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March 11, 2012
Day 23: Puntarenas, Costa Rica

At the zip lines in Punta Leona. “Pura vida!”

We are starting to get to a busy part of our itinerary. Not only do we have two ports in two days, but Gail has scheduled day-long excursions for both.

We have been to Puntarenas, Costa Rica before. We visited this port about five years ago, when we cruised through the Panama Canal with our sons. Gail, being Gail, remembered every detail of this port – the long pier, the beach, the shops to the left, the forests to the right. Russell, being Russell, didn’t remember even being here before.

Puntarenas, with its long pier

Princess Patter: Discovered by Columbus in 1502 and named “Rich Coast” on his fourth and final voyage to the New World, Costa Rica never lived up to the promise of gold or other riches like its neighboring Spanish colonies. Puntarenas remained a sleepy village until coffee production in the late 18th century transformed the Costa Rican economy. By the 1850s, coffee had surpassed cacao, tobacco and sugar as the country’s number one export and Puntarenas’ port became a thriving business.

The capital and most populous city of Puntarenas province, the city of Puntarenas itself is a relaxing destination brimming with local flavor. And yet, beyond the city’s immediate borders lies a world of lush rainforests, endangered species and exciting outdoor adventures just waiting for you.

In Punta Arenas, Chile, we were told that the name meant “sandy beach.” Here we were told that the name meant “sandy tongue.”

The Star Princess docked ridiculously close to the beach. There must be a huge drop-off there!

Today, Gail had booked a “Croc Tour” excursion through Cruise Critics that joined us with a group of about 70 people. We would have a choice between three activities: a crocodile cruise, a canopy walk or zip lines. A dozen of us chose zip lines, and we were all separated into buses accordingly. While the heat and humidity were still high, we would be in an air-conditioned bus for most of the day.

Our host, Rey, was an elementary school English teacher who also worked as a tour guide for Okeydokey Tours. (A popular phrase in Costa Rica, “Pura Vida,” always said with thumbs up, translates roughly as “Okey Dokey.”) Rey loves to teach, and he was very knowledgeable about Costa Rican culture, including its plants and animals.

Our first stop was La Roca, a small preserve where we fed Capuchino monkeys. Rey instructed us to hold pieces of food (bananas or cookies) in an extended but closed hand. The goal was to make the monkeys work a little bit for the food. (He also told us not to wear glasses, as the monkeys would see the reflection of another monkey and not approach.) Gail attracted a mother and her baby, and she was thrilled when they actually crawled down her arm and over her head to get to her far hand.

La Roca was a small, family-owned patch of land where we saw and fed Capuchino monkeys

Gail makes some new friends

Next was El Corral, a roadside stand that advertised “jugo de cana” or sugarcane juice. We got to run a hand-fed machine that crushed a sugarcane stalk into juice. Gail enjoyed a mixture of cane and ginger so much that she took all of the leftovers into her water bottle.

Gail makes cane juice and shares it with our guide, Rey

Our third stop was the big adventure of the day: riding zip lines above the forest. We drove into Punta Leona, a private resort full of lush vacation homes. Strictly controlled, we had to wear wrist bands, do our zip lines, then leave immediately.

A wall map of the zip lines was fairly useless, but it let us know that we had nine platforms and eight zip lines

Two locals, Luis and Randall, geared everyone up and led us through eight connected zip lines on high platforms. Gail and Russell were probably the youngest two there. Having done zip lines before, we were amused by the huge number of semi-panicked questions that preceded the adventure. We predicted that at least a few people would chicken out, but everyone went through with it.

The zip lines were a lot of fun, and Gail didn’t flinch once at all of the heights and edges.

Russell and Gail on the zip lines. Russell liked to curl up in a ball to go faster.

Lunch was at Marea Baja (“low tide”), yet another small roadside stop. Okeydokey must have had some kind of deal with the restaurant, because we drove several kilometers to get there then several kilometers to get back. It was basically an open-air cafeteria, but the fresh sea bass (accompanied by rice, plantains and soursop juice) was delicious.

Marea Baja, where we had lunch

We also stopped at a local supermarket, MaxiPalí, in case anyone wanted to buy coffee. Gail and Russell loaded up on local snacks for the kids and Gail found a unique spice called jamaica. As usual, we were the last ones back on the bus.

Maxipalí, where we bought groceries

Our last stop was a bridge over the Tárcoles River at the edge of the Guacalillo Estuary, one of the world’s largest crocodile colonies. While we didn’t do the full crocodile cruise, we walked over the river where we could look down and view several dozen crocodiles lazing around.

Tárcoles Bridge doesn’t have a pedestrian lane, so we had to avoid traffic while looking for crocodiles


We were dropped back at the pier after a full eight hours. We took our last hour before departure to walk past the street vendors. Gail made several impulse buys, including a stuffed monkey for our new granddaughter and a beautiful butterfly piece of fabric for herself.

Walking back to the ship at twilight

It was after sundown by the time our ship finally left port. We sat out on deck in the warm air and watched the city lights slowly fade into the distance. We greatly enjoyed our Okeydokey tour and our guide, Rey. We are pretty tired, but we will have yet another full-day excursion tomorrow.

We had an absolutely stunning sunset for our departure from Costa Rica


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