Published: April 28th 2015
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Nick: What with the salt flats tour, trip to the Amazon and visit to Machu Picchu (not to mention the bout of illness between the two), the last two or three weeks of travelling had definitely been the most intense so far and it started to catch up with us. As such, we were looking forward to our time in Costa Rica and having a few days to calm down and recuperate before the next leg. We'd wanted to visit Costa Rica for some time - it had only just been pipped to the post for our honeymoon destination by New Zealand - and when we'd drawn up our travelling plans, we couldn't resist bolting it on to the end of our South America itinerary, since we were in that neck of the woods (sort of!). Despite our latest airport drama, as previously described, we had made it here at last.

Getting off the plane from Lima, the change in climate was immediately noticeable as we caught a waft of very hot and humid air. Fortunately, our first destination in Costa Rica was Manuel Antonio, a small beachside town located on the Pacific Coast, about three hours or so by bus from San Jose, the capital city and our point of arrival into the country. As Sarah has previously described, the second half of our journey from Lima was significantly smoother than the first half: we withdrew a wad of 'colones', the national currency (although US dollars are also accepted everywhere) and grabbed a taxi from the airport to the bus station, from where we were soon on the bus to Manuel Antonio. By the time we'd arrived at our destination it was half past six and getting dark, although not noticeably any cooler - over the course of our journey the display on the bus had dropped from just over thirty degrees to just under.

In booking our accommodation, we'd noticed that there are very few hostels available in this area, only hotels, potentially a crucial difference when it comes to price, and having been here a couple of days now it seems that this place is not on the usual backpackers circuit - largely it is populated by groups of US holidaymakers. We'd managed to book a cheap hotel that was comparable in cost to most of the hostels we had previously stayed in. We were delighted to find, after checking in, that our hotel had a little swimming pool and the room itself had air conditioning and even a fridge - an unheard of luxury! In the interests of balance, it also had a few dead cockroaches (and one live one), but you can't have everything. After dumping our bags we headed out to find a cold drink to celebrate completing the latest leg of our trip. The area we found ourselves in was pretty much entirely aligned along a road with no pavements, and walking against the occasional incoming car/van/motorbike we scouted out for a good place to eat. Before long we found a touristy bar, 'Barbara Roja' or 'Red Beard' (pirate reference). They served cold beer on draught and the food looked good too. As it happened, we'd already eaten a hot plate of grub earlier, served from a canteen in the San Jose bus station - rice, black beans and beef for me, chicken for Sarah - so we weren't in the mood for much food. We spent a couple of hours enjoying the cold beer and munched a plate of nachos for good measure. The menu was clearly catering to the American clientele - burgers, ribs, etc. - whilst maintaining some of the more local classics: ceviche, avocado salads and suchlike. Sadly the prices around here were pretty damn steep, especially after being in Bolivia and Peru! Heading back to our hotel and to bed, it was still not significantly cooler than when we had stepped off the plane, and we fell asleep on top of our bed with the air conditioning blasting out as cold as it would go.

The morning of our first full day in Manuel Antonio was spent - as so often the case - planning out some of our future travels, and by midday we had booked transport to our next destination in Costa Rica, up north and away from the coast, to the cloud forest in Monteverde. Furthermore, we'd finally completed some longer-term planning, having booked a flight to (and accommodation in) Bali, Indonesia, where we would be meeting up with our good friends from home, Tom and Jen. Duties discharged, we took a quick dip in the hotel pool, got dressed and headed out to find the beach. Our hotel was located a good twenty or so minutes from the nearest beach, the prime location seemingly occupied by the super-expensive, flashy villas. Indeed, as soon as you come even slightly inland from the coast, the terrain climbs steeply and it was a loooong way downhill for us to get to the beach...which equates to a loooong walk back uphill afterwards! Having conquered the Machu Picchu mountain trail not long ago, you might think that we were ship-shape for such exertions, but under the oppressive midday sun it was a different kettle of fish altogether! Ah well, we would deal with the climb when it came round to it, for now the downhill stroll was nice and easy. But first there was the important business of lunch, which was duly addressed by a falafel restaurant located halfway to the beach - absolutely delicious.

We tramped down the road shortly afterward and made it to a small beach located in a bay such that the only access was via a downhill forest track. For the most part, it seemed to be locals enjoying themselves, with few obviously touristy-types knocking about (it was Sunday after all). With nowhere safe to stash our bag - including money and camera - we took it in turns to go for a swim in the wonderfully warm sea whist the other paddled, holding onto the goodies. Afterward, we found a patch of shade to relax away from the sun's glare. It was the first day of truly lounging around we'd had in a while and it felt fantastic! After a good couple of hours or so of lazing around, We went for one last paddle to wash off the sand and began our long ascent back to the hotel walking back through the forested track, Sarah 'Hawkeye' Adams (a name I have just now come up with, in recognition of her consistent animal-spotting skills) stopped in her tracks with a gasp: up in one of the trees, moving from trunk to branch very slowly and peacefully, was a sloth! We knew that sloths are one of the main wildlife attractions in Costa Rica, but we certainly weren't expecting to see one on our first day out! We stood around marvelling for a few minutes and trying to get a photo, before moving on.

We were perhaps five minutes into our sweltering ascent when a man in a VERY beaten up old car (the door handle was held together with mole-grips) pulled up and offered us a taxi ride to the top, for around a quid. We jumped in like a shot and were soon enough back at the hotel, stopping en-route for a cold drink. The rest of the afternoon and early evening was spent relaxing and reading at the hotel. When dinner-time came around, we had a quick cold shower to freshen up before heading out to another local restaurant, which sold Caribbean/Costa Rican fare. As ever it was good food, Sarah having the fish of the day (unidentified but tasty), whilst I had some calamari with chorizo, along with some other bits and bobs. Whilst we did have a decent-looking kitchen at our hotel, the local supermarket didn't seem to sell anything fresh that we could use to cook dinner for ourselves - a bit frustrating in a way, as we were keen to start enjoying some fresh, home cooked food again, as well as saving money. It was only the next day we realised that there was a 'hidden' section of the shop that sold the fresh produce - it was just very hard to find amidst shelf after shelf of alcohol, crisps, suncream and other tourist favourites. After dinner it was straight back to the hotel and to bed, for an early night - despite the fact that we'd do every little all day, the intense sun had really taken it out of us!

The next day was to be another beach day - well, it's the done thing round these parts. After breakfast ('Gallo de pinto', a rice and black beans combo, served with eggs or sausage, and toast) we headed out nice and early. This time we were pushing out a bit further to get to the next beach along, the main beach. Once again this involved a significant descent from our lofty position down to sea level, and once again the sun was out in full effect so we were slathered in ample suncream (factor 50 for your pasty-skinned, follicularly-challenged correspondent). On the way down, we spotted a couple of whopping great lizards, perhaps a foot long, as well as a smaller one which was a strikingly bright shade of green. We stopped to stare for a very short while but were unable to hang around under the sun's glare for long. By the time we hit the beach thirty minutes later we were roasting. Unlike the previous day's beach, this one was a long, curving crescent that stretched off in both directions for a good distance. Despite being the main beach serving the town, it was agreeably quiet, perhaps being a weekday and also only mid-morning. We approached a bloke setting up a small number of beach umbrellas in the sand and hired a couple of sunloungers for the day. It was a good spot, located some way away from the main cluster of people, and we had our very own stretch of beach (and ocean) to enjoy.

Before long we left our valuables on the loungers where we could see them, and both waded out into the ocean. It is no exaggeration to say that it was one of the best beaches I've ever been on: the sand was soft with hardly any rocks, the water was warm, and best of all there were lots of big waves to jump around in. In fact, the waves could get pretty big indeed, and it was something of a balancing act keeping a frequent eye on our bag whilst not forgetting to keep an eye out for any incoming breakers that would otherwise smash you across the shoulders and bowl you over! It was such good fun - with one caveat: about five minutes after we'd entered the water, we were facing out into the big incoming waves, laughing and generally mucking about. As the next big waves came in, the blue water rolling up ahead of us, we braced ourselves to dive under it...when it was no more than two or three metres away, we both simultaneously saw the dark shape of a shark swimming laterally inside the wave in question! Okay, it was a tiddler of a shark, maybe 18 inches or so, but it certainly gave us a shock....before being bowled over by the wave, and subsequently both scrambling back toward the shore! After that, there was a certain edge to swimming in the ocean, but despite a few glimpsed shadows that were more than likely to be tricks of the light there were no more shark sightings that day.

We spent a good few hours on the beach, alternating between reading, dozing and jumping the massive waves (whilst keeping an eye out for our sharp-toothed friend), acquiring an empanada-type thing from a man with a coolbox for lunch. Around mid-to-late afternoon we took one last dip before packing up to head back. Fully cognisant of the steep hills back to the hotel, we found a bus stop and managed to get a ride back to the top, again stopping on the way for our customary post-beach drink. Around about this time I started feeling about done in, most likely from too much sun, and - despite frequent and voluminous applications of suncream - was beginning to show a few red patches. Despite a cool shower to perk myself up, the slightly-grotty feeling persisted through the evening. We grabbed a pizza for dinner, but I gave up, my stomach protesting a bit at all of the sun, and perhaps some of the saltwater I'd managed to guzzle ever time the waves bowled me over. Conceding defeat, I bought bottle of after-sun lotion, slathered up and went for an early night. Fortunately it was nothing that a decent night's sleep couldn't fix, and as I write this I am back to my hale and hearty best! Although I shall be staying out of the sun today - never was much good as a sun-worshipper.

This morning we are relaxing in our hotel room, waiting for our bus at 14:00 that will take us up north to Monteverde. We've both really enjoyed having a couple of days to just rest and recuperate, and with six more days left in Costa Rica we are in no mood to say goodbye just yet...we've already had a sloth, giant lizards and even a shark, who knows what else will be lying in store up in the cloud forest?


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