Thursday, May 2, 2013

Costa Rica (Caribbean Coast and Montezuma)

Montezuma Costa Rica

As former backpackers, turning into aging flashpackers, we still retain a bit of travel snobbery.  For many years we had held off on visiting Costa Rica, thinking it was too expensive, too touristy, too trendy.  Finally, having vacationed in all of the surrounding countries, we figured we couldn't snub CR without first hand experience.

Now, on our first day in San Jose, as TH chased down a man we'd witnessed swiping a gringo's bag, "Uh-huh, I knew it," thoughts bubbled in my head.  I admit it: I was jaded.  I was going to have to move past my preconceived notions to enjoy this month long exploration of the land of pura vida.

Punta Uva (south of Puerto Viejo)
Our first stop was Panchamama Jungle River Lodge  (around $70 a night including breakfast), a 4.5 hour bus ride from San Jose. The family running the lodge was quite friendly and our room was simple, but clean, with a beautiful porch for morning reading or evening cocktailing.

Pachamama Jungle River Lodge

Unfortunately, it rained for almost our entire week long visit to the Caribbean coast.  This was majorly disappointing, as we were attempting to escape the cold Alaskan winter.  We still ventured out, exploring the beaches (although it was usually too rough and muddy to swim), biking up and down the single road that connected hotels and restaurants from Puerto Viejo to Manzanillo, and looking for wildlife with our fabulous Texan travel friends, Bonnie and Eric.

sloth Costa Rica

When the Texans went home I was plagued with a case of the downsies, and my complaining began to match the intensity and frequency of the pouring rain.

"I'm cold!"
"My clothes won't dry."
"Our sheets are moldy."
"Look at this mosquito bite!"
"I think I have dengue fever."
"My bike threw me over the handlebars!"
"I think my bike accident wound has a jungle infection."

As we waited at the bus stop on our last day, I was excited to leave and never come back.  And then the sun made a startling appearance and I realized why Puerto Viejo might have potential after all.

Puerto Viejo bus stop

Puerto Viejo Costa Rica

Still, we weren't persuaded to stay.  We hopped on the return bus to San Jose without a plan in mind.  As we stood outside the SJ bus station, debating our options, a tour tout sensed our indecisiveness and came in for the kill.  I'm pretty sure I rolled my eyes knowingly at TH.  However, when our new friend realized that we were actually dirty backpackers disguised as middle aged people he quickly dropped the shtick and began to offer helpful suggestions.  Maybe we would like Montezuma?  If so, the last bus of the day was leaving in ten minutes.  When I confirmed that it would be hot and sunny we were on the bus in five minutes. 

After about two hours the road ended at a waterfront, and what appeared to be the end of the line. Everyone started getting off the bus.  Hmmmm: the sign had said "Puntarenas" not "Montezuma".  As we exited the bus in confusion I could sense the local passengers nodding to each other.  They seemed to be saying, "Who wants to take this one?"  And that's how Marco became our designated gringo handler.  

"Here, now we are getting on the ferry.  You can leave your bags on the bus," he reassured us in perfect English.  It turns out that Marco was a hotel manager in Santa Teresa, not far from Montezuma.  He would help us find the bus again after the ferry ride and make our second bus connection later that evening.  Safe under the wing of a friendly local, we celebrated our escape from rain with canned Cuba Libres on the ferry deck.  Oh, how I loved Costa Rica!


Reunited with our bus, I picked a Montezuma hotel from my Kindle's Moon Guide.  Marco offered to call and check for availability, and then successfully booked us a room.  In Montezuma the bus driver waited as Marco exited the bus, helped us with our connection, and then hopped back on to continue his journey to Santa Teresa (where we would meet him for a day trip in three days).  Could travel get any easier? 

The local bus deposited us at the bottom of a long, dark hill.  Our rugged roller bags glided easily up the steep, uneven drive.  Ha, we weren't dirty backpackers after all!  Look at us, with our sleek roller bags! 

Our first two nights were spent at  Hotel Horizontes.  We loved it, and burned up beer calories by walking the hilly 3km to town and back.  You can read our Trip Advisor review here.

Montezuma officially turned our CR trip around.  TH could fish from the rocks off the beaches while I read, beach combed and basked in the sun.  There was a terrific hike to a set of refreshing waterfalls where friendly locals generously shared their beverages.  

Montezuma waterfalls

Montezuma Costa Rica

Montezuma Costa Rica waterfall

Breakfast at our favorite beach front restaurant, Bar Restaurante Moctezuma.  After careful observation, we discovered this was the place where vacationing Ticos congregated.  

Bar Restaurante Moctezuma Costa Rica

Nighttime Montezuma is filled with dreadlocks, bare feet, fire dancing, and hula-hooping.  As a result, there are a number of hippie/vegetarian restaurants in this tiny town, but we found the service in most to be dreadfully slow and the prices abominably steep.  After several lame experiences we continued to return to Bar Restaurante Moctezuma for, among other things, $5 pitchers of sangria.

sangria montezuma costa rica

As Hotel Horizantes did not have room for us after two days, we moved to a nondescript room closer to town for another four days.  We spent endless hours walking the beach, cooling off in the the cool mountain streams that emptied onto the beaches, and practicing TH's cast-netting (a technique to catch bait fish, thus enabling him to work his way up the food chain).

cast-netting Costa Rica

To be continued in Costa Rica Part 2 and Part 3...

Question:  Have you ever visited a place only to find that your preconceived notions were completely wrong?

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