With our first full week in Costa Rica wrapped up, the mission trip was over and all our new friends had gone back home, but we still had several more weeks of fun planned for our family.
In fact, our time in Liberia wasn’t even over yet.
We still had a few days before our adventures would take us to the west coast and some of those amazing Costa Rican beaches we had heard about.
But for now, it was time to explore the rest that Liberia had to offer.
The city of Liberia is not a very popular tourist destination.
Liberia International Airport was located just 20 minutes from our AirBnB, but most people arriving there head directly west to the Pacific Coast beaches and resorts, not East toward the city.
But we found the city of Liberia to be a fantastic place to explore. It felt very much like we lived there and were part of the city, which we enjoyed immensely.
The city center was originally designed as a walking space, which was very apparent each day as we drove our bulbous fam-bam SUV through the tiny one-way streets clustered with tiny shops and restaurants.
Our apartment was about a 5-minute drive from the city center, but we passed by there each day on our way to the sports camp.
One evening we decided to have dinner at Cafe Liberia, the wonderful restaurant and pastry shop where Valarie and the other women did yoga classes for the abused women.
Cafe Liberia was run by a wonderful French woman and her husband.
It was a small but beautiful shop with a dining room that could fit maybe 30 people.
On this night, we were the only customers in the restaurant, which gave us the unique opportunity to chat with the owners.
The dining space was wide but narrow, so even at our table in the back, we were only 10 feet from the large open windows where we could watch and hear the hustle and bustle of people and dogs and the occasional mom with a fussy baby passing by on the street.
We ordered generous portions of many different items on the menu, including desserts, and shared our food across the table so the whole family could try a bit of everything.
It was absolutely delicious!
It wasn’t until I went to use the restroom that I discovered a large open-air section out containing a beautiful garden in the middle and sectioned areas with more seating. There were probably 10 more customers scattered throughout the outdoor seating area.
After dinner, we graciously thanked our hosts and piled back into our car for the familiar drive back to our apartment.
In that moment, after seven full days in the city, it truly felt like we lived in Liberia and this was just a typical family dinner night.
We’ve been on plenty of vacations where we were the tourists staying at the trendy resort, taking shuttle buses packed with other tourists to this or that amazing tourist attraction far away from the real lives of the locals.
Those trips definitely have their purpose, but they always lack a deeper acknowledgment that there are real people living real lives in those exact same locations.
Staying in Liberia for 10 full days, driving our own car around town, buying our own groceries, and meeting kind people who lived there allowed us to appreciate that Liberia as a city, and Costa Rica as a country, was more than just a beautiful vacation destination.
It was a place where people worked and played and raised their kids and did their chores just like anyone else.
It was a place that people called home.
Speaking of Doing Chores…
Day 8 of our adventure was very different from the first 7.
This day was all about doing the laundry.
Being a 3-week-long trip, we knew washing clothes was going to be a necessity, so making sure each place we stayed had a washer and dryer was an important consideration, though not one we successfully navigated during the entire trip. (More on that when we get to La Fortuna.)
Our current apartment, like many apartment complexes, had a central laundry facility along with a workout room and swimming pool.
The washing machines weren’t free, though.
As I was perusing the machines, I was able to cobble together enough Spanish to ask a woman folding her clothes where to purchase the tokens for the machines.
“Cabaña de guardia,” she said.
The special oblong tokens needed for the machines had to be purchased from the guard on duty at the guard shack at the entrance to the complex.
In our daily comings and goings, we had met many of the guards. They were incredibly friendly – and didn’t speak any English.
That meant purchasing laundry tokens was going to require firing up Google Translate and practicing a few times to learn how to ask for the tokens and how much they cost.
When I felt ready, I took my Colones, the Costa Rican currency, down to the guard shack and asked to purchase 6 tokens for the laundry machines (3 for washing and 3 for drying). I mostly got it right and the transaction felt more natural than I expected.
I even handed the guard the correct amount of money the very first time.
I’ll call that a win.
Our apartment unit was right across from the laundry building…and the pool…so we had the whole family put on our swimsuits while just about every other item of clothing was bagged up and hauled down to the laundry room.
We then got to play in the pool for the rest of the day! I’ve never had so much fun doing laundry.
This was also the first day I got to test out the underwater capabilities of my used GoPro video camera.
Photography has been a passion of mine for years, and I knew I was going to bring my big camera 1, but I also thought it would be fun to capture video as well.
Of course, anyone who has done any level of filmmaking knows that video is a beast all on its own, so on past trips, I’ve never even messed with it.
But for this trip, I decided to buy a GoPro camera to see if there were any fun or unique opportunities to capture video.
Of course, capturing video directly on our phones is always the easiest way to go, but I knew we would be in rivers and waterfalls and many other situations where I didn’t want to risk dropping or destroying my phone.2
So I opted to purchase a cheap used GoPro on Craigslist.
Just two days before our trip I found a 3-year-old GoPro Hero 5 Black available for $200. I was specifically targeting this model because it was the first GoPro model to be completely waterproof without requiring an extra case.
A couple of text messages and a quick trip to my local grocery store parking lot and the GoPro was mine.
I believe on the 2nd day of the sports camp I ended up taking a fair amount of video footage that I then edited on our laptop back at the apartment that night.
I then uploaded it to YouTube to share with family and friends in somewhat real-time. (The video uploads generally took all night as Internet speeds, especially upload speeds, were not exactly blazing in any of the locations where we stayed.)
From that day forward I started capturing footage each day with the intent of editing together a short video that I could upload and share that night.
I never intended to do these daily video captures and share them out in real-time. It never occurred to me until we were in the country to try and edit the footage and share it while we were on vacation.
But I also realized that if I waited until I got home and had hundreds of pictures on top of hours of video footage, I would likely never touch the video footage and it would end up sitting on my computer lost to time forever.
So shoddy quality and poor editing skills aside, I made the decision that something was always better than nothing – especially when I want to go back and watch these videos 20 years from now.
To my surprise more than anyone’s, I was actually able to keep up and produce these short videos each and every night before going to bed.
It became a fun routine.
Well…fun for me.
While Valarie loved watching the end products each night before I uploaded them to YouTube, I think she generally despised the hour or so I would spend pouring over the footage editing them down.
The goal was to make each day’s video 5 minutes or less, but I rarely hit that goal.
If I was a better editor or spent more time on it, I probably could have done it, but this was a hyper-focused rush to mash up a bunch of footage and get it loading to YouTube before falling asleep each night.
Overall, I’m glad I did it.
Will I do it again on our next big trip? I don’t know. I’ll have to weigh the time commitment vs. the value of having these videos for future viewing. I’m guessing it will be a trip-by-trip decision.
I do know that if I decide to do video again, I’ll sell this GoPro and buy a new one. This one has a horrible audio popping issue that made some of the videos completely unusable. I guess that’s the risk of buying used, but it still worked well enough for my needs.
To the Beach!
After 2 days at our apartment washing, drying, folding, and repacking laundry, swimming in the pool, and mostly just letting the kids rest up, we were ready to do some more exploring.
Our friends from the sports camp told us about a wonderful beach about 30 minutes from our apartment called Playa Hermosa.
Playa Hermosa is a relatively small beach comprised of a cove on the Pacific side of the country surrounded by lush tropical hills on 3 sides.
The beach itself is all-natural, meaning it won’t meet your expectations of the white sandy beaches often manufactured in more touristy locations, but what the beach itself lacks, it more than makes up for in natural Costa Rican beauty.
The cove was made up of beautiful jungle with high sloping hills on all 3 sides.
Multi-colored rooftops from restaurants and hotels would peek out from the greenery meandering up the hills. It truly looked like a picturesque vacation or retirement village.
Dozens of boats, from small fishing boats to big beautiful sailboats, were anchored near a small island that shot up out of the water a few hundred yards off the beach.
Being in a cove also meant that the water and waves were much calmer than the more popular surfing destinations along the country’s coastlines.
These calm waves would definitely mislead us on future beach trips, but more on that in a future post.
This beach was perfect for our family with small kids. We felt safe letting them run around and play and splash in the small crashing waves. Of course, the 2-year old was always with me or Val because we’re not crazy.
Throughout the day we noticed storm clouds rolling in from the north, and by dinner time we could tell it was time to pack up before the rain hit.
No sooner had Val and I agreed on that thought than the clouds ripped open releasing what seemed like a never-ending waterfall on our tiny paradise.
Typically, after a day at the beach, our goal is to get off the beach and into the car with minimal sand and dirt coming with us. Doing so with 4 kids adds at least 15 to 45 minutes to this process and takes an extra measure of diligence.
On this occasion, as the rain came pouring down, all typical cleaning protocols were abandoned.
Walking to the car was a 40-yard dash through the wet sand and mud.
Attempting to dry off in the pouring rain was pointless.
Simply opening the car doors meant rain flooding into the car.
With all attempts to leave the beach at the beach abandoned, we ended up piling into the car as fast as we could dragging all the sand and mud and soaking wet bathing suits and towels with us.
We were a mess!
Good thing it was a rental.
From here on our trip shifts into high gear churning out jungle, volcano, waterfall, and ocean explorations on a daily basis.
Next time we’ll hit 2 of the biggest attractions in Liberia, including a classic retelling of what shall henceforth be known as “The Great Costa Rican Gasoline Debacle of 2019.”
See you in Part 4!
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