It's quite a long journey to Costa Rica as there is no direct flight from the UK at the moment and after being in the air for some 13 hrs, and more than 20 hrs after we had left the house we finally walked out of the arrivals hall at Juan Santa Maria Airport. But all our tiredness disappeared as we were greeted by the smiling faces of our friends, Andy and Ana. After so long without seeing Ana it was such a pleasure to give her a great big hug.
We chatted all the way back to their house in Labrador, a small, but growing community set amidst plantations of fruit trees, mainly mango. We managed to stay chatting until 2 in the morning, CR time, and fell into bed just about a whole day after we'd gotten into the taxi bound for Heathrow back home. Not surprisingly we were asleep as soon as our heads hit the pillow and the following day decided to take things easy.
Andy had taken time off his busy job as British Vice-Consul for Costa Rica and Nicaragua just so that he and Ana could spend time with us, though he did have numerous phone calls from his assistant who had been left holding the fort for Britain and the Commonwealth. I suspect that poor Vladimir (a Costa Rican despite the name) was cursing the day we arrived and took Andy away from the office.
Our friends have a lovely home set amidst a garden full of trees. The oranges and mandarins were ripe and ready to pluck off the tree but the 10 mango trees won't bear ripe fruit until about May when they will produce sack loads. Looks like we'll have to come back again in a few months to help with the harvest!
Costa Rica is a country full of fruit. Familiar ones like mango, orange, papaya, pineapple and banana but also delicious fruits that you never see in our shops. In every small town there will always be several shops selling a variety of fruit drinks made with iced water, milk or yogurt. And Andy loves nothing more than to stand at the juicer in the morning and make you a drink of your choice. Sitting on the terrace in the sunshine with a bowl of muesli and a milkshake to hand is a great way to start any day. We soon fell in love with Andy and Ana's house, the garden and the lovely village in which it is set. it's just such a relaxing place to be and what could be better than spending time with dear friends soaking in the warmth and atmosphere. With plenty of space to spread out we made ourselves at home and wondered if we would ever leave.
Friday dawned bright and clear and leaving Yoleni (A&A's treasure of a cleaner) to her job we headed off for a day at the beach. Labrador has delightful views of mountains but not of the sea. Getting to the coast though isn't difficult and we chose to go to Playa Bejuco which is on the Pacific coast a few hours away. It is one of the quieter beaches in the area, especially before the weekend when Ticos (Costa Ricans) head en masse for the coast. A long sandy beach of several kilometers with but a few people and the odd Pelican or two - what more could you want.
Although not one of the classic surfing beaches in which the area abounds, none the less the waves are pretty impressive here and make for a good time body surfing - at least for me. The beach here is shallow but the area does suffer from regular rip tides and as about 90 people a year are killed by these tides throughout Costa Rica it pays to be mindful of not going beyond your ability zone. The tide was indeed very strong and I think we were all exhausted by our day out at the seaside by the end of it.
The following day there was a dance on in Labrador and in the early evening Ana's cousin Roberto arrived with his partner Katya. They are both very keen dancers and soon had us learning a new Latino dance called Bachacha. Danced to a four beat it involves three steps followed on the 4th beat by a sort of hitch of the hip. We managed to learn three moves (side steps, forward and back steps and a simple turning step) which wasn't bad in the time we had before dinner. There are, of course, much more complicated moves which Roberto and Katya demonstrated for us but we thought we had enough not to make fools of ourselves on the dance floor.
The dance itself took place in an open sided shed just outside the bull ring. Yes, they still have bull fighting in Costa Rica though the bull is not actually killed, thank goodness. It just gets very annoyed, I suppose! It was all very rural but there was a couple of live bands which were nice to dance to. The dancing was not even remotely similar to our western Latin American dancing but we were able to pick up the beat for the most part and dance the Bachacha, the Merengue and a few other dances just by following what the crowd was doing. We had a great time but by eleven o'clock we were all tired and ready for bed. I expect the dance went on for hours but we couldn't last the pace.
On Sunday Andy took us to the Double Tree resort near Puntarenas to pick up our hire car. It was a very swish place full of uniformed staff, grand vistas and that air of money, money, money you get in 5 star resort hotels. Not our cup of tea at all. When Ana asked if we could go and have a drink at the pool bar she was told yes, but we'd have to pay a 'service fee' of $100 each. I hate to think what the drinks would have cost! We picked up our hire car from a rather surly car rental chap. It seemed ok, if a little scratched and dented but by the time we got it back to Labrador we discovered that the back door didn't shut properly and rattled all the time. We were a bit concerned that it could fly open any moment depositing our luggage all over the road.
Having driven in it out to the local swimming pool for an afternoon swim Andy and Ana decided it simply wasn't good enough to have us driving around CR in a sub-standard vehicle and so phoned Thrifty car rentals in San Jose on our behalf. I'm sure they might have agreed to come and fix the car if we had complained but I think that Ana dropping into the conversation (in Spanish) that her husband was the British Vice-Consul might possibly have persuaded them to bring out from San Jose a rather new and well maintained Toyota RAV4 as a replacement. It sometimes helps to have friends in high places!
So, having spent a wonderful, relaxing few days with our lovely friends it was time to head off to discover some parts of northern Costa Rica which we haven't been to before.