The first lessons were learned as soon as we arrived. We opted to "save" money and take a cab instead of renting a car. The man who walked us to the cab tells us that the price was 55. I spent the entire 30 min ride staring at the colones we'd exchanged going wtf? The smallest bill was 1000 colones and I assumed no one would take US dollars so I was totally confused. Once we arrived at the hotel I tried out my spanish on the driver and asked how much the price was in colones. He wrote down the number 435.000 (decimal places are the equivalent of commas in spanish) which is almost $1000. Red flags went up that he was trying to rip us off but I still had to pay the guy something. In the end I gave him 45.000 colones, roughly $100, about $40 more than I should've. Several lessons learned from this experience:
1) There are assholes in every country and they will try to take advantage of you.
2) Take the time to learn the foreign currency and exchange rate, and if U.S. dollars are accepted where you're going. Turned out we needed very few colones, mostly everyone accepted U.S. dollars.
3) Rely on your math skills before your language skills.
4) Always rent a car vs taking a taxi.
On to all the good memories! We were fortunate enough to get to use Brian's parents' timeshare, so the resort we stayed at was absolutely stunning, with a view from our room we could've never afforded. We paid for all inclusive for part of our stay, which included two bars, an all you can eat buffet for all our meals, plus snacks and drinks, all of which were delicious and we're pretty sure we each gained 5 pounds. Costa Rican food mostly consists of rice, beans, plantains, vegetables, and tropical fruit, and of course a good amount of American food. All of it was awesome. Best pineapple ever, no joke. Kicked Hawaii's ass. The weight gain was mostly due to the bakers fault, as there was desert at every meal and it was usually too good to pass up.
The beach was lovely and the water was the warmest ocean I've ever felt, probably in the 80s, as were the pools. Snorkeling would've been great the first couple days we were there when the water was calm. Unfortunately the day we tried the surf was very high and the water was filled with microscopic fish that sting you, similar to a jelly fish sting but thankfully not as painful. There were amazing lava rocks to explore along the beach with tons of crabs, snails, and mussels. And of course tons of seashells (I collected a nice box full). And it rained during our last swim, which was awesome.
One day we took a volcano tour to Volcán Arenal. This was an all day tour with lots of driving on winding roads (I took my dramamine which I highly recommend anyone else with motion sickness do the same for a trip like this!), but we got to walk through the rainforest and see the volcano so it was totally worth it. The tour guide was very knowledgeable and taught us a lot about the country, and we got to see the change in the countryside as you go from the dry forests of the coast, inland to the rich volcanic soil and rainforest. The walk through the rainforest was so amazing. Brian and I thought the walk was too easy and short and decided next time we're somewhere with a jungle, we'll sign up for the harder hike! After the rainforest walk, we went to the most beautiful hot springs I'd ever seen. After that we went to dinner at a nice restaurant with an exquisite view of the volcano. The steaming sulfur cloud even cleared enough so we could see the top.
Our last day there we went zip-lining. I expected this to be a little bit scary as I'm not very fond of heights, but it wasn't at all. It was actually a lot of fun. We even got to see monkeys in the wild! And when we were done zip-lining, there was a little mini-zoo with monkeys and snakes. For only $5 you got to go in and hold the monkeys! It was the coolest thing ever. There was a spider monkey, who was in love with Brian, and there were several "white-faced monkeys" as he called them which I think were Capuchins. These guys look cute but they are muy travieso (very mischievous) and are pretty much only interested in searching your pockets for stuff to steal, pulling your hair, and chewing on your jewelry. Whenever you see one sitting calmly on someones shoulder in a movie, you can know that it's incredibly well trained with lots of food, or it's fake.