Costa Rica Honeymoon Day 2 – Welcome to the jungle!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

On Thursday morning we woke fairly early to our first sounds of Costa Rica; wind and some animal that we never figured out, either a bird or a monkey. We ate our complimentary breakfast at the hotel – except for the weird bacon they had – and began our honeymoon adventure with a trip to the west side of Costa Rica, by way of car and ferry. We would be staying on the Peninsula de Nicoya for the next six days.

Our first crazy moment in Costa Rica occurred right down the street from the hotel we stayed at for the first night. According to our paper map, we were right next to a main road labeled as Highway 1 and coincidentally, this was the road we wanted to be on to get to the ferry two hours away in Puntarenas.

However, we had no clue how to get onto this highway since there appeared to be no signs directing us how to get onto it. We ended up almost going up a ramp to get onto the highway that turned out to be an off-ramp. Thankfully we noticed this before we actually attempted to get on the highway and thankfully there were no cars blasting off the highway from the off-ramp at that time.

We backed up the vehicle quickly and reevaluated the paper map but still could not figure out how we were supposed to get onto the highway because we seemed to be stuck at a dead end street with a bunch of one-way streets. A man walking on the side of the road saw our blunder and close call with death and tried to help navigate us in the right direction but he only spoke Spanish and we could not understand him very well.

We tried following the man’s instructions of which way to turn but we were very lost. We quickly abandoned the paper map and pulled out our smart phone with the downloaded map because it could pinpoint exactly where we were and we could then attempt to follow down streets that might eventually lead us in the right direction. This method ended up working but caused us to take a much longer, out-of-the-way route than necessary to get onto the highway.

Driving on Costa Rica’s supposed highways was nothing what we expected. First of all, none of the roads in Costa Rica are physically labeled with signs. We didn’t come across a single sign that named the road or highway we were on.

Secondly, the roads that are labeled as highways on their maps are not the types of nice highways we are accustomed to in the United States. For a highway in the United States you would expect a minimum of two lanes each direction and barriers in between two-way traffic.

However, in Costa Rica, the highways are not much different than all the other curvy, confusing, high-trafficked non-highway roads in Costa Rica and both roads and highways usually had only one lane going each direction, with no barrier in between. The only difference between their “highways” and the rest of the roads is that on the highways, the speed limit was much higher and as if it wasn’t fast enough, it was very uncommon to find drivers traveling less than twice the posted speed.

In addition to the fast, no-fear drivers that would pass along curves and drive twice the speed limit, it was commonplace to find bicyclists, pedestrians, and fruit vendors right off the highway. We wondered how often drivers would actually stop to buy fruit off the highway while they were traveling at 100 kph.

After a very stressful introductory drive out of San Jose to Puntarenas, we finally reached the area where the ferry was located. As we drove through the maze of streets towards the direction of the ferry, not knowing exactly where to go or which street to turn down, we encountered a young Costa Rican boy with a plain sign that said “ferry”. He was very eager to help us find our way to the ferry and told us which street to turn down.

We couldn’t figure out why some random guy was willing to help us and suspected he was trying to scam us, but as it turns out, the Costa Ricans see opportunities such as this, as a way of guilting tips out of tourists like us, who have no idea what they are doing. We came upon another guy closer to the ferry who did the same thing and offered us helpful info on where we needed to park in line for the ferry and where we needed to pay.

We arrived almost an hour early to the ferry that would leave at 11am. It was actually good to arrive to the ferry early because cars were already starting to line up for the ferry by the time we arrived.

Once on the ferry, we were finally able to relax while we traveled an hour to the town of Paquera on the Peninsula de Nicoya. Dark puffy clouds loomed on the eastern horizon and once this rain storm reached the ferry, little by little, passengers on the deck slipped away inside the passenger lounge to take cover from the rain. Since Bryce and I are desert rats, we welcomed the afternoon rain shower and were one of the only ones to stay out on the covered deck.

After arriving in Paquera we were off for another long drive down the coastline to the town of Cabuya, located at the very southeastern tip of the peninsula. Cabuya was the town we would stay in for our entire visit to Costa Rica and it is where Bryce found our beach rental house.

While initially driving through San Jose on our way to the ferry, I openly pouted and protested the idea of Bryce bringing us to Costa Rica for our honeymoon because, so far, all I had seen was a dirty city with confusing roads and crazy drivers, and all I had experienced was an extremely tight feeling in my chest that I was sure was going to lead to cardiac arrest. I was really questioning the idea of this honeymoon producing relaxation or blissful scenery. However, once we reached Peninsula de Nicoya, which is much less populated and less insane than San Jose, I could finally see Costa Rica for its true beauty.

The ferry in Paquera dropped us off right in the middle of a beautiful thick jungle filled with palm trees, huge plants with bright red flowers, and trees with gigantic leaves. As the ferry approached land I commented to Bryce that I couldn’t even see the road that was supposedly right there along the coastline. I wondered if we would even be able to see the beaches on the drive down the coastline since it seemed like the road must have gone inland and not along the beaches.

We were partially wrong about this. The wet, pothole-ridden road carved through thick jungles and misty tall hills, and at many points peeked out of the jungle to give us glimpses of the crashing waves along the dark sandy beaches.

We used our smart phone’s GPS again as we traveled the two hours from Paquera to Cabuya. Although there seemed to be a main road that was used to travel from town to town, it was easy to turn down the wrong street since the narrow main road was not much different than the narrow residential roads that shot off in several directions at every curve and fork in the road.

There wasn’t much of anything worth stopping for during our drive down to the southeastern tip of the peninsula. The scenery is the only thing you have to take in and after a while, even that becomes monotonous.

Towards the end of the route down to Cabuya, the narrow paved road runs out and turns into an even worse dirt road. Soon after that is a popular town called Montezuma, a classic Costa Rican beach destination known for its surfing, among many other tourist activities.

Eager to get to our beach house and get settled, we decided not to stop here and to just make a quick list in our minds of what the town contained. We knew we would be back up to Montezuma several times during our stay because this was the closest town with tourist activities and places to eat.

We had a difficult time locating the particular beach house that we were renting in Cabuya called Casa Astrid. The lady that managed the property had given Bryce a map that labeled each place in the quiet town of Cabuya, which there wasn’t much of – a fishing place down the road, a bakery, a couple of small restaurants, and a handful of small hotels and other rentals – but since roads in Costa Rica don’t have names and places do not have street addresses, it’s no surprise that it took several u-turns before we located the house.

Even when we thought we found the house that was ours, we still were not certain it was ours since the only thing we had to go by was Bryce’s recollection of the house being yellow in the pictures online. Coincidentally, a house next to it was also yellow.

I had not seen photos of the place we were staying at and had not known its location or the views it would have, so I was relieved to find that Bryce had picked out a very cute house right off the beach. The house was small and quaint with two bedrooms, a small bathroom with a walk-in shower, and a big open area that contained a kitchen and an area to hang out in. Instead of glass, the windows had screens. This was nice because it kept the bugs out but allowed the house to be open and airy. The house also had back doors that opened wide to our backyard and beach. The backyard was lined on each side with big leafy plants and palm trees for some privacy from the neighboring private homes.

Our first fun visitor at Casa Astrid was the first of many stray dogs we would come across in Costa Rica. I didn’t know how I would handle being away from my two dachshunds for an entire week so when I was greeted by an adorable small, furry white dog – who I nicknamed Oreo – I was very excited for his presence. He, too, seemed very happy to see me and followed me from the beach back to the house and plopped down on the back porch as if he owned the place.

Later, another dog almost identical to him, only with all brown fur – who I nicknamed Cocoa – greeted us at Casa Astrid, too. I was thrilled every time we came home and these two pups bounced around and greeted us. Even in the morning we were greeted by these two pups, who we would find sleeping on our back patio, waiting for us to open the doors.

Our second fun visitor at Casa Astrid was a gigantic spider that had built a large web at the pitch of the roof on the side of the house. One of our friends had warned us that Costa Rica had gigantic spiders, so this wasn’t a surprising find for us, but I had expected to only find spiders while we were out hiking, not ones that had taken up residence near the house we were staying at.

Although the spider was big, he was still much smaller than I imagined the spiders in Costa Rica being so I shuddered at the thought of what worse spiders we might find. Throughout our stay at Casa Astrid, we ended up running into several more of these same big spiders around the outside of the house but never anything bigger. (Side note – Bryce literally ran into one of these spiders who decided to make his web across a portion of our back patio right outside the patio doors. We both knew someone was going to run into that web, it was just a matter of who and when and I’m glad it wasn’t me.)

After marveling at the size of our house guest and taking several pictures, we finished unpacking and headed out for dinner. The lady that managed our beach house also owned one of the only small restaurants in Cabuya called Cafe Coyote. We decided that we would stop by there for dinner.

The restaurant had several uniquely decorated tables outside, none of which were occupied. This made us nervous as we wondered if the food was no good there. Turns out that since August is rainy season, there just aren’t many tourists in the smaller towns of Costa Rica, which means that most of the restaurants are dead and empty.

So far in Costa Rica we had only eaten at the hotel restaurant in San Jose and one small, sketchy joint in the port town of Puntarenas. Neither of these places had exciting food choices or good food, so we were anxious to see what a real Costa Rican restaurant would offer.

While the menu at Cafe Coyote provided better options than the other couple of restaurants that we had tried so far, it was still not extensive. We learned that this was typical of almost all the Costa Rican menus; they only contain a few items, usually simple fish and chicken options. You never seemed to know exactly what you were getting, but that’s because for the most part, their food is all cooked the same way, with few spices, and accompanied usually with rice and small, strange shredded salad. This wasn’t always the case as some of the more touristy restaurants had more menu choices such as tacos, quesadillas, or various basic pastas.

The food at Cafe Coyote ended up being my favorite place to eat while we were in Costa Rica. That night at Cafe Coyote we shared a large pepperoni pizza and, my favorite, fresh fish cooked with garlic.

While we were eating at Cafe Coyote that night we were greeted by a small green frog that made his way up a pole we were sitting next to. We expected to see many frogs in Costa Rica but this was one of the only times we saw a frog.

We had mentioned to the owner Jenni at Cafe Coyote, who also managed Casa Astrid, that we had encountered our first creepy visitor at the house, a large spider. She was shocked at first and asked if it was inside or outside and when we told her outside she brushed it off and cheerfully tried convincing us how harmless they were.

After using the restaurant’s wi-fi and researching the spider, which turned out to be a golden orb spider, we confirmed that Jenni was telling the truth and the spiders are claimed to be so friendly that they will share their webs with other spiders. This was funny because the spider we had found at the house was, in fact, sharing his web with another smaller spider.

Upon our return to Casa Astrid later that evening, we had another visitor at our front door that I could spot in the dim light even before we got to the front door. It was a small red crab that was scurrying away in the darkness sideways as we approached him. Unlike the “friendly” golden orb spider, I didn’t mind finding a cute crab around the the house because I knew a crab would not crawl its way into my bed at night.

That night when we went to bed – and every night thereafter, except the last night – I insisted on leaving a light on outside our bedroom in hopes that the spiders and whatever other bugs were out there would stay hidden in the darkness outside. And if by some chance I was awakened by some tingling across my face in the middle of the night, I wanted to make sure there was light so I could see exactly what I was swatting off my face.

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