07.05.2012 - 05.06.2012 26 °C
We made it a point not overplan this trip, so aside from laying down major milestones (e.g. which countries we would visit, the major cities along our route and the volunteer programs we could be participating in), we never knew more than a few weeks ahead of time where exactly we would be or what we would be doing. As such, we had left our final month “open” for a few weeks of sun and surf somewhere warm… after so many weeks in the Andes, we had a hankering for some heat! So after much humming and hawing, we opted to head to Costa Rica… Why would one even hesitate you ask? Well, ecologically, Costa Rica has a lot in common with Ecuador – and it is at least twice a costly... So we weren’t sure this would be the best “bang for our buck”. On the other hand, Costa Rica’s reputation is such that we simply could not resist (and it had the advantage of getting us that much closer to home).
And then there was the matter of where to go in Costa Rica! All of sudden, making the right choice became more important because compared to the other parts of our trip, we were going to have much less time to explore the country! Seriously… we are totally spoiled.
So again, after much debate, we opted to rent a house for one month, in tiny Montezuma, on the tip of the Nicoya Peninsula (Northern, Pacific Coast). We flew into San Jose and were picked up by a hired van who, for an extra 40$, swung by the country’s only Sony store to see if they couldn’t salvage our Sony camera. You know the one: we bought it in Ecuador, it died in Peru and the “regional guarantee” that came with it was valid in 10 South American countries, excluding Peru, but including Costa Rica… Guess what? The Sony Store doesn’t fix cameras, but they were happy to give us a list of accredited repair centres. We had to choose between finding one of those centres in San Jose, a city of 1.5 million people with no street names, or missing our ferry to Montezuma… So off we went to Montezuma via highway, ferry and winding dirt roads!
Montezuma… Population 350, plus the gringos who flock here for some of the country’s best surfing. Never have I seen such a concentration of dreads, tattoos, sunburns and surf boards. Totally laid back… Just what the doctor ordered, after 7 months of running around. We only had three goals for our stay here: rest, play on the beach, and catch up on the girls’ schoolwork (yes, by this point, we have fallen a bit behind… too many competing priorities!). To facilitate this, we rented the beautiful Casa Motmot, which is located in the jungle, 500m from the beach and between the villages of Montezuma (about 4km from the house) and Cabuya (about 3km away).
We arrived in the dead of night, during the week of the Supermoon… the tides were abnormally high, and we could hear the wave crashing ferociously on the shore as our driver weaved his way through the forest on a bumpy dirt road. It was raining. The girls were exhausted. We seemed to be lost, in the middle of nowhere… OMG, what have we done?
We were greeted at the house by our wonderful host, Donna, who quickly showed us around the house… two stories of dark precious wood, open on all sides to the forest around us, save for the bedrooms, kitchen and washrooms which have walls and screened windows. We quickly dumped our stuff, convinced the girls that no animals would attack them in their sleep, and literally passed out… until 5 the next morning, when were woken by the rising sun and a chorus of howler monkeys and parrots.
WOW!! Things suddenly looked much more promising… The property was stunningly beautiful, surrounded by a lush, green forest, teeming with life. We saw more wildlife hanging out on the second floor balcony than we’ve seen in most National Parks we’ve visited! Howler monkeys, white-faced capuchin monkeys, hummingbirds, agoutis, parrots, birds and more birds (not to mention Donna’s pet pig, Chuletta, who got her daily dose of watermelon peels and affection from the girls!)… Imagine living in a botanical garden.
And so many monkeys, everywhere!
It was perfect, and we quickly settled into a comfortable routine of homework in the morning, lunch, and then short outings in the afternoon:
- the beach down the road, where Alain and the kids spent countless hours building mazes in which they tossed hundreds of hermit crabs;
- the three-street village of Montezuma (by local bus or taxi), where we indulged in Ice Dream’s amazing homemade Italian ice cream;
- nearby rivers for bird watching;
- the beautiful Montezuma waterfall, which is the town’s other main attractions, along with surfing;
- the Mariposario, a privately owned butterfly farm with a resident zoologist who gave us a fascinating insect tour;
- Cabo Blanco National Park (the country’s very first National Park, on land which was donated by Swedish and Danish farmers), where we did a short hike to discover the local flora and fauna;
- the Dutch-owned Hotel El Celaje, where a drink at the bar bought you the right to enjoy the pool when the surf was too rough for swimming (thank God for that pool!);
- playing in chest-deep tide-pools, which were clear and warm like a bath;
- a ride around Cabuya and the larger town of Cobano in Donna’s cool, green, antique Toyota LandCruiser;
- beautiful Playa Grande… to reach this long, flat beach, one must walk along a series of other (rougher) beaches and through the forest for roughly 45 minutes, but the effort is worth it: it is pristine, isolated, bordered by picture-perfect palm trees… and most of the time, you are practically alone there.
Playa Grande is also where we had our first surf lessons too (and some great boogy-boarding)! Alain went once on his own and enjoyed it so much – and made it look so easy – that the girls and I decided we wanted to try too. It was a hoot! And we were so, so proud of ourselves that we all were able to catch waves and stand on the board!
Montezuma was just what the doctor ordered. We were enveloped by the mellowness of the town, and just hung out… We hadn’t seen the girls so mellow in a long time (if ever!). Running around the house in their underwear all day, having water fights with the garden hose, lounging in the hammocks. They took complete possession of the property and felt completely at home – they even built a zipline for their teddy bears, from the 2nd floor balcony to the big palm tree in the garden.
However, the effects of the Supermoon lingered… while were able to swim on most days – and the water was basically at body temperature! – the waves were very strong. Moreover, frequent nighttime thunderstorms (beautiful!) generated storm swells the next day… The girls couldn’t go into the water on their own (except at Playa Grande) and even for Alain and I, it was a bit too much at times.
We therefore decided to abridge our time in Montezuma by a week, and head up the coast by taxi to Playa Samara, reputedly the country’s safest and most beautiful beach... This is the beginning of the rainy season, and the road to Samara was a fun one! Cattle roadblocks, crossing rivers, deep red earthen roads that wound and bumped...
There, we rented a condo (from a New Brunswick Acadian, which we found on www.vrbo.com!) for 9 days. Again, we were between two villages – Puerto Carillo and Playa Samara – and just a few hundred meters from the beach, with a view on a beautiful lagoon… with the added benefit of having a very warm swimming pool on hand! The girls loved it. And Arianne made a new friend, the owner's 7 year-old daughter Katie.
The beaches here were breathtakingly beautiful: crescent-shaped, flat, white, with long rolling waves under a clear blue sky. Samara is slightly bigger than Montezuma, and perhaps not quite so hippy-ish, but equally laid-back. Carillo is so tiny that when we took the bus to go visit, we almost missed the village… So the hanging out continued. Homework in the morning, and then pool and/or beach in the afternoon. Here, the hermit crab population was much lower, so Alain and the girls concentrated their efforts on advanced sand-village engineering. The final products invariably drew amazed gasps and applauses from the public!
We also indulged in a few extras here as well:
- An outing to Nosara, to experience the Miss Sky Canopy Tour – the world’s second largest zipline… 13 lines, the longest of which was 850m. It was fun! And of course, the scenery was breathtaking. The lines went from mountain to mountain, so you zipped like a bird over deep green valleys and through puffs of white clouds. Our guides were also hilarious, and one of them even manage to put on a gorilla costume, hide in the bushes… and scare the bejeezus out of us! It was sidesplitting!
- On the way back from Nosara, we stopped along the way to visit small villages and beaches. Most stunning were Playa Pelada and the village of Playa Guiones.
- One of our best dinners to date, at an Argentinian Parrillada restaurant in Carillo… who had a table-side pool. The girls believe every restaurant should offer such pool services!
And the best for last: a day of surfing in Samara. We all went for another round, and enjoyed as much if not more as the first time! It was one of those perfect days, with perfect light, a soft breeze, and a very full and happy heart…
I have to say, I found it very difficult to pack our bags on this last day… Leaving Samara meant heading back to civilization… From here, we head to San Jose for four days and then… Home, James!
To soften the blow, we rented a car for a few days and made a few stops en route to San Jose:
- Jungle Crocodile Safari in Tarcoles, where we took a 1.5 hour boat tour on the Rio Tarcoles to do some serious birdwatching… and see the country’s largest crocodiles! The big alpha male was some 4 meters long!! Seeing our guide feed that monster a bite of chicken was akin to watching someone jump of a bridge from afar: a silent voice in your head screaming “Noooooooo! Don’t do it!”. He says he only got bitten once…
- Carrara National Park, where we hired a guide for a two-hour hike in the forest, in search of the park’s star: the scarlet macaws. Let it be know that paying for the services of a nature guide is always worth it! Without them, you see lots of pretty trees. With them, you see macaws, white bats, monkeys, cool insects, and many other things… The only thing that went wrong was the thunderstorm that sent the girls reeling. They had enough!! But Alain and I were hell-bent on squeezing every drop of nature time we could out of these last few days, so they had to follow along… and earned a bottle of Fanta each as reward for their attempts at patience!
And so we finally made it to San Jose… Did I mention that metro San Jose has 1.5 million population and no street names? Driving here is CRAZY! Directions to get from point A to point B (as in, how to find our hotel) go something like this: take the exit for the Best Western Irazu, go east 300m and then south for 100m. Simple, right? Despite having a GPS on hand, we got lost 3 times and it took one hour to find the damn place! I definitely prefer natural wilderness over urban wilderness...