I’m finally on board Star Flyer to start my adventure in Costa Rica and I’m going to relish a day at sea because getting to a cruise along the Pacific coast of Costa Rica remains an adventure.
It’s not as easy as taking a direct flight and getting whisked to the ship and being handed a welcome-aboard drink at the gangway. It turned out every one of the 170 passengers on our trip arrived in Costa Rica’s capital of San Jose after making a connection either through Atlanta, Houston or Miami. For me that meant a day that started with a 3 a.m. wake up and a 6 a.m. flight from Toronto and a three-hour layover in Miami.
After arriving in San Jose, most of us were transferred to the Intercontinental Hotel for buses that would take us to the port of Puerto Caldera, normally an hour and a half ride away. I say normally because it’s Sunday and that’s the afternoon thousands of Costa Ricans who have spent the weekend on the coast head back inland to the big city at the same time.
All four lanes of the main highway become one way into town on Sunday afternoon and that means outbound we have to take the old route through the mountains—that dates back to the days of ox-carts.
I was a bit suspicious when the guide on the bus patrolled up and down the aisle like a flight attendant making sure all the luggage in the overhead bins was well stowed. “It could be a bit of a rocky ride, please let me know if you’re feeling ill and you’d like us to stop the bus,” he said without a bit of irony. Oh oh.
We were in for a two and a half hour ride up towering mountains and down again on zig-zag roads whose abrupt curves made the experience feel like hitting turbulence on an airplane. But like I say it was an adventure and to their credit my fellow passengers agreed. Along the way we were being treated to some of the most spectacular scenery the Costa Rican coast has to offer.
Nearly sheer cliffs were lined with tropical forests and coffee and mango plantations at a time that’s early spring in Costa Rica and all the trees were sporting blossoms in oranges, pinks and yellows. Orchids were blooming in profusion on the branches of trees.
How anyone can tend these steep farm fields baffles me. You’d need to dangle down on a rope to pick the coffee. I think the trick is never look down, which was good advice as the bus zipped along the edges of hairpin turns with only vines separating us from the sheer drop into the valley below.
I focused on the horizon, where the views seemed to go on forever and the sun was setting.
We finally arrived at Puerto Caldera’s container port as the sun was setting and there was another surprise: The ship was anchored way out in the harbor and we’d have to take tenders to get on board. It turns out that on this itinerary there won’t be any stops where Star Flyer can actually tie up at a dock. In fact some of our stops at beaches will be water landings–where we have to wade to shore.
Again, a sense of adventure helps.
But there’s another delay before we can tender to the ship. It seems there’s a profusion of paper work to do first, something that in hindsight I would have preferred to do during our long wait at the hotel in San Jose. There are immigration forms, and health forms and registration forms to fill out in a big banana warehouse. Finally we’re issued oom keys and temporary boarding cards and can file down a gangway to get on a tender to the ship.
Finally clambering up the gangway, we got on deck just in time for the lifeboat drill. The announcements starts in English and then gets repeated in German as we have a big contingent from Austria, Germany and Switzerland. There was also a group from France, so there are a translations to French too
By far the majority of the passengers are Americans, or Canadians and as it turns out, a lot of them are part of groups as well– including 18 from a Traverse City, Michigan cherry producers association. Winter’s a good time for them to get away and they greet fellow passengers with lapel pins for their group. Even the captain was sporting one of them.
Unpacking can wait. It’s time to head down to dinner and then be on deck to see the sails raised for the first time on our trip, under what I hope will be a week of clear starry skies.