Day 4.1: Breakfast & Coffee Naps. You’d think this working breakfast could get boring. Pro tip: it doesn’t. Fresh fruits, breads, pinto gallo, eggs, cereal, and more coffee than you can shake your fist at. Plenty of work to do and a solid wifi connection. This is hard to beat. And one of the things that makes vacations really luxurious? Taking a nap after your morning coffee. Twenty minutes, and that caffeine kicks in enough to make you one with the Universe. A promising beginning.
Day 4.2 Scooters & Riding South. So many movies about travel include some adventure on a rented scooter, swerving through strangely aligned traffic where the rules are made by whoever is the first in line. This was like that, only a little less montage and a little more awesome.
Puerto Viejo and the small towns (if one would call them that) nearby feature a series of uniquely beautiful coastal sands, each area, wave pattern, and sand different from one another. The major spots I had read about were spread over a distance of 6 miles or so. Cam is a proficient cycle-rider, and it seemed that the most efficient and enjoyable way for us to buzz along and try them all out was provided to us just across the street from the hotel. Several local spots rent bicycles, scooters, and/or motorcycles for various amounts of time. We snagged the last available scooter for the day, grabbed a few essentials — towels, sunscreen, cash — and headed south.
A single highway runs parallel to the coast line all the way south; my hunch is that it may very well go all the way to Panama, but we decided not to push our luck in trying on that particular afternoon. (We could have, though. The Panamanian border is not far from Puerto Viejo.) Occasionally veering a couple dozen meters inland, you can usually see the waves through the band of jungle growth separating road and water. When the road curves in, you’re treated to bold greens that hold you like a verdant, well-lit traffic tunnel. Every curve brings a new visual surprise: bridges over small estuaries, another patch of green tunnel, a new outlook on waves that greet coastal visitors. And visiting via scooter lends to the experience of awe — a reminder of just how very small we truly are, and what a wonder all of this actually is.
Day 4.3: Manzanillo & Punta Uva. We began our coast comparison at the southern-most beach selection for the day, Manzanillo. This town is hopping. Roadsides were packed with parked vehicles, and stereos blared from sodas and restaurants. We parked at the end of a line of cars, then walked back to survey the area and find somewhere to acquire cheap cervesas. Once purchased — the best deal we found was the soda on the northern end of the main drag — it was off to the beach for some sun and a swim.
Despite how populated the road appeared, you didn’t have to go far to find a quiet space. We found a small grove alongside an estuary’s merge with the sea, with just enough shade to keep us comfy while we finished our drinks. Once we jumped in, it was more clear how very open the coastline was; we essentially had the place to ourselves within a 100 meter (or more) radius. The water was welcoming, the waves more gentle than Playa Cocles. Even here, you can wade beyond the breakers and still only be hip-deep in water. (Okay, okay, waist deep in the case of my height.) We could easily have stayed all day, but there were still more places to stop before the rental time was out. Along the trek back to our vehicle, we were welcomed heartily by an Australian ex-pat: “Welcome to Manzanillo! Welcome to Costa Rica — Pura Vida!” Pura Vida, indeed.
A laugh-filled ride north took us to Punta Uva, another white-sand beach a couple kilometers from Manzanillo. The turn-off to the beach was neither marked nor paved from the inland junction. The best indicator was the amount of traffic turning onto a dusty, gravel road. Thoughts of more time on the sand were quickly abandoned when it dawned on us that lunch was overdue. Luckily, we had parked immediately next to a restaurant from whose tables we could appreciate a coastal view and tropical beverages.
Refueled, we took to the beach for a walk, but the (comparatively) crowded space wasn’t especially appealing. There was still coastline to see, and time was running low on the rental. It was best we mounted up and headed north yet again. As we made our way back to the scooter, we tried to determine: How do you rate beaches in paradise? Our answer: On a Wonderfulness scale, from 1 to infinity.
Comparing these spaces was not going to be easy in the least.
Day 4.4.: Sunset & Playa Negra. Our final beach stop was Playa Negra, a black sand beach just north of Puerto Viejo’s town center. (As it turns out, black sand beaches are such generally due to their volcanic mineral content, versus white sand beaches, which are generally shell-based.) Never before have I touched ground so soft. To say the sand was fine or velvety would be an intense understatement. We set out towels and dove in as the sun began to drop behind the mountains on the western skyline.
I want to note here that, despite being the Caribbean and, therefore, on the eastern side of Costa Rica, the curves of the coastline combined with proximity to the equator sometimes make cardinal directions a surprising challenge.
Playa Negra featured stronger, larger breakers than Manzanillo. Again, the beach was so far on the Wonderfulness scale that there was no comparing it to others with any kind of reason. We enjoyed exhausting ourselves in the last of the remaining sunshine, appreciating the texture, colors, and shadows accented by the disappearing light. The official time of sunset was just before our rental was due for return. Best to head home again.
Day 4.5: Carnival & Ice Cream. We had to call the rental company from the hotel’s phone, as the owner had gone home prior to our due time. We were asked if we wanted to keep the vehicle for the night but opted out. (Where would we go? And besides, there are enough bars over garages, windows, and doors to encourage us to excuse ourselves from any responsibility for other people’s assets.) It was time to wash the salt and sand out and find some dinner.
The beautiful thing about dinner as an adult? You can have ice cream for dinner, and nobody gets to say a word. So we did. I opted for coconut, which was about as creamy and delicious as you could imagine. Four days of adventuring and I had still not found my heart’s desire: a fresh coconut pierced enough for a straw to fit into, a treat oft recommended by friends who have traveled to tropical locations. This ice cream was enough to sate my desire for the day, if not the entire trip.
We wandered with our treats until happening upon a tiny carnival comprised of two rides — a carousel and a sort of wavy, vertical-moving ride that moved like a dancer’s skirt when spinning — as well as two game tents, a very large tent space for food, and a large stage with enough muddy subwoofers to kill a pack of dub-step dancers. We had passed the space the night before, unclear as to whether the carnival was arriving or departing. As it turns out, we arrived during Holy Week in Costa Rica, a traditionally Catholic country, and had happened upon one of the countless celebration spaces that pop up for a few days leading up to Easter Sunday.
If you come to Costa Rica, do yourself a favor: grab some ice cream, and stumble on a surprise carnival, if you can.
Day 4.6: Chiliguaro & Beach Blues. Unfortunately, the sound mix (or lack thereof) did not motivate us to remain at the carnival for long, and I was in a dancing mood. Instead, more wandering until we found some place a little more pleasing to the ears. We ended up back at the beachside locale where we had previously indulged in lunchtime fruit smoothies. This time, we were on a mission for music and a drink, both of which they had in spades. (Admittedly, the DJ was not particularly skilled at moving from one song into the next with any kind of smoothness, but who cares? This is paradise. Turn up the jams.)
Among other trip research, I had compiled a list of local foods we should try. We checked it and realized we’d not tried one of the classic and possibly hangover-inducing alcohols: guaro, a liquor distilled from sugar cane. For those sensitive to sugar, it can wreck you pretty quickly and leave you with a nasty headache. This bar had chiliguaro shots, which we ordered without question. As it turns out, this particular shot was, essentially, a tiny bloody Mary without the garnish and made with guaro as a base spirit. We didn’t want to push our luck, recognizing quickly how dangerous that particular drink could be. An Imperial chaser to split, a bench space to kick back on the sand and appreciate the moon glow.
Well, I kicked back a little bit. The music, even if choppily DJ’d, triggered my dance instinct. If I didn’t dance here, several people would be extremely disappointed, me among them. So it was off with my shoes and down a few steps to the water, where I proceeded to practice blues steps and isolations for several minutes. Dance like nobody’s watching: check.
Exhausted body, head full of music, heart full of coastal moon light. Bed time.
P.S. Thanks for reading! This will definitely take me longer to document than the time I’m on the trip, but I’d like to think that’s a sign of living the thing rather than traveling for the sake of documentation. I added photos late, too, as my computer and WordPress were fighting a little. Anyhow, thanks for keeping up with me. Pura vida!