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Published: April 10th 2019
You can't get any more Pura Vida than this!
Oh Dread. Here comes that overwhelming feeling of doom.
It can only mean one thing. My Central American adventures are coming to an end. I’ll have to return to my reality in chilly Canada. I don't like it one bit. But then again, who does?
Further pressure comes from my Parental Units who are in Mexico and want me to stop by to have a Feliz Navidad with them.
That leaves me with only 10 more days in Central America, and three countries more to visit. Like that’s going to happen.
Nicaragua is the next logical place for my trip down memory lane, but my friend from Guatemala I call my “Pair of Brown Eyes” isn’t keen on that. Too risky right now for foreigners. I begrudgingly trust his judgement. Besides he won the Rock Paper Scissors
Costa Rica it is!
I booked a cheap flight with Volaris Air out of San Salvador into San Jose. It was our first time flying together, usually one of us is left behind on the tarmac watching the other fly away.
It's been twenty plus years since I met my Pair of Brown Eyes.
Since then we’ve had this weird odyssey of friendship we can’t quite explain. I’d tell it in full, but he prides his anonymity. During our flight, I mapped out a quick itinerary taking into account what we both wanted to see/do. We could easily get from San Jose to Jaco, then up to Monteverde, over to La Fortuna, and then back to San Jose. In a week. I elbow him awake. He sleepily concurs.
Boots on ground, I forgot to factor in the traffic insanity that plagues the city of San Jose. Our red taxi did everything but drive over other cars to get us to the bus terminal, only to discover our ride to Jaco was severely delayed. Gah
. We now have five hours to burn. With two big backpacks, spontaneity is severely hindered. I blurt out, “What about the nearby multiplex cinemas?” I'd be willing to watch a matinee in Spanish just to get out of this blistering heat. My Pair of Brown Eyes shrugs. He suggests we go chill in a local park instead, play some frisbee, have a picnic.
No Rock Paper Scissors necessary. He wins
We flag down another red
La Fortuna’s scary beast just waiting to blow. Hell of a hike too
taxi because Uber apparently is super sketchy in Costa Rica at the minute. Relaxing under a nice shady rainbow eucalyptus while school kids play all around us, we had a little nap in the grass, got harassed by police, ate snacks, played cards. And I learned something new. In Costa Rican public washrooms, there are unofficial attendants actually living in them...ours with seven stray dogs. I give the squatter some coins, and he hands me a few squares of TP. I’ve been in Central America long enough now, to not even find this exchange odd.
Finally, we board our air-conditioned coach to Jaco. I attempt to find a hostel online, but everything is extremely overpriced, or booked up. Feeling stranded, maybe we’ll have better luck in Manuel Antonio? There's a city bus departing for Quepos, so we run like big backpacking turtles to catch it, arriving on Espadilla beach at sunset.
It's right about now when that spectacular golden shadow casts over the sprawling golden sand. The Golden Hour.
Much to my horror, this once spectacular beach has been ruined by madness and popularity. The strip is lined by shacks for fried seafood and 2 x
Some of the best sunsets I've ever seen are in Costa Rica
1 happy hours, all with competing music, blaring. We blend right in with the local backpacker couture. Hiding in plain sight, prostitutes going about their hustle while unsavory drug dealers loiter, bored. Sticky brown sand, foam, trash, throw up. The monkeys utilize the highway mishmash of electrical wiring overhead to scope out any ambush potential. Foreigners wearing ill-fitting swim costumes prance about, wasted on cheap rum drinks, seadoo'ing, and getting harnessed into parasailing contraptions to be hoisted way out to sea. Local families huddle under dirty white tents eating their picnics while horses gallop through the maze of rainbow plastic beach gear paraphernalia. In other words, Thailand.
It’s my Pair of Brown Eyes first time in Costa Rica. His eyes sparkle in that wonderment and wisdom of someone who grew up hard. To him, this is like Disneyland. He always exudes positiveness and humility. I like that he never casts judgement upon anyone. I like that he subconsciously picks up litter anytime we are strolling the streets. I like that he always gives his leftovers to the downtrodden. I like that he fully engages in conversation, thoughtfully and receptively. I like how he, as Rihanna says,
I’m very thrilled by the amount of vegan restaurants in Costa Rica!
feel like I'm the only girl in the world.
I’ve always said Costa Rican sunsets are the best in the world, and I was gloriously validated. We find refuge up on the open deck of El Avion and watch the sea. Then, a final trek up the main roadway towards our hostel, we stop to catch our breath at this weird nightclub teeming with 20 somethings, Latin techno beckons us in. Very hedonistic, but tolerable for a quick nightcap.
I might be just travel weary, but so far, I'm not all that keen on Costa Rica. I also realize no one can make a proper judgement after only being in a country one day. What is evident though, is 30 years later, Costa Rica has become very Americanized. All businesses here cater to a retiree and dirty expat clientele with fast food joints and shopping malls, billboards printed in English, medical clinics offering cheap pharmaceuticals, and café menus that reflect an American palate. ...and If one more person says "Pura Vida" to me, I'll probably self harm.
Silver lining though. All these hippy expat residents brought a culture of eco awareness that has rubbed off on
the Costa Ricans, who are now influencers for the rest of the Latin Americas. Leading the way with clean streets, recycling, conservation, and proper pet welfare practices. And good luck finding a plastic straw for your drink anywhere.
Even the local McDonalds won't sell you a straw. The downside, my wallet is having a bit of a culture shock. Cheese on a cracker, it's stupid expensive here
To save money, we keep an eye out for farmers markets so we can cook our own food in the hostel kitchen rather than eat out. Besides, my friend is on some kind of fasting trail running diet, and only eats after 7 pm. He has food issues. He also drinks espresso coffee like the world is going to run out at any minute. It’s hard not to roll my eyes at him when he gets hangry.
Our plans for Manuel Antonio are to hike in the National Park reserve early morning and then have an afternoon beach lie out. But quickly we discover the touristy “hiking trails” aren’t even slightly challenging. It is all terribly boring for my Pair of Brown Eyes, and he's irritated. At least we spotted sloths
Playa at Manuel Antonio
Luckily a few beaches are pristine like 30 years ago because they’ve been protected from the hazards of tourism.
and howler monkeys up in the trees and the odd thing running away from us on the boardwalks. I managed to talk him into an espresso at the park snack shop, we argue ridiculously on whether the monkeys are called Cappuccino or Capuchin. A quick Google finally clears that up.
A nice local dude named Juan who is scoping the park for clients to guide agrees to take my friend on a trek high up into the thick jungle mountains for the rest of the day. I’m like, I’ll be on the beach if you need me.
I follow the signs and drop down from the jade hue of the jungle onto the most pristine, blue lagoon. Now this is how I remember Costa Rica!
I will not be vacating this little slice of paradise until they kick me out, at sundown. It is heaven! As soon as I put my bag down to dive into the crystal sea, a gang of "cappuccino" monkeys descend out of the trees with the intent of robbing me blind. Stomping across the sand, I'm mad because there isn't any food in my pack. I approach aggressively as the big
My POBE called them cappuccino monkeys, and so it stuck
alpha male is going through my stuff meticulously, like a Peruvian Customs Officer.
I hear some American lady over my shoulder say, "Ooooh I wouldn't do that if I were you." She doesn't know my sordid history with monkeys.
He and I wrestle with my day pack, he tries to intimidate me by screeching and bearing his fangs. I do the same back, only more animated. Rule is, you can't flinch, not even once. He looks baffled and skittles off. "Ha! Take that!" I declare smugly and strut by the gawking onlookers.
I couldn’t have asked for a better beach day. Sunny and hot. There was a smattering of other tourists, all trying to find tree shade and being continuously robbed by raccoons and monkeys. The ocean was the same temperature as my body. I snorkeled and sunned myself unabashedly. I may have even made sand angels in my euphoric state.
Maybe it is Pura Vida
here after all.
Back in my surfing days, I never left this pacific coast. I surfed from Tamarindo to Pavones, exacting my craft on some pretty amazing left point breaks. Linda and I camped on beaches just like this,
Don’t Go Chasing Waterfalls
Fantastic thundering waterfall in la Fortuna
with not another soul around.
Besides surfing, one of the biggest thrills for me was witnessing Olive Ridley turtles laying eggs to the north in Ostional, hauling themselves laboriously out onto darkened sands. Back then, locals were known to commerce the eggs and turtle meat, and by doing so, they almost killed off the entire species. Now it’s illegal and thankfully the turtles have recuperated significantly. I only wish it was the right time of year or I'd go and see this spectacle again.
Back at the hostel, I met a friendly German with the same name as mine, so I re-brand him “Aleman.” He is full of life and responds appropriately when I bark Aleman!
in his direction. Because I’m a vegetarian, I put him in charge of charring meat. He happily accepts. I tell him the only word I know in German is ‘Waschlappen”. He barrel laughs himself silly.
My Pair of Brown Eyes returns and collapses. He's been trail running for the past six hours, exhilarated and covered in scrapes and bruises. He and his new friend Juan tell about being chased by a Puma, or rather, a large black dog that looks like
Napping in the Park
My Pair of Brown Eyes is comfortable sleeping anywhere
a Puma, they weren't about to slow down to find out.
Manuel Antonio was a good choice, and with a hostel full of travelers we have no problem finding dinner guests. Yesterday, a few young Spaniards and Aussies were hanging out in the communal lounge, so we gave them a dinner time of 7 pm and send them out on a food scavenger hunt. Everyone proudly arrives back with items in hand. Someone provides the music, another provides the cards. We all make drinks and douse ourselves with bug spray. A fun night is had by all.
After an early morning trek and a refreshing dip in the hostel's freezing pool, it was time to move on. We board a city bus heading up the coast towards El Roble. It makes scheduled stops along the way to pick up passengers with cargo so big, they need to wrestle it aboard. Hours in, the 3rd
bus starts inland, and around and around into the clouds we go on a dirt track. The balmy heat of the lowlands is quickly replaced by a chilly, fresh air. I noticed everyone slamming windows shut and putting on their jackets. I too rummage
Ah The Rich Coast
Still stunning, just as it was 35 years ago.
through my day bag hoping for a hoodie. No luck. The lady I'm sitting with pulls out a shawl and we share it. Stuck between the rows are kitchen appliances, including a full-sized oven and a fridge, blocking the exit. My Pair of Brown Eyes is swaying in the aisle, having given up his seat long ago to a pregnant lady, I marvel that he is able to sleep standing up. Actually, he can sleep anywhere, at any time. This is a luxury afforded to someone who has faced the devil head on, and won.
Why didn't I come to Monteverde before? Certainly I knew of it, but had never ventured this far inland. Suddenly I'm in the alpines of Bavaria, our hostel looks like an old Austrian ski lodge tucked in a black forest. The winds howl upwards ferociously through the village. It is so weird to be freezing in Costa Rica
. We warm up with amazing Italian dinner with a proper wine list at a local eatery. Our stroll around town was interrupted by an electrical storm, forcing a hasty retreat.
Although there is an assortment of adventure activities offered in Monteverde, hiking in the famous
We are hiking up where?!
Oh no, another volcano hike. Hoping the gods don't mind.
clouds is my only priority. Again, the National Park Reserve was not as expected. It is designed more for tourists, not trekkers. We Rock Paper Scissors and I win. My Pair of Brown Eyes agrees to accompany me on these well trodden paths to view all of Costa Rica’s diverse flora and fauna.
The cloud forest was a lovely walk. Dry. Which is blissful. There were nicely groomed trails with suspension bridges and lookouts. All equally nice. No critters about due to mobs of chatty tourists. I spotted a gunnera manicata
in its natural habitat. It's a gigantic rhubarb-looking shrub, for those without the Hortie gene. I have one in my front yard in Canada and people go crazy taking pictures of it. There was also a hummingbird sanctuary at the park entrance where a rainbow of Kamikaze pilots dogfight over the feeders. It's mesmerizing. Back in town, we stumble upon a hip Mexican joint with yummy fried avocado tacos. My Pair of Brown Eyes won't eat any, he's back on his weird fast. He decides to take off for a brisk run through Santa Elena mountain's 12 kms of trails. Should take him a few hours. I
Balvaria or Monteverde
Very German vibe in Monteverde including the chalet style hostel
get a smoothie and check out the orchid garden and then a butterfly garden before I do a little trinket shopping. I even had time for a nap and some laundry. Up here the air is crisp and fresh, and everything is so lush.
A fellow Canadian and I chat it up, he's been here over a year doing his thesis. He shows me a map of extreme trekking in the Children’s Eternal Forest Reserve. We should have done that! I decide not to tell my Pair of Brown Eyes about it to avoid his probable FOMO.
WhatsApp chimes in from my Pair of Brown Eyes, and we meet in the center of town. I have to laugh. There’s a pack of stray dogs following him like a pied piper because it’s 7 pm and he has a ginormous takeout container filled with some kind of BBQ’d meat. We find a cozy vegan place that serves the best falafel I've ever had. Disappointingly, the night scene of Monteverde is sleepy. We turn in early for the night and the next day I hire seats in a micro van for our foray to La Fortuna.
We are packed
Gangster Beach Monkey
Impossible to bring anything to the beach without getting it snatched
in with an assortment of 20's on their gap year. I always enjoy meeting new people this way, it’s sort of a friendly hostage situation. Some of the Aussie girls want to stop for Insta photos by the wind farms. I even get excited watching the gigantic blades slice through the air with a whirl. Our van drops down into rolling pastures of green, where we can catch a water taxi over to the headland of lake Arenal, a hydro dam. The lake was seasonally choppy, soaking us on the crossing. Still beautiful. This has been a very photographic whirlwind tour of Costa Rica.
La Fortuna de San Carlos is somewhat charming with the famous Arenal cone volcano looming in the backdrop. Obviously, this place is solely built on tourism, touts from tour companies prowl the streets looking for tourists to buy their adventure packages. I peruse the lists of activities indifferently. None of this stuff really appeals.
You can’t actually hike up Arenal because its active, but there is an old extinct crater lake next to it called Cerro Chata. We’re going up there. The hostel I booked us was called Sylvia's, but we both wearily looked
Park Po Po
We got some light heckling from a couple policias on horseback
at one another after being dropped off out front of it. It's trying too hard to be THE place to be. I hate that.
We get a room at the cheap hotel across the street and after a good night’s sleep, I’m ready to trek. My Pair of Brown Eyes has already been out for a jog and comes back with some bad news. Cerro Chata is closed. We go anyways, and he sneakily pays off the guard at the entranceway gate.
The hike was grueling, well for me
, but we were rewarded with some great views of the emerald green lake. The fog clouds cleared long enough to get a fabulous view of Arenal too, well worth the strenuous trek. I fell a couple times on the muddy steep trails, my knees a bit gashed. Clinging to roots and tree branches I’m cursing myself out. As I get older, I’m not a spry and I’ve become a bit top heavy too, like a camel on roller skates. My Pair of Brown Eyes finds me highly entertaining and helps me up.
Another page for our conjoined book of memories.
This friendship of ours was always
Thick Green Canopy of Jungle
Even in the dry season there is a bit of water trickling in the forests. Lots of hummingbirds and critters all coming in for a drink
a fluke. We met on the set of a movie that was being filmed in Los Cabos. He was an aspiring film student on his first paid gig, I was a hired extra. Our worlds utterly stopped when we collided that day. But, as it often happens, the timing was bad. I find it strange how drastically different our lives are, yet we look at life through the same lens. Because of him, I am reminded how privileged my life as a Canadian is. But I’d never tell him that. We are two peas. Soulmates, if you believe in that kind of thing.
Our bus departs for San Jose sometime in the afternoon. After breakfast, I decide to go and check out the local waterfall. There are about 500 steps down to the bottom base, but I’m assured it's well worth it. The icy water thunders down into a pool. Worth it! But I can't get a decent picture because everyone is doing ridiculous poses for their Insta. As I climb the 500 steps back up, my knees remind me of the volcano hike from yesterday. I get a WhatsApp every few minutes from my Pair of Brown Eyes
A feast for all
At the hostel its nice to break bread with your fellow travelers
yelling at me that the bus just arrived at the depot. Thankfully I am just in time to catch it.
I love travel by bus, I never sleep because I enjoy peering out the windows to see the breadbasket farms and tiny Pueblas whiz by, it offers a glimpse into the reality for most Costa Ricans. Poor, rural, hard, humble. Five hours later we summit the last corkscrew hill and drop down into San Jose for traffic gridlock of about three hours during their evening commute. I have to pee so bad, I can taste it.
Downtown San Jose is pretty manic. Lots of strange characters and things going on along Avenida central. Christmas shoppers are out in full force. We walk around to take it in, find espresso, you know the usual. Then I go off on my own to check out some museums. Jade and Gold museums both well worth the visit. We met up for dinner at a typical BBQ called Nuestra Tierra. I tried to get something vegetarian, the waiter noticeably winced. Pasta with a meat sauce arrived, I had to send it back twice.
Exploring the grungier side of San Jose at
National Park of Costa Rica
Such a pristine beach left thanks to being saved on a land reserve.
night is way more fun with my Pair of Brown Eyes. We both have an affinity for punk music, and here, there is a bit of a scene. The techno nightclubs that popularize the area are heavily fortified and after several aggressive pat downs and ID scrutinizations, we decide to settle in at a tavern with a more mature clientele so we can hear ourselves talk.
Both our flights leave after midnight, so we take a leisurely stroll back to our hostel, in perhaps a sketchier part of town, when suddenly some Nicaraguan assholes tried to rob us. As soon as I saw the gun, my ears started to buzz, my nose tingled. We were in big trouble.
Neither of us had any money or flashy things on, and my cards were safely tucked between my boobs. My Pair of Brown Eyes forces me to stand behind him while he calmly reasons with the three men. There were threatening undertones in Spanish words I couldn't understand but I can see from their body language they are all high AF, and uncomfortable. Finally, they walk away. We both calmly rush back to get our backpacks from the hostel lobby. No
Some of the hiking trails in Monteverde had wonderful vistas
sense in getting all freaked out...and the irony isn't lost on me that I was worried about my safety in Nicaragua.
At the airport, we sat side by side in silence. This was the hardest part. The Goodbye.
Last time, we had no idea it would be three years before we reconnected. Just knowing it could be that long again, agonizing. Even with all the instant connect-ability of today's social media, it's just not the same. I wish he could come to Canada. But he can't. We are from two completely different worlds, he and I, but our friendship has endured. He is such a great man and a wonderful friend. I will miss him terribly.
My Pair of Brown Eyes looks ridiculous as he clings to the Bob the Builder stuffy he won in El Salvador for his nephew. The last boarding call finally separates us, but…
We Only Said Goodbye With Words
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