January 3, 2017, Category: Costa Rica

I sink knee deep in seashells, find a massive iguana with the head the size of a soccer ball, and discover one of the most awesome places on the planet: Montezuma, Costa Rica. Read on for details!

Day 4: Drive to Montezuma

In December of 2012, Sandi and I went to Costa Rica. It has taken a few years, but I'm finally taking the time to edit my journal entries, post the blogs, and upload the pictures. Click the pictures to expand them. Click here to jump to the beginning with a link to every day.

During the night, there was a lightning storm.

“No, I don’t think so,” Sandi said.

“You didn’t see it? The wind was blowing. Thunder, lightning—“

“Well, maybe. But I usually wake up when it thunders. You must have dreamed it.”

“Hmm. What about the women in grass skirts and coconut bikini tops? Are you telling me they weren’t real either?”

“Sorry. You were the only one wearing a grass skirt and bikini last night. And since we aren’t in Hawaii, probably the only one in the entire country.”

Although we didn’t both hear thunder, we both heard howler monkeys. As the sun rose, they roared in the distance. Moments later, they roared closer. Most of the time, they sounded like barking monkeys. Noisy, having a good time, harmless. But every few minutes, a demon’s scream filled the town like somebody was about to have their soul dragged to hell.

“Geez!” I said.  I’m almost afraid to go outside. They sound vicious.”

We packed our suitcases and I, again, chained everything to the wall. I didn’t want to leave the car parked in the wash by Conchal full of our stuff, so we’d leave it here. The extra driving would suck, but the peace of mind was worth it. At breakfast, another couple told us the monkeys had come right through town, walking across all the rooftops. Had we come up sooner we could have watched them. Dangit!

We drove back to Brasilito, down the dirt road, and this time we parked in the wash. The hike was short, as Ry had said. The beach was everything he’d promised. Millions of shells. I walked into the water and sunk to my knees in tiny pieces of calcium carbonate. The waves washed the shore and the beach chimed like thousands of seashells were strung together and hanging in a breeze.

We walked down the beach to a hotel that was surrounded by a wildlife refuge. Lizards were everywhere. A massive, white iguana in tree had a head the size of a soccer ball. It must have been ten feet long from nose to tail tip. Like an albino dragon waiting to feast, it watched the hundreds of birds flying and singing from every direction.

“Iguanas don’t eat birds, War,” Sandi said, killing my dragon fantasy.

Shopping at Flamingo Beach

We stopped for one last round of bodying surfing at Flamingo beach, picked up our stuff in Tamarindo, then started our journey to Montezuma.

I’d read you can’t compare driving times and distances in Costa Rica to the States. But I thought, how bad could it be? Even after our long drive through the mountains on our first day, I couldn’t imagine it would take us six hours to drive a hundred-twenty miles to Montezuma.

It took longer.

The first half of the drive went fast. The road was straight and boring, so I decided to take a more scenic route through one of the towns. The GPS showed that we could drive through Santa Cruz and get back on the highway further down. Once again we got stuck for an hour on the narrow streets of a small town. I couldn’t imagine where all the cars had come from. Like every car in a hundred square miles converged at the same spot at the same time.

“Should we turn around?” Sandi asked.

“No, I think we are almost through it. It’d take ten times longer to go back.”

But what did I know? I’d already wasted ninety minutes because of my poor choice—I should leave decisions to Sandi. But going straight seemed best. When we made it through town, the streets cleared, and I stepped on the gas. Finally, we zipped along.

Three minutes later, the pavement ended. We stopped zipping.

“Are you sure this road goes the right way?” Sandi asked.

“The GPS says it connects up right there.” I pointed to the screen and kept driving. “Ten more miles.”

Ten miles at fifteen miles per hour is a long ten miles. Especially with a wife that needed to pee. And the whole drive—a mile to our left—the fast highway paralleled and taunted me the entire time.

“You could pee behind that bush.” I said. “I don’t see anyone.”

“Are you kidding? That wouldn’t even hide my knees! And what if somebody drove by?”

“Here comes the road that connects to the highway. We’ll find a place soon.” I signaled, turned, and stepped on the brakes. Sandi let loose with a Marge Simpson.

“Don’t worry,” I said, clicking us into four-wheel drive. “That’s why we rented a crossover.”

We bumped forward, drove through a stream, and came damn close to reaching the highway. But the mud and hills were finally too much. We’d have needed a jeep. I made a tight, thirty-point u-turn and we started back.

“I can’t wait, you gotta stop.” Sandi doesn’t like to pee outside, so must have been ready to explode.

I stopped. She climbed out and started taking care of business. Behind her, I saw a guy on a motorcycle heading our way on the crossroad ahead—which was closer than I’d realized. Her back was to him and I couldn’t hear his bike, so I didn’t tell her. No need to stress her. He passed, helmet glancing our way, then was gone.

We reached the crossroad, the same ten-mile dirt road that we’d been on earlier. I looked left, then right. I didn’t want to backtrack to the right, but I wasn’t sure going left would take us where we wanted to go.

“According to the GPS, there is a town that way.” I pointed left. “It’s gotta have connecting roads.”

Another Marge Simpson groan, and I doubted myself. I wasn’t so sure I trusted my GPS anymore. I’d already wasted two hours. Of course, I couldn’t let Sandi know…

“We’ll be racing along in no time.”

A school bus, Costa Rica style

I chose the left. For a half hour, I worried every mile was a debt I’d have to repay by eventually backtracking. Every minute was not just one minute wasted, it was two or more. But when we reached town, a sign pointed us to the highway and, thank goodness, we connected up with the main road down the peninsula (the 21). It was a narrow, lonely road, but paved so we made good time through the wilderness. A couple hours down the road, we saw a roadside shack, and Sandi decided she better make use of the restroom—if they had one. The simple building was the size of a small trailer. I rolled to a stop and through the open door, saw a dirt floor and random items laid on wooden shelves along one wall. We went inside, and the little building was like a giant oven. Sweat dripped down my face and I smiled at the man inside, who seemed surprised to see us.

We overcame the language barrier with gestures, pointing, and Sandi’s mastery of the Spanish word for bathroom. I stood in front of an old metal fan, smiled and nodded at the man. He offered me a similar nod/smile, and we waited in silence for Sandi. Why hadn’t I learned some Spanish? I’d have loved to know more about this man and his life. We purchased bread, snacks, then continued south.

The further south we went, the worse the road became. Near the Naranjo ferry, we lost pavement and started over the jungle covered mountain. We drove through tiny little villages that looked like pictures from an old National Geographic magazine. I would have loved to have spent a day talking to these people, seeing their houses, and hearing their stories. They looked rustic and set fifty years in the past. Until I noticed the kids were all texting on cellphones.

Between villages, the road curved up and down through the jungle. Occasionally, we’d see a clearing with a rickety old barn and cows grazing in pastures. No people, no birds singing. The hot part of the day was dead quiet, and we stopped several times to listen to the silence. Even the animals seemed to respect the afternoon siesta hours.

We reached Paquera, and pavement returned. The drive was fun, the scenery gorgeous, and we passed through cute towns. Dodging the potholes on the narrow, winding road was like playing a video game until a near head on collision got more than just a Marge Simpson out of Sandi—not even FoxTV could have aired it! We crossed a narrow bridge just as a sports car screamed around the corner taking up the entire road, tires squealing. Luckily, I wasn’t racing too, or it would have been game over. I swerved dangerously close to the edge of the bridge, and the fancy car flew passed. I was surprised that our mirrors hadn’t high-fived in the process.

In Cobana, we turned left onto a dusty road leading down to the ocean. The sky was overcast, which eased the heat and brought out the deep green of the jungle. Moments later, we rolled into one the cutest little towns I’d ever seen. I instantly fell in love with Montezuma.

A hundred yard stretch of paved road was, basically, the entire town. I had been worried about finding the hotel because Google maps struggled with the address, but it would have been impossible to miss. Almost everything was on that single road. A few dirt roads veered into the jungle, but it would be easier to get lost in Wal-Mart than Montezuma. A small handful of restaurants, hotels, and tourist shops was all it offered, and was all we needed. People milled about, laughing and talking as if nothing outside this little part of the world mattered.

Like many Costa Rican businesses, our hotel had no front doors. A large opening let in the fresh air and jungle sounds. Inside, it opened to a lounge/restaurant/bar. I could see straight through the building where another large opening led out the back to an outdoor dining area. We checked into our small but cozy room. If we were spending much time in the room, this place wouldn’t have worked. It was small with no outside windows. But it was affordable and we only needed a place to sleep because there was too much to do outside. We secured our stuff and headed out for a stroll before dark.

After thirty seconds of walking, we were out of town and on the beach. Waves crashed, and we slipped off our sandals to feel the cool sand in our toes. Coconut trees and thick green foliage lined the beach on the left, rolling waves and the expansive Pacific ocean on the right. We walked for a mile, stopping occasionally to watch crabs scattering along the rocks, look at shells, and admire the surfers bouncing on waves. When the sky turned golden, we turned to face the sunset and walked back as dusk fell. We took a shortcut through the trees back town, and the combination of dusk and the forest canopy made for a dark pathway. When howler monkeys roared somewhere close, it was both awesome and spooky. We felt alone in the middle of the dark jungle.

“I wonder if howler monkeys attack people like the baboons in the movie In the Shadow of Kilimanjaro?” I said.

That comment got me a quick elbow to the gut.

The howler monkeys faded and were replaced by music from town. We stepped out of the darkness into the dim glow of Christmas lights that were strung along the buildings. The bars spilled into the streets with dancing and laughing people. Several locals had tables set up to peddle their crafts, and we looked through the jewelry and trinkets to find gifts for the kids.

At the hotel, we sat at a table on the front veranda for dinner, next to the street that had turned into a huge party. I ordered a burrito, and, I swear to God, it was one of the best I’ve ever had. Sitting there in the warm air, in swimming suits and tank tops, eating a delicious meal while along the street people laughed, joked, and danced sealed the deal: the small, laid back town of Montezuma was one of the coolest places I’ve ever visited.


(Maps from Google may not show our exact route.)

Click here to go to Day 5.

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