A Travellerspoint blog

Our travel to Monteverde from Playa Grande

Buenas días famila y amigos. Yesterday we left Playa Grande and took a 5 hour shuttle ride up to the Monteverde Cloud Forest. We are staying in a small town located next to the reserve called Santa Elena. Our shuttle adventure began at 1:00pm when we were picked up at our hotel by Hugo, our designated shuttle driver. He was very nice, but none the less..a typical Costa Rican driver…hold on tight! Our next stop was a hotel in Tamarindo, where we picked up our traveling companions for the ride. They were a young couple from Belgium who are traveling through Costa Rica for 3 weeks. They too were headed to the reserve to explore the Cloud Forest for a few days. They were very friendly and spoke decent English.

The shuttle ride seemed like a peaceful drive until we took a sudden right off the main road to a dirt road leading to a small neighborhood. The one little detail the shuttle bus brochures neglected to mention was that the drivers were on “Tico Time”(where the locals and go and come as they please). With confusion on all of our faces, our Tico driver suddenly pulled over in front of a random house, where he got out and a young boy came running up to him with a big hug. Not to mention he picked up a random girl at a local bus stop five minutes before. What was going on here? After leaving us in the van clueless for 5 minutes, he came back and explained he was picking up his hijo(son) and ensured that we will be back on the road shortly. Once we were back on the road, now with two unexpected passengers, we were on our way to Monteverde. The young woman was dropped off along the way and the surprises seemed to come to an end. Now it was just a matter of making it up the “worst road in Costa Rica.”

As we were climbing up the mountain on a paved narrow road, our driver pulled over to let us get a picture of the view looking back at the coast. We were so high up that you could clearly see the entire Nicoya Peninsula. It’s amazing how small this country is even though it feels large when traveling through it. At this point, our driver indicated we had an hour more to go and that this was where the road started to get quite bumpy.

The road got a bit more curvy and had a steeper incline as we climbed. It was certainly a bumpy ride all the way into town. The roads were covered with small rocks the size of a fist and embedded in the hard packed mud that is now dry from the dry season climate. There were a few pot holes here and there but most of the rumble came from the rocks scattered along the road. It’s a wonder how anyone drives this in the rainy season, you would be fighting a rocky mudslide the whole way up…but the locals do it, simply amazing. As we were rocking around in the van, we suddenly got reminded of the Indiana Jones ride at Disney Land. We were just waiting for the boulder to come rolling around the corner;).

We made it to Santa Elena right at sunset. We got safely dropped off at an awesome backpacker’s favorite called Pension Santa Elena. What a cool place! When we arrived, it was full of young and old travelers alike. It’s very mellow here, perfect for us. We are staying in a private room with our own bathroom for $30. The room was clean and had decent beds. It has a communal kitchen, where everyone was cooking up their inexpensive dinner when we arrived. So instead of letting the aromas of dinner cooking agitate our stomachs any longer, we hurried over to a great restaurant called Morpho’s. Everything is in walking distance within the town. The whole town has a 500 yard radius. We were even more excited to discover Morpho’s had dark beer…oh yes! Selection beyond Imperial and Pilsen was nice for once. We highly recommend the burgers at Morpho’s, a big burger packed with two patties and fixings, enough to last you well into the morning.

We awoke to a beautiful sunny day this morning and are looking forward to the canopy zipline tour and suspended bridge tour we signed up for last night. We get to go be monkeys for the rest of the afternoon…we’re excited to get back to our roots!

Posted by AtheSinn 07:25 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (0)

Our Past Few Days

We are in the midst of the great “Costa Rican Windstorm of 2009.” Over the past two days the entire country has been battered with severe winds, especially in San Jose where the winds were recorded at over 85kmph! So to say the least, we have been stuck inside for the most part. The weather has also dramatically reduced the temperature of the water, making it less desirable to swim in. In addition, our power, or the entire town’s power I should say, has been on and off for 3 days straight. Two nights ago we had no power throughout the entire night and into the early morning. We awoke to our refrigerator creating a massive river to the door, luckily the power shortly kicked on after that and our perishables were saved.

However yesterday the wind subsided just enough to let us go out and explore by car for a few hours. Our good neighbors Darrell and Cathy took us for a drive up the coast and showed us the towns of Playa Flamingo, Playa Conchal, Brasalito and Sugar Beach. Each town had its own particular identity and beauty. Some of the houses we saw that sit on top of these beautiful cliffs were simply amazing. We finished up our day by enjoying a few cocktails with our neighbors at a really awesome bar called Outback Jacks. They had Christmas lights all over the bar and restaurant and provided a very fun ambience to watch the sunset to. Check out some of the pictures we posted from the trip.

This next story was the most exciting experience we’ve had since we arrived here in Playa Grande. But first let me give you a short background on the situation. Playa Grande is part of a national marine protected area. This is one of six beaches in the world where the endangered Leatherback Sea Turtle will come to lay their eggs. They come up at night during high tide to burry their eggs in the sand. The eggs incubate until they are ready to hatch and the baby sea turtles swim out to sea during the night for their first time. This is a critical part of their survival. Since the turtles are an endangered specie, Costa Rica takes their survival very very seriously. There is a local Marine Biology Center/Lab that monitors the turtles’ return and also recovers the laid eggs at night and puts them in a safe nesting area until they hatch. The marine center has volunteers from all over the world that help out with this process. The marine center patrols the beach at night to make sure no one disturbs the turtles laying process. Sooo with all that being said, on our daily morning walk yesterday, Rachelle encountered a newborn baby Leatherback Sea Turtle on the beach. The poor creature had been beaten up by the surf and wind, and did not have any energy left to make it out to sea. We did not get any pictures but the baby turtle was the size of the palm of a hand. We attempted to release it into the ocean out past the surf, but the little guy just didn’t look like it was going to make it. So, we picked him up and carried him to the Turtle Marine Biology Center/Lab where we left him with the local biologist, who graciously took the turtle under his care. It was one of the best experiences of the trip so far.

While stuck indoors we finally came up with a game-plan for the remainder of our Costa Rica trip. We will be leaving Playa Grande on Monday and head for the cloud forest in Monteverde, and the volcano in Arenal. This is where we will be doing the zip-line and canopy tours of the forest, it is supposed to be incredible. We will then head to the Caribbean Coast and stay in the town of Puerto Viejo for a couple of days. This is supposed to be a very laid back, reggae influenced town that welcomes beach bums…sounds perfect for us! We will then be crossing the border into Panama where we will visit Boca Del Toro, a very popular tourist destination. We are both excited to visit Boca Del Toro for its amazing beauty, crystal clear waters, and not to mention Carnival celebration! After that it is off to Belize. We will keep you all posted as our travels continue.

Posted by AtheSinn 07:28 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (0)

Just Hanging Back

We have had quite a few uneventful days as of late. Just hanging out at the beach, soaking up some rays and enjoying the warm waters of playa grande. We are trying to figure out a plan for the next few weeks. We have decided to stay here in playa grande until the 9th, but after that our plans are up in the air. We may go visit the Arenal Volcano and Monteverde with our friends Darrell and Cathy, or we may head down the Pacific Coast. Our original plan was to head to the Caribbean side and visit Puerto Viejo, a place that we were very excited to visit. However, we have heard several stories from locals and other tourists that have made us rethink our plans, instead we have been told to visit Bocas Del Toro in Panama (just 20 min from the Costa Rican border on the Caribbean side), it’s supposed to be a very nice and friendly place for Americans to visit. It’s an island that requires a short fairy ride from the coast of Panama. So back to the drawing board for us. Until then, we will be researching places to visit, but tomorrow we are going up to a fair/swap on the beach in Playa Conchal with Darrell and Cathy, which should be a lot of fun. We will let you all know our plans as soon as we figure it out.

Posted by AtheSinn 09:35 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (0)

Frustration and Fun All Wrapped Into One

Well…we had quite the adventure yesterday. It should have been one of the more simple days on our voyage, but it ended up being a 12 hour excursion with no end in sight. It all started on our walk to Tamarindo. We were heading to town to rent a motor scooter for a day so that we could go to a festival/carnival in Huacas, a town located between Playa Grande (where we are staying) and Tamarindo. The festival is famous in the area, and draws a very large crowd. Anyway, we made it to Tamarindo without any problems and we were on our way to get our scooter, or so we thought. The scooter rental was ½ a mile away from the beach and once we arrived we were informed that there was a deposit required for the scooter (the last time I was here there was no deposit required, apparently some of our fellow gringos have taken advantage of the rental policy over the past few years). There was a minor communication error between the Hertz agent and I over the exact dollar amount of the deposit. I thought he said that there was a $300 deposit…I was wrong. When he tried to charge my card it was declined, again and again and again. We tried to call the credit card company at the Hertz office but it would not go through.

So we started a mission to try and find a public phone so that I could get a hold of my credit card company to figure out what was going on, and of course I did not bring my iphone along. So we had to walk the ½ mile back into town to find a pay phone that we could not understand how to use (yes, we are college grads). We then went into the most tourist friendly hotel we could find (aka modern landscape and white crowds hovering the front desk), and used their phone to get everything squared away with Visa.

So, back up the hill ½ a mile to the Hertz agent and guess what, my card was declined again, and again. So back to the hotel again, ½ a mile and a phone call later…This time the operator informed me that Hertz was trying to charge me $600 for a deposit, not $300, now it all makes sense because I don’t have $600 on my card. I could have probably found a beat-up scooter for sale around here at that same price. At this point we decided screw the festival and the scooter, let’s just grab some lunch, some Cuban cigars and drink our sorrows away. Moral of the story....learn better Spanish (and don’t put Justin in charge..:)j/k–ra)

While enjoying our lunch, our waiter informed us that Huacas was only a $10 taxi ride from where we were at. So, we got a cab and headed for the festival anyways. However, when we arrived in Huacas the festival grounds were empty, we were 3 hours early. We then convinced a local bar to open early for us and we attempted to wait for the festival to begin. The only problem was that this town was in the middle of nowhere and we were the only gringos in sight. After our second beer we made the decision to head home while there was still daylight, we both did not feel comfortable staying by ourselves until after dark. We hadn’t seen a taxi go by in over an hour and a half, so our options home looked liked hitchhiking or walking, whatever came first.

As we left the bar we began to walk down the highway towards home. We made it about 400 yards when we heard someone call out “hey Justin, Rachelle!” To our surprise it was our neighbors here at the hotel, they had also arrived at the festival early, only they had a car. After explaining our day to them we all decided to wait for the festival at the bar we were just at.
Once the sun set the festival began. There was loud Latin techno music blaring, stray dogs running around, and the best carnival food we have ever had. We sampled the fried chicken (best ever), homemade tamales (wrapped in a giant palm leaf), and churros with some sort of caramel goo injected into them, they were amazing! The evening was capped off when the local men began to ride bulls in the rodeo ring. This was very, very amateur bull riding and three of the riders had to be taken away by ambulance after being gored by the bull. Needless to say it was a lot of fun and an experience like no other.

After the festival our friends gave us a ride and we thankfully made it home safe and sound around 10pm. It was an incredible day. We were tired, frustrated, nervous, scared, relieved and thankful all within a short amount of time. It was one of those days that brought us closer together and one of the stories that we will always remember when looking back on this trip.

Today we are relaxing and will soon be attending a Super Bowl party at one of the local hotels. Go Cardinals!

P.S. we posted new pictures

Posted by AtheSinn 07:31 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (0)

Playa Grande Visit

Hola famila y amigos. Justin and I have decided we are not coming home.
If only we could stay….it’s great here. Safe, still rustic, friendly people, beautiful landscape, and great weather.

We were awaked this morning by Howler monkeys vocalizing their loud growl. They travel in packs and scour the local tree tops, munching on leaves and twigs. They are not very big, the size of 9-10lb. baby and have the cutest little faces. They are all over the trees near our apartments. We even saw one carrying a small baby on its back.

At night, we fall asleep to the sound of Iguanas nestling on the rooftops. They walk around the landscape and climb up the trees. We haven’t got a good picture of one yet because they tend to scurry away when you approach them. Justin said that there used to be hundreds of Iguanas walking all over the property. But since development has expanded and brush cleared for new lots to be sold, the Iguanas are a rare sight.

Yesterday was quite an eventful start to our stay here in Playa Grande. We decided it would be a good idea to walk along the beach to Tamarindo (the nearest town, 1.5 miles away) to stock up on groceries and visit the bank to exchange US money to Colones. $1 dollar = $560 colones, however the price of products and services here is about the same as in the states, which is mostly due to the fact that we are in a resort town. We took a big backpack to put our groceries in and began the 3mile round trip. There is an estuary(where the river meets the ocean) that separates Tamarindo beach and Playa Grande beach. The crossing is not that deep, maybe waist high in some areas, but I preferred we take a $2 fairy across. Crocodiles are only a mile upstream and I didn’t feel like being some croc’s lunch. The fairy is a rundown boat that has rusted seats and a single propeller in the back of the boat. The locals run the fairy and are very friendly.

Tamarindo is a cool town. It’s a combination of old Costa Rican buildings and new, modern hotels. You can clearly see which areas cater to the tourists and which areas host the locals. Street vendors greet you with souvenirs, but Justin says a lot has changed here, mostly new development. One local travels the streets by horseback and offers rides to those who want a true Tico experience. The man is rugged, has no shoes, and is shirtless. I think it was obvious why he wasn’t getting much business. Justin and I enjoyed a few $1 beers while people watching and practicing our Spanish. After we bought our groceries we headed back to the fairy. The tide was much higher at this point, and there was no fairy in sight. I panicked, I did not feel like chumming the water with our groceries. But as Justin promised, a fairy appeared out from the distance. The walk back was long and tiresome, enough to give us a good work out for the month.

Justin hasn’t surfed yet, but will today or tomorrow. The surf is ok. Some weird on shores winds picked up last night, causing the surf to become rough and sloppy. It was all the locals could talk about last night. Apparently it is very strange weather for this time of the year.

Not sure what today’s plans are yet. We’ve been recommended to visit a few places north and south by some friendly neighbors. They are a nice couple from Newport Beach who moved down here in September to retire. They rent one of the apartments here and simply say “they are living a dream”. Check out our new photos of the trip so far. Well, we are off the beach, hasta luego!

Posted by AtheSinn 10:49 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (0)

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