Costa Rica part 1: The Beach

Leaving for Costa Rica was so exciting. New country to add to my list, a first time visit, so I was extra pumped. Based on flights, we left a day after we planned, which gave us time to see another sight or two in NYC, as well as to plan a little bit more, and feel a little more relaxed before traveling. We flew out of La Guardia airport in the wee hours.

Our layover in Atlanta was a little more stressful. From our lonely planet guide book (which I highly recommend) we discovered that an exit ticket is needed to be allowed into the country, technically. However they rarely check if you enter via airport. We bought one-way tickets in, since our intention was to scope out long-term prospects for staying. Most people keep their 90-day travel visas current by taking a bus trip to neighboring Nicaragua or Panama, either for a 3-hour trip without purchasing anything or a 3-day trip with. Liking the idea of a short jaunt to Nicaragua, we did some research. Well, in Costa Rica there are many buses owned by many different companies. Bus stops and stations are scattered all over the cities, most streets don’t have names or signs, and tickets cannot be purchased online. So we called one company from the airport, learned buying over the phone isn’t an option, and boarder our flight into SJO airport.

The flight was fun! It didn’t take long for the view from the window to change to tropical waters, gorgeous blues and greens clear to a great depth, and islands with long sandy beaches. I wasn’t able to follow along with a flight-tracker to identify the islands, but I saw some Caribbean islands, and decided to visit them in the future.

The airport turned out to be no trouble at all. They asked what we were in town for, how long, why, and let us pass. Some people say it depends on which agent you get. Others say nothing is formal, it’s all just for show. A taxi driver told us the baggage scanner doesn’t even look at the screen, they just put bags through because it’s what airports are supposed to do. I never came to any more conclusive information, but we had no hitch.

From there we took a taxi to the nearest town of Alajuela, where we found a hostel for the night. We wandered out to look for a restaurant. Our first meal in Costa Rica turned out to be Chinese, with a Rock’n Cola to drink: beer and coke.

The next day we got on the bus to the coast, 7 hours, no chickens. We arrived at night, and caught a “taxi” ride to Casa de Maicol, where a cabina was waiting for us.

First impression of Los Pargos: windy and hot! Temperatures hung around 95°F from 11am-4pm, so each day we had a siesta, reading in the hammocks or napping. The first couple of days we tried out the beach during this time of day, and came back lobster-red. Every night for the first week the wind kicked up, and we would go to bed listening to the rattle of the tin roof.

On Friday’s the fish truck came to the finca, selling their fresh catch of tuna, red snapper, marlin, and sea bass, as well as medium and soft cheeses. Combined with the perfect fresh mangoes and avocados that were growing nearby, we had an awesome sushi night. For breakfast we made batidos, a different variation each day of some combination of piña (pineapple), mora (blackberry), cas (guava), mango, banano, melón, jugo de naranja (orange juice), and ice. The traditional batidos are mixed with milk, but we preferred to make them more like smoothies.

On the first morning, as I walked around the side of the house to throw the compost out, I heard a loud scurry almost under my feet, and looked to see a 4 foot iguana that I had startled. He took off into the trees, but came back almost daily to check the compost, along with several of his smaller cousins.

The howler monkeys moved away from our cabina when we arrived, and didn’t spend very many nights with us while we were there. About 300 yards away, in a huge tree we found the whole family of them, sensitive to strangers and noise. B got them howling and we watched the babies playing, swinging from branches and each other, by hands, feet, and tails.

The beach was about a 15 minute walk and gorgeous. The nearest beach was rocky when the tide was in, and somewhat sandier and swimmable when the tide was out. Walking south the coast was rocky for some ways, but very esque at sunset with boat views and birdlife. Walking north the beaches got sandier and the number of tourists and surfers increased dramatically, at playa Avellanas. The resort here, Lola’s, keeps a huge pig, Lola. She spends the day wandering down to play in the surf with the tourists. Hilarious!

We caught a ride into Santa Cruz one day, to do some banking and check out the market. We ate a tasty lunch of guayo pinto (rice and beans) at a little soda next door. In fact we ate guayo pinto almost everywhere we went, the traditional meal in the province of Guanacaste.

After the winds died down there were geckos everywhere! They mostly hung out in the evening, manning the screens that made up the top half of the walls of half the house. One became my friend, let me pet him a few different days, but was always camera shy, made me chase him around for a good shot.

We arrived at the end of the dry season, high summer, so the landscape was desert and brown. I’d love to go back someday and see the same area in the rainy season, which begins in May or June and lasts for 2-3 months. They say that the region becomes completely green and dense with vegetation, like to the rain forest of the highlands. The neighboring finca had mango trees and cows, and we waved to the caballero everyday as he rode by on his horse.

We made friends with the other tourists staying, Heidi and Gavin from British Columbia, and Brian from Texas. While my Spanish didn’t improve a whole lot, it was nice to have some native English speakers around to go to the beach or have a drink with.

We stayed for about two and a half weeks. Long enough to get good and tan, soak up tons of vitamin D and heat, and eat a our fill of fresh fruit and fish everyday. We enjoyed the company immensely, and mostly just took it easy. Definitely a place to go back to. Pura vida! :)

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