Costa Rica, Tourist Style (The 2nd Intallment)

On Tuesday we started the day by touring through Manuel Antonio National Park with a guide named Freddy (Freddy Tours cost us $35 per person). We saw a variety of birds, bats, Iguanas, 2-toed & 3-toed sloths and finished with a giant, refreshing pipa to share. We decided to stay an extra night in Manuel Antonio so that we could use our park pass to go to the beach, and finished the day with a shower and happy hour 2-4-1 Pina Coladas. We watched the sunset, went grocery shopping and picked up random CR snacks: two varieties of plantain chips and cheesy baked corn bread rings.

Wednesday we left the hotel by 8:00 a.m. intending to catch the 11:00 a.m. ferry in Puntarenas. We did not expect or allow time for getting lost, which of course we did. So we couldn’t stop by any of the fruit stands or Cevicherias because we were rushing for the ferry we didn’t catch. Kind of a bummer. We did get to stop on this bridge after Jaco and watch something like 20 alligators lounging in the sun. It’s this surreal tourist attraction. People are just standing on the bridge looking down at them and there’s a pipa stand, sarongs for sale and little shops on either side of the bridge.

Puntarenas is kind of a hole – the nice word for it is “port town” but I wouldn’t advise lingering there. Nothing to see or do,

Manuel Antonio Park Beach

really, and the hotels along the strip are all big and flashy. That particular part has a sort of resort town feel, but the rest is razor wire and garbage everywhere. When we pulled up close to where the ferry was, this guy had a green sign that looked very official, reading, “FERRY,” so we let him flag us down. He gave us some information about the ferry in English, pretended to call someone and make a reservation for us, and then asked for $20 for the info. I was sweaty and tired of driving and exasperated. I offered him no more than $5. Colin felt pretty awkward about the whole thing and we ended up giving him $10, which was irritating. We should have just driven away. Our first time being scammed.

We caught the 1 p.m. ferry after waiting in line over an hour in the heat. I bought us an ice cream, a little cooler with some ice and beer, and we had rum and juice as well. The ferry cost $14 for a car and something like $1.50 per person. Only one person can remain in the car, the driver. I had to walk on the ferry and meet up with Colin after he parked.

The ferry took about an hour and a half, so we arrived on the Nicoya Peninsula in Paquera at 3:30 or so. The road to Montezuma was so filled with potholes, so that driving the 40 KM took about an hour and a half. It was a long and very dusty trail. Passing was difficult because the road was so curvy and several times we got stuck behind huge, slow-moving vehicles and swerved out into the other lane, evaluating the risk of jetting out.

Montezuma is a cute little surfer town with a very chill vibe. We drove downtown and I ran in to a couple of different hotels looking for a room. We ended up at the Hotel MonteZuma, with an ocean view and our own bathroom for $40.

We unloaded our stuff, parked the car, made a reservation for snorkeling on Tortuga Island the next day, and got our swimsuits on. We took a dip right outside the hostel on the little strip of sand near their “marina.” We swam for about an hour while Colin obsessed over all the different types of shells and rocks.

Later we ate at the restaurant that’s a part of Hotel MonteZuma. We ordered the seafood pasta ($10) and creamy garlic fish. The pasta was absolutely amazing, with many clams and shrimp and a wonderfully flavorful red sauce.

We returned to the room and realized just why it was so inexpensive. Our bathroom smelled awful, had no ventilation and lots of mosquitoes. The shower was simply a pipe sticking out without any shower head. And the club next door’s music was so loud it reverberated throughout the entire room. Literally, we could feel the bass vibrating our floor, bed, our very beings. It was a full moon so I suggested we go nap on the beach. We took sheets, sarongs and pillows out there and searched out a spot out of the way of foot traffic and next to some tents. We slept, or dozed there for a couple of hours before the bugs got too bad and we returned to our bed. The music was finally dying down – 2 a.m. – and we were able to sleep.

“Is anyone alive out there, after all the raging last night?”

Thursday we ate avocado and drank coffee and then headed down to get the boat to Isla de Tortuga. The tour left around 9:30, we hopped in a boat just off the beach next to our hotel. There were a group of tico girls who had just finished law school in San José, some Australians, and an American couple. We got out there (slowed down to see one of the only 7 waterfalls that finish in the ocean) and snorkeled around these rocks right off shore. There were a fair amount of fish to swim with, including some enormous angelfish. After we snorkeled for a couple of hours we headed into shore, where we ate a lunch of grilled fish, potatoes and fruit.

After that it became an island beach day, we splashed around in the waves and laid in the sun, explored a bit and ducked into the gift shop. There was a little floating platform out near the boats and we swam out to that and lay in the sun.

That night we ate dinner at Coco Lores, which was this little cash only place on the road toward the beach, right hand side of the road. The service wasn’t awe-inspiring, but the food was. We ordered Ceviche, which came as big strips of sashimi grade fish on this wonderful wheat bread.  Then we got one order of clams, and an order of seafood pasta in white wine sauce (since we had such a wonderful sea food pasta the night before). Everything was excellent, flavorful, and plenty of food. We also both got mojitos, but those were gone long before the food came. The seafood pasta was much lighter with the white wine sauce than the red sauce of the night before, it’s tough to say which is better (though at Coco Lores you can choose different sauces).

After we ate we packed up our room and moved to this little hotel farther up the mountain, away from downtown. It was a cute little place with our own deck and hammock, own bathroom, and very quiet. We sat in the hammock and drank rum & juice until we started to fall asleep.

Friday we woke up and ventured out to Cabuya, which is about 15 minutes from Montezuma and has a “cemetery island,” which you can only walk out to at low tide. It was a pretty amazing place, with beautiful raised graves, flowers and engravings or seashells on the coffins. We also just walked out and around the perimeter of the island. We took in the view and hunted for good rocks, seashells, or driftwood. Then we got back in the car and headed toward the Cabo Blanco park, first stopping for Batidos at this woman’s house on the way there (she had a sign out front and was inside taking a siesta with Spanish soaps).

The Cabo Blanco Park cost $10 per person to enter, and about 2 hrs each way to hike the beach. We got there at 12, so we would have had to book it to the beach and back. We wanted a much more leisurely adventure. We saw bats, spiders, Capuchin and Howler monkeys, shrimp, loads of birds and a frog. We stopped for lunch on a huge tree root extending over a little river. The tree itself looking like something out of Lord of the Rings. At many points, we were just in the middle of the jungle, listening to these Howlers we couldn’t see. It was pretty crazy; they sound ghostly when everything else is quiet. Apparently they make the second largest sound relative to their body size, next to the Blue Whale.

Colin became totally obsessed with these fresh water shrimp we saw in Cabo Blanco and told me much later, “I was just thinking about how I should have taken my underwater camera out to take pictures of the shrimp.”

He even stopped to look on their animal charts to see if they had the variety of shrimp listed (they didn’t).

He looked in every puddle, pond and stream after that, searching for shrimp.

We saw a man biking with a ladder. I’ve seen people biking with a gutter, a weed whacker, etc. I saw a man walk off the ferry with what looked like a brand new car bumper.

After Cabo Blanco we headed for the big waterfall, even though it was pretty late in the day. The hike in from the Butterfly Garden only took about 15 minutes. We were beginning to feel pretty worn out, but we forged onwards. The waterfall flows into two huge pools, the first you can jump and swim in easily. There’s a Tarzan rope for swinging and jumping as well. The pool below it is something like a 50 ft jump. We watched this Italian guy do it, and this tico couple boasted at having done it earlier in the day. I couldn’t bring myself to, without more onlookers and someone to direct me (later I met someone who got an earache from the force of that plunge).

It was frustrating at the waterfall, though beautiful, because we both couldn’t get in the water at the same time. One of us had to guard the backpack. Hardly anyone else was there, and the tico/tica couple seemed nice enough, but not so that I would trust them with our shit. They also lingered interminably. I wondered vaguely if it was an act, all the lovely dovey slowness in moving out.

Saturday morning when I went out onto our porch there were upwards of 15 Howlers eating the buds on a nearby tree. A whole family was out there, including mom and a tiny baby on her back. We must have spent 20 minutes standing there, watching them move about.

Then we got our beach gear on, packed up and headed into town. We visited the Montezuma Saturday morning farmer’s market. Everything was ungodly expensive, I bought us one papaya and a small pack of strawberries and it cost us $4.00. Then we went to breakfast and got our last gallo pinto together; with café con leche and we lingered over it.

Around noon we headed for the beach and walked a ways down the shoreline before heading in for a swim. The little swimming area we chose was closed off on either side by rocks, making the waves swing every which way, tossing you forward, back, and side to side. I showed off my obvious grace by getting knocked in the face by a wave and then toppling over into the sand.

We got all of our things together quite rapidly and got on the road to the ferry with plenty of time to spare. So we stopped and grabbed a soda and some wine and I changed my clothes. This lingering at the supermarket proved an error on our part, because when we arrived at the ferry 15 minutes early, it was full. We missed the 5 p.m. ferry by about 3 cars. They pushed us to the 7 p.m. ferry. I tried hard to feel upbeat; we watched the sunset over the mountains at the ferry dock and ate chocolate and drank cocktails.

We landed at around 8:30 and hunger was gnawing at me.  We had no wish to stay in Puntarenas, but we were scared we might not find lodging elsewhere. I inquired at a couple of hotels on the main strip but there was nothing available and we drove out of Puntarenas. We asked for lodging at every little Cabinas, and only being sent on to the next one, and on to the next one. In the next town it was the same: no lodging found anywhere. Places that we may have potentially found lodging at earlier were now filled, and other smaller ones were closed for the evening. We resigned ourselves to the fate of having to drive to San José and stopped for food.  After more searching in San José and rejection, we landed at Casa Antigua for our last night together. It was 1:30 a.m.

Sunday morning brought Colin’s pending departure. We moved more slowly than we ought, ate the continental breakfast at a greater leisure than we should have allowed, and left to return the car too late. The most infuriating part of the whole thing was that we were right next to the airport. If I was a braver woman, not feeling such a nausea and stomach upset as I was, not hesitant to leave his side one moment before I had to, I would’ve offered to return the car myself. I was ill and scared of driving in downtown San José and I wanted to stay with him right up until airport security and I selfishly didn’t offer.

We drove madly around San José, into and out of traffic jams and infuriatingly around the exact spot we needed. We saw familiar landmarks but had trouble making our way over to them. It was almost more than we could bear, watching the time tick away and not being able to reach the rental spot. We finally saw, after looping back around and battling one ways and off ramps, and “no u-turn” spots, that they closed off our street for a block party. We eventually parked near enough to it, and Colin ran over to U-Save and they came and got the car. By that time he had almost missed the flight, even as we hailed a cab it was boarding, as we were driving there, it was flying away.

It cost Colin $50 to change his flight to 4 p.m. the same day. He would have to stay the night in Houston, and then fly the rest of the way Monday morning. We went outside and I took out the sarongs and laid them in a patch of grass underneath the highway, next to the airport and perfectly shielded by some shrubbery. He smoked his cigar (that otherwise was to be gifted to someone else for lack of time) and drank his warm coke in a glass bottle. We cuddled and caressed and chatted until around 2:15 p.m. when it was time for him to go check-in for his flight.

Parting was indeed sorrowful and sweet. I made my way to Hostel Maleku for the night, and he made his way through security.

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~ by bjordt on February 4, 2011.

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