I wanted to write a quick update for friends and, even more so, family. It turned out to be not so quick, so I added a bunch of pictures for those seeking the abbreviated version.
As of today I have been in Costa Rica for about 11 days. Until now I had been traveling with my roommate from the last year, Katie. Being extremely homesick, she decided to fly home today a little earlier than planned. Here is a snapshot of our adventures the past week and a half.
We arrived in San José last Wednesday evening and went straight to our hostel. Dodging desperate taxi drivers eager to make a fare off of confused tourists, we were directed to the bank to break our large bills and then to the bus stop outside the airport. By taking a bus to within three blocks of our hostel and then walking the remaining short, albeit empty and poorly lit stretch of road, we saved about $20. After touching down around 6:30pm, we were safe and sound in Gaudy’s Backpacker hostel by about 9:00pm.
We got up early for breakfast the next day and spent the morning and part of the afternoon wandering around the city. With the sun up, San José felt safer and much less intimidating.
A couple photos from our first and last day in the capital…
After several hours of walking we were exhausted and hungry. The attendant at La Plaza de la Cultura handed us a map when she saw our bewildered faces upon her attempt to point us in the direction of some ‘comida de Costa Rica,’ or ‘Costa Rican food.’ You would think finding a dish typical of its own country would be easy in a place like this, but we found more American fast food joints than anything else. I’m not exaggerating when I say that there is a McDonald’s at least every two or three blocks of the main pedestrian strip in downtown San José. We found an authentic Costa Rican ‘soda’ and had our first plate of casado, a typical Costa Rican dish of beans, rice, meat, some kind of salad and, if you’re lucky, some fried plantains.
Our last stop in San José was the central market, a cramped network of alleyways where locals go to buy their goods at local prices. Maneuvering through shouting merchants who may or may not have been trying to get our attention, we finally made our way back to the central avenue. We had full bellies now, but were still exhausted so we opted to head back to the hostel and relax for the rest of the night. The next morning we would have to wake up at 5:00 a.m. to catch a bus, a ferry, and two more busses to get to Montezuma.
Situated along the western coast of Golfo de Nicoya, Montezuma has long been a major tourist destination known for its laid-back character, hip art community, and scenic beaches. It took us about six hours to get from San José to Montezuma via a bus to Puntarenas, a ferry from there to Paquera, a bus from Paquera to Cóbano, and another to Montezuma.
Our time in Montezuma was mostly spent swimming in the warm waters of the southern Pacific Ocean and eating good food. Here are a few pictures Katie and I took on the way to and around this tiny beach community…
On the ferry from Puntarenas to Paquera
A couple shots of the coastal town of Puntarenas
Being in Costa Rica during the rainy season means that everywhere save the Atlantic coast is much less crowded than during other times of the year. And Montezuma was no exception. By the end of our second day in Montezuma we felt as though we’d just about seen it all and were eager to get to our next destination, the ultra-chill surfing town of Santa Teresa.
Way out on the southern Pacific coast of the Nicoya Peninsula are the towns of Mal Pais and Santa Teresa. Although Mal Pais is a little more developed than it’s neighbor and home to the only two ATM’s within walking distance, Katie and I spent our entire time a 20 minute walk away in Santa Teresa at Casa Zen Guesthouse. One of the nicer and more affordable hostels in the area, Casa Zen offers yoga classes, surfboard lessons and rentals, two kitchens, private rooms, clean facilities, and plenty of hammocks. If you find yourself in Santa Teresa, you must stay at least a couple nights at Casa Zen. Complete with a small bouldering wall, a couple of guitars, and two well-behaved dogs, it was perfect for us.
Although I failed to take even one photos of the beach, the surfers, or anything else for that matter, Katie snapped a few for the both of us…
Practicing what we learned on the previous day’s surf lesson
Santa Teresa was by far our favorite stop of the first week and a half we were in Costa Rica. Despite everyone’s warnings, we decided to leave for the party capital of Jaco after five nights in Casa Zen in order to make our way towards Manuel Antonio National Park.
Jaco, Quepos, and Manuel Antonio
Our couple of days after Santa Teresa were pretty unremarkable. Katie insisted we stay in a real hotel in Jaco, the kind with TV and air-conditioning. She offered to pay so I didn’t argue. The A/C was nice, but Jaco turned out to be just about how everyone had described it. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone looking to see the real Costa Rica. It may, however, be a good stop for those traveling solo who want to meet other travelers as the coastal party town is choked with tourists. After learning that the only bungee jumping operation in Jaco had closed (we didn’t ask why), we saw no reason to stay any longer and took the 90 minute bus ride to Quepos, the town just outside Manuel Antonio.
We grabbed a bite to eat in Quepos in order to find some wi-fi and search for a reasonable hostel in the area. We settled on El Baile de la Iguana, which I wouldn’t recommend to anyone. We didn’t see the private rooms, but the dorm was one of the worst looking I’ve ever stayed in and the owner of the place gave us both a really unsettling feeling. I think this may have been the straw that broke Katie’s back, as she woke up in the morning ready to call it quits early.
Instead of heading to the national park, we hopped a bus straight back to San Jose and Katie took the last flight out to Houston. Knowing she wouldn’t make the connecting flight to Denver that evening, she still opted to spend the night in George Bush Intercontinental rather than stay another night in Costa Rica. To be honest, I was tempted to join her. But I don’t think I could live with myself if I gave up after only 11 days.
Sitting here in San José alone now, I can’t help but wonder just what the hell I’m doing here. Frankly, I’m scared to death, but I guess I need to prove to myself that I can do this. From here, I will probably spend no more than a couple more weeks in Costa Rica. After that, I am considering heading North to Nicaragua with Jay (see above) and a couple of his friends, or maybe just skipping the rest of Central America and catching a flight to Cusco, Peru to make the trek up to Machu Picchu. We shall see.