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I am back in the wind, but it is a warm sleepy breeze here in Cahuita rather than the wild winds of Monteverde. The air and the water are both balmy. There’s no wireless connection in this town so I’ve become a little less connected with the bigger world this past week. That’s fine with me. My existence here is basic but rich, slow but always winding my way toward the horizon where the sky and sea meet.
Costa Rica’s beaches cover almost every imaginable variation. A week ago I was in Manuel Antonio on the central Pacific coast – one of the first beaches to be developed for tourism and definitely one of the busiest. Now I’m in Cahuita on the Caribbean and its charm for me lays in the fact that it hasn’t changed all that much since I first came in 1990. I tend to gravitate to less populated places with a high relax factor and so I fit in well here.
On the other hand, and coast, Manuel Antonio sits at the end of an action-packed seven kilometer road that starts in Quepos, once a fishing village now a busy town handling the commercial side of the tourism trade. The road crawls up and over the rocky cliffs to the beach of Manuel Antonio and its National Park and is filled with hotels and restaurants that can be seen gracing the pages of Architectural Digest or Conde Naste magazines. I’ve managed to stay at a couple of these places over the years just because someone I know knew someone who could get us a great deal, but otherwise I could never afford any of them. The best I can do, as I did with my friends on Valentine’s Day, is walk the road and stop in for a drink in different establishments just to get the feel of their atmosphere and design.
Manuel Antonio’s beaches are beautiful – the large white sand beach that fronts the little town, where people can swim but there is also enough wave action for surfers – and the smaller beaches that you must enter the National Park to access. Even though there are a lot of tourists around, you can walk the paths and arrive at the more secluded beaches – passing silent sloths, raucous white-faced monkeys and the rare little squirrel monkeys playing in the trees – the forest that you walk through is alive and diverse.
The majority of the tourists seem to like to gather with all the others on the main beach where umbrellas and lounge chairs can be rented. The last time I was in MA it wasn’t like this. But then I never was one to be here often and several years have passed and if there is one thing I know in Costa Rica, it is that change comes fast and furious. Everyone in the area steps up to try to make a living off the tourists – working in restaurants, hotels or tour and souvenir shops or selling their wares illegally on the sidewalks and beach stalls (the vendors all scatter when word spreads that the police are on the way to check their permits.)
Pretty young girls learn how to carry pots and plates on their heads at very early ages and walk the beach selling fruit and snacks until they are beautiful young women doing a good business. And the guys with the great personalities become the great bartenders.
Although tourists coming to Costa Rica are warned about being robbed – definitely a caution not to take lightly – this has actually only happened to me twice in the nineteen years of coming here. And both situations were identical – I left shoes outside at night and someone picked them up. The first time was at a different beach many years ago, outside of a tent I was sleeping in when the thief left my brand new $100 Birkenstocks but took my friend’s used but nice running shoes. This year I left my sarong and sandals outside of the condo I was staying in and next morning they were gone. Lesson learned (again) – fortunately I was quickly distracted from my loss by a pair of pygmy owls nesting in the tree next to our room – and was able to cheaply replace both the shoes and the sarong.
Soak-in-the-sea-days, great food, and nights spent dancing – thus went the days at Manuel Antonio. I spent this little beach vacation with my pals Jeff the crooner (if you throw him a line he’ll have to sing you a verse…)
and Randy One-Flop from Hamilton,
and Special KKKK-Kevin from New Brunswick. Wonderful men are they all and we had fun. Kevin stayed on in steamy Quepos while Jeff and Randy and I went up to the cool climate of Monteverde.
We spent a beautiful sunny day in the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve walking with Wolf. When the sun shines in the cloud forest, you can’t help but feel blessed. Wolf was in good form, taking a new painkiller which makes his walking easier. He’s been suffering from worn out knees (including a new one) for years.
The day started a little drizzly but turned into a blue sky glimpsed behind the sparkle of the sun on the wet leaves of the forest canopy. We met up with a couple of guys from the United States and ended up selling a couple of books – I tell ya, I’m always working. After Wolf went home for lunch, Randy, Jeff and I continued wandering the trails through the Reserve, glimpsed a quetzal, went out to the red swinging bridge named in honor of Wolf, and onward to the ventana or window with spectacular views east over the Peñas Blancas valley and west over the Nicoya Peninsula.
We finally walked home along the Nuboso trail built with wooden “cookies” and block steps through the elfin forest and back to the entrance on the newly-made accessible part. A perfect day spent in the Cloud Forest Reserve.
That night I finally met up with Leila Trickey – the daughter of my friend Jean who I have written about in earlier blogs (K-Stock and Not So Scary After All). We’ve been playing email tag but finally ended up in the same physical place – Santa Elena. I’ve known Leila since she was about a year old and it has been great spending time with her down here. She is at the start of a long solo trip through Central America but being a new traveler was glad to touch base with “a local”.
Leila is afraid of heights (and I have to say I enjoyed traveling down the mountain in the bus with her more than anyone I’ve journeyed with before – she could barely look out the window at the steep hillsides we were descending without squealing and jumping back in her seat but fought her fear and kept on taking pictures.) Nor did her fear stop her from going out and doing the canopy tour – specifically at Selvatur, your one-stop eco-experience-shopping-mall on the far side of Santa Elena (with one of the best bug collections in the world.) Randy and Jeff headed out in the morning to do the ziplines as well, Randy also prepared to face his fear of height. They all loved it though (that facing-your-fear-and-surviving thing is empowering) and would have gone again if they had the time.
We took a taxi a few kilometers further (you can always work a good deal with the taxi drivers around here) just to see the view over Arenal volcano and lake from El Mirador de San Gerardo. This is one of the most stunning scenes in Costa Rica I think. Yet few people make it out this way to see it or even know about it (or are too busy with all the other Monteverde activities or the weather isn’t conducive to seeing anything but clouds and fog). To have a perfectly clear sunny day to witness this beauty was another gift. Stephen Spielberg, eat your heart out.
We then took a wine and cheese picnic out to the bullpen (a magical pasture that I’ve written about before.) We stayed on until the shadows lengthened and then headed to one of the best sunset spots in Monteverde, the Fonda Vela Hotel. They have a great outdoor balcony that looks out to the horizon. There have been many concerts at the Fonda Vela over the years and when planned well, the musical intermission would be right when the sun was setting. The second half of the concert would be by candlelight in the high ceilinged dining room.
Now there is a pool table out on the balcony to play on while watching the sun go down. Just adds to an already great place. (Ms Costa Rica, Leila, in one of her brother Ethan’s designed shirts – check out www.miolacooperative.com)
We finished our tour of Monteverde tasting a bit of nightlife at Chancho’s Bar in Santa Elena – Randy and I happy to do the dancing, Leila and Jeff soaking up the local culture – the perfect day turned to perfect night by the outdoor fire outside Chancho’s funky little bar. Monteverde shone like a star for us over these days.
Leila wanted to see the Caribbean so I left my Pacific pals behind and brought her to Cahuita. And here I stay. Always working. Uh-huh. Until next time…