As we passed through the buzzing marketplace early in the morning, our heads were spinning.
The truth is, we felt a little overwhelmed and unsure of what the day held. CMac, Craig, Lisa and I had just left the cozy comfort of our cruise ship. This was my third cruise and the second for Craig and Lisa, so we were relative newbies when we landed in Limon, Costa Rica, in 2011.
By the third sailing and visiting a new country, a cruiser is always navigating something new and exciting. In Costa Rica, we booked an independent excursion (instead of using a ship-hosted shore excursion). We had decided to try to find most of our own tours on this sailing on Celebrity Equinox in an effort to save money and get a more intimate adventure away from the crowds. (Check my post on why an independent excursion can be great.)
On our morning of arrival in Puerto Limon and after a long stroll up the pier and through that craft market, we emerged into the sunshine on the other side to find a row of cabs and minivans lined up, with friendly Costa Ricans eagerly hawking their tours. Amid this chaos, we were trying to find Danilo, the guide with whom we had set up a customized outing for the day.
Months earlier a little research led us to Danilo Hall. He came highly recommended on Cruise Critic message boards and TripAdvisor reviews of things to do in Limon, Costa Rica. But he had no website. Just an email. CMac corresponded a few times, told him what we wanted to do and set up the appointment.
Now, it was time to meet up with Danilo. But how in the world . . . ?
A man approached eagerly wanting to sell us a tour, closely followed by a second and third -- all excitedly bidding good morning and "How about a tour today?" We quickly explained to the small crowd that we had an appointment already to meet with Danilo, and the men parted. "Oh, Danilo," I heard one say.
Another walked us over to our guide whom everyone seemed to know. We immediately knew we had made the right choice. I quickly started referring to Danilo Hall as the mayor. It seems he knows everyone, and he put his connections and easygoing way to use in showing us around his country.
To this day, our excursion in Costa Rica ranks as the best we've ever had. We had outlined that we wanted to go ziplining, tour a banana plantation and have some beach time. Pretty simple, right?
Our guide packed our day with so much more. Here is what we did after sliding into Danilo's minivan and heading off.
Not too far down the road toward the ziplining forest, Danilo spotted something in a tree. He pulled over, and we took time to get a good look at a sloth slumbering in a tree. We watched a tour bus packed with our fellow cruisers drive on by -- missing all the up-close creature spotting were undertaking.
A quick turn down a side road, and we soon are standing below dozens of howler monkeys inhabiting the canopy above. This is fascinating to see, especially for the first time.
What is that across the street on a giant web? Danilo gathers up the huge spider to show us. Eek!
After a fun time ziplining, we stop off at a roadside fruit market to sample fresh pineapple, coconut water and more (all included). Then, Danilo spots a tree he wants to show us, rolls down his window and calls to a resident who quickly jogs from his yard to meet us in the middle of the road and passes a strange-looking bulbous orange fruit to Danilo. He asks whether we know what it is. We are stumped.
It's a cashew plant, and Danilo peels it open to show us the familiar seed. We are already having a great time, and we've just got started. We exchange amazed looks at each other: "How can this guy know everyone in the country?"
Spotting kids along the road holding a sloth, we pull over and Craig gets to cuddle one of the unique creatures.
Conversation turns to Danilo's love for fishing (he goes often out on a boat with his brother-in-law) and our love for trying beers in the countries we visit. Seizing upon this knowledge, our host makes haste to a grocery store and takes me in to pick out some flavors. We return with eight cans of brew to pass around and sample (all included, just because that's how Danilo seems to roll, I suppose).
Later, we tour the amazing banana plantation to learn all about the process for the crucial industry for Costa Rica. Finally, we head to a beach to take a dip and enjoy a little sunshine. It's a popular beach for Costa Rican residents, and Danilo meets with friends and talks soccer as we head off for a spell on the sands.
To this day, we rave about our time in Costa Rica (absolute pura vida), and we learned a key lesson about travel. It's most often the people that make the place, and you never know how you are about to be surprised in your journeys, so it's nice to go into things with an open mind.
Thanks for reading.