After two weeks camping in the jungles and dancing our bodies sore at music festivals, it was time to venture out to see what else Costa Rica had to offer. Like many of the other festival goers, We made our wary way across the Gulf of Nicoya and headed to Montezuma. I had heard the name many times since being in Costa Rica, but didn’t know what the place had to offer, and as a tribe we just decided to follow the masses and head to the coast for a few days of relaxing on the beach. It was a few hours by bus, one across a ferry, and another hour more by bus. We arrived at night and a few of us decided to grab a hostel while the rest of the tribe decided to camp on the beach for free. I went to the hostel, feeling the desperate need for a real shower and real food cooked in a real kitchen. The hostel was perfect- spacious and quiet. Three of us had a whole room to ourselves and there were only a handful of other travellers staying there.
We went to a delicious restaurant our first night called Puggo’s, which was expensive, but we thought we would treat ourselves. We ordered falafal (which was a risk after being used to the world’s best at Envision, but it stood up well to the test!), vegetarian paella and beef kefta. The food was outstanding and we went home with full bellies and smiles. After a long refreshing shower to clean off the week’s worth of jungle, we went to bed, on real beds, feeling wonderfully satisfied and clean.
In the morning we made our way down the street to the town’s main road and hit up the super market to load up on groceries. After not having cooked ourselves food for over two weeks, we were exceptionally excited to get back in the kitchen. We filled our cart with eggs, bananas, bean paste, chick peas, tuna, wraps, guacamole supplies and a few treats. The prices at the store were astronomical by Central American standards. As we perused more stores we realized everything was overpriced; the prices being on par with what we pay in Canada for the same products, or sometimes even more expensive! This was a huge turn off for us being in Montezuma and made us not want to linger. The only thing that was moderately priced was our hostel luckily, Casa Susen, where we paid $12 American each to stay in a dorm (you pay about $7 in Guatemala to give you a comparison). We spent our days down at the beautiful beach, reuniting with our tribe and playing in the huge heavy waves as they crashed around us. The waves here dwarfed those in Uvita, the undertow threatening to drag you out each time they plunged over you, but they were wildly fun to play in. We built sandcastles on the shore and screamed in surprise as a rogue wave came up and washed them all away. We reminisced about our adventures at Organika and Envision and filled each other in on our nights and days.
Montezuma was a lazy haven. We ate, slept late, wandered the town and swam on the beach. On our last day we heard about a waterfall, so we made the 20 minute walk or so from our hostel and through the jungle to the waterfall. Along the way we found a huge vine hanging over the river and decided to test out its strength and set ourselves on it to go for a swing, giggling and smiling as we pumped our legs and pushed each other.
The waterfall was nothing impressive (few are, in Central America in dry season), but the water was gloriously refreshing, with fish swimming everywhere in the clear waters. We dove in, relishing the cool feel of the water on our sweaty skin; Montezuma is oppressively humid. We swam over to the waterfall and felt around at the base for foot and hand holds. We carefully climbed up and stood beneath the pounding waters, laughing as we stood under natures most powerful shower. We dove from under the waterfall and swam around with the fish, screaming encouragement as brave souls jumped from over 60 feet above us. We did a little rock climbing of our own and found a small ledge about 20 feet up and, facing our fears, jumped with the waterfall as our backdrop. It was hard to tear ourselves away from this hidden paradise; the waterfall was by far the best part of Montezuma for us. It offered the perfect respite from the overbearing heat. It was exhilarating to stand below a waterfall and feel its waters beat down on your shoulders, and to swim among the fish.
It was one of our tribe member’s birthday, Greg, and as a surprise, Kajsa and I bought him a piñata and stuffed it with bags of candy. We bought a small brownie and topped it with a special candle, paired with a cold beer. We sang him happy birthday as we brought out his present and then made our way to the beach to string up the piñata. We laughed hysterically as Greg swung fiercely and Kajsa and Jonah manoeuvred the piñata out of his reach. Finally, after several long minutes of hysterical laughter, he beat the thing down and sent the candy flying. We all gathered around like children, overzealous at the prospect of a sugar rush. We poured all the candy into a bowl and shared it around. After, we sat around a bon fire of burning driftwood and I roasted marshmallows and made S’mOreos for everyone. They were deeply grateful for the Canadian camping treat they had never had the opportunity to try before, and moaned in pleasure at the sticky, gooey chocolatey goodness. The next day we bid a sad farewell to Greg, one of the tribe, as he continued on his own journey.
We spent our last night in Montezuma on the beach, saving a few dollars on a hostel and woke up bright and early at 5am to make a quick breakfast of granola, peanut butter, mashed bananas and chia seeds. We ate our breakfast as we watched the sun rise over the pacific ocean, a truly humbling sight, to be awake to see such majesty, as the rest of the world slept soundly all around us. We awoke one of our tribe to say another sad goodbye before we left to catch our 6:30am bus. We hugged each other and promised to stay in contact and hopefully meet up again before we left Latin America.
It was decided that Kajsa and I would regroup back in San Jose to load up on some supplies from some specialty stores they had (we wanted to start trying our hands at making jewelry and needed stones, wires and threads) and do another Wal-Mart stock up on food. We spent two days at our favourite spot, Casa Yoses, and got our fill of their free pancake, cereal and fruit breakfasts. There really isn’t much to do at all in San Jose, it’s a terribly Westernized city, but it’s great to regroup and book transportation to other key locations in Costa Rica. We decided to head up to Monteverde/Santa Elena in the cloud forest and then over to La Fortuna to end our time in Costa Rica. Already I felt we had stayed too long, their inflated tourist prices cutting a hole in my budget.
We took the bus to Monteverde the next afternoon. The drive was spectacular once we got up into the mountains and away from the urban sprawl. I learned how to make a beautiful friendship bracelet which we had promised each of our tribe members, and spent my time twisting and tying threads, headphones in, blasting my new Giyo album, and losing my place in my bracelet as I got lost staring out the window at the changing landscape. The distance wasn’t that far, but the drive took 5 hours because the huge bus had to crawl slowly up, up, up the mountains to climb into the clouds. The small nearly one-way dirt road clung to the mountainside and fell precipitously on the other. I was on the outside window staring down into steep valleys below, wondering how this huge bus was able to navigate these roads safely without a back wheel slipping off the road on the tight turns. My heart was pounding with adrenalin, seeing how close we came several times. At times, the road would disappear from my view to the side- we came that close to the edge. Pebbles would fall down the mountainside that the wheels kicked off the road and my stomach would leap into my throat. I kept reminding myself that our driver made this drive every day, twice a day, and was an expert. But what about the roads? They didn’t look well cared for and there were no guardrails. Our driver had no control over when the mountainside would decide to slip away beneath the road from erosion. At least it was dry season. I tried to tear my eyes from the steep slopes and to take in the majestic view instead. We were literally we up in cloud territory, so magnificently high. All the hills around us fell away beneath us as we climbed to play among the clouds.
We got off the bus in Santa Elena/Monteverde just as night fell. As we stepped off the bus we were unprepared for the gale force winds and pelting mist that blasted our faces and bare arms. I hadn’t seen rain since my first day in San Pedro, several weeks before. I was wishing for my rain jacket for the first time on my travels, but alas, it was tucked away, deep in my gear. We made the mistake of not getting the location of our hostel beforehand and spent far too long wandering around trying to find it, asking directions from multiple people, all of them sending us the wrong way. Finally an angel of a girl appeared and offered to run around and find the pace for us as she saw us laden down with our heavy packs and multiple bags strung on our arms. She came back and took us to our hostel, helping to carry our bags, and we profusely thanked her for her kindness. We were staying at the Santa Elena Hostel Resort, which I highly recommend. It was $14 a night, a bit over our budget, but so was everything in Costa Rica and the tourist hot spots. The reception was wonderful, easy and helpful, carrying our huge bags to our room for us. The grounds were lovely and well cared for, and the rooms equipped with warm thick blankets as the evenings were quite cool up in the clouds. Each morning when we awoke, we were greeted by monkeys that we were allowed to feed from our hands small pieces of banana, leaving us in giggles. The only downside to the place was that one morning, as one of our dorm mates was showering, a scorpion fell from the roof and landed on his arm in the shower! It was a small one, and luckily didn’t sting. We got Poncho from the front to come and remove it form the bathroom for us, which he did without pause.
We took that night to hang out with the other hostel mates, and got dressed up for the first time in our travels (by dressed up, I mean we showered, put on a touch of make up and wore clean clothes!) and headed to the local Bar Amigos with the hostel mates and danced a little. Monteverde isn’t a party town, it’s an adventure town, so the scene was pretty quiet. The next day we made our way up to the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve in hopes of seeing some sloths and other wildlife. The shuttle was two dollars each way and the park entrance fee, $14- highly overpriced as was everything. It was a rainy day (or are all days rainy when you’re living inside a cloud?) and only a few of us were at the park. Monteverde Reserve is a sister park and much more frequently visited by tourist, and offers virtually the exact same experience, so I was glad we chose the quieter of the parks. It wasn’t a guided tour, so we struck out on our own into the rainy green sanctuary. We decided on the longest of the hikes, the 4.5km trail that went through the majority of the forest. The trail wasn’t what I would call maintained. It was a muddy mess, quite frankly. You had to use skill to navigate where to step without getting your shoe stuck in a few inches of mud, or completely soaked. Luckily my gortex trail shoes were a dream and kept me totally dry. Kajsa has sneakers on and they were completely soaked through, leaving here with wrinkly toes by the end of it! If you’re heading to the cloud forest, and plan on doing any hiking, ensure you have proper waterproof gear, because you will get wet here!
We were in awe the first hour at the incredible lushness surrounding us. Everything was shrouded in endless shades of emerald, jade and olive. You felt completely encompassed by the ferny forest around you, as if you were an intruder scrambling around through its verdant vegetation. The vivid colours of the forest were so crisp and were only sharpened by the grey sky (which you hardly ever saw anyway through the heavy covering of the trees) and the wetness of the growth from all the rain and mist. We kept stumbling over our feet as we gazed up awestruck into the towering forest. BBC’s planet earth kept springing to mind, and it felt amazing to be seeing this in person, instead of through those high definition television screens.
The only sound in the cloud forest was the constant patter of the rain on the leaves and ground, the sloshing and suction of your shoes as they splashed through the thick mud with each step, the occasional call of a distant bird, and the whistle of wind as it blew through the trees, shaking heavy water droplets to the ground from the leaves.
We saw a strange bird at the start of the tour, and as much as our eyes were glued to the canopy, we saw no other wildlife other than a few massive centipedes, and a Coati at the end of the tour back at the cafe. The hike took us over 3 hours, as we took our sweet time, doddeling and goofing around. Because we weren’t seeing any wildlife of our own, we decided to play around and be the wildlife for each other, hiding in the forest around corners, making strange and goofy animal sounds, and making hilarious ‘nature’ videos with silly Australian accents. I climbed a small tree that was overhanging the trail, pretending to be a creature, and as soon as I was perched, a good 6 feet up, and called our ‘Ready!’ for Kajsa to come around the bend and film, the entire tree snapped at the base and careened for the ground with me wrapped around it. Luckily the fall was gentle and we both fell over in hysterics, covered in mud. Several more of these playful games ensued and our tummies ached from all the laughter. The best part about the tour was that we felt like we had the entire cloud forest to ourselves, as we didn’t see or hear another person for over and hour and a half. In the end we only saw three other small groups or pairs the whole time. The hike was stunning and beautiful, but after the first hour, the wonderment began to wear off, and the lack of wildlife could be disappointing, as you spent increasing amounts of time staring at the ground, attempting to not fall into dee mud puddles and lose your shoes. However we had an exceptionally good time. This tour is definitely what you make it. You could leave wet, grumpy, tired and disappointed, or you could leave with huge smiles, tired legs (maybe a few bruises from falling off trees) and amazing memories with pictures to back to them up.
We got back to town and feasted on fish tacos from Taco Taco (you must eat here!) after our long day hiking. We spent the night learning how to do Henna on ourselves and hanging out with other hostel mates in the dorm. The next day we decided to do the zipline tour through Aventura, which I highly recommend. They were keen on safety, with loads of double checks and training, and we got to soar through 13 ziplines, including the longest in Latin America, at nearly 1600 meters long, in the superman position. You’re flying hundreds of meters about the canopy. There was the opportunity to do the tarzan swing, where you free fall for 2-3 seconds like a bungee jump, but feet first, and then swing back and forth before being lowered to the ground. I’m really not in to the free falling thing, so I passed this one, but Kajsa, the brave soul, went for the plunge and loved it.
We booked it back to our hostel after the zipline to check out and take the jeep-boat-jeep tour to get to La Fortuna. We hopped in a small shuttle (misleadingly not a jeep!) and drove for 2 and half hours towards a lake. The drive encapsulated picturesque. We followed a small dirt road carving through the mountainside, clinging to its tight curves, dipping in and out of steep green valleys. Small farms covered the valleys with their lush green crops. Endless arrays of fauna hugged the hillsides. White horses, manes blowing in the wind, stood sentinel in their pastures. Cows somehow grazed, clinging to the steep hillsides like mountain goats. Locals wandered down the streets, waving at our shuttle driver who drives these roads day in and day out. We crossed countless bridges over small, strong flowing streams and rivers. A lone tree in the grips of its fall season stood out among the lush green with its bright rust colours.
We arrived at the lake, and waited for our boat by the side of the road, eating crackers and singing terrible pop songs from the 90’s, laughing before we could finish their choruses. The boat ride was about 45 minutes, with stunning views of the surrounding green jungle, it’s edges dipping into the lake. It was so thick and lush, it took on the appearance of a thick green shag carpet growing from the ground. The immense Volcan Arenal loomed before us for the entire ride, edging closer and closer, seeming to grow before your very eyes. A lone white crane sat perched on a tree, grooming its feathers, standing out in stark contrast against the dense green shag.
We boarded another shuttle on shore and sped along the paved windy roads, as the jungle hung over the road creating a canopy. The air here was warm and thick, unlike the cool crispness in Monteverde and Santa Elena. We passed resort after resort as we crossed the short distance to the small and lovely town of La Fortuna. We stayed at Mayol Lodge, a perfect little hostel in the heart of the little town, prime location next to the bus station, super market, main street and the central park. Our hostel had a pool, free breakfast, lovely staff and fair priced rooms ($11 each for a three person dorm). I spent the evening practicing Sivanada Yoga beside the pool under the moonlight, feeling wonderfully blessed to be just where I was at that very moment in my life.
We had no idea what there was to do in La Fortuna and sort of just went there on a whim, so we wandered downtown to see what we could find. We found a little tour company with two flirty men who offered us a good deal. The observatory tour normally priced at $55, was sold to us for $35 and one of the guides offered to take us himself to El Salto (the local swimming hole) and to the hot springs for free that very evening. We originally had planned to rent bikes for $20 for the day to try and find el salto and the waterfall, but this was a much better deal. We jumped at it, not even really paying attention to what the observatory tour was- all we heard was ‘yes you will see sloths’.
We met our guide back at his work around 5:30, hopped in his car and headed towards El Salto, where they had a tarzan rope attached to a high tree that you could swing off and drop into the base of the small waterfalls below. We all took turns swinging and screaming, dropping into the cool refreshing waters below. We swam across and climbed up to the top of the small falls to a rock in the center and jumped over the waterfall. Darkness was fast approaching, so after a few jumps we climbed back into the car. He asked if I could drive stick, saying he needed to make some phone calls, so I hopped over to the drivers seat and drove us about 15 minutes out of town to the hot springs, feeling like a local, driving a locals car down the streets like I knew what I was doing and where I was going. No big deal.
The hot springs were amazing. We arrived in the dark, the only time you want to be there. Don’t bring anything with you, not even a waterproof camera; you will only find it cumbersome and may lose it in the dark. The hot springs are the source of all the hot spring water that the resorts use, but in its natural setting; a tepid flowing river filled with rapids. They built one section with concrete – a long smooth platform, with a bridge overtop it forming a tunnel, and a small drop off where the water blasted over like a waterfall. The rest was all natural pools and rapids. A tour group was there, but we felt special being there with a local instead of part of a huge tour. Our guide put our things in a safe place for us, and helped ease us over the drop off into the pool below. We revelled in the warm waters, savouring the feel of it on our travel wary bodies, as we had volcano clay rubbed on our faces. Our guide brought us to the corner of the small waterfall where the water blasted the hardest, and we clung to rock face beside us to hold on the water pounded down mightily on our backs and shoulders, the best free massage I’ve ever experienced. Shortly after, he told us that there was a cave beneath the waterfall which acted like a sauna. He took us one by one as we held our breath and he wrapped his arms around us, pulling us under the waterfall and under the water for a second and into the sauna cave. The air was hot and humid here, and we could feel our pores opening up, our skin thanking us for the treat. We were alone in the cave, feeling like we were getting the locals experience while the rest of the tourist sat out in the main pools, unaware of the amazing cave beneath the falls. We lingered a while and then headed back out to check out the rest of the pools. The hot springs are huge and have several different areas you can venture into to relax in, even a small nude pool which, after losing our guide in the darkness, we of course ventured into!
We found our guide later and headed back into town for the evening. The next day we headed back to the tour guide office for our tour. We realized as we were leaving the hostel that we had no idea what kind of tour we had booked. We thought we may have booked another ziplining tour and struggled to figure out what to bring. We thought it was called a canopy tour and so assumed it must be ziplining, so we went with as little as possible, bringing only one bottle of water and my camera- nothing else. When we got on the bus we figured out it was an observatory tour that would last the next 7 hours. We had one bottle of water, no food and no money. The guide advised us to all hop out and purchase some water and snacks if we hadn’t brought any, as there would be no access to them for the next 7 hours….Things began to look a little desperate and we did our best to joke about our the dire situation and how careful we had to be with our water, trying to make light of the situation.
The drive took about 45 minutes as we headed to the base of Volcan Arenal. Thankfully upon arrival we saw that we could fill up our water bottle so we chugged it all back and refilled twice, ensuring we were well hydrated, our panic leaving us. We snuck into the cafe and each stole 3 packets of sugar to help keep us going for the next several hours. On the observatory deck we had a spectacular view of Lake Arenal on one side, the prodigious Volcano on the other. They had strung up fruits on tree like platforms and the birds flocked to them. Red legged honey creepers, blue dacnis’s and montezuma oropendolas were among a few that we saw. The call of the montezuma bird was the most melodic and beautiful I’ve ever heard.
The hike was short and lovely and our guide was brilliant – keeping us all laughing and entertained. We were hoping we would see sloths, or anything really, but alas, we were left disappointed yet again and saw only the birds at the platform at the start. We hiked through the jungle and saw trees that learned to walk to catch the highly sought after sun, and more importantly the scenic landscape of where some of the scenes from Jurassic Park were filmed! As we stopped in an especially scenic area, I looked out at the landscape and said aloud to Kajsa, ‘Wow… I keep expecting a triceratops to walk out of the forest here!” Moments later, our guide asked us if anyone knew what movie this particular landscape scene was in, and I practically screamed “JURASSIC PARK!”, clearly too excited that I had only moments before been thinking how much this looked like it was right out of the movie. After taking in the sights, we lazily made our way towards a waterfall. We stopped along the way and dug into the ground to expose some volcanic clay. Our guide scooped some into a bag for later at the hot springs and covered his face with it. Kajsa and I were the only ones on the tour who followed suit, the others surely thinking we looked silly with our mud covered faces, and us, not having a care in the world, enjoyed the feel of the mineral clay on our skin. How often do you get to put volcanic clay loaded with minerals on your face?!
The waterfall was beautiful and a few of us brave ones followed our guide down to the pool at the base and walked about neck deep in the water, clinging to the steep rocky sides of the cliff, edging our way closer and closer to the waterfall. We were able to climb behind it’s mighty waters and stand beneath them. The pounded down on me, powerfully, and I couldn’t stop the laughter from coming out- I couldn’t believe I was standing beneath a beautiful waterfall, the cold waters crashing down and massaging my body, in the middle of the Costa Rican jungle. How surreal your own life can seem at times as a traveler when you find yourself in the middle of these magical experiences. I laughed and jumped through the powerful cascade into the water below, feeling the essence of pura vida vibrate in my soul.
After the hike we got to head once more to the hot springs. We made buddies with this tour guide and once again got the VIP treatment at the hot springs and were the only ones shown the cave and we ventured further back than we had the night before, getting closer to the source, the water becoming even warmer the higher up the river we went. We crawled on our bellies like crocodiles, using our hands against the floor of the rushing river to propel us along, giggling under the cover of the night. We learned how to lay down at the top of the platform with the water rushing fiercely over you, fold out your arms and let the water carry you down like a waterslide until you spilled right over the little edge into the pools below. We raced each other over and over, just like the locals, having the time of our lives, our laughter echoing through the tunnel.
Our time in La Fortuna was easily exceeding our expectations. The next morning we walked ourselves to El Salto at 10am and found we had the place entirely to ourselves yet again. We decided to truly seize the day and stripped down completely naked, swung out on the rope, belted out our best tarzan scream and splashed into the water below, laughing with the exhilaration and freedom of it all. We took turns swinging out naked and letting it all go as we felt the cool water caress every inch of our free bodies. Our cheeks ached from the smiling and laughing. Never had we felt so free, so light, and so happy as we did in those moments.
We were sad to leave La Fortuna, but it was good to leave on such a high note. This little town had so much to offer and I’m sure we only grazed the surface of it. We ended up taking a bus back to San Jose, our third time heading to the capital, which really had nothing much to offer, other than a Wal-Mart and a little store in the mall that had henna which we wanted to stock up on. We checked back in Casa Yoses and made plans to leave the country the next morning.
Costa Rica was an absolute dream. It was a totally unexpected trip, leaving so suddenly to cross through four countries for a music festival. It lead to two extraordinary weeks spent camping in jungles making deep lasting connections with beautiful souls. Then off to the beaches of Montezuma where we bathed in waterfalls and surfed our bodies on crashing waves. On to the cloud forests of Santa Elena where we discovered all you need on a three hour hike is your sense of humor and a good travel companion, never mind sloths, and where we careered hundreds of feet above the canopy flying like birds. On to La Fortuna where we soaked in the tepid natural hot springs, jumped through waterfalls and swung off tarzan ropes naked. This laid back country showed us the true meaning of their signature phrase “pure vida”, with its warm, welcoming people, the hot humid weather, the salty ocean waves, extraordinary festivals, the misty cloud forests, boundless waterfalls, and a tribe of beautiful souls.
Pura Vida, Costa Rica.
3 thoughts on “Pura Vida, Costa Rica”
HBD Greg, so glad you two met.
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