Catching up

Trip Start May 04, 2003
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Flag of Costa Rica  ,
Wednesday, February 4, 2004

Hey kids .. We've been beach bumming for over a week now, and it's been pretty damn shweet. I just wanted to catch up a little cos I believe I got a little bit stuck on the volcano story the last time I wrote. We're in Mal Pais now, which could be the nicest beach we've seen in Costa Rica so far (though it ain't no Las Lajas (Panama). That is becoming a bit of a mantra of the trip. "well, it's alright, but it ain't no las lajas". that place was just awesome ..) But, so, from San Jose we went to a place called Tamarindo. All of these beaches we've been hanging out on are on the Pacific, on the western side of the Nicoya Peninsula in NW Costa Rica, and we're going basically north to south. So we went to Tamarindo, because there was supposed to be a national park right by it where leatherback turtles nest around this time. The leatherbacks, by the way, are the biggest toitles around, 500 kg. So that would be pretty shweet to see a bunch of those crawling up the beach we figured. So we get to Tamarindo, which is a transplanted nondescript Floridian town. There were Remax signs everywhere, and weird eco veggie fruity shake places where they make you grab your ankles for green goo with a celery stick poking out of it. It basically sucked. The beach itself was pretty nice, with a shallow little river flowing into it through a forest on one end, but it was packed with people who were either very, very pretty, very, very cool, or very, very old. Or some combination of the above. All the campsites were shut down "by the municipality", so the only real places to stay were $30 and up rooms with AC and TV and other acronyms. Luckily, some old lady took pity on us vagabonds and let people camp in her dusty yard, so we found a couple spots for the night. I walked around to try to find out about the turtle beach; apparently getting caught in the park after 6 pm carries a $1000 fine; the only way to go in is with a tour group, which costs about our weekly budget. If I had a better feeling about the place I might have been willing to splurge, but as it was, I was only too glad to get out of there the next morning. Our next stop was Samara beach. Transport around the peninsula is not very straightforward or easy (finally!!!), so although the beaches are probably only 60 km apart or thereabouts, it took a lot of backtracking and bus changing and most of the day to get from one to the other. Samara beach was a little less crowded when we got there on Thursday evening, and had a more relaxed vibe to it. The beach itself was mostly sandy with pebbles mixed in, but it was on a nice bay. Most of the people there seemed to be vacationing or weekending Costa Rican families (unlike at Tamarindo). They would pull in with their vans or SUVs, and unpack their entire house. They'd set up tents in a circle, those would be the bedrooms, and the living room and kitchen would be in the middle. Foldout chairs and tables, portable stoves, pots and pans, the whole deal. It was kinda fun to see; you could tell where the tourists camped and where the locals camped by the presence or absence of a kitchen around the tent. In any case, this was one of the few places where locals outnumbered the tourists. Except it got to an extreme point when three fully packed buses pulled in at 3 am on Friday night from San Jose and the party got hopping and never stopped. We left Saturday morning. By the way, speaking of this tourists vs locals thing; Costa Rica is very, very touristy, as I've mentioned, and while the locals are extremely hospitable and welcoming, the tourists and locals don't really mingle so much. It's a result of the country being overrun by tourists I'm sure. Panama had a decidedly different feel to it; there weren't nearly as many tourists there, and I felt like the people there were genuinely pleased to see us and were interested in us. I also think that I've built up my expectations of Costa Rica way too high; I never really expected much from Panama and was blown away, while Costa Rica was supposed to be this paradise on Earth, and while it really is beautiful, it ain't no Las Lajas. It's also quite expensive, almost twice as expensive as Panama (though we're still talking $3 for dinner, $2.50 for camping type prices). Speaking of food, it's been really good here in Central America. Bananas are everywhere, and are the cheapest sustenance at 5 cents or less a pop. The staple dinner is casado, which is rice, beans, salad, choice of meat, and sometimes mashed potatoes or fried plantain or some such thing thrown into the bargain. Usually the cheapest thing on the menu, cheaper than pasta even, which for some reason seems to be an indulgence, and a good deal and good food. Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, so then we went to Montezuma, which is on the southern tip of the peninsula. Found a nice campsite on the beach, palm shaded and all, it was a nice place to chill. We met an Alaskan couple who had spent a week and a half there and didn't look like they were leaving by the time we did. The beach was nice but it dropped off quite rapidly, and as a result instead of getting three or four gentle breaks, the waves were humongous and breaking right on the beach. I'm quite the fan of getting bitchslapped around by waves, but the undertow and the power of the waves at this place kinda put me off. The town itself, as I mentioned before, has a sort of a quasi hippie feel to it, like an Ivy League campus or something, but it was a refreshing change. We spent 3 days there I think, hiked to some waterfalls, which were not much to write about to be honest, but it was a pleasant place to stay in any case. From there we came here, to Mal Pais. This was an 18 km ride which took 6 hours. well, only an hour and a half of that was spent on buses, but it was still quite the mission. We camped the first night on the far side of town by a rocky beach, but then we discovered that hey, there is a beautiful beach in the middle of the town (toen being a dirt lane), so we walked over this morning, which was long and very dusty and sweaty and hot, and not the good kinda sweaty and hot, and asked some dude who was renting out rooms if we could camp in his grassy front yard, and that's what we're doing now. The beach here is very unlike Montezuma's, with very gentle and LONG breaks, it's perfect surfing beach, which is how we plan to spend tomorrow. OK, I think I'm about done yapping for now.
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