Monday, 30 January 2012

It's a long post... but it's good, so read it!

Wow, time sure flies when you're having fun! I can't believe it's already the end of January. It doesn't seem like we've been in Costa Rica very long but when I think back to our first night in San Jose and the few days we spent in La Fortuna it does feel like it was a while ago now. We've been fairly busy since the last blog post, doing some sight-seeing around Jaco as well as going on a short trip to see another part of the country. 

A few highlights: 

Crocodile Man Tour - we heard about a safari-style tour of the nearby Rio Tarcoles from some fellow Hermosa Bungalows guests and decided to check it out. The overall experience was really good in terms of seeing lots of birds, flora, and, of course, crocodiles. Up close and personal. Seriously. I could've leaned over in my seat and touched one of the monsters had I been brave enough. The boat driver was significantly braver (crazier) and actually got out onto a sandbar to taunt a massive male with a hunk of meat. We think maybe that's the reason for including "Man" in the name of the tour company. Chris snapped some great shots (NOTE: find us on Flickr and add us as a friend/family contact to have a look at all our trip photos; I was really impressed with the number of water birds we were able to see in only a short time. Our failure to see a roseate spoonbill meant we fell short of inciting major jealousy on the part of my parents, however. We got very close to several great blue herons, anhingas, storks, and egrets. 

Pili Pili - Jill and Modest returned from dinner the other night singing praise after praise about the spectacular meal they'd enjoyed. My first inclination was to assume that Modest was back to his usual overexaggerations but a quick glance at my mostly-healed foot blisters reminded me of my previous folly.  A few days later, Chris and I got all dolled up for a date night at Pili Pili. ...and arrived at the door to find it closed. Sigh. After slouching miserably down the street in disbelief, we settled on another establishment whose fare doesn't even justify a review. Okay, it wasn't terrible. But relative to what we were anticipating for our dinner that night it just didn't compare. The next day we were able to call ahead and confirm a reservation at Pili Pili. Since we'd already agreed to "babysit" (i.e. remain at home after Lauren goes to bed but not actually have to do any active baby care) that night, we decided to do dinner shifts - Chris and I would go at 6pm followed by Jill and Modest at 9pm. I think the Pili Pili employee that took our reservation thought we were nuts ("Si, dos reservacions por favor. Si, tanto para esta noche..."), but he was still happy to oblige. Dinner was excellent. I had a whitefish called snook in a ginger sauce and Chris had mahi mahi with a lobster tail. Yum yum! We discovered that the chef is French but prepares his dishes with an African flare. Delicious and also reasonably priced. We'd highly recommend this restaurant to anyone visiting the Jaco area. 

Montezuma - Chris and I just returned from a 4-day trip across the Golfo de Nicoya to stay in a small beachtown called Montezuma. Chris described it as more of a hippie/artist town in comparison to the surfer town feel of Jaco. There were more expats than we've seen in Jaco area as well. We stayed in a unique hostel located right in the jungle above town. It sort of reminded me of summer camp with a layout consisting of several small buildings with multiple rooms accessed from communal balconies and the bathrooms and showers located in other outbuildings, open to the air (and bugs). Our room was rustic but clean enough. I was slightly concerned by the giant gaps between the wood-plank floorboards  that were all that separated us from the jungle floor below but I didn't actually see any critters make use of these entry points during our stay. I think they mostly elected to come in through the big cracks surrounding our door....

Aside from the less than stellar accommodations, we really enjoyed staying in Montezuma. We spent our first day in Cabo Blanco Reserve, a national park renowned for being absolutely natural. The 4.5-km hike to a pristine white-sand beach was challenging both in terms of the terrain and the extreme heat of the day. We savoured a modest picnic lunch of tomato slices on fresh bread with a surprisingly tasty canned mixture of tuna, jalapenos, and carrots. Though unprepared for swimming, we couldn't resist stripping down for a quick dip in the ocean to cool off before making the trek back. Fortunately the long hike had deterred most of our fellow bus passengers from crowding the beach - we pretty much had it to ourselves. Along the trail we saw lots of capuchins and howler monkeys along with countless birds that I can't identify (sorry mom and dad).

The next day we hiked up to the Montezuma waterfall. Reaching the first set of falls was fairly easy but we'd read in our travel guide that you could reach the second, more secluded falls by following the "well-marked trail"... which we could not find. Eventually we got pointed in the right direction by a nice expat and began the precarious ascent straight up the rocky embankment across from the falls. It was pretty sketchy, compounded by the fact that I was only wearing flip-flops. Chris managed slightly better in his vibrams (those funky shoes that have individual toe-slots and a decent rubber sole). Although gruelling and treacherous, it was worth the effort. The second falls were about 10 m high, cascading into a pool deep enough that courageous thrill-seekers could leap from various spots along the top rock ledge. We watched them for a while, egging eachother on from the precipice or from the victors' perch beside the pool below. Other small groups were swimming in the pool at the base of the third set of falls or making use of a rope that swung out from a dead tree conveniently extending over the water.

It was truly a gorgeous setting and a great way to spend our morning. The man that had given us directions up to the falls had also told us that there was an easier way to get down. Unfortunately, reaching the trailhead for the alternate route required traversing a narrow ledge right over the water or scaling a slippery cliff on the near side of the upper pool. Although attempting one or the other was of greater appeal to me than returning the way we'd come in my rather inadequate footwear, Chris was legitimately concerned about the risk of falling in while carrying his camera gear. So we went back the way we'd come. And, clearly I'm writing this blog post so I didn't fall to my doom. My poor feet are still pretty angry with me though.

We ate some really great food in Montezuma as well. Our favorite spot was Puggo's, a restaurant owned by an Israeli couple, where we gorged on hummus and a homemade focaccia-style bread, falafel, a stuffed portobello mushroom, fried risotto balls stuffed with salmon and peppers, and asian-inspired noodle bowls. We ate there more than once, for the record...

Fortuitously, we happened to be in Montezuma for the annual Artists' Festival known as Chunches de Mar. It was set up just off Playa Grande, a 45 minute hike along the oceanfront from Montezuma's main beach, and featured art created from random bits of refuse that wash up onto the beach. Part of the exhibit was set up in an abandoned house tucked back in the jungle. Behind the house, a young female acrobat performed using a length of red fabric looped over an old tree while her partner played flute. Chris sampled fresh agua de pipa while the "house band" started their first set for the evening. Overall, the festival was sort of neat but a bit underwhelming. Perhaps it was my misguided expectations of a more artisan-rich festival with crafts and artwork for sale. Regardless, it was a good way to spend our late afternoon before heading to Puggo's for one last meal.

I'm really glad we decided to make the trip over to Montezuma. Initially, I didn't think it would be possible to see that part of Costa Rica because it appeared rather remote. However, the recent addition of a jet-boat shuttle from nearby Playa Herradura cuts a 6 hour journey by bus and ferry down to about an hour (if you don't count the time waiting for the boat). It's an ass-bone-shattering, hair-tangling ordeal. But probably oodles better than Chris enduring another cross-country bus trip.

So now we're "home", back to Bungalow #1 at Playa Hermosa and all its comforts. Again, hard to believe we've been here for almost 4 weeks! I hope the rest of this year doesn't go so fast...
We spend a couple more nights in our cozy Bungalow before parting ways with Jill and Modest and heading further South to our originally planned destination: Quito, Ecuador. 

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