Outside Child, Allison Russell’s extraordinary debut album is “about resilience, survival, transcendence, the redemptive power of art, community, connection, and chosen family.” It is also about a journey out of an abusive background and of breaking the cycle of abuse. Her first solo album, released just this month, rises above the confessional to the spiritual. It is full of emotional intelligence and raw power. Her voice is plaintive, haunting, and heartrending. The song Nightflyer from the album is a perfect example. She is appearing tonight at the Grand Old Opry in Nashville; I wish I could be there. She has performed with Our Native Daughters, a group of banjo-playing Black women at the invitation of Rhiannon Giddens. I give you Allison Russell.
My partner and I recently went on a long awaited much anticipated trip to Costa Rica. In the time of the corona-virus we have all had to curtail our travelling out of a necessity to stay safe and simply because many places were unavailable to travel to. Costa Rica has just recently opened its borders and welcomed tourist traffic back to this Central American paradise.
In order to enter the country, one had to fill out a form asking many health-related questions and based on the answers you were issued a Health Pass. This was needed before you could even get on the airplane stateside and was checked many times along the way and when you got to the airport in San Jose when we were going through Customs and Immigration.
Also required for entry was a health insurance policy to cover medical expenses and lodging in case you tested positive for Covid on the way out of the country and had to quarantine. A negative covid test was required before leaving.
On the way down the airline (Delta) blocked off the middle row for social distancing and required all passengers and crew to wear masks. Once we got in country most workers and local people also wore masks and of course we continued to wear ours as well. We were able to relax the mask rule sometimes while riding in the transport vehicles or when we stopped to eat and were sitting at our table. Whenever we went to a restaurant the first thing the greeter did at every place we visited was to point to a sink and hand sanitizer station to clean our hands before we were seated.
Everyone we met was very friendly and enthusiastic. They have a saying in Costa Rica that is good for any occasion: “Pura Vida!”
We left our apartment in Louisville, Kentucky about 5:30 in the morning and caught an Uber to the airport for our 7:00 flight. We changed planes in Atlanta and arrived in Costa Rica by 1:30 pm. There is a two-hour difference between Costa Rica and Louisville and pretty much for the whole nine days I was living on Louisville time.
We made our travel arrangements with a travel agency in the States before leaving. When we arrived in San Jose, the country’s capitol, an in-country travel team took over and a representative met us at the airport when we landed. He escorted us through immigration, scanned out health passes and led us to our driver for our first destination.
Our first destination was the Volcano Lodge near the Arenal Volcano. It was about a three-hour journey. As we hadn’t eaten yet we asked Fernando, our stalwart driver, if we could stop along the way. He said yes, there was a place he knew about half way. Fernando was very friendly and talkative and gave us a guided tour of the countryside as we traveled along.
As promised about halfway we stopped at a restaurant called Mi Rancho. The food was delicious. I had what was called a typical Costa Rican Dinner, a Chicken Casado, consisting of black beans, plantains, salad, a tortilla, and chicken. I had an Imperial Beer which is the beer of choice in Costa Rica.
We got back on the road and shortly reached our destination at the Volcano Lodge and Thermal Springs. On the way we drove through the little town of La Fortuna which was near the lodge. It looked to have a variety of shops and restaurants and we made a mental note to come back for a visit while we were still in the area.
In the morning we had breakfast in the hotel restaurant, Sura Bar and Bistro. I did a nature walk first. After breakfast we immersed ourselves first in the hot springs, then in the hot mineral water pool, then the cold pool. Afterwards we had Bloody Mary’s out by the pool. Then we returned to the room for some afternoon delight. Afterwards we went out on the patio to read until it was time to meet our driver for our next adventure, the hanging bridges tour.
Greivin, our guide and driver for the day, picked us up a little before 2:00 and drove us to Mistico Park for the hanging bridges tour. There are ten static bridges, six hanging bridges, and one waterfall. We stopped along the way to take pictures in front of the magnificent Arenal Volcano. There are over 200 volcanic formations in Costa Rica with five of them considered active. Arenal is one that is considered active and is one of the most popular sites to visit in Costa Rica
When we arrived at Mistico Park, located in the middle of a rain forest, we stopped to take more pictures. Then we began our hike. We walked over the many hanging bridges observing the flora and the fauna. It was a four-mile hike and a three-hour tour. Greivin proved to be an excellent guide.
When we got back to the hotel, we had a couple of drinks out on the patio before dinner. We showered and changed clothes, then walked down to the Sura for dinner. I had the typical Costa Rican dinner with chicken beans, rice, salad, and plantains. Maureen had the eggplant. The food was delicious! I had a shot of 30-year-old Centenario rum on the rocks and Maureen had a gin and tonic.
Tomorrow is a new day, and we will be on our own.
On our own today. We did the hot springs again, had breakfast, came back to the room and read out on the patio for a while. I am reading Under Kilimanjaro, by Ernest Hemingway. I always bring Hemingway with me when I travel. I find him to be a source of great inspiration. I found it quite ironic that I was reading a book about a fellow traveler who was camped under the great volcano of Africa, Kilimanjaro, while I was camped under another volcano, Arenal, thousands of miles away. We both loved the country so, he in Africa, me in Costa Rica. And we were both with women we loved who played a significant role in each of the stories; he with miss Mary and I with miss Maureen.
Later in the day we decide to go into La Fortuna which was about nine miles away. We walked up to the front desk and had the concierge hail us a taxi. In a few minutes a red car pulled up with a familiar yellow triangular sign on top., Our taxi had arrived. Our driver was named Johnny Miranda and he said to call him when we were ready to go back and he would pick us up again. He dropped up off in center of town near the restaurant we planned to eat at later that evening.
Johnny says, “Habla Espanola?”
I say, “Un poquito. Habla Ingles?”
Johnny says, “Un poquito.”
We both laughed, but we didn’t have any problem communicating after that. As a matter of fact, most people we encountered spoke some English and we never had any problem communicating with anyone.
Every town in Costa Rica has four elements: A church, a school, a soccer field and a bar. La Fortuna was no exception. I might add one other element, a central park. We had fun exploring the town, going into some of the shops, taking pictures, and we stopped at a place called, La Prada, to have a drink and a snack before dinner.
Dinner was at Don Rufino’s, a high-end establishment that was recommend by Fernando. I had the sautéed fish which was excellent. To drink I had the Centenario Rum, this time the 15-year-old variety. Maureen asked me if I liked it as much as the 30-year-old and said I enjoyed it exactly half as much.
After dinner I called Senor Johnny on my cell phone and he appeared Johnny on the spot and drove us home to the Volcano Lodge. We changed clothes for a late-night dip in the hot springs. We sat at the bar on stools submerged in the hot water and ordered drinks. I had a Jack Daniels on the rocks and Maureen had her mainstay, gin and tonic.
Home to bed, reading Sirens of Titan, until the words danced on the pages and I drifted off to sleep.
Last day at Volcano Lodge. Had breakfast with Miss Maureen. Back at the room reading Hemingway. We have a little time before we have to pack up and leave. I will miss this place and certainly I would come back.
We drove all day through the fog on narrow twisty roads through the mountains. We stopped a couple of times to stretch our legs and relieve ourselves. We also stopped for lunch at another roadside attraction. I had the typical Cost Rican lunch which I never tire of. We finally reached our destination in Manuel Antonio about 5:00 in a driving rain. We checked into the hotel, Si Como No, and went to our room. We were given umbrellas and a staff person brought our luggage. The rooms were little cottages perched on the cliffs in the jungle overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
After we got settled in, we went out for dinner at the hotel restaurant, Claro Que Si and had an excellent meal. I had the Sauteed shrimp. To drink I had rum again. One straight on the rocks and then I switched up and tried another drink called Red Eyed Gin and Tonic. It was pretty good, but one was enough. Maureen had her customary Hendrick’s Gin and Tonic. Two in fact. We retired after that. Long day.
Breakfast at the Rico Tico Jungle Grill with a magnificent view of the Jungle and the ocean. Later we took a taxi to Manuel Antonio Park. Senor Luis was our driver. We had to pay an entry fee to get into the park but it was worth it. We walked two miles to the beach through the jungle. What a lovely secluded cove with very few people. Spent a couple of hours in the sun having fun in the ocean and on the beach. We walked back out and had lunch at one of the many restaurants just outside the park entrance. Once again, I had the typical Casado, this time with pork. Had two Imperial Beers to drink. Maureen had the nachos.
Called our driver to pick us up and we went back to the hotel. I was exhausted and took a two-hour nap. The sun really takes it out of me. Later we went down to the Claro Que Si for dinner. We had standing reservation for 7:00 and we got out usual table at the edge of the dining room overlooking the jungle. That is where we saw our first sloth. He was just hanging around in a tree just outside the restaurant in plain view. He caused quite a sensation and everyone crowded around against the railing to catch a glimpse of this awesome creature. I took pictures. “No flash!” The wait person admonished, “They don’t like flashes.” Everyone was very protective of the wild life.
We went back to the room and sat out on the patio and watched the lightning flashes light up the night sky. It went on all night long.
I was picked up in the morning by my guide Corry and our driver. Miss Maureen stayed home as her knee was bothering her and I knew we would be going over some rough trails and walking on slippery rocks and such so she decided to stay back and hang out by the pool. Turns out it was a wise decision. At our first waterfall Corry climbed a tree and jumped into the natural pool at the base of the waterfall.
The next waterfall was at Uvita. It features a 30-foot natural water slide, which I tried. We had to climb to the top of the falls. I sat in the saddle and crossed my arms, tucked my chin and lay back, and Corry gave me a little nudge and the next thing I knew I was in the water swimming out. Very exhilarating!
By this time, it was lunchtime. We drove to a little restaurant at the top of a hill overlooking the ocean. The view was breathtaking. And the food was delicious.
After lunch, we went to anther waterfall, called Cascada Del Pavon. We had to hike a way into the jungle to get to it. This waterfall featured a boulder that had rolled down the mountain millions of years ago and lodged between two larger boulders at the top of the waterfall dividing the stream. We took some pictures and hiked back out. Our next stop was the ocean!
This is was a public beach used by the locals and it was fairly crowded. It featured some caves, but it was high tide and the caves were full of water so we couldn’t go in. Corry let me wander about on my own for a while and invited me to jump in the ocean, but I demurred. I did take a lot of pictures and it was a beautiful beach. While I was gone Corry made some origami figures from some reeds he found in the area. Very clever of Corry to make these figures which he presented to me as a gift.
On the way back we made two stops for photo ops. One was of a Trex sculpture and one was for a sculpture of a Blue Whale in Uvita. Oh yes, we actually made a third stop to photograph one of the mysterious stone spheres that have been discovered in Costa Rica. No one knows where they come from, how they got there, or how they were made.
Sat out by the pool in the morning. Had breakfast at the Rico Tico Jungle Grill. At 1:00 we were picked up by our bus driver who transported us down to the docks for our catamaran sunset tour. We boarded The Tom Cat about 2:00 along with the other passengers and “set sail” off into the sunset. Only the sun didn’t set for another few hours so we cruised up and down Costa Rican Coast. We stopped at one point in a little cove to let people dive into the ocean and snorkel if they wanted or slide into the ocean from one of the two water slides mounted on the back of the boat. It was a double decker and people were above board and below deck. There was music and plenty to drink and they even served a late lunch of shish kabob. I was drinking rum. Maureen demurred as they didn’t have anything she liked. It was quite a party and everyone had a lot of fun. The sunset was spectacular and was definitely the highlight of the cruise. I took pictures of course and the other passengers danced a conga line all around the boat. After the sun set, we headed back for the docks. On the way back we observed dolphins jumping out of the water in pairs to the delight of everyone on board.
Once back at the docks we caught our bus back to the hotel. When we got back, we rested up a bit then got dressed for dinner and headed down to the Claro Que Si. We were greeted warmly by the host and escorted to our usual table in the corner.
Another long, but quite satisfying day.
Time to head back to San Jose. We checked out of the hotel and waited for our driver to pick us up. He arrived right on time at 9:30. It was about a three-hour drive to San Jose. We had to be at our hotel by 1:00 for our scheduled covid test, which we needed to leave the country. A doctor was supposed to meet us in our room to administer the test.
We arrived at 12:30 in plenty of time to check in and get to our room in anticipation the doctor’s visit. The Grano de Oro was a beautiful old Spanish hotel that had at one time been a mansion. The rooms were well appointed, there were huge exotic plants in the atrium and original art hung on the walls. Absolutely beautiful old-world charm.
The doctor showed up a little after 1:00 and administered the test. We paid her the required amount and were informed that we would receive the results on our cell phone within three hours.
Maureen and I decided to take a walk and explore downtown San Jose. We were on 30th street about two blocks off Central Boulevard, which is the main drag. It was beautiful afternoon but it looked like rain so we borrowed an umbrella from the hotel. We walked the two blocks over to Central, turned right and proceeded into the heart of the city. We walked about twenty block and then decided to turn back. By that time, it had stared to rain so I deployed the umbrella. Maureen remembered spotting an interesting looking restaurant on the way so we decided we would stop by there for a drink and maybe a bite to eat.
We reached the restaurant and went inside. Turns out it was a French Bistro. Who would have thought we would find a French side walk café in downtown San Jose, Costa Rica? But yet, there we were. The name of the bistro was Le Bistot De Paris. We were seated at a table before an open patio leading to the street and were able to see the moveable feast that was San Jose all the while protected from the rain. We ordered a cheese plate and escargot and a bottle of wine. It was a lovely way to pass a couple hours before we walked back to the hotel.
When we got back, we settled in and got organized and took a little nap. Then it was time for dinner. The hotel had a fine restaurant in a well-appointed dining room. The waiters were skilled, polite, professional, and dressed formally. The food was absolutely delicious, fine dining at its best.
We went back to our room, read a little bit, then turned in for the night. We knew it was going to be a long day tomorrow, for tomorrow we headed for home.
At 8:30 our ride arrived promptly to take us to the airport. All our documents were in order and we had done everything we needed to get back home. Our flight was at 1:16 on Delta. Maureen had to check a bag. Everything went smoothly and we were at the gate in plenty of time to board. We were flying to Atlanta then switching planes and flying on in to Louisville after a short layover. We got home about midnight and a good friend picked us up and drove us home. Thus ended our nine-day adventure to Costa Rica.