyone was being eaten alive by the mosquitos, so we put our children in the car. We stayed long enough to contact the owner who without our knowledge was not even in the country, and he said he would return our money, minus a “cleaning fee.” We never moved into the filthy apartment! We need a full refund immediately. Please contact us for pictures and more information. We are in Costa Rica on vacation. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you for your assistance.
Josh and Heidi Holloway
Nope. Just nope.
rotting food tossed in the courtyard.
Just a few pics of the house to give you a clear picture. Gee, the Homeaway pics looked a little different. Hmm?
Yep. We sausaged (that’s a verb, right?) everyone and the kitchen sink (just kidding, that thing was degusto) back into the car and drove off into the sunset. Um, not quite. We sorta tried to stay calm (lie) and drove back to the nearest urban center, which happened to be Tamarindo. It was only about 6pm but darkness happens fast in the tropics and it was already 8 pm our time — the witching hour for Zevy was nigh. We stopped at a juice /smoothie place and bought ourselves some food and time. We still didn’t have SIM cards for our phones, so we connected to their wifi connection and began frantically searching for a place to stay for the night. We ended up driving to nearby Langosta and forking over a large wad of colones to stay at a very cool bungalow inside a small resort. The next morning the included breakfast almost made everything right in the world. You could choose the Tico breakfast or the Americano. Kai, Josh and I chose the Tico, which included a cup of fresh juice, coffee for the adults, and Gallo pinto (stir fried beans and rice) scrambled eggs, and a corn tortilla. Boy 2 and 3 had the Americano which had the amazing fresh juice of mango, papaya and unicorn dust and a pancake with fresh bananas. Boy 3 took one look at my Gallo pinto and ditched his pancake and wolfed down most of my plate. That boy loves his beans and rice. The sweet Tico women serving breakfast couldn’t get enough of the boys and Zevy’s new found word “Hola” was a big hit. Kai and I had our first howler monkey encounter which he will describe in his blog post.
We still needed to find a place to stay and sadly it was not going to be that perfect little resort. We had rented the car for two days so we still had one more day to go explore and hopefully find a spot to settle for a while. We decided to to pile all our belongings back into the car and head for the surfing, yoga, and all-things-hip-and-cool town of Nosara on the Nicoya peninsula. It was a 2 hour ride along dirt roads with a few stream crossings. The first thing that greeted us in Nosara was a tiny skate park in the jungle — as in all-things-cool! The cool thing wore off quickly for Cove when he got yelled at and called an a-hole by another little blond boy. The cool thing went downhill even faster when the little boy also called me the same name. His parents were appalled when they found out, and we may be able to attribute it all to the just scraping by situation that expats in the area are experiencing. The place is expensive! People want to be there, but finding a place to rent monthly in a world of $2000+ a week rentals is seriously difficult. Rolf, a recent arrival from Europe, explained the whole situation to us. He had come to Nosara with his wife and children to live “Pura Vida.” Being a seriously nice dude in a similar situation, he offered us encouragement along with a great lead on a place in nearby Playa Pelada. The day was moving right along and we still hadn’t found a spot to settle so we headed right over to little Playa Pelada. We found the Teak Hotel and its manager Brian fairly easily. It was a cool looking place with with several two story bungalows surrounded by tropical gardens and a little swimming pool. Brian showed us an upstairs one bedroom unit with a tiny kitchen, living area, and a bedroom with a queen bed and bunk beds. Perfecto! We were feeling pretty stoked and when he told us that, since it was the low season, he could probably rent it to us for $500 a month until December — at which point the high season would probably fetch them a hundred a night and we would be priced out. Still, it seemed like a great place for a couple months and we readily agreed. He told us he just needed to contact the owners to get things settled. So while he did that, we decided to walk to the nearby beach. We found the beach and walked by some local kids, smiled, and hoped that some friendships could be made soon. We walked back to Brian and rather than handing us the keys so we could unload our overburdened vehicle and get some of our quickly wilting perishables to the fridge, he told us the price has tripled. Turns out the owners would rather see the place empty than rent a unit for a fair price in the low season. Annoyed, dejected, and defeated we climbed back into our sardine-mobile and drove the two plus hours through jungle and washed out roads towards Tamarindo.
I had procured a local SIM card by this point and while Josh navigated giant potholes and washed out roads, I passed out endless bribes, I mean snacks, and furiously tried to contact the a couple living in Canada about a condo rental in Langosta.
Have you made it this far in the saga? Don’t despair, it was not all for naught. I don’t have any dramatic ending of us camping in the jungle and waking up entwined with pythons and tarantulas or anything, but I do have the mariachi story! I don’t just give this one away for free people. I made you suffer through all that, so bear with me. We drove through the tourist trap of downtown Tamarindo and looked for a place to grab some food and more importantly, some wifi, since I used up my entire SIM card trying to call the Canadian couple. We stopped at a place that looked more touristy than we usually would have cared for, but since all our earthly possessions and our pineapples were in the car, and this place had parking right outside the restaurant, it fit the bill. We ordered some ceviche and nibbles and did the usual three zillion trips to el baño. Our food arrived and suddenly we were surrounded by a mariachi band. “Para los bebes?” They asked us. When we just looked awkward and didn’t refuse they began a rousing rendition of “La Bamba.” Boy 3 wiggled encouragingly in his high chair, but boy 1 & 2 had had enough of everything and just stared despondingly while I furiously whispered at them “to just smile darnit!” Josh is desperately going through his wallet counting out the colones he happened to have left from his last trip here (remember, 20 yrs ago) Which was the only cash we had left on us. He comes up with about 2,000 colones (a little over $4 us) and after much clapping and muchas gracias, hands it to the lead mariachi dude. We’re all smiling like plastic mannequins and I’m sending telepathic dagger eyes at the boys, “look happy, say gracias!” When La Bamba himself looked down at the colones in his hands, held it out to his other compadres with a confused and slightly incredulous expression, and then proceeded to hand it back to Josh, “Senor, este no sirve” and moved the show on to the next table. When our waitress stopped snickering. We asked her why our money was no good, and after assuring her we did indeed have some good plastico money to pay the bill, she told us in Spanish that three years ago the country had changed all the bills, and that our old bills were worthless. It took us a few days until we could laugh about that one. You’re welcome.
In the meantime we still needed a place to stay, so we quickly contacted the nice couple from Canada, and they agreed to rent us their condo close by for 1 month. We sent them payment info and they contacted their property manager to let us into the locked and guarded building. It’s not really how we envisioned living and not our style it it beats the alternative ( but hey, snuggling up with corn snakes and tarantulas in the jungle beat the first place). So, yep we’re good. We got ourselves some surfboards and just generally getting our Pura Vida on and um avoiding Mariachi bands. .
And now a short PSA from our not so generous sponsors: