Where were you when you learned that Ecuador requires that visitors have at least six months of passport validity? Was it perhaps about four seconds ago? We learned this kernel at a bit more inopportune time and place: Tocumen International Airport in Panama City, as we tried and failed to check in for our fabulous week in Ecuador's Galapagos Islands during Popecation*.
We started the check-in process as we've done 74,843 times before, waved at our friend and her her son (who we had convinced to come with us to the Galapagos!) as she finished checking in a few kiosks away, and told them we'd see them in a few minutes at the gate. We hadn't yet noticed that our Avianca employee looked increasingly worried.
As we learned in one of the most unpleasant ways learning can happen, Ecuador is one of 49 countries that require a passport to be valid for at least six months after arrival. And it seemed that Sarah's passport was to expire in June, five-and-three-quarters months away. An appointment had already been booked at the embassy for late January, but that, of course, wasn't good enough. It seems we'd become a bit complacent with the travel planning and made a rookie mistake.
Since our house was occupied for the week by some visiting home exchangers, we couldn't just head home for a staycation. And so we had the ultimate of first-world problems: trying frantically to figure out where in the world we could fly ASAP. Flights to Paris were pretty darn cheap, but is was hovering just over freezing there and we had only shorts in our minimal luggage (and not many pants or coats at home, either). We considered half the countries of Latin America before finding a cheap flight to Costa Rica on Air Panama out of one of the old U.S. air force bases.
*Popecation (aka Vatication, aka Popepocalypse) was a week during mid-January of 2019 when the Roman Pontiff visited and Panama's Ministry of Education ordered our school to close. Most Panamanian schools were off anyway for their "summer vacation" since they follow a South American school calendar. December - March is referred to as summer here which continues to confuse us.
Before flying out, we did actually go home to grab pants for everyone (Costa Rican cloud forests are chilly!) before walking up the airplane's stairs like we were movie stars from the fifties.
Our night in downtown San Jose was the night of the lunar eclipse, though only The Eldest stayed awake long enough to see it complete. Here's his pic:
Downtown's plaza and fancy church (cathedral?) were cool, if a bit on the small side. Though I guess I'm used to my big city home.
We rented a 4x4 (which ended up being a good idea given Tico roads) and headed up to Santa Elena, just down the (poorly maintained) street from the rightly famous Monteverde Reserve.
Santa Elena welcomed us well:
Our only reservations ahead of touchdown was our first night in San Jose and the next few at the Pension Santa Elena, which was awesome. We explained to the folks at the front desk that we didn't know much about what to do in the country because of our last-minute travel snafu and they did a great job of setting us up with fabulous adventures nearby. The breakfast tacos were tops and the sleeps-five room was inexpensive as well. Highly recommended!
Our first adventure was that night on the Kinkajou Night Walk, where our guide led us around the cloud forest and we spotted an olingo, a couple scorpions fluorescing under a black light, a red-eyed fog, a tarantula, and a sleeping toucan. We also watched a sloth wake up from his 18-hour nap and slowly devour his surroundings. Fun!
Time for zip lines!
While the professional pics of us were particularly nice, the videos are all via my helmet cam!
Here's a three minute compilation video if you want a glimpse of the adventure:
(it's downloadable if it's not streaming for you)
Then we walked amongst the trees.
The wind whipped over the spine of the Americas from the Caribbean to the Pacific. The walk to the continental divide was breathtaking (literally) as was the difference in plants on one side versus the other. But our kids were more interested in digging purple rocks out of the path.
In the end Santa Elena and the Monteverde area was splendiferous. Splendiferous I say!
While a small volcanic eruption foiled our plans to go mudbathing on our way to the beach, we did make a brief detour to see the Llanos de Cortez waterfall.
The "if you visit one waterfall in Costa Rica, visit this one" experience did not disappoint.
Sámara and the warm Pacific coast would be home base for the second half of the week where we lazed about the tropical paradise.
Ok, so perhaps we did a bit more than laze about: we managed to do a kayak/snorkeling trip to an offshore island and gawked at our first sea turtles.
While the waves were not fabulous for surfing, I tried to overcome that fact and learned that, in fact, the waves were not fabulous for surfing. The rest of the family played in the water and the sand. Not too bad a way to spend a few days in January.
I realize that this blog makes it seem like we never stick around our home base of Panama City, but we actually do! In fact we just had a whole week off for Carnival (we do work every once in a while, I swear!) and stayed in the heart of the city. Check back and you'll see soon enough.