Q TRAVEL – Just how easy is to drop everything and head to Costa Rica, buying a ticket online and working out the details later? Just ask Moose Lake Star-Gazette’s Wick Fisher.
Or better yet, read his story.
Slightly over five hours from the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport, my wife and I landed in Liberia (LIR). No, we weren’t in northern Africa or on a supersonic jet.
A few months earlier, my wife and I were sitting in our living room when she blurted out, “Sun Country just offered the last two tickets on a non-stop flight to Costa Rica for $349 each.”
“Book ’em now,” I quickly replied. “They’ll be gone in five minutes.”
“It’s a Tuesday to Tuesday flight in March/April. Shouldn’t we check our schedules?” she said.
“Book it now or it’ll be gone. We can figure out the details later,” I said.
This wasn’t the first time we flew by the seat of our pants. Although we started signing up for last minute cheap flights long ago, this was our first unplanned trip to a foreign country. I easily had the details worked out in time for our departure by simply having my wife do 99 percent of the work.
Now I will tell you why we landed in Liberia. That is the name of the city located in ranching country that is home to Costa Rica’s newest international airport. It’s location in the northwest of the country is an ideal spot to explore the beaches of Peninsula de Nicoya to the west and the hot springs and Volcano Arenal to the east.
We began our quest by contacting some friends who were just returning from Costa Rica. They filled us in with details of how they booked with tour groups.
As my wife’s college roommate put it, “We spent most of our time on a bus with a bunch of old people.”
That wasn’t for us, so we decided to go it on our own. Isn’t it strange we baby boomers still don’t see ourselves as old? We’re still stuck in the ’60s — the decade, not the age group. I turned 70 this year and in the past five years suffered a broken back, two broken sternums and open heart surgery. I regained my health enough to climb three volcanic mountains, traverse a rain forest and rode a horse four hours through the jungle. I did this all in one week and felt pretty young.
Almost 50 years ago, Costa Rica made a brilliant economic move by exploiting its natural beauty, not with logging and agriculture, but with eco tourism. Much of the land has been designated as Parque Nacionals, which draw tourists from all over the world. We met and traveled with many Canadians, Europeans and one memorable trip to Nicaragua with a family of five Californians. Simply put, the roads in Costa Rica are among the best in Central America, while the roads in Nicaragua equal those in Belize as the worst.
We no sooner had landed when our van arrived to take us to Parque Arenal. The mountainous roads leading to the volcanoes in Costa Rica are narrow, curvy and bumpy. We were sitting near the back, as usual. But we could still hear a blaring radio that sounded like some sporting event in progress. Halfway to the volcano we stopped for a rest. We saw our first monkeys and parrots that roamed freely through the outskirts of the small village.
While admiring the garden-like atmosphere, one of the ladies in the van started a conversation with us. She said she had become rather carsick from the treacherous ride. I mentioned she should ask the driver if she could ride up front as the passenger seat was empty. She stated she indeed was going to do that.
She also stated, “The driver has a small television taped to the dashboard. He is watching a soccer game!”
As we began the second half of our journey, the carsick lady, who was now riding shotgun, turned to the driver and yelled, “Shut that TV off and drive!”
He did take his eyes off the TV and looked at the road for the first time. He still listened to the sound for another minute or two before the blaring voice ceased.
We later found out Costa Rica’s national team was playing in the World Cup of Soccer, which is a religion as large as Catholicism in Central America. Ironically, the game ended in a one to one tie. I never have appreciated soccer, a sport that rarely scores more than two or three times in a game. Riding a rocky mountainous road with a totally distracted driver is much more exciting. So was every moment of the rest of our trip.