Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Monkey Beach and an Unexpected Road Trip

Knowing Friday was our last full day in country, we decided to get up early to visit Manual Antonio National Park before heading back to San Jose to get Haley on her early afternoon flight. Joe, however, took “early” to a whole new level and was out the door around 5:00 AM to go walk on the beach. The rest of us left around 7:00 AM to catch up with him in the park - almost getting scammed into parking half a mile from the park’s entrance by a couple of official looking guys in khaki shirts sporting park patches. We also tried to enter the wrong end of the park by accident, fording a small stream next to a sign warning us to beware of the alligators (unfortunately, that wasn’t the only unsettling thing we saw) before hitting the barbed wire fence..

After making it into the park, we hiked through the rain forest (spotting a sloth or two along the way) to the infamous Manuel Antonio “monkey beach” where we reunited with Joe. This beach is known not just for its beauty, but also for a horde of mischievous capuchin monkeys bent on stealing whatever they can. Seeing no monkeys, Joe and I stashed our bags near a tree and snorkeled out into the surf. Later, as we returned, I saw two monkeys picking their way down the beach. Unable to remember exactly where our bags were, I picked up the pace and exited the water right as the lead monkey discovered Joe’s backpack and started working out how to open the drawstring closure. I ran towards our bags, yelling and waving and they both moved on to an easier target - stealing a bag of cough drops from the lady next to us. When I told Joe I rescued his bag he said, “You should have gotten a picture before scaring him off!”

Peaceful monkey beach
After heading back and packing up, we left our AirBnB around 11:00 AM on Friday morning (an important detail) and headed back to San Jose to drop Haley off at the airport. Along the way, we added to our list of several surprise wildlife encounters with several kamikaze iguanas crossing the road (think squirrel, but faster), which Tanner swerved to miss (with the “turtle” incident probably fresh in his mind). Along the way, we stopped to see a bask of crocodiles that gathers under the T├írcoles bridge near Jaco. We also had one wildlife sighting earlier this week which was quite surprising. On our way to La Fortuna, we saw a commotion on the road in front of us and slowed to a stop. We saw a guy lean over and pick up what at first looked like a large snake, but turned out to be the tail of a large wild cat! It must have gotten hit crossing the road, just like deer in Virginia. For the rest of the week, we talked about this poor “cheetah,” which drove Steven up the wall. "Cheetahs live in Africa!"

After dropping Haley off at the airport (and getting her to sing her song, “Where are my phone, my keys, and my wallet…” to the tune of “My Favorite Things”) we ate lunch at a Central American chicken chain called Rostipollos (get the cheese bites). As we were leaving, we had our fourth and final run in with an automated parking system. As we discovered, some places (even if they issue you a ticket on entrance) are free to park, while others require you pay for parking inside before leaving (which seems like a dumb design). This usually results in us pulling up to the gate, then reversing out of the chute while someone runs inside to pay. This time, though, we encountered a couple of nice parking lot security guards, one of which said, “I will help you,” and opened the gate for us manually. Tanner said, “Those are the greatest words to hear. ‘I will help you.’”

Central Park, San Jose, Costa Rica
Next, we headed downtown to see if we could find cheap souvenirs. Word of caution, maybe don’t Google “cheap souvenirs” and go to the first place that pops up. As we drove around looking for a place to park, we passed several indoor markets, which, as Tanner told us were, “a little dangerous, but you can get almost anything in there.” We parked and walked the streets for a while alongside thousands of Costa Ricans. While we likely stuck out pretty sorely, it was cool to hang out in place where many of the locals were.

The streets of San Jose
After the sun went down, we did several other things to pass the time until our flight left San Jose around 2:00 AM the next morning (another important detail), including going to the mall, watching “Underwater” at the attached theater with Spanish subtitles, and making a stop at McDonalds for late night ice cream - where Steven got to experience the wonder (or lack thereof) of getting fried from a McDonalds in Central America. We then dropped off the rental car and got to the airport around midnight. We took a picture with the airport sloth, then made our way through security. It was a slow night, but Costa Rica TSA still took a long look at Tanner’s bag, murmuring “Coca Cola?” as the four glass bottles in his backpack showed up on the x-ray. We napped a little bit at our gate before boarding the plane back home, and, within a few hours, were back on United States soil.

Then, the real adventure began…

Our first inkling of trouble was when we joined the customs line immediately after getting off the plane and then didn’t move. For over an hour. Eventually, it was explained to us that five international flights had arrived simultaneously (four of which were Spirit’s and two of those being delayed). Long story short, we were in customs for over two and half hours. What was originally a layover with plenty of time to spare turned into a mad dash for the gate. Joe managed to make it through customs before the rest of us and made it on. I was right behind him, but the plane was pushing back from the jetway as I arrived.

Because they technically got us to the airport with more than ninety minutes to make our connection, Spirit wasn’t very helpful with rebooking. The best they could do was get us on the same flight out the next day (not even guaranteeing that there would be four available seats). After some discussion and working out quite a few different scenarios, we decided to bite the bullet. We took the partial refund for the remaining leg and rented a car to begin the 17 hour drive (not including stops) from Fort Lauderdale, Florida back to Blacksburg, Virginia via Richmond. You know, there’s nothing quite like an impromptu cross-country road trip.

For those of you unfamiliar with Florida geography, Fort Lauderdale is about as far south as you can go. Bottom of the state. Any further and you’re bumping into the Keys. Steven made the astute observation that, “We drove six hours just to get out of Florida!” Thankfully, the trip to Richmond was fairly uneventful (I might even call the last couple of hours after midnight enjoyable) and we arrived at the RIC airport around 3:00 AM. I picked up my Jeep and proceeded to the rental car office to pick up the rest of the group. However, while scanning the road for any reverse tire spikes, I entirely missed the small curb in the center median. My front wheel hit, and I was afraid we were going to have a problem. Sure enough, I parked, came around the side, and stood with Tanner, watching the last bit of air leak out of my tire. He said, “Well” and that’s about all there was to say. Without a word, I opened the lift gate, handed him the lug wrench, Steven the jack, and began dropping the spare.

At that point, there was just a level of insanity to the previous two days that made the whole thing seem surreal. Also, because we were so delusional by that point, there was a bit of hilarity in it as well. After quickly changing the tire (in probably under ten minutes, as Kasey observed) we drove the remaining several hours back to Blacksburg - arriving just in time for Northstar (our church’s) load in and sound check. Doing the math, at that point we had been up for a contiguous 48 hours, sleeping only fitfully on the plane or in the car. Later, I apologized to Joe that he missed out on the great American road trip, but, for some reason, he seemed unfazed by it.

Exhausted, but victorious

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