Part II of our recent adventure in Costa Rica. We had arrived, stayed overnight in Liberia and were awaiting our trusty cab driver to take us to our home for the next week.
2:00 arrived while we were sitting in the hotel restaurant when, what to our surprise, did a red cab appear at our door to whisk us off for the next leg of our adventure. A spiffily dressed Hector Lopez Ortega greeted us with a magnanimous smile and dollar signs in his eyes. It was the same driver who had greeted us at the airport in the middle of the night some 12 hours previous. Based on his prior service, we were presumably in good hands.
Hector seemed to know where we were going and left Liberia behind in a cloud of dust. We put our trust in him, settling back in the little red taxi to partake in some sightseeing as we had seen nothing of the countryside at 1:00 AM earlier in the day. The countryside flashed by appearing mostly uninhabited with numerous car rental outlets near the airport then large forests or areas of farmland the farther from Liberia we ventured. Hector Mario Andretti Ortega, apparently like many professional drivers in third world countries, tended to drive like he was doing laps at Lemans. He seemed to have a propensity for passing every vehicle that entered the frame of his windscreen regardless of where we were on a corner or what vehicle may be oncoming. Being a fairly seasoned traveller I just ignored the front windscreen and settled in to enjoy the side views. After all, what could I do? My partner, however, could be heard gasping repeatedly and was constantly digging her nails into my vastus lateralis muscle. Wanting to appear manly, I pretended there was nothing to worry about and there was no real damage to my leg.
Still among the living, we neared our destination of Tamarindo. I inquired of Hector if he knew a location in Tamarindo called El Nido, “the nest”, which was the name of the complex we were to reside in for the next week. He nodded in the affirmative, causing us to settle back once again. Reaching Tamarindo, Hector suddenly turned around in his seat and asked if we were going to a particular hotel or area of town. He apparently had no idea where El Nido was located. It appeared he understood as much English as I understood Spanish. Fortunately my wonderfully organized partner, even after having endured a near death experience, had drawn a small map of the directions to El Nido and conferred with Hector as we reached the necessary turns and landmarks to discover our destination.
Tamarindo is a small surfing town on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. It has a “full-time” population of about 3,500 people, but during the tourist season that number grows to about 5,000 or 6,000 people. Its famous beach, Playa Tamarindo, is a 3.5 kilometer strip of white sand that borders the town. There is a river estuary that divides the beach in half with the northern half of the beach only accessible by small boats that charge $1.00 US per crossing. Tamarindo is surrounded by beautiful national parks, mountains, and other beaches.
During the past 20 years many Americans and Canadians have purchased homes in and around Tamarindo as holiday or permanent residences. I learned, however, that many of these people have become disillusioned with the increased tourism in the area and are selling their properties for more remote and undiscovered locations such a Roatan. I found Tamarindo teeming with mostly young people sporting glistening tans, rock hard bodies, sun streaked hair, and surfboards under their arms. Possibly out of jealousy, since I have none of these traits, I tended to avoid the town and was quite content to jog along the beach or laze around our private pool at Playa del Fonda, as our wonderful accommodation in El Nido was named. I may be disorganized, but I pick good accommodation.
We spent a week at El Nido and enjoyed both the pool and beach. At times our reveries by the pool were disturbed by howler monkeys swinging through the trees in front of our property or a scrap-seeking giant Iguana in our flower bed by the ocean. We also enjoyed the beachside restaurants each evening where one could appreciate a great meal only meters from a warm lapping Pacific Ocean.
For the next leg of our journey and week two of our visit, we were to travel about 150 kilometers north on the coast to a little beach area called Playa Ocotal. As the punctures in my leg had healed and the numerous cervasas has tempered my memory, we decided to hire Hector once again to transport us to our next destination. At the appointed time Hector did not appear. By this time we were sitting outside El Nido as cars rushed past covering us in dust, our keys had been returned, and the big gate of El Nido barred our re-entry, likely forever. After a half hour we were drenched in sweat while dust streaked our faces. I was ready to scale the wall or jog into town to find an alternate form of transportation when the late Hector Andretti, in his little red taxi, slid to a dusty stop before us. With many apologies we were off to Playa Ocotal.
As I had mentioned previously, our connection to the outside world was abundantly available in Costa Rica. Therefore, with my trusty Ipad, I was capable of following our progress on Google Maps with a little red dot moving along highways and byways on the screen in my dust covered hands. Enjoying the power of observation granted to me by these technologies, I was able to name the little villages we passed and point out places of interest to my, once again, gasping partner. With much foresight I was adorned in very thick shorts covering my former leg wounds.
My little red dot travelled along with us and took the wide, and obviously paved, routes that I believed would transport us to our destination. Suddenly, reaching a certain crossroads, Hector departed from the path I had anticipated. Enquiring of the man whose hands held our lives, I asked where he was taking us? I was assured that we were embarking on a much shorter route where there would be less traffic….at least that’s what I think he said. So I settled back, assured we were in safe Hector hands.
As I followed our new path on my screen I noted that the paved roads were no longer abundantly clear and our destination was only joined to us by an array of miniscule veins that seemed to have no structure and direction while crossing a mountain range. There was certainly less traffic, however. Then our paved road ended. We were on a rutted gravel road that began to ascend at angles not commonly ascribed to road transportation. We bounced through this dusty and rutted pathway that divided a dense jungle of tropical forest. There was truly no more traffic. If we were in Mexico I would have expected banditos to drop from the trees. After about a half hour we reached a summit where Hector pointed out a wonderful view that was barely discernible through the cloud of dust we had created. We began to descend a similarly mountainous and abrupt path. I was a little worried when Hector began playing with his GPS and the screen went blank. He actually seemed to begin sweating even though the air conditioning was keeping us meat locker cold.
We eventually began to see the odd vehicle and suddenly surfaced on hard pavement. We had reached civilization. We were saved. Well, actually, it wasn’t that bad but my patient travel partner’s complexion was turning an interesting shade of green and she was mumbling about stopping our crazed driver from causing further harm. Reaching pavement Hector resumed his usual driving style and we found ourselves in Playa Ocotal.
Our accommodation at Playa Ocotal was again beyond our expectations and we spent a week similarly lazing by the pool, jogging on the beaches and enjoying the wonderful cuisine of Costa Rica. Their food is very similar to Mexican cuisine and, having enjoyed many winters in that country, I was very accustomed to tortillas, beans and rice at every meal. The one complaint I had about the country was the very high cost of everything, but I believe this could be mostly ascribed to a very low Canadian dollar as compared to the US dollar. The Costa Rican economy is based on the US dollar which is accepted everywhere in the country.
After a week of eating, drinking and lazing around, Mr. Hector Andretti Ortega, was once again waiting outside our complex with smiling face and dollar sign eyes. At 5:00 AM he safely transported us to our final destination and the big airplane that would convey us back to our homeland. Another successful trip with our only souvenirs being a few pounds gained and, perhaps, a few things learned. If I was to take anything away from this experience I would say that this little Central American country, although not rich or world renowned in award winning athletes or scientists, has seemingly contrived a culture that appears happy and has a significant respect for the environment. If we were to live life like the Costa Ricans and adopted the Pura Vida lifestyle, perhaps there would be less conflict, fewer climate problems, and a better world overall?