3 Weeks in Costa Rica: Part 4

When we left off last time, we had just made it through the pouring rain and into our beautiful rental car dragging half of Playa Hermosa with us.

After a beautiful day at the beach, it was a wet, muddy drive back to our apartment.

After some hot showers and dinner in our apartment, we all slept incredibly well. (After 7 straight days, the kids were pretty comfortable crashing out in the same room every night.)

If you missed any of our previous adventures, you can check them out here.

Things Started So Well

The next day started out fantastic.

It ended superbly as well.

But the middle. The trouble definitely started in the middle.

The Great Gasoline Debacle of 2019

We got an early start as we were headed for a long day of hiking at Rincon de la Vieja, a volcano in the Guanacaste region complete with boiling mud pots!

As we were driving out of the city of Liberia, Valarie mentioned that we should probably stop and get gas.

Having already passed the gas station and not wanting to turn around, I did some quick math in my head.

My dashboard computer said we had 100 kilometers worth of fuel. It was 30 kilometers to get to Rincon de la Vieja. That’s 60 kilometeres round trip.

We should be fine. 1

I shared these thoughts out loud as I continued toward our destination.

Remember this chain of events. It will be important later.

As with all of our daily drives, we were welcomed by lush greenery and beautiful mountains as we drove through the gorgeous Costa Rican landscape.

We eventually turned onto a small road that would lead us all the way to Rincon da la Viaja.

It was a beautiful drive with the volcano out of our right window stretching to the sky.

But I soon noticed a problem.

My first clue was when Valarie’s mouth started moving and words began to come out.

More specifically, she leaned over to look at the dashboard and said, “I told you we should have gotten gas.”

My onboard computer was now showing we only had 60 kilometers until running out of gas. Theoretically, that was not possible as we had only driven about 20 kilometers since we left our apartment.

I suppose, theoretically, I should have known that listening to my wife at all times ensures a much better traveling experience, but theories don’t always pan out so well in reality.

Less theoretically, when traveling to a volcano, much of the driving to get there will be uphill. This kind of driving requires more fuel than regular flat-land driving2, so we were getting much worse gas mileage than my fancy little onboard computer had anticipated back in town.

We kept driving for a few tense kilometers as Jacob, wedged in the squishy middle between his two little sisters, joined Valarie in staring intently at the little “fuel-remaining” number next to the gas gauge.

I suppose this was better than having both of them simply staring directly at me the whole time, although the effect was largely the same.

Featured image of Playa Conchal beach in Costa Rica.

Suddenly, when the computer hit 50 kilometers of gas left, a clanging sound started blaring and a bright light lit up the dashboard.

It didn’t necessarily say anything, but it had the same effect as a polite robotic female voice chiming, “You disappoint me.”

When I looked over at Valarie I noticed she was already looking at me, which is never a good sign.

I had no doubt we could still make it to Rincon de la Vieja, but now I wasn’t so sure we would make it back, which wasn’t really an acceptable solution to our problem.

“I think you’re right, honey. We need to turn around and go get gas back in town,” I said.

It turns out the only acceptable time to realize your spouse is right is immediately. There are no kudos for arriving late to that party.

I thought I might at least get a sigh of relief when I said the words.

Instead, I got nothing, which in hindsight, was probably better than I deserved.

I eased our hardy land yacht to the side of the one-lane road and executed a 180.

We drove in the thickest of silences all the way back down the mountain and right back into the town where we started.

Gas mileage estimation computers being what they are, our mileage improved significantly as we headed down the mountain.

By the time we made it to the gas station, it was actually back up to 60 kilometers remaining.

I share this little detail with you because I assure you, at that moment, that small bit of information amused NO ONE in the car except me.

Change in Plans

It was already lunchtime, and since we were back in the vicinity of our apartment, we decided to stop off and grab some lunch before trying to salvage the day and find something else to explore.

We were planning to visit a waterfall called Llanos de Cortez the next day, but since we still had daylight left, we decided to hop over there today and try Rincon de la Vieja tomorrow – on a full tank of gas.

Llanos De Cortez Waterfall

After eating lunch we were all fueled up (see how quickly I can make jokes about it?) and quickly made the 40-minute drive to Llanos de Cortez Waterfall.

From the parking area, there is a winding staircase of about 60 steps to get down to the river at the bottom of the waterfall.

Llanos de Cortez Waterfall

The waterfall itself spans about 60 feet across and drops into a pooling area where you can swim and play before the water continues down the river.

It’s a popular tourist spot with busloads of people coming and going throughout the day from various hotels and resorts.

One of the benefits of being on our own schedule is that we were able to stay for several hours, meaning we got to experience the falls in between tour buses when far fewer people were crowding into the water.

The pooling area below the falls is only about 4 to 5 feet deep, which makes it a great place to play and relax.

Welcome to the jungle.
Fun for the whole family!

Closer to the shore area the water is very shallow making it perfect for little kids to play and have fun as well.

Valarie and I took turns heading closer to the falls alone or with one or two of the kids.

A bit to our surprise, we ended up spending the rest of the day there as it was so fun playing in the water, and the shallow areas were the perfect size for the two little girls to splash around in.

Sand and mud are so much fun to play with.
I still can’t believe we got them on there long enough for this picture.

Occasionally we would see people hiking around the top of the waterfall and we wondered how people were getting up there.

As we were preparing to leave, I asked one of the tour guides hanging out on the beach how people were getting up to the top of the waterfall. He said if we crossed over the river there was a path through the woods that would take us up to the top of the falls.

Not ones to miss a unique opportunity, Val and I gathered up the kids and our gear and went to find the path to the top.

When you hand your camera to a random tourist, you get what you get.

Hiking to the Top of the Waterfall

Step one was crossing the river, which was calm, but about 25 feet across. There were stones and logs that formed the path, but they were very slippery.

We had just come from playing in the water, but now we were all dried off with our shoes on, so falling in the river wasn’t an appealing thought.

I also had the added benefit of carrying Giabella in the pack on my back, plus the camera bag with our cameras and phones inside.

Valarie went first holding Scottie’s hand.

Jacob and Carly were on their own and did great.

I pulled up the rear with Giabella.

Amazingly, the whole family made it across the river and not one of us was ended up wet or muddy. The hard part was over.

We made our way along the trail through the forest until we came to a group of people hanging out at the edge of a small cliff overlooking a much smaller waterfall landing in a pool of water.

The pool was probably 10 feet down from the ledge we were on and 25 feet across.

The one who seemed to be the tour guide was telling his acolytes that the water was about 14 feet deep in the center and perfectly safe for jumping and swimming in.

The tourists nervously looked at each other.

Finally, at the urging of his “friends”, one guy volunteered to test the theory.

He lept from the edge and splashed into the center of the pool and disappeared beneath the water.

Moments later he emerged shouting, “Oh man, that’s cold!”

The tour guide neglected to mention the temperature of the water.

This would have been a fun area for Val and I to play, but with the steep ledge and deep water, it wasn’t going to be awesome for our family.

As the next person lined up to take the plunge, we continued down the path around the pool and eventually started a steady uphill climb toward the top of the waterfall.

At the top of the ridge, we could tell we were on the left side of the waterfall, but we had seen people on the right side of the waterfall, and that’s where we needed to be if we ever wanted to make it back to our car.

We looked all around but didn’t see any way to make it to the other side of the falls.

Luckily, another tour guide who likely saw us from the other side came around and showed us there was a path further away from the waterfall.

This path, again, required the navigation of a few rocks to get from one side of the river to the next.

These rocks were further apart, meaning once you committed to taking a step, you were committed, or you would end up wet.

This time, with Giabella still lounging on my back, I went first.

A few quick steps and I was done.

Jacob was next. No problems there.

Carly made the first two rocks but got excited and her foot slipped off the third. She fell into the river up to her thigh before quickly scrambling out on the side. Her legs were wet and shoes muddy, but she made it.

Val and Scottie were last, and with mommy’s guidance, they both made it just fine.

Luckily the guide waited for us because he then motioned that we had to ease through a small opening in a fence that separated what looked like a cow pasture from the Llanos de Cortez park.

Once inside the cow pasture, we could walk about 50 feet on dry land, basically traversing the width of the waterfall, and then exit another small opening in the fence to be back inside the park.

What kind of weird trail was this? I’m glad the tour guide waited for us because I never would have assumed the correct path involved squeezing through a gap in a fence, across a random pasture, and back through the fence 50 feet away.

But that was, in fact, the correct path.

Now we were on the correct side of the waterfall and we could see the parking area where our giant SUV was hanging out.

On the right side of the waterfall, we could step down a series of large flat rocks and get right next to the wall of water rushing down to the pool we were just playing in 40 feet below.

We kept the kids on the second to last step, far enough away from the edge.

We were just down there.

Many of the people playing in the pool waved to us and we waved back. I wondered if our presence up there was going to make them wonder how they could climb up as well.

After a few more pictures, we headed to the parking lot tired and hungry from a wonderful day.

We had come a long way from nearly running out of gas.

Rincon de la Vieja – For Real This Time

After The Great Gasoline Debacle of 2019 the day before, we attempted to take on Rincon de la Vieja with a full tank of gas this time.

Unsurprisingly, things went much better.

Rincon de la Vieja is an active volcano that’s popular for its boiling mud pots – basically small lakes of mud that are quite literally boiling from the heat being released deep down below.

Ready to roll.

Along our 3-mile hike up and down the side of the volcano, we had the opportunity to see several of these unique geological features.

Although it is a little eerie to be standing on a wooden platform directly above some of these boiling pits of mud, the thing that really catches your attention is the hot sulfuric gasses that come wafting over you when the wind shifts the wrong way.

It stinks.

Hot steam billowing up from the ground.

But it’s really quite awesome to watch. If you can stand the heat and smell, the boiling mud looks otherworldly, like something out of a sci-fi movie.

The kids thought it was fantastic, and would often run as the wind sent the steaming air rushing our direction.

It turns out pictures of boiling mud are quite boring.

Giant Trees and Waterfalls

Being in the middle of the jungle, the trail was full of incredible tree and plant life.

There was one kind of tree, in particular, that was really cool.

Instead of a round tree trunk, it had more of a flat flowing trunk that looked like ripples in a thick curtain.

I’ve never seen trees like this before.

That ripple effect went all the way down to the roots which sometimes started as a flowing ripple of wood 8 or 10 feet in the air and would slowly curve its way back and forth until disappearing into the ground some 15 or 20 feet away from the tree.

We ended up seeing these same kinds of trees all over Costa Rica, and I learned that the root system is called a buttress root because the wide swath of roots actually helps prevent the tree from falling over, like a buttress.

Children are great for showing scale.

We also had the opportunity to see another waterfall, albeit a much smaller one.

This one wound down a rocky slope and dropped probably 50 feet to the river below.

The park had constructed a nice terrace for easy viewing, and we had the whole thing to ourselves while we were there. (There are benefits to exploring during the work week!)

The waterfall was unimpressive, so I give you Scottie’s gripping amazement instead.

Power Legs

As usual, Val and I took turns carrying Giabella around in the pack.

We chose the shorter 3-mile trail that wound its way through the park and ended at two giant boiling mud pot lakes, but there were certainly much longer trails that circumnavigated most if not all of the volcano.

Our chosen path was 3 miles one way, so that meant a 6-mile round trip.

That’s a lot for kids, but I was super impressed with our kiddos. They did a fantastic job, and even though they were very tired at the end, they never complained.

All that energy just waiting to be unleashed.

I had to hold Scottie’s hand and keep her moving for the last half-mile or so but she made it the entire way without having to be carried, which was a huge benefit to my back.

By the end of the trail, we were all very tired.

Giabella was the only one who got to take a nap during the hike, so she was the only one bursting with energy as we piled back into our chariot.

There are definitely benefits to being the baby.

You never know what kind of animals you’ll find in the jungle.

Our time in Liberia has come to an end. It’s time to pack up our things and head West to the town of Tamarindo.

In Part 5 we’ll share the reverse culture shock we experienced during our first 10 minutes in our new town, and also meet the infamous beach that almost stole our little Scottie into the ocean forever. Yikes!


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  1. Statements with the word “should” will likely be the death of me.
  2. I’m certain that’s the proper term for driving that is neither uphill nor downhill.

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