Sunday, October 26, 2008

Caribbean calling

By the time we hit mid-October in the rainy season, we are all desperate for sunny skies and warm, dry breezes. The girls had off a few days from school at CDS, so we fled the waterlogged valley for the beautiful Caribbean.

It’s hard to decide what to blog about this trip—there were so many small moments we’ll always remember, yet journaling them all would fill pages. With that in mind, here are some highlights of our time on the coast and a photo album (best viewed as a slideshow) of the first few days of our trip ...

We set out on a sopping wet Thursday morning. About 20 kilometers north of San Jose, we drove through the mountainous Braulio Carillo National Park, an area beyond lush—it’s a gorgeous tropical rainforest with rushing waterfalls, flowers, and towering trees.

Once we came down from the mountains, we bid a big ADIOS to the rain! The rest of the trip was relatively flat, taking us over numerous rivers and past bunches of banana plantations, where the fruit hung in blue bags from tree after tree. The scenery wasn’t like anything we’d seen yet in Costa Rica, but then again, the Caribbean is different from the rest of the country in many ways.

Though just a few hours from the central valley, the Caribbean seems worlds away. The coast is still relatively undeveloped and, because it was so remote for so long, has its own unique culture. There are reserves of indigenous peoples here, and many of the area’s inhabitants are descendants of Jamaican immigrants who came to work on the railroads and banana plantations. These immigrants shaped the culture, and the area has a Jamaican flavor in its music (plenty of reggae), food (much spicier and less-Tico), language (some speak an English-based patois which I find harder to understand than Spanish), drug culture (yes, we smelled marijuana while walking down a beachfront street in Puerto Viejo), and even style of dress (plenty of dreadlock-sporting Rastafarians here).

Eventually we passed the port city of Limón. This is where the container ships come in and where our household goods first landed in Costa Rica. Limón is the largest town on the country’s east coast—a rough-looking place that ships millions of pounds of bananas to the world each year. It’s not much of a tourist destination, and we drove along the city’s edge to the south, along the coast.

We passed by Cahuita and drove into Puerto Viejo, then another eight kilometers to Punta Uva. It’s an understatement to say the drive is bumpy and jarring from Puerto Viejo to the south. The roads here are “paved” in tiny sections—most of the road is dusty and full of rocks and massive potholes. This is hands-down the worst stretch of driving we’ve ever done in Costa Rica. Our trusty RAV4 took quite a beating on this trip.

Finally, we reached our hotel (a compound of single-story buildings with four rooms apiece) and headed right to the beach where we spent much of our time during the next few days. This is said to be one of the best beaches on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica and was refreshing and clear. There was plenty of coral and fish for snorkeling, and—perhaps most fun for everyone—we got to play with a lot of CDS families we know who were also escaping the valley for drier climes and beautiful beaches.

Our first night we had dinner with our friends the Irlenborns at Maxi’s in Manzanillo. Maxi’s is a popular hang-out about five kilometers south of Punta Uva, and the drive is on a two-lane road lined with dense jungle. The restaurant sits at the dead-end of a tiny town and the last settled area in Costa Rica before entering a wildlife reserve that encompasses a few kilometers between Manzanillo and Panama. We had good food and lots of fun with our friends in addition to spotting a bunch of geckos on the ceiling and a few cats prowling around, too. (We noticed there were a lot of cats in this part of the country, actually, which I loved since I still miss my buddy Charlie.)

Sleeping was comfortable since we stayed in one of the few places on the beach with air conditioning. (No mosquito nets for us!) I still woke up each night though to the sounds of howler monkeys traveling through the jungle. I’ve mentioned these vocal animals before, but it bears mentioning that the calls of a troop can carry for miles and are loud enough to wake me out of a sound sleep.

We had breakfast at the hotel’s open-air restaurant each day. One morning while eating her eggs, Erin spotted a sloth across the path near our room. Sloths rarely come down from their treetop homes, so this was a great surprise. We walked over to watch the three-toed creature s-l-o-w-l-y pull itself with its hands over the land and up the giant tree right outside our room. It was a fortunate opportunity to see this.

A few times on this vacation we drove into Puerto Viejo, which is truly Caribbean—steamy, sandy, and laid-back. It’s really hot in this surfers' hang-out, and people take life more slowly here. Between Punta Uva and Puerto Viejo we saw a lot of people walking and riding bicycles, nobody in much of a hurry to get anywhere.

On Friday at the beach, we met up with our friends the Muelas family from Spain. We snorkeled and swam with them, and that evening the eight of us had reservations at a fabulous restaurant in Cochles called La Pecora Nera—a mouthwatering taste of Italy on the edge of the Costa Rican jungle. Many travel guides and travelers agree that this beautiful, open-air restaurant has the best Italian food in the country. The owner is this exuberant, young Italian guy who was not only our chef but also part-time waiter who advised us—with a flourish—on what to order that night. It was a long, leisurely, and fantastic dining experience with a family whose company we truly enjoy.

The following morning we walked along the hotel path that leads to the main road. Surrounded by jungle, we saw blue morphos (love them!), turtles, crabs, and birds. The foliage here is so thick and wild, Dan commented that a person wouldn’t need to walk far into it before he or she might never come out.

Of course we parked ourselves at the beach after the walk for hours of swimming and relaxing in beach chairs under the palm trees (ah, heavenly!). We went to lunch with our Spanish friends that afternoon and, while there, decided to extend our vacation to do something unique, adventurous, and amazing. That story is to come in the next blog entry and will tell of one of our most memorable days here in Costa Rica!


Kathleen said...

Hopefully I don't have to wait to long to read about your adventure. You have left me on the edge of my seat!

Justine said...

Ooh ooh ooh, I wanna hear the adventurous story! I mean, you can't top the zip line, can ya? I wish you'd taken more pictures. I wanted to see the sloth!!!!

Justine :o )

Four in Costa Rica said...

There are a bunch of pictures of the sloth in the web album, I promise! Look for the link in the second paragraph. :)


Dina said...

How fun Christine!! Looking forward to more. :)
Glad you guys had such a wonderful time!

Laurie Starr said...

How absolutely lovely. It was 27 degrees over night here--I wish I were in the Caribbean too!

Irlenborn family said...

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