A few glasses of chilled Baileys and a short flight later we arrived to our next tropical destination, Costa Rica. This is where my substandard high school Spanish was finally put to the test. We had no phones, laptops, travel blogs, etc. to pull knowledge from since none of that was the gold standard yet. All we were equipped with was a Lonely Planet travel guide book and pin boards in the airport and “Coca Cola” bus station with a few random tips jotted down by road worn travelers. First notable tip: haggle with the cabbies, whatever they said the price was cut that in half to battle your way up and down from there. After changing currency we took a quick ride to the bus station and wandered around the local shops while deciding what to do and how to find more information on where to go. We settled on the closest place (with a beach), a 4 hour bus ride to Jaco. The buses leaving the station were incredibly cheap, even to the corners of the country, at the time I think the most expensive bus was $10, if that. Soon after purchasing tickets we all loaded onto the rickety bus and were driving far too close for comfort along the edge of cliffs, weaving through and around rain forests.
We got to Jaco late afternoon and after exploring the 2 main roads we went to the beach, which is similar to a cove as it is closed off by 2 little rain forest hills. We read through the guidebook and glanced over our sleeping options, but instead walked around a little more and settled on a place called Hotel De Haan.
This was the only time we “splurged” on “fancy” private accommodations. We rented a room with 2 beds and a bathroom, but only for a night because it was a whopping $20 something per person. The next day or 2 were spent at a janky hostel directly next door, where we rented surfboards and bikes, my bike didn’t make it more than 5 blocks before the chain kept falling off so that dream was soon crushed, but it was cheaper sleeping arrangements and that was our main concern.
Jaco was a very pretty beach, but honestly there wasn’t much going on so we decided to move on since we knew our time was limited. A day later we wake up and my friend floats the idea that we leave, so after that conversation we packed up our gear, checked out and waited for a bus bound for a small fishing town called Puntarenas. This is where we would catch a ferry and another bus to a town called Montezuma. The ferry was a nice scenic ride filled with interesting characters, we buddied up to a dreadlock rasta and at 1 point listened to broken stories from a crazy old man that can only be described as an authentic pirate. I let him scribble down Spanish gibberish in my travel journal hoping to 1 day translate it leading us to long lost treasure, but later found it was mostly nonsensical sentences by someone fluent in Spanish.
Montezuma was a quaint little nook of a beach with a central area made up of a handful of restaurants and a few small hotels. Our first night was spent at a very strict Spanish mans hotel, who commanded we have no visitors, no drinking and must be back by a certain time. Needless to say that was a short stay and we took our business around the bend to a mellow place right on the beach the next night. We wound up linking up with some British girls staying a room over and finally got in our first couple evenings of partying. My favorite memory was wandering out of a bar down to the beach that was illuminated by the full moon and as I was staring at the sand it seemed to be rhythmically moving back and forth. At first I attributed it to my lack of sobriety, but suddenly realized it was hundreds of thousands of hermit crabs covering every square inch of the sand. Hermit crabs dancing under the pale moonlight, I’m sure it was quite a romantic evening for all of them. Another, not sure I would say fond memory but certainly memorable, was waking up to what sounded like someone being strangled or stabbed outside, we jumped up and rushed to the window but it turned out to be howler monkeys swinging around on the power lines and running around on the dirt road.
My friend tracked down a waterfall while I was laying low experiencing a new and persistent health issue that would last the rest of the trip, but sucked it up and went along with him because I was yet to lay eyes on 1 since being there.
Up next was Tamarindo, my least favorite beach of the trip. The swimming area was basically a boat marina and it was the most built up beach of all. Like a ghetto Miami without the high rises. We stayed at a typical hostel with a lot of other travelers, went out to dinners a couple nights, got a hot tip from a hosteller that there was a beautiful secluded beach 15 miles or so down the road called Playa Avellanas, so we were off and there in no time thanks to a $30 cab since no direct bus trips went there.
Avellanas was just as described, secluded and serene. We rented some sand space to pitch our tent on for around $10/night, which also included dinners. Not much was going on here, but at that point I was ok with that as I was now on antibiotics thanks to a doctor visit in Tamarindo. We celebrated 4/20 here and 1 of the other things I enjoyed most was the daily fruit truck that would come by. For $5 I could get 2 armfuls of fruit then pig out at the hammocks while covered in mango juice like a true beach heathen.
Finally the time came where we got the itch and were off by bus to Dominical. This was 1 of the longest, more miserable bus rides of our tour. We left early morning and arrived late in the evening, passing patches of eerie forests strangled to death by vines along the way. We piled out of the bus onto an unlit dirt road, wandered a couple directions until we tracked down the beach, pitched a tent, then ran into the ocean to clean off the bus cooties and called it a night. Dominical was another scenic beach with chill restaurants and a nice waterfall, oh and Montezuma caught up with me here and got revenge. Once I recuperated from that we headed for the last town of our trip, Playa Pavones.
My credit card had been shut off at some point even though I told the bank I would be traveling and my friend was down to just about his last colones and only a few traveler’s checks, so we were getting nervous because the further the bus got the more we realized we were heading to no man’s land. Our bus driver had an incredibly strong resemblance to Saddam Hussein so that got me wondering if they didn’t actually kill him and this was his true punishment. Once a leader of an entire country he was now destined to drive stinky locals and travelers around on a bus until the end of his days. When the bus pulled into town we hopped out the back of the bus and contemplated a drive and dash, but as we were discussing our escape route Saddam exited the bus and glowered at us until we reluctantly surrendered the last of our funds. He drove off leaving us in the dust as we silently prayed for an answer to our problems. He came mere moments later approaching through the cloud of dust like a short and stocky Costa Rican angel. He was a pleasant seeming man with a high-pitched frog in the throat voice asking what he could do for us and where we were staying. We told him about our predicament and that all we had were traveler’s checks so unless there was a bank nearby we were broke now that the bus took the last of our pocket change. To our surprise this guy got even more pleasant than before, told us he owns a hotel mere steps away from where we stood and traveler’s checks would be just fine because he was going into town the following day. Before we knew it we were dropping our bags off in a small room with 2 beds, a bathroom and being fed the typical rice, beans, fish and a cold glass bottle of Squirt (my favorite soda as a kid).
Our last days were the standard eating, reading, playing in the surf and observing the local small town culture. Poor but flowing over with genuine happiness, not even the rich can seem to find true satisfaction in life with their millions of dollars like these people can with next to nothing. These people live a simple life, filled with fishing, local soccer games, sitting on the porch laughing and smiling, while running their tiny hotels and restaurants so they can continue to live an impoverished life and they couldn’t be any friendlier.