Forgive me, Father: it’s been 12 days since my last confessional blog post. In this time, the Knights have bounced around Costa Rica like tow-headed pinballs and I’ve been a bit slack on the old documentation front. Imagine a map that’s been scribbled on by a one year old: first, we flew from Guatemala City to San José, then San José to Tortuguero, then Tortuguero back to Liberia, then to Papagayo, then to Arenal, then back to Papagayo, where we presently reside. This was in a week and a half.
People who’ve read the blog: “My! What a feat of organisation, arranging all these shenanigans! You guys should run a small municipality, what with all these labyrinthine connections and escapades!” The thing is: we didn’t plan this trip. Not really. We got a travel agent to do it and we just opened the attachment, skimmed it and paid for it. My dear departed Pop would call it ‘having more money than sense’. That’s harsh, Pop! Except he’s probably right: if you’re smart, you sit round the kitchen table, spread lavishly with maps, maybe with one of those pull-down war-charts complete with handy pointers, talking long into the night for several weeks about maximising the time available and minimising the grief. Or at least you read the bloody PDF a bit more closely than we did (‘Ooo! Llamas, you say? Nice! Right: where do I sign?’)
The truth is, it’s worked for the most part. We’ve largely managed to avoid war zones, or Disney Cruises (decide yourself which would be worse). We’ve seen more fascinating things in 5 months than most people see in a lifetime. But due to our own NW London luxury laxity, Costa Rica has been a teensy bit chequered.
The first place we stayed (overlooking the capital San José) was nice enough but also the adventure equivalent of the Heathrow Premier Inn. Everyone there was heading out on the next flight, or had just arrived: breakfast was abuzz with chat about lost baggage and the transfer desk at Atlanta airport (it was a short walk to a waterfall though, which I’m not sure you could find in Hounslow; we all swam in it, but only I squealed like I was being tortured… so not like the Herbal Essences adverts.)
There is also evidence, should you look for it, we’re more than a little bit spoilt by now. I knew it would happen: you see so much beauty and wonderment that the bar gets raised abnormally high. The point I realised we’ve become the supermodels of the family traveller community was in the next place, Tortuguero. We went on a wildlife-spotting cruise in what is bona fide jungle: steamy, squirmy, stinky, squawky. The guide was trying his hardest to point stuff out: ‘There’s another blue heron, but this time it’s a small one!’ but after months of amazing animals we were thinking ‘Wake me up when you find an eagle wrestling a puma.’
Poor guy, he actually did a great job. We were there for the sloths, after all, and he found us one in the first ten minutes. Mr Sloth was very, very cool and sporting a directional green dip-dye, like Zayn Malik did that time (maybe Zayn was also covered in a fine layer of moss?)
We saw an emerald basilisk (male – with a mohawk – more PUNK FAUNA), an emerald basilisk (female – no mohawk but still badass, with a Don’t Fuck With Me stare and a whiplash stripy tail), a massive fat iguana draped over a branch, a couple of baby caimans peeking out above the waterline, a mummy caiman enjoying a moment’s peace, a wolf spider the size of a saucepan lid and a few random assorted lizards that frankly need to up their game if they’re going to make into the Wandering Knights’ Hall of Fame.
Meanwhile, back at the lodge, there were a) iguanas the size of medium-sized dogs wandering around the pool and b) clouds of mosquitoes so thick you could slice them – murderous mozzies that even bit us through our clothes and found their way into places the sun definitely don’t shine. It was, in order: thrilling and really, really bloody annoying. The ‘jungle trails’ behind the hotel came with regulation welly boots: the forest squelch oozed almost over the top of them. Adam and I walked one alone before we tried to take the kids and gracias dio that we did: we would’ve literally lost John John to the mud within minutes. We saw a poison dart frog, which made Eddie very sad he hadn’t come, because he’d memorised the whole poison dart frog ‘Deadly 60′ and could’ve given us some vital statistics.
The takeaway tip from this, friends, is yes by all means go full jungle, but beware of the company you keep. We actually ditched our final three nights and scrambled a few days in Papagayo because it would’ve been impossible to fill another three days with John John and Ed in tow without resorting to 8-hour iPad Marathons. And they already acquitted themselves quite adequately on that score:
Destination Number 3, then, was whoever could fit us in with 10 hours’ notice. And we lucked out in a big way, because we found a hotel in Papagayo, the Andaz, which had three rooms. The boys had a beach swarming with creatures and the girls found a friend: Riley, from Canada, who they bonded with immediately and who turned the three-night stay into the memorable equivalent of one of those summer lovin’ beach trips you took with your parents just before such things became unconscionable. Howler monkeys (they make a sound like an SFX from Alien Vs. Predator), capuchin monkeys, beach swings… book this hotel, SRSLY. It is a GEM.
Then after our illicit, impromptu ‘holiday from a holiday’ (shoot me, I would) we got back on schedule and headed to Arenal, the name of an area, a town and – most importantly – a volcano. This is Costa Rica’s big, masstige (have you saved a bullet for now? I hope so) catch-all destination. There are German bakeries (no idea), hot springs in the form of rivers of magma-heated water literally filled with tourists (tip: don’t sit downstream from the ones drinking beer), umpteen hotels. It’s the Great Green Hope of CR – responsible for a chunk of its 5 million tourists a year. We enjoyed it very much, even though we only saw the famous Arenal without a substantial wreath of clouds around it once or twice. This is the sweaty centre of the country and while it’s not the ‘hack-your-way jungly’ that is Tortuguero, it’s still Humidity Index: 80% and stacked floor-to-roof with critters.
We saw mummy and baby sloths (slothes?) just a-casually making their way up a tree within touching distance of us, in the hotel itself, which was ZOMG amazing, a total honour, almost like a royal visit. These were the more conventional ‘non-mossy’ variety, fluffy and coloured like a pain-au-chocolat. The staff said it was a pretty unusual occurrence and we couldn’t have been more flattered if Her Majesty herself had broken away from the walkabout to give us the contents of her handbag and a swig from her hip flask.
There were birds pecking around the bar that looked like they were dressed for Ascot. And a couple of emerald basilisks popped by to really remind us that we needn’t have gone full jungle in Tortuguero at all. This ‘demi-jungle’ was all we really needed and mercifully low-mozzie. John and Ed made friends with the Arenal Nayara hotel staff (all amazing) who frequently produced bags of fish food for them to ply the hotel pond (they ended up IN the hotel pond more times than not). We were also introduced to the noble art of towel sculpture: many hits, including these beasts (Swalephant & Snuffleufagus):
Hoooooever, we were suffering from severe touristitis by now. The first scheduled trip was 07:30am the first morning. Adam leaned over and answered the hotel’s handy wakeup call with the words “We’re not coming. Gracias!’, which wins points for brevity, if nothing else. There’s only so many times a grown man can be shaken awake and told to do something they didn’t explicitly arrange before they SNAP (and that ‘grown man’ I’m talking about is ME). However we did show up for the second trip, a walk to the lava fields of the Arenal volcano (last erupted 2010: ‘wake me up when it erupts again, bitch’) with a guide who offhandedly mentioned the sugar cane plantation by the side of the trail, plus sugar-cane-juice-extracting-device, not realising that our children would find it more interesting than any statistics about the tectonic activity in the area in the past decade. Sugar is one of Eddie’s favourite things and this cane juice filth was no exception: we spent about twenty minutes squishing the cane with the big metal pole thingy. A special mention must also go to the herd of bizarre floppy-eared Jar Jar Binks cows, another big hit with the kids.
Our last trip was a ‘safari float’ down the Santa Clara river, again with a guide that was unaware he had the Naomi Campbell and Cindy Crawford of wildlife tourists on board: HIM: ‘Look! There’s a kingfisher!’, US, (thinking): ‘What’s Spanish for WHEVS?’ It all hotted up when we saw an American Crocodile (you could tell by it’s box-fresh white sneakers) on the riverbank and we steered nice and close for a look. At this point, the boys are literally asking if we could find some fresh meat to throw at it. They might look cute, but they’ve gone full ‘gladiator-feral’, which bodes well for future school trips to London Zoo.
And then there’s here, where we are now, back on the Papagayo Peninsula on the bone-dry, roasting hot Pacific Coast. It’s where we’ll be for TWO WHOLE WEEKS, the longest time we’ve spent in one place by far. It’s gorgeous. But frankly it could be anywhere*, so long as we don’t have to re-pack our sodding suitcases again for a good long while. As I write, it’s day 145 of 177 and the home strait is in view. Our ears are pricked forwards and we’re ready for the canter home. But first, there’s a beach, there are margaritas and there are literally thousands of hermit crabs for John and Ed who are in heaven: after all these big exotic creatures, sometimes it’s the littlest things that are worth getting out of bed for.
*except a war zone, a Disney Cruise, or the Heathrow Premier Inn