Finally we arrived in one piece in the lush lands of Costa Rica! After an uneventful flight, a special private shuttle booked by our hotel picks us late in the evening at the empty airport of Liberia, along dozens of other similar shuttles. With a mixture of excitation and fatigue, we try to discern along the dark road the vegetation and Costa Rican landscapes that are unfolding under our eyes during almost an hour. Our quiet chauffeur drives us to the first step of our trip, Brasilito, a small town in the Guanacaste Province, on the country’s west coast. Dropped in front of the hotel, we then cross the narrow gate decorated with plants and greet the giant security guard posted there. A fast check-in with an employee, then we can access our large room, eager to have a good night’s sleep.
Sunday November 8
It’s with relaxed bodies that we wake up in this wonderful morning under the quasi-equatorial sun. Far from our long previous night of transportation, we can now better appreciate the beautiful place were we just landed.
Our room, build directly on the concrete slab, includes all the necessities. However, the whole point of our trip lies beyond our front door. The sunlight filtering through the curtains invites us to quickly leave the room. After several seconds lost on figuring out the door lock, we can finally have a look at the area occupied by our pretty hotel. Conchal Hotel comprises about 15 rooms delightfully configured inside its enclosure, where there’s also a swimming pool and a restaurant. The colorful buildings are accompanied by a paradisiac vegetation and shining birds. In brief, it’s a magic welcome that whet immediately our appetite.
View from the restaurant
So, it’s with enchantment that we climb up the stairs separating us from the breakfast awaiting us. Once we get upstairs in the dinning room (some kind of huge terrace protected by an water proof roof), we meet with the hotel’s owner, a lovely lady with whom we already exchange some emails for the room booking and such. After a nice and brief chat about the weather and the near main attractions, we pick a table and fill our plates with generous portions of fruits and other tropical delicacies.
The hotel’s breakfast buffet, quite pretty with the chalk boards and all the colors
We take the time to contemplate peacefully the natural setting all around us, while enjoying some papaya, watermelon and pineapple, with a cup of coffee (Gaby), then we leave for our first day of adventures!
The main street, right in front of the hotel, has everything to envy from the setting we just left: the large and sidewalks free road, with some buildings here and there, doesn’t provide a view particularly pleasant and enjoyable. However, after a few steps, we rapidly realize that the richness is more about the life that abounds here. Everywhere, birds are singing, plants are blooming and insects are crawling. A short walk of about 5 minutes (during which we must cross a narrow bridge alongside deadly trucks) conducts us to the touristic center of the town, near the beaches. The burning sun accompanies us while we pass by the famous soda (small local restaurants typical of Costa Rica) and other small shops.
And then, finally, we are on the beach.
Looking at the horizon, we quickly take our sandals off to feel the sand and the waves on our naked feet. It’s alway a great pleasure to rediscover these exquisite and relaxing sensations, while breathing the sea air. However, the sun above our heads gets us rapidly back to Earth: after a quick inspection, this beach empty of human activity and shadow areas seems a bit unforgiving for our weak skin with a clear vitamin D deficiency. Fortunately, the hotel’s owner had told us in the morning about another beach a bit in the south of this one, where it was nice to swim and to relax under some tree shadow.
The superb shells of Costa Rica
After passing through a small patch of forest, we access Playa Conchal, a beach way more populous (bordered by a resort, by the way) and composed of billions of small pieces of polished shells! The most beautiful beach we ever saw so far!
The sand made of pieces of shells: smoothed by the sea and very pretty!
The short passage to jump from one beach to the other
We spent some hours profiting from the beautiful weather in the waves and protected from the sun under the branches of trees. It was for both of us the first time we bathed in the waters of the great Pacific Ocean: its waves are so powerful! Even at knees level, these waves have enough strength to destabilize and… carry away!
It’s so nice at Playa Conchal
Fortunately, Gabrielle had brought some paréos, on which it was nice to nap, despite the presence of tiny stinging flies. After this refreshing break, the first of our vacation, our stomachs suddenly begin calling us back to reality.
We then pick randomly a terrace of a soda to get a bite to eat, at Soda El Coco. There, we eat well, our waiter is a joker and the beer is really refreshing! It’s also the moment for Paul to fall in love with a South American dish: arroz con camarones! In fact, this soda’s recipe proved to be the most delicious one of all the arroz con camarones that Paul ate during the trip.
Arroz con camarones!
The remaining of the afternoon was allocated to a casual exploration of the handfull of shops around the village, an activity particularly exciting for Gabrielle (and tolerated by Paul). We thus made some food reserves in a grocery store, buying lots of strange oreos (with flavours unknown in Canada) and tropical fruit juices. It was also an opportunity to begin stocking local coffee that we would bring back in our travel bags. Also, a cute gift shop was just in front of our hotel. We discovered here a collection of magnificient tiny paintings on bird feathers: these are apparently quite popular with tourists in Costa Rica! Gabrielle bought there a pretty necklace and Paul bought a Costa Rican sewing patch for its backpack.
A beautiful Costa Rican necklace!
A gift for Paul’s parents!
This marvellous hot and sunny day then suddenly shift to thunderstorm and heavy rain. In fact, November under these latitudes is straddling between wet and dry seasons. Consequently, and we can confirm it, most of the afternoons are ending with some hours of heavy rainfall, sometimes lasting to late in the evening. The trick: wake up with the sun and enjoy as much as possible the sunny hours and take a nap or take the time to eat during rain time.
Thus, to end this splendid first day in Costa Rica, we spent our evening at the hotel’s restaurant, Papaya, where is served a wide range of local food cooked in a sophisticated and original manner.
Conchal hotel, with the rooms under the restaurant, when viewed from the pool
Our Guatemalan waiter, quite charming, helped us to choose a delicious selection from the menu du jour: coconut shrimps, soupe du jour, lobster and South American soup, all of these washed down with some Imperial beers. Unfortunately for Gabrielle, she had some difficulties digesting the chicken consumed earlier at Soda El Coco, so the appetite wasn’t really there for this delectable feast. Fortunately for here, Paul, with an iron stomach, was there to prevent the wastage. In summary, it was an excellent romantic dinner to the sound of the rain hammering the roof and making the tropical foliage rustle: a great conclusion to this paradisiac day!
One of our plate at the hotel’s restaurant: coconut shrimps!
Monday November 09
This second day in Costa Rica is very similar to the first one in terms of activities. After a breakfast of cereals and tropical jellies, we immediately headed off to the beach. We must say that the Guanacaste peninsula is well known for its beaches and we were beginning our trip specifically there in order to relax and escape from our everyday lives. We took advantage of this new day to spend more time by the sea and better appreciate the presence of this refreshing water. This time, we adventured a bit farther into the powerful waves of the Pacific Ocean, resulting in a comical episode with Gabrielle. Indeed, it was really hard to resist the strength of those waves, losing our stability after each tremor. Caught off guard, we were having fun defying the waves, water just under our chins. Suddenly, a wave particularly imposing seized Gabrielle to carry her towards the beach, several feet farther. While dying on the sand bar, the wave threw energetically Gabrielle who made, while laughing out loud, some barrel rolls up to the feet of an old tourist couple, surprised of the scene. No time to meet each other: a second wave, even greater than the previous one, came to take back Gabrielle from the sand and propel her directly in the arms of Paul, at a prodigious speed, Superman style! So, it was a chain of rocambolesque events that nourrished our laughter for days to come. We ended this day with a good nap at the hotel and a delicious dinner at Papaya…
Déjeuner à l’hôtel: pain fait maison, confiture maison, café costaricain, fruits frais, jus d’aloes du supermercado, jus mystère et céréales
Superbe plage, presque personne!
Portrait de couple sur la plage
Tuesday November 10
Our first challenge then finally came: an entire day of transportation in bus to Santa Elena, in Monteverde. Many dangers and uncertainty await us: reliability of public transports, a spanish not exercised enough, a route with multiple transfers, the unknown… We like to travel a lot, but it was for us the first time we would be committing to such experiences, where resourcefulness is a pre-requisite.
Awake shortly after 6:00 in the morning, we went to the town’s bus station, where the morning bus was waiting its driver to finish his shower. Once ready, he let us board in his bus, telling us we were a bit too early and not in the official bus stop. Too bad: we would accompany him to all the other places he has to stop by before caming back to this exact spot. The weather is fabulous, our hair waves in the wind, we are confortably seated while the driver take some passengers in small coastal villages: everything is starting great. Of course, once the bus comes back to Brasilito, around 6:45 (at the stop where we were supposed to wait for it), heading towards Sardinal, near Puntarenas, the bus engine then suddenly fails. Not too suprised, we wait while the driver dives his hands into the beast’s belly. The clock is ticking, the heat begins to be less bearable. It has been 45 minutes since we are stuck here, 1 walking minute from the Conchal hotel! Our thoughts become now more concerning: we would never catch our next transfer, which happens only once every afternoon, will we have to contact our hotel in Monteverde and find a room elsewhere for the night?
Finally, after a relentless work, our driver washes the oil from his arms and takes back the steering wheel! The bus then speeds up on the road towards our objective, we are saved! We then head deeper into the country, leaving the peninsula, stopping here and there in several villages and towns where lots of workers and students embark. We are moving at a good speed, but the route is very long and there’s many stops. A short break at noon in a big cafeteria on the side of the road allows us to discover some hamburgesas wrapped in plastic wrap and warmed up in the microwave oven. Shortly after taking back the road, the driver, remembering our itinerary, shows us our stop and explains to us where to wait our next bus.
Right under the sun, we are waiting since almost an hour in front of a gas station, not far from the city of Sardinal. On an elevated plateau, we have at least a beautiful view on the Pacific coast and the extent of the sea to accompany us in this baking waiting. Suddenly, an old van stops nearby and one guy with whom we were waiting then go to meet the van driver, while waving at us, asking us to come closer. Intrigued, we then understand that the driver offers us to take us up in the mountains to our destination, for a ridiculous fee. Without thinking about it twice, we accept his offer and board in the back of the van. The long ascent in the mountains of the Monteverde then begins. Our driver talk tirelessly with the front passenger, definitely a good friend, while bypassing the other vehicules, horses and… precipices!! On the mountainside, the road that climbs towards the summits is primarily flanked by cliffs and steep slopes. It has the potential of giving a real feast to the eyes, but Gabrielle can’t help but think about the worst scenarios and thus she just crushes Paul’s hand every time the van’s wheels are nearing the void. Will Gabrielle and Paul succeed in surviving this perilous ascent?? We’ll know the answer in the next travel post…
Paul & Gabrielle