We’ve arrived in Costa Rica and made it to our first AirBnB in San Jose. If you missed Part 1 of our adventure, you should definitely go back and catch up.
Now it’s time to make our way to our next destination, the city of Liberia.
Road Trippin’ – Costa Rica Style
After an early wake-up call in San Jose, due to astronomical peculiarities in the region 1, we reloaded our beefy chariot and set out on the 4-hour drive to our official destination for the next 10 days, Liberia.
It didn’t take long for us to discover that road trips in Costa Rica are quite different than road trips we take in the US.
As we got out of the city of San Jose we quickly found ourselves on a nice 2-lane country road, not unlike many small country roads in the US.
I kept waiting for this road to lead us to a bigger multi-lane highway.
But I soon realized this was the highway.
Not Your Grand Pappy’s Highway System
At home, we often make the 3 hour trip from San Antonio to Houston where our parents live.
That trip is made on the jam-packed Interstate 10 at 80 miles per hour with vehicles of various shapes and sizes 2 all jockeying for position, trying not to get stuck behind any of the hundreds of long-haul truckers clogging up the right lane.
As we enter the outskirts of Houston, we get to experience the insanity that is the expanded 10-lane portion of I-10 jammed with vehicles all scrambling to beat each other to their varied destinations.
It’s a white knuckle event built for the hard-charging, speed-loving American.
In stark contrast, we discovered the 4-hour drive from San Jose to Liberia to be…well…incredibly peaceful.
The entire freeway all the way to Liberia was one lane each way.
Think small town, country backroads.
Costa Rica is a beautiful country filled with mountains and rivers and lush green vegetation as far as the eye can see, and the roads are built to match the terrain, not plow an asphalt line straight through it.
The other thing I noticed was that the speed limit was 60 kilometers per hour. It took me a while to do the math, but that’s only about 40 miles per hour.
On. The. Freeway.
No wonder this felt like a leisurely Sunday drive – because that’s exactly what it was.
It didn’t take 4 hours to get to Liberia from San Jose because it was really far. It took that long because cross-country trips were taken at such a leisurely pace.
We knew Costa Rica was known for both its beauty and it’s laid back atmosphere, and we got to experience both on our very first road trip!
Throughout our adventures during the next 3 weeks, we discovered that driving in Costa Rica isn’t just pleasant, it’s downright joyful.
Home Sweet Home in Liberia
Once we arrived in Liberia, our first stop was at our Airbnb located in an apartment complex about 5 minutes west of the city center.
This would be our home for the next 10 days.
The complex was tucked about a quarter-mile off the main road carved out of the thick jungle all around.
The complex itself was different than the tightly packed apartment complexes we are more accustomed to in the states. Instead, this complex was sprawling and covered with wide-open grassy spaces with trees and shrubs throughout.
The parking lot was located in the front with several sidewalks spidering off through the greenery towards each of the many 3-story apartment buildings scattered around.
The wide-open spacing felt much nicer than the densely packed apartment units we had lived in here in the US, although I suspect it was less ideal when it came to ferrying stuff from your car to your mildly distant apartment building.
On day 3 we finally realized they had some old shopping carts around the parking lot that some residents used to shuttle groceries and other goods from their cars to their apartments. We weren’t sure if this was an official offering of the apartment complex or an organic manifestation from the tenants, but it definitely got the job done.
Our apartment was a 2 bedroom, 2 bath unit located on the 2nd floor of a building positioned conveniently next to the gym, laundry room, and swimming pool.
The size of the apartment was comparable to the one we stayed in the night before in San Jose.
We again assessed the bedroom situation and found the kids’ room had two twin beds against each wall with space for a blow-up mattress on the floor in between them.
Right inside the door, there was just enough space again for Giabella’s Pac-n-Play.
We had survived the first night with all 4 kids in one room, but this was going to be the real test. We had 10 days to see how adaptable the kids would be.
All part of the adventure!
If squishing into our giant SUV was the kids’ first big adjustment, and sleeping in such close quarters was their second, then taking cold showers almost became their third.
The owner of this apartment had not listed hot water on his AirBnB page. We inquired about that before booking and he said he actually did have a hot water heater but he didn’t use it to save energy.
While Valarie and I could deal with cold showers, we weren’t so sure the kids were up to the challenge, especially the little girls. The owner agreed to turn the hot water on for us before we arrived.
But he forgot.
Luckily he was able to instruct us via text how to access the breaker box and flip the right switch to fire up the hot water heater.
Looks like only two big adjustments were going to be necessary thus far.
The Sports Camp
Like I mentioned in Part 1, Valarie and I have been on several mission trips to other countries in the past.
Other than having all our kids with us this time, another big difference on this trip was that the mission trip we were attending wasn’t being hosted by our church but by another church in San Antonio called Cross Bridge.
And did I mention that we hadn’t actually met anyone from that church before coming to Costa Rica?
Valarie had connected with the leader of the trip via email and text messages only. He graciously invited us along to join them, but we had never actually met in person.
Since we were traveling on our own, the leader gave us the location and dates of the sports camp and told us to meet them there when we arrived.
That’s literally all we knew when we pulled into the parking lot of a school campus in Liberia on the very first day.
We didn’t even know what the leader who had agreed to let us join looked like.
We were operating on a lot of faith at this point.
As we pulled into the parking lot, we could see a lot of kids on one of the soccer fields and in a pavilion further back, but we weren’t entirely sure that we were in the right place.
We slowly extracted the whole family from our land yacht and started walking towards the soccer field. A sweet lady with a nice southern accent asked *in English* if she could help us.
This felt like a good sign.
We asked her if this was the sports camp being led by Cross Bridge Church and she gave us a huge smile. “Why, yes it is.”
Val and I were immediately relieved to know that we had navigated all the way from San Antonio to Houston to San Jose to Liberia and ended up at the right school.
It’s the little things, right?
The kind woman proceeded to give us the full tour across the large school campus and introduce us to many others from their team.
As advertised, the team was leading a truly comprehensive sports camp for kids from around age 5 all the way up through high school. It included soccer, volleyball, basketball, baseball, and even yoga classes for kids and adults.
For the next 6 wonderful days, we spent the daytime at this school playing soccer, doing yoga, watching basketball and baseball drills, and playing games with kids and leaders from all over the world.
It seemed like every day we were meeting someone else from another part of the world helping out with the camp.
There were several leaders from Costa Rica, mainly Liberia and San Jose, as well as all the new people we were meeting from Cross Bridge Church in San Antonio.
The surfing instructors (yes, a Costa-Rican sports camp includes surfing!) were a husband and wife team – the husband a local to Costa Rica, and the wife an American.
We also met a group of leaders from Uruguay.
One day, while standing in line for lunch, we met a young lady from Switzerland who spoke Spanish, German and Italian. She also happened to speak English which was a nice bonus for us.
But there was one family that we connected with almost instantly.
Yaime (pronounced Jaime as Costa Rican Spanish uses the hard J sound for the letter Y) was there from San Jose along with her 3 children. Her daughter was about the same age as Carly, and they were inseparable the entire week.
Yaime didn’t speak English, but between our broken Spanish and Google Translate, she and Valarie really got to know each other and connected.
Yaime’s oldest son was 14 and learning English in school, so when he wasn’t on the baseball field, he would often serve as a fantastic translator for us.
Yaime helped us clean up our broken Spanish phrases and we even taught her a few English ones. We looked forward to hanging out with her and her kids each day.
Ministering to Abused Women
On two occasions, as the sports camp wrapped up for the day, I took the kids back to the apartment while Valarie traveled with several women from the group to a local coffee shop where the owner opened up a back room and allowed them to hold a yoga class for women who had been abused or recently freed from abusive relationships.
I didn’t get to be there, but Valarie said this was one of the most impactful times, as these women had not felt cherished and cared for in a long time.
The woman leading the yoga session did an amazing job of focusing the time on not just their physical well being, but also their value and self-worth, something many of the women desperately needed.
After each yoga session, they gathered in a small area of the coffee shop and had time to share their stories and the women leaders prayed over them.
Valarie always came back from these sessions energized and inspired by the women she met.
Skateboarding is a Sport
One day, as Valarie went to do yoga with the women, I loaded up the kiddos and took them to a local skate park where some of the Costa Rican leaders had organized a skate competition.
This was super fun and the kids loved it.
I struggled a bit because I was instantly in photographer mode, but had to remember I also had my 4 kids milling around a neighborhood skatepark in another country.
Luckily a pair of high-school girls from Cross Bridge were kind enough to be a second pair of eyes on my little girls, allowing me to do some more roaming and get some pretty good shots of the competitors.
On our 6th day in Costa Rica the sports camp wrapped up and our new friends all either boarded a plane back to the states or climbed into cars to drive back to their homes in Costa Rica.
This first week had been so rich and rewarding because we had the opportunity to connect with so many wonderful and diverse people. This is exactly what we were looking for when we planned our trip to Costa Rica.
We also recognized that much of it simply wouldn’t have happened if not for having our kids with us. Our kids were often the first ones people would engage with, and then we would start having a conversation.
It turns out children are little relationship magnets, and we would get to witness that over and over again during the next few weeks traveling through the country.
The Sports Camp is over, but our time in Costa Rica is still just beginning.
In Part 3 I’ll share more of our adventures in and around Liberia, including nearly destroying our beautiful rental car and getting soaked in a rainstorm while playing on the beautiful Playa Hermosa.
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