First day the weather hasn't been great. Overcast most of the day and now a storm is blowing in.
So we have now been in Costa Rico for several days, I think today is our fifth if it is Thursday. It is kind of hard to tell, after arriving at the coast it has become difficult to remember things like what day of the week it is. We are in Montezuma, at the southern end of the Nicoya peninsula in the northwest of Costa Rico. I was first here in 1999 and love the area.
We arrived in San Jose on Saturday after a red eye from PDX to Houston and a five hour layover. Living on west coast presents a problem going nearly anyway in Central or South America. There are nearly no direct flights unless you are going to the Pacific coast of Mexico and so you have to change planes. Nearly all of the flights leave early in the morning so the only alternatives are to fly out the previous day and get a hotel room or take a red eye.
San Jose is like a number of Latin American cities in that it doesn't have many appealing qualities. It isn't dangerous or anything, it just isn't incredibly beautiful. Many people fly in and leave immediately which, if we had not taken a redeye I might have considered. But in this case we decided to stay in San Jose both the first and last night. It gives us a little less time at the beach but does give Shannon the chance to at least see the city.
We checked into our hotel and looked around a little bit. I had a few problems trying to use ATM machines but was able to get my card back each time which is the most important thing. I also didn't see any transactions post when I didn't get any money back which is a nice bonus.
As it was Saturday night, the main pedestrian mall was packed. There was a Christmas tree lighting (this huge metal cone made out of circles and hearts) and it gave us a good chance to start to adjust to being in a latin country.
On Sunday we picked up a rental car, after a little bit of working finding the place. On of the reasons why I booked the hotel we were staying at is that I thought it was close to the rental care place, in addition to being well ranked on Trip Advisor. Well after a half hour or so of searching and going back to our hotel and asking, we found out that it wasn't so close.
Costa Rico has an odd thing in that places don't really have addresses in the conventional sense. Our hotel in San Jose, as an example, has an address of California neighborhood next to Pizza Hut and on the others die of the Nicaraguan embassy. That is its actual address, translated of course. The address refer to what street they are on, intersections and landmarks. Also causing a problem is that there are avenidas (avenues) and calles (streets). What I didn't realize at the time is that while our hotel was on the same street (but with a different name because it changes, where it changed is not where I thought) and on Calle 25 and the rental cars was near Calle 30, the Calle 30 it is on is the other one across town as they don't have Calle 30 East or anything like that so there are always 2 possible locations for anywhere in town and this is why landmarks become important.
For this reason, and the fact that the drivers are a little insane, many people recommend that you do not drive in San Jose. I can see why for some people this makes a lot of sense. Because trying to get to the new highway that comes to this part of the country, I bought maps for my Garmin GPS from a Costa Rican company. Because of this, the drive out here became much easier and more enjoyable.
I actually kind of enjoy driving in San Jose. To begin with they only take two driving laws seriously, drinking and driving and speeding. Everything else becomes more of a recommendation. Stop signs are really more like yield signs. Honking becomes obligatory when a light turns green for every other car other than the very first one. Actually I think you are supposed to honk randomly and frequently. I kind of enjoy all of it.
Our rental car is a Toyota Yaris. I can't recommend one, or at least ours. It is underpowered, doesn't handle that well, doesn't brake very well, rides a little rough on dirt roads and pot holes (which are everywhere and by that I mean both the dirt roads and the pot holes, frequently being a dirt road with a lot of pot holes). Ours also has the worst clutch ever and the passenger side lock comes out of the car if you are not careful either locking or unlocking the passenger side with the key (the car has a Pioneer stereo and I think someone removed the lock to steal the stock stereo).
The drive to this part of the country wasn't bad. First time I was here it was on a very narrow paved road, which has since been replaced by a pretty decent toll highway. It is well worth the five or six dollars in cost to drive out here.
After an hour and a half drive, we arrived in Punatarenas which is where we had to catch a ferry to come to the southern Nicoya peninsula. That to, has been upgraded. Last time it was a small boat that didn't carry cars. Now the trip takes about half the time and is on a modern ferry that could haul quite a few cars and a few tractor trailer rigs at the same time.
After that it was about an hour drive through the southern Nicoya. It is either a long drive around the peninsula or the ferry ride in order to get here and so it hasn't been developed much. THere are a few small resorts and a few small towns but not many people. Most of this part of the peninsula is very rural so you drive by farms and cattle. All of this is on a narrow paved road, then there is the largest town in the area of maybe 10,000 called Cobano. A turn onto a a dirt road then brings you to Montezuma.
Montezuma is about 4 times bigger than when I was here in '99, which means it is still small. There is one dirt road that runs for about half a mile through town along the beach with a few restaurants and hotels lining either side. Downtown is about a block on direction and another block perpendicular to it. There are maybe 20 hotels, 10 resturants, a few souvenir storers, two small grocery stores and a bar. Not much else other than the beaches.
There isn't a lot to do here. Horseback riding, ATVs, snorkeling at a small island nearby and a national park that sits on the corner of the peninsula between Montezuma (the south side)and the side that faces the Pacific.
Montezuma is more popular with Europeans than Americans - based on this trip I would say at least 80% European. It is also very popular with ex-pats, again mostly European. I would say that o the permanent and semi-permanent (more than a month) residents only half are Costa Rican.
I am current sitting on a hammock as I write this out in the garden of our hotel which is next to a small river (the is a nice waterfall just a few hundred yards up the hill on the river from where I am now). The garden overlooks the sea. We don't actually have a beach right here, this is in one of the pretty rocky sections so we have to walk for a few minutes to get to a beach where we can swim.
Life is pretty relaxed here and that is one of the reasons I like it. Most days we tend to alternate reading in hammocks and reading on the beach. That and meals pretty much describes our life here. I imagine it would bore me after a few months but I would be willing to give it a shot to see how long it really takes.
The weather is pretty good to. The rainy season just ended in November and thus far it hasn't rained during the day. The highs have been mid 70s to low 80's with the lows in the higher 60's. Some days have been slightly cloudy which makes it a little more humid, but still very enjoyable on a hammock under the trees or on the beach in the shade. When we go to the beach and stay in the sun, we will frequently go in to the surf every half hour or so to stay comfortable.
There is a decent amount of surf here. The coastline is relatively rocky in spots, with the waves crashing up on to the rocks, the a few nice beaches spread here and there. We found one small one that the locals go to not far from here that has a very small beach and little surf between the rocks. Farther down the coast there is Playa Montezuma, which has rocks and decent surf and then even farther down is Playa Grande which is the surfing beach. It is a good 45 minute or so walk from here, but it is a very nice beach.
So outside of spending time in a hammock and on the beach we drove to Santa Teresa and Mal Pais which are towns that are 6 miles from here as the crow flies but about a 45 minute drive. They are on the pacific side of the peninsula and are the big places to go surfing. Playa Grande is good, but it is quite a walk and as it doesn't directly face west, the surf isn't quite as big. Santa Teresa and Mal Pais are the big surfing destinations, world class in fact. I had never been there and after seeing them we are glad we came here. They might be great for surfing and they are bigger but they are long and spread out, over probably 3 miles at least.
Playa Santa Teresa
Then last night we spent several hours walking Playa Grande with a conservation group trying to find hatching sea turtles. The day before they had 61 hatch and as it was a full (or nearly full moon) there was a chance that we might find find hatches that they hadn't collected but we weren't able to find any but we did watch them release one that hatched the night before from a group of eggs they collected.
Then this morning we went to yoga. Shannon and I have both been doing yoga on the occasional Saturday morning (the nearest places for us is in Albany and is a 45 minute drive each way). They have a beautiful studio setup on a hill, open air with the waves crashing below. We are used to an hour, and relatively easy practice, This was 90 minutes and pushed us, in some cases with moves I don't think I would ever be able to do. Both a good workout and relaxing all the same.
I haven't taken many pictures and I am going to try and do that and get them posted along with writing some more later.
ARRIVAL IN SAN JOSE
SATURDAY, DECEMBER 3, 2011 AT 01:47PM
After a red eye last night from Portland to Houston, we finally landed in San Jose, the capital and largest city. Tomorrow we pickup a rental car and drive to Montezuma on the north Pacific coast, where we will stay for the duration of our trip.
THURSDAY, DECEMBER 1, 2011 AT 07:58PM
We are off to Costa Rico tomorrow!