Rainforest to Pacific Coast.
As I mentioned in part 1, we’d discovered early on that travelling in any level of comfort* in Costa Rica was going to cost, so when it came to navigating our way from Puerto Viejo to the rainforest, we knew we were going to be cringing at the prices. By now it had become a running joke that we couldn’t leave the house without being charged $50, a slight exaggeration of course but it did seem that everything was very much tailored to an American market rather than the backpacker scene I’d experienced when first travelling to Costa Rica in 2014. When we discovered that it would cost $70 each (one way) to get to La Fortuna and an additional $50 on to La Tigra where we would be staying for just two nights we were a little at a loss as to whether we should just cancel our accommodation and go straight to the Pacific Coast but considering that we’d then lose the money for the rainforest accommodation (plus the experience) and have to pay for somewhere else to stay, it didn’t seem like we had much choice but to continue with our original plan. Thankfully we stroke lucky and came across a comment in a forum which suggested going on a white water rafting excursion which coincidentally would also include transport from Puerto Viejo to La Fortuna. The cost would be $90 each which considering it was only $20 more than getting a shuttle seemed to be pretty reasonable.
We booked with Exploradores Outdoors and had one of the best days of our trip. The guides were lovely and entertaining, and having never experienced white water rafting before, we were both really impressed. When we arrived in the early evening to La Fortuna we were exhausted, a taxi collected us and we drove for another hour or so up to La Tigra Rainforest Lodge where we’d be spending the next two nights. Arriving in the dark, we had to wait until morning to see the view from our cabin/tent, but the peace and tranquility was heavenly. Discovering that there was no hot water, less so. So we snuggled up into our single bed still feeling a little dirty from the river water and woke to the sounds of the rainforest coming to life.
We ate a delicious local breakfast overlooking the trees and then headed along the windy gravel path to the local village (the main reason being that the lodge had run out of bottled water and so it was either a 3 hour round trip to the shops, or soda for the next two days!) It wasn’t the most pleasant of walks in the already sweltering sun, but we endured it and by the time we got back to our cabin the freezing cold shower suddenly seemed more inviting. That afternoon we dozed in a hammock on the balcony, talking about plans for the future and what we needed to do to get them set into motion.
The next day was spent much the same way, reading on the balcony in the morning sun, a stroll through the nearby trails and then when the heavens opened we headed into the kitchen for a cookery class. We made empanadas, pinto de gallo and the most amazing dessert which we ate washed down with hot chocolate in a bid to warm up. By now it was clear that the rain showed no signs of stopping so we gratefully accepted the fur blankets to add to our bed and hunkered down for the night in what was once a charmingly-rural tent and which we now realised was clearly not the ideal location for anything other than sunny climes. Still, we were connecting with nature and although we couldn’t actually go outside in the downpour, we got the rest we needed and excitement soon began to build for the last part of our trip…
The Pacific Coast
Having already visited Montezuma 5 years earlier, I knew that the Pacific Coast would be somewhere we’d both enjoy. We had 9 more nights of our trip which we planned to split between Santa Theresa where we’d be spending Christmas, and then our final 4 days in Montezuma. I’ll spare you the details of the four hour bus journey which ended up taking 12 hours but needless to say, by the time we arrived at our accommodation in Santa Theresa, we couldn’t have been happier at the sight of Bajo el Arbol. It felt like our bad luck was beginning to change as we walked through the beautifully lit garden into the simply decorated 4-bed B&B. We unpacked and felt instantly at home, heading straight to bed and not waking until something told us that breakfast was being served outside. The hosts were lovely and welcoming and straight away we said to each other that this felt much more like our kind of place. After breakfast we headed to the beach to check out the waves of Playa Carmen. Again, the beach was stunning. More populated than Puerto Viejo as it was definitely ‘in-season’ here but only marginally so. Busy enough for that elusive ‘vibe’ to feel good but not so busy that it felt crowded. We wandered along, cooling our feet in the waves and then retreating from the midday sun by resting in the shaded garden of our new home. The itinerary followed much the same pattern for the next few days except we also rented some surfboards and attempted to tackle the Pacific waves.
The first paddle out felt hard but once we got in the small line-up, I was ready to start catching some waves. I’d learnt the basics last year in Sri Lanka and loved the high of getting up on a wave albeit only for a few seconds, and even sitting atop my board chatting to Jonny was peaceful and calming in a way that sitting on the beach never really is for me. But, the waves were a lot bigger here and when I eventually almost got up on one I jumped straight back off in terror as I realised that it was about to double in height over me. I didn’t let that put me off though and the next couple of days we headed back out again. Jonny caught a few but it soon became clear to me that I wasn’t going to pluck up the courage to master them here and so I paddled back in a little disheartened. After surfing, we’d dry off in the garden and then enjoy lunch in one of the amazing cafes nearby. The Bakery is a local institution and we ended up heading back there most days but we also tried Earth Cafe which had the most epic poke bowls, and each night we’d return to Taco Corner for the $2 fish tacos and a local beer. By the end of those 5 days, I didn’t want to leave Santa Theresa and hoped that Montezuma would once again live up to the memories.
We moved on to Luna Llena hostel and ventured into town. The phrase “you should never go back” sprung to mind as rows of jeeps covered the once almost empty streets. For me, Montezuma had lost it’s charm but thankfully Jonny still enjoyed it and so I tried to see it through his eyes instead. As you can tell from this blog post and last, despite being in this idyllic location where yes, things weren’t always going entirely to plan, I still wasn’t really relaxing and letting go in the way I usually would. I was frustrated at myself for not feeling happier and for letting the small things get to me. When in the last few days a wave came to the top of the beach and took my phone off with it, and then my face was attacked by mosquitos which I suffered an allergic reaction to, I finally let myself feel everything that was going on inside. I sat on the bed and cried for what felt like hours and finally gave in. Ok, this wasn’t going to be the perfect holiday that I imagined it would be, and it wouldn’t be the miracle cure to my low mood but I did feel less exhausted, we had a plan for the future and – usually my least favourite thing of all – I was looking forward to being back at home.
Things have got better since then, and I realise now that the holiday may not have been what I wanted, but it was exactly what I needed.
And for those thinking about travelling to Costa Rica, don’t be put off by my comments on the transport and prices – do your research before you go, and make sure that you can afford to have the experience you want.
*local buses are actually pretty comfortable but somewhat unreliable – ours was an hour late collecting us from San Ramon which meant we missed our ferry connection. They are also not always ideal when travelling long distances if you’re only visiting for a few weeks (as opposed to travelling for longer and not having to worry about a day wasted on transport)