Costa Rica Journal
Nancy had planned this vacation since January. We have always wanted to go to Costa Rica. This was a land of warm climate and warm ocean waters and was known for its peaceful environmental approach to its resources. Being a surfer I could think of no other destination that would satisfy my water needs, except Hawaii, of course, and we had been there a few times before. The big surprise was that the entire family also wanted to go, Gina our 20 year-old, Giorgio who is twenty-three, Heather and her child. As a kid I never wanted to go on vacation with my parents. I plotted and usually succeeded, to avoid having to go with the whole fam-dam-ly many times. But our kids love to be with us, something that we have never quite understood. After twenty years of raising children we could use some downtime, we could have easily gone on this one alone.
On the one hand this is a reflection of how we have raised them I guess.
It is a good thing.
Gio and his lovely Significant Other Heather would also be bringing Savannah, her daughter. This seven year-old-girl is special, tons of golden brown curly locks and one who is in love with the water. She swims in our ice-cold-pool in the middle of winter and we guessed she would probably have more fun in the 80-degree waters of the Pacific Ocean than I. But that could be debatable.
The crucial issues that would come of this larger group as you will see, is that a party of six does not fit in a taxi well.
The family vacation seemed doomed. Would we actually have a good time?
The sleep deprivation and the cold had taken its toll this was only the first day. At some point in time if this continues, someone will die, probably an airline booking agent or flight attendant. One of us would be doing time for what would be determined as: justifiable homicide.
How did things get so out of hand? The planning began months ago tickets bought, hotels and accommodations arranged. What when wrong?
The trip began as most trips do. An alarm clock ringing at 4:00 AM, hurried showers taken, bags checked and we were ahead of schedule. We were ready before the driver arrived at 6:30. This was the first omen. The uneventful drive, again ahead of schedule, was marred only by the drivers incessant babbling. My great grand father was Alexander Hamilton, he repeated several times in a voice that could barely be heard over the hum of the vans motor. See its a picture of my grand father he said again as we tipped him with a ten.
Even more portentous was the fact that we had all of our documents and went through the security checks without mishap again ahead of schedule. But as the plot began to unfold we had to wait three hours for the plane because of our timeliness. Already we became bored with this reasonable wait. But things were to take a nosedive.
Group four now boarding the stewardess announced. With Giorgio joking about flying to Texas singing The Stars at Night are Big and Bright and other little rude comments, suddenly made me a little nervous. Were we testing the fates? Within ten minutes I found out I was right.
More waiting before taxiing down the runway only made Heather more anxious. I just wanted to get going so everybody could relax and begin to enjoy the trip.
The plane pulled out on the runway and ponderously gathered speed - 50 MPH, 75 MPH, I felt like we were starting to lift off when it happened, the pilot put on the brakes. Everyone lurched forward as the plane jolted, and somewhat violently, came to a complete stop. Not a sound was heard. Not one of the 200 passengers breathed. What happened? I had never experienced this before. Then the pilot announced to the stricken audience in a shaky voice and with broken sentences, we are going to go back to the terminal, theres, theres a red light on, its, its a pressure gage warning. He then filled in a few of the details but we still knew little.
Heather, who is afraid of flying anyway, was ready to get off of the plane now. This sequence of events had done nothing to credit the safety of our chosen airline to her. As the plane pulled into the terminal the pilot tried to reason through the problem with us saying it might only be twenty minutes or so. As minutes grew to hours our connecting flight came and went, our air conditioning did the same and our sanity crept toward the edge. My wife, my son and Heather tried to negotiate alternative flights with the airline, we tried to leave at one point but the issue of our baggage remaining on the flight kept me in my seat. I reasoned that we were going to Dallas whether we liked it or not unless the plane was declared rigor mortis.
My family of combatants exposed several alternative flight options in the process of heated discourse with the booking agent, none of them pleasant. We could fly to LAX and make a connection but we would be in the plane all night, we learned later that LAX had closed down because of a problem with their tower. We never would have landed there. The other choice was that we would stay in Dallas a whole day and take the connecting flight to San Jose the next afternoon missing an entire day of vacation.
The nightmare continued with the pilot saying every twenty minutes it looks like just another twenty minutes and as soon as we put the metal plate back in the engine and add more gas The insult to injury was that the in-flight meal was downgraded without our prior knowledge to pretzels and rice crispy sticks. Gag. However the couple of glasses of wine we had were free, and we really needed them at this point. Finally after four hours of waiting and two hours of flying we did get to Dallas where the real curse of Texas was upon us.
My wife seeming to take the crusade to Costa Rica as her own battled with the booking agent in Dallas for at least an hour. The problem was they did not willingly want to send us to another airline to complete our trip. But Nancy persevered and new reservations for the following morning were made. The airline did arrange for us to stay at a nice hotel near the airport but we would have no baggage. They also provided us with meal vouchers and vanity kits. These, of course did not have solutions for contact lenses, which Gio and I wear and would have to purchase. This process had taken an hour now and led us to wait outside in the cold for the shuttle van. Dressed for the warm climes of Costa Rica, we shivered in the exhaust from passing busses for another hour before the van arrived. At this point Savannah started to understandably breakdown. We just looked at each other and hoped that the situation would improve.
At the hotel I looked at the clock 9:30, we had been traveling since six and still hadnt eaten. Worst of all we had to be downstairs to be picked up at 5:00 AM the next morning. Dinner would have to be rushed and so would the cocktails.
The hotel fare was decent but our vouchers did not include alcohol, we quickly ran up a $90 bar tab, pounded down our wine and cocktails and headed upstairs to shower before bed to save time in the morning.
The next morning started with the same curse. We were up at 4 AM after a restless nights sleep and no fresh clothes the rush to the shuttle was less than enjoyable. We made it to the airport in plenty of time but in our haste my son left Heathers video camera at the hotel. Fortunately there was plenty of time for the next shuttle to retrieve it but the damage was done, my son a Roman God of strength and beauty normally fazed by nothing and brimming with confidence, broke down as we waited for our connecting flight to Houston, my gorgeous 20-year-old daughter put on her sunglasses to cover the tears as she also started to cry. I felt like giving up, this was not the vacation we had planned.
But things started to improve. A new airline that Nancy had fought so hard to get us on was taking care of us and the two uneventful flights delivered us to San Jose, Costa Rica without incident, but the final curse of our original airlines was about to be delivered.
Upon arrival at the airport we discovered that two of our pieces of luggage had not arrived. To make matters worse they belonged to my son and daughter. Gio could deal with this inconvenience, but my daughter, Gina was pissed. She lived by haute couture, without her clothes and makeup she was lost. We waited and tried to get information on the missing pieces but in the end we decided to go to our villas at Pura Vida and worry about it later. Our driver, Carlos, was waiting with an Ottobre sign. After explaining our predicament he assuaged our angst telling us that this was a common occurrence. He assured us that our missing luggage would arrive on a following flight.
His polite and reassuring manner seemed to give us hope that the worst was over and soon we would be having a pleasurable vacation.
The trip the Pura Vida Hotel took just a few minutes and Carlos gave a continual educational dialog as we dodged cars, people, potholes and stop signs.
By the way, the name of the hotel is seen everywhere Pura Vida is the national motto, literally it means pure living but it transcends that simple translation, it is the way the Ticos, as the Costa Ricans call themselves, approach life. Pura Vida is a greeting, a goodbye and the way people should treat each other and the environment. Much like the Hawaii people say mahallo and Italians say ciao.
A side note about driving stop signs and traffic lights seem to be only suggestions to drivers the real driving issues are to avoid other drivers. At first view it seems a bit chaotic but this system seems to work well as all drivers co-operate and do not take advantage of each other.
Upon arrival Bernie, our host, greeted us warmly with his mild English accent. Two beautiful German Sheppards, Max and Yugi followed us to our cute bungalows in the verdant lower yard below the main house. The shadow of lost luggage however did follow as we began to unpack.
The tropical atmosphere and resplendent grounds made us feel like the vacation would begin from this point forward, and we were correct. A quick phone call to the airline did not bring information about our missing bags but we had faith that at some point they would show up.
Bernie brought the family complementary glasses of refreshing tropical fruit juices and we began to relax, rest and unpack for the afternoon and evening.
Bernie suggested that after a rest it would still be early and there was a fantastic local zoo close by. We would have to take two taxis because of the size of our group, an issue that would dog us for the rest of the trip. Two taxis were $3 dollars each one way. The quick ride dropped us off at a small clean zoo that was the obvious pride to this small poor community just north of San Jose. After paying about $3 each for our group to get in we were immediately greeted by a parrots of different species out in the open on tree branches. I still dont understand what kept them there but they were just a few feet away and full of chatter. As we went on there were hundreds of species: more birds (there are more species of birds in Costa Rica than in the U. S. and Canada combined) unusual mammals, reptiles and of course monkeys. Some were in cages; some out in the open but most were kept in a somewhat natural environment. A male peacock in full display blocked our path to pose for photos and Agoutis; a large rodent related to Pacas wandered the lawns. In fact this was a great place to bring a camera. The zoo excursion finished we walked across the road and to try some of the local cuisine, quesadillas, empanadas etc. (Tico food is similar to Mexican cuisine but is less spicy). After eating we went back to the zoo to wait for our rides, we thought we had told the taxis to come back at 4 PM but they no-showed. As Gina and Heather stood by the side of the road waiting in bikini tops and sarongs, the cars, motorcycles and trucks all gave them a quick honk. I guess this is a Tico tradition to complement the ladies. The wait was taking its toll on Savannah. She was tired and upset. Gio went back into the zoo and talked to one of the ladies in the zoo office. Within minutes we were all jamming into one small taxi and on our way back to Pura Vida. This was probably illegal but the fare was cut in half.
Back at Pura Vida, Bernies wife, Nhi had created a three-course dinner one to remember.
I purchased a couple of bottles of wine, one, La Garita, was made locally but with Italian grape juice and the other a Chilean Sauvignon Blanc, and we began the vacation rhapsody.
Dinners first course, an iceberg lettuce wrap with dice zucchini, eggplant, tomatoes and peanut sauce was refreshing and competed well with the finest restaurants in our home area. This was followed by chicken sates served on sizzling platters with sides of pickled cucumbers. But the mango cream mousse finalized the change in mood; we would survive and have a fantastic time.
Dinner completed another exhausting day finished and turned in before 10 PM.
Carlos came early the next day and after a phone call to the airline with no new news on the missing baggage, we left for Quepos. The three-hour drive was filled with a constant informative dialogue from Carlos detailing the economics, history, geology and ecosystems of Costa Rica accompanied by his large collection of Salsa, Marangue and other Latin music favorites. Carlos, a very good driver, still unnerved me at time as he tried to help me pick music CDs on the curvy mountain roads. The spectacular countryside and mountains evolved into costal vistas of coconut and African palm trees, crocodile filled rivers and wide empty beaches, and the arrival at Quepos came all too soon.
The Blue Monkey Hotel or Mono Azul is on the coastal mountainous road just south of the city. It was everything we had hoped and planed for. Quickly unpacking we headed to one of the three bathtub-warm swimming pools next to the restaurant and bar. Rounds of cocktails flowed, snacks were purchased and a party broke out.
I have to say something about my family, when it comes to having a good time we will not be left behind and we will not be out done. This vacation will be one for the books, literally.
After an hour or so of swimming snacking and drinking our rooms were ready and we headed across the road and up the hill to our two villas and our own personal swimming pool. Our rooms on the hill above the highway were called villas but they were more like duplexes, each had its own kitchen, multiple sleeping arrangements bathroom and air conditioner.
About five in the afternoon good news arrived. The Adriana in the office let us know that the airlines had found Gio and Ginas luggage and it was on its way. This report brought our vacation to a new level. We could relax, Gina would have her outfits and make up and Gio could give me my clothes back so I would have something to wear for the rest of the trip. Within an hour or so the baggage arrived and another celebration broke out.
It was very humid and in the high 80s by this time, swimming helped us adjust to the dramatic change in climates. A romantic twilight swim later, we napped (a puritanical way to put it) and later dressed for dinner.
We began the repast with wine and a few blue monkeys - the signature beverage of the restaurant that is made with blue Curacao, rum and sweet and sour mix. This became a vacation favorite.
Dinner included Filet mignon with Gorgonzola sauce, hamburgers, a local Costa Rican rice dish that included chunks of chicken, bacon, shrimp and vegetables, a chicken dish with a garlic butter sauce and a light Chilean Chardonnay rounded out the meal. Sufficiently suphonsiffied we headed to bed and after adjusting the rooms air conditioner we drifted off into the humid night and restless slumber anxious to head to the beach the next day.
With the dawn and after an early morning downpour, Nancy and I took the crowded commuter bus into Manuel Antonio beach about three miles south on the curvy coastal mountain road. We got off at the first beach exit and walked up the beach to the main section. Taking off our sandals we had the biggest surprise. The wet sand near the ocean was warmer than the cool overcast morning. We walked, excited like small children, to the edge of the warm waves. Surfing would be a treat. The waves at this time looked small but sufficient for my skills but the tide was out and coming in this would also increase the size of the surf. We found a long-haired-blond surfer dude that rented surfboards and got the skinny about pricing and different sizes. I picked out a couple and told him we would be back to surf when the tide came up a couple of hours later. He agreed and said he would save the boards for me. We took the bus back to the Blue Monkey and woke the kids it was 8 AM now.
We decided to take a super taxi, one that would fit six persons, to the beach so we could stop at the ATM machine just a kilometer south. This was such a mind-boggling experience, changing Dollars to Colones takes a mind skilled in quantum physics if you have a hangover. The machine itself is a little confusing but the exchange rate is the ball buster. Four hundred twenty five Colones to the dollar, not just something easy and even. Heather was still confused about an hour later, but I had 50,000 thousand Colones in my pocket, about $117, and felt rich.
Finally we arrived at the beach and a hawker of lounge chairs and umbrellas set us up with the perfect spot. Next Butch came over; he said he would bring a menu from the restaurant across the street. We were finally in heaven. I decided that instead of eating with everyone else I would get one of the boards I had reserved and hit the waves. Rogelio had saved me a board that I had picked out when we came earlier in the morning. It was a 6 8, quite a bit shorter than the board I was used to riding at home but I thought I would give it a shot anyway. I went in to the surf and was suspired how strong and large the waves were. Looking at them from the beach they seemed quite a bit smaller. I didnt have very much luck. The board was a little squirrelly and didnt float me that well. After a few soup waves I temporally gave up and let Gio try. He had a little luck and I went back out when he came and was able to get one good wave. In the process I wiped out and hit my arm with the fin. This caused a pretty decent bruise in the shape of a straight line across my forearm. I gave up at this point somewhat exhausted from my struggles and decided to see if my daughter wanted to try and learn. I took her out into the waves, swimming along side and got behind her to give her a push into the first wave. She lay on the board and as the wave came I helped push her into it. Then it happened, the leash had wrapped around my left forearm and force of the wave catching her almost ripped my arm off as the cord had tightened. The shock was tremendous, I struggled to the beach holding my arm, which now had huge welts on it, the veins puffed up like a blue snake wrapping around from mid forearm to thumb. The pain was excruciating, I was starting to go into shock. As I laid on the beach chair Nancy got help and one of the locals who brought a bag of ice to help with the swelling. My arm looked awful. Butch came over and checked out. The hospital was the only option. A cab arrived immediately and Nancy and I were off leaving the rest of the fam on the beach to fend for themselves. As the pain increased I wondered if my thumb was broken, sharp tingling pain was shooting through it. In Quepos a few minutes later, the cab stopped at a pharmacy. This is the standard procedure here for analyzing an injury. The pharmacy was quite busy and the pharmacist didnt have time to look at my arm right away. Holding the bag of ice on my arm I started to feel dizzy. I sat on the floor next to the soda refrigerator making Nancy panic a little. Finally the pharmacist was free and he took a look at it. Shaking his head he said there was nothing he could do and I should go to the emergency hospital, which was a block around the corner. I looked at Nancy and told her that I didnt think I could walk that far. Now she was starting to panic. We grabbed a cab and took the quick ride to Emergency 2000, a small clean office building. Inside we were greeted by a lovely woman with a sympathetic manner who immediately looked at the injury and led me back into an examination room. She introduced herself as doctor Candy. She gently touched and rubbed my arm seeing what my mobility was and where it hurt. I began to feel a little better when she said that nothing was broken and the injury was just golpe blunt force trauma. I would need a shot of painkiller and anti-inflammatory. This brought a smile to Nancys face, I would be all right and she would have the opportunity to embarrass me with a photo of my bare ass with a medic sticking a needle in it. The medic who applied the needle was a local surfer and we talked about waves and surfboard as the procedure was completed. As Dr. Candy wrapped my arm with a ace bandage and gave me a prescription and instructions on care of the injury I couldnt help but think what I would have gone through to get care for this problem back in the states. I would probably still be in the waiting room filling out forms. The cost of the exam and prescription was less than a hundred dollars.
Back at our room the kids and Nancy decided to go into town. I had a rum and coke and passed out for a couple of hours. That night we had pizza in our villa and swam in our warm private pool. Later we sat on the veranda listened to music on Gios laptop while sipping cocktails and reviewing the days digital photos on my laptop. The painful injury was feeling better and we all slept well.
Waking again to the persistent calls of roosters, tropical birds and geckos we were up at five. This morning we would take the bus to Manuel Antonio state park to see the coastal rainforest. The day was brilliant, warm and clear with a light tropical breeze. The entrance fee was $7 and kids were free. The beach walk into the park is probably the most idyllic of any in the world. A cove with a scuba diving boat in it was just around bend. We all commented that this was the beach of our dreams. Warm waves, crystal clear blue water and scenic rock points and islands within swimming distance to the shore completed this vista.
We followed the trail deeper into the park and came upon another beach. Capuchin, or white face monkeys were in the trees that hung over the warm sand beach and a sloth was eating leaves close by in another tree. We kept on walking into the jungle amazed at the proliferation of animal life iridescent blue butterflies, dragonflies, leafcutter ants, spider monkeys, more sloths, large black raptors and lizards of many species were on a constant parade. Then the most amazing event occurred, a fawn appeared on the trail ahead. As we approached it ignored us and Gina went up to it and petted it. It responded to her touch and let her feed it leaves. Savanna, Heathers daughter, got into the photo op and fed this gentle deer.
This is a remarkable park we commented.
The end of the trail led us back into the beach town of Manuel Antonio; we window-shopped and had lunch at a beachfront restaurant, the Blue Marlin. Fried calamari, ceviche, mahi mahi sandwiches and drinks were ordered a relaxing meal was enjoyed by all. Back out on the beach we talked with Butch and Rogelio, showing them my injury and subsequent quick recovery.
We returned to the spot of the previous days events and rented beach chairs and boogie boards. I couldnt help but go back into the warm water and beautiful waves to body surf and boogie board awhile. I was definitely cautious though, Nancy was keeping a wary eye on me and I knew she wasnt in to going back to Emergency 2000 again. The waves were awesome, good shape and six foot. There was a lot of juice in each ride. The locals were shredding the place and I got several great photos of Rogelio while drooling to be out there with him.
Before leaving Nancy got a couple of the local surfers to pose with Gina. Tanned and muscled they called Gina guapa as they went back out to surf.
Sunburned and tired we took the bus ride back to the villa for a swim and the traditional evening drinks. While in the pool washing off the ground-in-sand Nancy suddenly screamed at the top of her lungs, an iguana the size of a medium sized dog ran by the edge of the pool just three feet from Nancy at the edge of the pool. Gio giggling grabbed a camera and chased after it and got a couple of photos of it in the tree just in front of our villa. The hilly area in front of our villa door was home to three or four different species of reptiles ranging in size from my little finger to the dinosaur that just ran by.
Later we decided to go into town to shop and maybe get a bite. As we waited for the bus a blond with the biggest boobs I have ever seen got to the front of the line. The speechless crowd waiting to get on let her go first. Are those real? Gina commented loudly. Who cares I replied in a somewhat softer voice. She got off at the first stop and the men on the bus began to breathe normally again.
We got off in the center of town abuzz with evening shoppers and diners. Nancy led me to me to a shop she visited the night before while I was sleeping off my painkillers and talked me into buying a folding leather rocking chair. It was very cool. We ordered the free engraving and had it shipped home. Back at the grocery market Heather, Gio and Savannah decided to cook back at villa while Nancy, Gina and myself decided to walk the bay front promenade and look for a place to eat. After dodging the traffic crowded street we thought it would be safer to go into a restaurant.
The Mira Mar was an upstairs restaurant in a hotel. The dinning room was set for a banquet and we got a table overlooking the bay. The warm tropical breeze added to the excitement of the evening. Our waiters were very knowledgeable and good looking. As was becoming a tradition, Nancy had the boys pose with Gina for photos. She was developing quite a collection of hotties to show her friends back home. The banquet near us was a large group of polite Canadian high school students on a spring beak tour. They were having the time of their life. Canada certainly wasnt like this.
We ordered cocktails and appetizers of Costa Rican hearts of palm and a plate of crispy calamari.
A bottle of Chilean chardonnay accompanied the entrees. Nancy had a peppered filet, which looked and tasted more like a rib eye to me but was tasty never the less. I had a tuna dish that was a Costa Rican preparation, cilantro, limejuice and black beans and rice. Nothing special, but very healthful. Ginas mahi mahi with a mushroom cream sauce was the best however. The rice and black bean culture was most prevalent at this meal. Most of our dining experiences were geared to what I call World Cuisine. This usually is a conglomerate of the resident culture, which here includes Caribbean, Central American and Mexican influences.
About World Cuisine: as Nancy and I have traveled we have noticed that the emigrant settlers of all countries have adopted indigenous ingredients and made them part of their home recipes and that these recipes have traveled back home and then back again. While traveling in Italy we noticed a large Asian population proffering foods from home and incorporating Italian ingredients and techniques. In other words, a World Food Culture is evolving and has been since the first explorers. This Culture now has the ability to travel from country to country quickly by jet and with the advent of the Internet, can even travel at the speed of light. Costa Rica, like the rest of the world entertains the cuisines of nearly all countries but since it has many unique ingredients it is giving Chefs and cooks the opportunity to create a new kind of tropical Haute Cuisine.
We chatted with the waiters while trying to order desert, ice cream, we were told was the only choice remaining. I told them I was a chef and Oliver asked me if I wanted a job as the chef had quit two days before to take a more lucrative gig. Then it came to Nancy that would explain the lack of desserts. The cuter of the two waiters, Giotto, came over and talked about the waves up north, he was a boogie boarder and was starting a two-week holiday the next day. This was a very pleasurable dining.
The walk back to town to look for nightlife was unrewarded. Quepos closes up pretty early most nights. We went back to the Blue Monkey and had more totally unnecessary cocktails, ones I would regret in the morning. I was getting a little lit and started up a heavy conversation with our lovely bartender about politics in the U S of A. We were in agreement about the Evil George Bush but she couldnt understand why we stayed if we felt that way.
I decided to cut it off and go back to the villa before I got into trouble, I didnt want to offend anyone. It seems like we had a couple of shots of the just purchased Costa Rican coffee liquor, Tico Rico before making it to bed.
Waking with a well deserved fat head I tried to put the last few minutes of the evening back in to the memory banks. Gio woke up shortly there after and expressed the way I felt perfectly did I drink while I was sleeping? he said as he stumbled to the door. At the door to the villa I had my cup of Mountain Grown Costa Rican Coffee while a fruit bat buzzed me at least I think it was a bat.
Nancy, who must have been more judicious with her drinking, was up early and full of energy. She talked Gina into going horseback ridding while I moved slowly, writing in my journal and going down to the hotel office to check the Internet messages and on line bank statements. The dial-up connection was so slow and difficult to work that the 500 colons (about a buck twenty) per fifteen minutes now started to seem expensive. Finished with stumbling through the Blue Monkey offices and restaurant I went back to our villas to get an activity going for the day.
Gio and I decided that with our sun burns and me with both of my arms still in a fair amount of pain the beach would be avoided. We would go shopping in Quepos instead. The local farmers market was happening and I love farmers markets. It had to be safer than surfing in those powerful waves. We took the bus, at 100 colons per person (25 cents) it was a bargain to travel to town. Upon arrival Gio and Heather let Savannah amble through the vegetable and fruit vendors, which she did with a locals aplomb. Gio videotaped as we went, we stopped at a coconut vendors stand. He had a large wooden barrel filled with ice and shucked coconuts. He would take a coconut and using a machete cut a small opening in the top. The customer would then insert a straw. Gio encouraged Savannah to try this treat and we were all lucky she shared. The ice-cold coconut water was so refreshing I could think of no better way to get moisture and beat the heat in this climate the cost fifty cents. As we wandered the stand we were amazed at the unusual fruit, papayas the size of elongated watermelons, guavas which were not the guavas of Hawaii those had another name. These were like giant fava beans and the seeds were to be chewed and spit out. I had to try it. I split a pod with the help of the friendly merchant and chewed the furry seed. It was like mint or chewing gum substitute, after a few minutes of masticating the hard seed I was looking for a place to spit it out in an Emily Dickinson manner. In the end I just threw it into a pile of the sad emptied coconut shells. This was a fruit that would not be popular in the U.S. I will admit that the taste was refreshing and palate cleansing.
After walking the stalls we decided to shop for a few remaining friends and have lunch. The ATMs we first visited were on the lurch and having major problems so we shopped with the little cash we had. Inexpensive jewelry and trinkets were bought and we picked a restaurant, Dos Locos, two crazies, to have lunch. A local gringo barfly, Rick, was there. I met him at the Blue Monkey the first day and he was instrumental in where I rented surfboards, so I figured that the food here would be acceptable. I was right. The quesadilla and enchiladas were good and the open-air view of traffic and the townspeople were better that a sports bar. Once again the food was mildly seasoned and the bar sauces and salt needed to be added to accentuate the flavors for our American tastes.
An enjoyable lunch finished our bill with margaritas and beer was less than $30 for four people. Next it was off to another ATM. We spotted a bank across the street and decided to try the BCR, Bank of Costa Rica. This turned out to be another trek disaster as the machine crashed and Heathers ATM card was eaten. The screen showed that the system was trying to reboot but when it finally revived it gave a message IF YOU HAVE LOST YOUR CARD IN THIS MACHINE. PLEASE CALL THIS NUMBER. Of course it was Saturday and there was no one in the bank. We were panicking. We copied down the number and took a taxi back to Mono Azul to ask Adriana to help us. After making the basic called she told us the damage, Heather would either have to be at the bank on Monday morning with her passport or cancel her bank card. Since we would be on an airplane Monday morning 150 kilometers away, she would have to cancel her card. She actually was only depressed because she couldnt help me pay for Carlos fee when we were picked up the next day. Things could be worse.
Across the street we met Nancy and Gina who had just come back from the horse excursion to the waterfalls and touting interesting photos. After a quick synopsis of the events we huddled with the family and discussed dinner options. We had food leftover in the refrigerators and Nan and I decided to go back into town to buy groceries to complete a home cooked meal I would cook.
There was chicken and pineapple in the frig so we added on to those ingredients: garlic, pasta, butter, salad (prepackaged from Dole) with local tomatoes and avocado. Within a few minutes we were back at the villas and cooking up our last dinner.
I love cooking for the Fam especially if I havent cooked for a while and this was somewhat of a challenge. The propane gas stove was a little tricky but adequate. Things went along swimmingly. I am quick and efficient in just about any kitchen and given decent ingredients I am comfortable cooking for a small army. A pineapple chicken and garlic pasta sauce was easily achieved, however the whole head of garlic was a little too mild, about 15 cloves, enough to keep one awake for days the garlic was from Gilroy California. I suppose the climate isnt cool enough to produce decent garlic. The avocado and tomato salad, simple enough, made for a healthful addition. We sat as a family and the six of us enjoyed our last dinner in Quepos.
The next morning Nancy and I got up early and decided to take a last hike. We took the old dirt road to Quepos that ran toward the ocean through nice villas and barrio type housing. At times these dwellings of greatly different economic families were side-by-side providing the financial contrast that makes up the population of Costa Rica. There were chickens, ducks and dogs aplenty on this peaceful Sunday morning. Within twenty minutes we met up with the main road near the soccer field in town. We wandered to the beach and down to seaside promenade. There I was greeted by an amazing vista of waves. These perfect lefts were right in front of the town and there was no one riding them. They began at the fishing dock and peeled off for a quarter mile or so, perfect wave after perfect wave. I would have to come back just to surf these waves. We took a taxi back to the villas to save time.
We began packing and had breakfast at the Blue Monkey restaurant. We ordered French toast that we made with candied fruit, the kind you get in fruitcake, banana pancakes and I had a small plate of fresh fruit that included papaya, mango, banana and pineapple. I would certainly miss this bounty of fresh tropical produce.
Packed and waiting Carlos showed up all too early. We had to leave. Carlos had actually showed up and left to go run on the beach. This was understandable since he had just spent three hours driving to meet us. He came back to the Blue Monkey and took a quick swim to cool off then packed us up and we were off.
The on the ride back Carlos took it upon himself to show us more surfing beaches. We stopped at Playa Hermosa to check out huge shore break type wave that were exploding near the shore. In my younger days as a surfer I would have loved this place, the waves had fair shape and were very tubular. You also didnt have to paddle very far to get into the lineup.
We next stopped at Jaco beach. This is a town built on the surfing culture. It is quite large and not as clean as Quepos. The beach itself was long and full of tourists from not only other countries but also it must have been popular with the Ticos. What waves I saw that day were not too impressive. The wind easily blows out the shape and the size was lacking compared to the other spots we found.
We had lunch at a place called Planet Food, it was not the greatest restaurant but since were hungry it satisfied our basic needs. There was an Asian influence to the menu choices. The teriyaki chicken skewers, my selection were decent but the sauce was way to salty.
Back on the road I told Carlos that I wanted to photograph Crocodiles if possible. We soon reached the long bridge that crossed a large river that was filled with these reptiles. We crossed it, parked and I walked back to the middle of it for some great shots. Carlos however deflated my excitement noting that these ten foot monsters were only the babies, in the mornings the ten-meter-parents hung out under the bridge feeding on the less intelligent buffalo that wandered too close to the water.
Back on the road, we turned and headed inland back over the great divide and into San Jose.
Cash was still an issue, we had to pay Carlos and my on-hand source was depleted. Carlos realizing that his pay was the issue took us into downtown San Jose, the Bank of San Jose. After wrestling with the machine and not losing any of our cards, Nancy was rewarded with Colones and Carlos was paid.
Back at Pura Vida, we cleaned up and prepared for our last treat, Nhis three-course dinner. I was so thirsty that when I got to our room I gulped down a couple of glasses of water only to be warned by Bernie later that a water main had broken and his faith in the purity of our H2O was nonexistent. I tried to not think about it but later in the wee hours I would wake with stomach pains hoping for the best.
The meal was even more spectacular than our first experience. Nhi had created an Asian influenced salad of shaved green papaya that grew on the property. She had salted it first to soften it and then washed it and marinated the paper-thin slices in a rice wine vinaigrette. The overall effect was so refreshing as a chef I became jealous of this new technique and its simplicity. She then served Corbina, a local white bass with a sherry and soy sauce. The fish was steamed first then topped with ginger and julienned scallions. This was hit with very hot oil, which brought out the flavors. I had prepared a similar dish years before but the fresh light flavored fish made it superior. The dinner was completed with coconut milk gelato; light and creamy it was the perfect end to the meal.
Sadly we turned in to try and sleep before the 4 AM wakeup call. A restless sleep followed with restaurant nightmares and a churning stomach.
The family had become accustomed to these early mornings and we departed Pura Vida waving a sad goodbye to Bernie and the dogs. Carlos dropped us off at the airport and we boarded leaving San Jose without incident.
Our flight to Miami and transfer to the San Francisco flight was reasonably painless. Even going through customs wasnt that bad. The whole flight back would take about twelve hours.
In San Francisco all of our luggage arrived safely, our driver met us and the quick ride home was quiet. Checking my voice mail I realized that I had been concerned about the restaurant for no reason, it hadnt burned down and no major incidents had occurred
At home, Chica our dog, Tiger and Pepper, the cats, were glad to see us again.
We had accumulated a large quantity of digital photos and intense memories on this vacation. Nancy and I began immediately to plan the next one, maybe something of a more permanent variety.