Vamos a la playa…
One of our goals for moving to Costa Rica is to get to know the country and travel to the different regions as much as possible. Last week we traveled to the Pacific Coast and had a lovely time. I wanted to go to the beach before school started and we debated many of Costa Rica’s finest beaches including Tortuguero, Osa Peninsula, and Manuel Antonio National Park. Our decision was solidified when I received an email from Lisa, one of our dear friends and former TX neighbor. They had rented a luxury villa in Dominical and because of a family injury they were going to have to cancel their trip. Since it was too late for them to get their money back on the villa, Lisa kindly offered it to us. So basically the day before we left, we decided to pack up and take the bus to the Pacific Coast. We decided to spend Saturday to Monday in the Quepos/Manuel Antonio area, and when the villa became available on Monday, we would drive down to Dominical by car and stay until Wednesday, as Kara has guitar lessons on Thursday. It was a strangely liberating feeling to have the freedom to just pack up and go!
Bus ride to Puntarenas….
On a cool wet Saturday morning we donned our backpacks and walked down to the bus station in Santa Elena which is about 5 minutes from our house. The sidewalk steps were slick with rain, and Tristan slipped and fell half-way down the hill! The poor little guy fell on this nose! He was OK but all of us were rattled to start our voyage with an injury before we even left our neighborhood! After he calmed down, we got to the bus station and packed our backpacks under the bus storage. I had the kids use the bathroom before we rode off, as there were not going to be any bathroom breaks on this leg. As Tristan was walking out of the bathroom, he slipped and fell on the bus station floor! I should have taken this as a bad omen! He actually recovered quickly and we quickly walked onto the bus and took our seats before something else happened to the poor little guy! It was a slow winding 3 hour trek down to the town on Puntarenas. We ate at a tiny little hole in the wall called “Soda La Esquina” that served typical Costa Rican food. Our total bill was $12 which was the cheapest meal we have had in Costa Rica to date. Then we went back to the bus station to wait for our bus.
Travel Tip: When traveling around in Costa Rica, take your own toilet paper (and anti-bacterial hand-gel!). You will rarely need it, but when you encounter a bathroom without it, you will be glad you brought some along. At the Puntarenas bus station bathroom, there was a man handing out toilet paper to anyone using the ladies room. Strange, but I guess they must have a good reason to ration their TP.
When the bus to Quepos arrived, we got on for the next leg of our trip to our final destination.
Trouble on the road…..
The bus to Quepos was surprisingly empty. The ride was fairly uneventful until we got to the town of Jaco, about 1 hour from Quepos. The bus driver asked us in Spanish where we were going, and I said, “Quepos”. He laughed and said, “I don’t think so.” I was very confused and worried by this comment. I hoped he was joking. There were other people on the bus with us: a young Tico couple and a young German couple that looked like they were college backpackers. I walked to the front of the bus and asked what he meant. Here is an abbreviated version of our conversation (which took place in Spanish):
Bus Driver: “I am only going to Jaco. I need to head back to Puntarenas to meet my schedule. The bus to Quepos is a different one.”
Me: “But your sign says Quepos. I asked several people at the bus station, and they all said this bus was going to Quepos.”
Bus Driver: “It doesn’t matter what anyone said or what the sign on the bus says. You have to ask the bus driver to confirm you are getting on the right bus.”
Me: “Well, the system is clearly not working because you have 8 intelligent people who got on the wrong bus.”
Bus Driver: “The system works fine. I don’t know how you guys got on the wrong bus. None of you asked me where the bus was going.”
Me: “But our tickets say “Quepos”.
Bus Driver: “I don’t check the tickets. You need to ask the bus driver where the bus is doing.”
Me (taking a deep breath): “OK, I think we all learned our lesson here. What can you do to help us?”
Bus Driver: “Any other bus driver would have just dropped you off in Jaco to figure this our yourself.”
Me: “Amigo, I really appreciate that you are not going to leave us stranded. What can we do to fix this?” (I may have batted my eyelashes a little bit here….)
Bus Driver: “Let me call the Quepos bus driver to see if we can catch up with him and you guys can get on that bus.” He proceeded to do so and a few minutes later he stopped the bus off the side of the road, helped us get our bags from under the storage bin, and we ran to catch the Quepos bus that was waiting for us a few meters ahead. Before I got off the bus, I fist bumped him to show that I really appreciated him helping us out.
Travel Tip: When traveling by bus in Costa Rica, ALWAYS confirm the final destination with the bus driver before you get on the bus. You will save yourself a lot of heart ache.
Fun Times at La Rana
We stayed at a cute little hostel called “La Rana Bocona” or “Wide-Mouthed Frog”. For ~$60 USD per night, we got a family room for 4 and a private bath.
Let me say that la Rana was a GREAT hostel. You really do get more than what you pay for. It had a pool, free wi-fi in the very well-stocked communal kitchen, a comfortable communal living room with a TV and DVD player, and most importantly, they had a very knowledgable, friendly staff. Tell them what you want to do, and they will make it happen! This is a no frills place. Don’t expect mints on your pillow or towels folded to look like a swan. We got a tiny bar of soap for all of us and only one sheet as our “amenities”. There were some bugs in the rooms, which is expected in Costa Rica. I have ants and flies in my house. There is no way around it in the rain forest. Most of the rooms, such as ours, had no air conditioning, which was OK. We were pretty comfortable as long as we left the windows and curtains open. The morning we left, we walked by a college kid’s room and he was sprawled out asleep on his bed, in his underwear, with the door and windows to his room open. Hey, you gotta do what you gotta do when you are budget traveling!
We got in to Quepos on Saturday afternoon, and after the kids played in the pool, we had dinner at a pizza place in town. That night, I emailed the owner of the villa that we were going to extend our trip until Friday. Our friends had actually paid for it through the following Monday. Initially we were only going to stay through Wednesday so we could be back for Kara’s guitar lessons on Thursday. But then we realized it was silly to let a luxury villa (and most importantly free to us!) go to waste. Once again, there is something so liberating about being able to change plans at the last minute. I love our new freedom!
Travel Tip: When staying at hostels in Costa Rica, bring a “sleep sack” or “Cocoon“. A sleeping bag is too hot, but a sleep sack is perfect. I was so glad we packed ours.
The next day, we took a short bus ride to Manuel Antonio National Park. Even though this place is a total tourist trap, it is so worth it. There are ample wildlife viewing opportunities. We saw coatumundi, blue morphos butterflies, and a capuchin monkey. As recommended in Lonely Planet, we went to the second beach in the park, “Playa Manuel Antonio”. This is a beautiful white sandy beach with relatively mild surf….for Costa Rica standards. After frolicking in the surf all day, we had lunch at a beach front restaurant on the main road next to the public beach, then took the bus back to Quepos to rest at la Rana. Costa Rican beaches will wear you out. The surf is very strong. I am used to Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean beaches where the surf is so light you practically feel that you are in a pool. We hung out at the hostel for the afternoon and had dinner at Subway that night.
Travel Tip: Take plenty of water, drinks, snacks, and sunscreen into Manuel Antonio National Park. There is no where to buy anything inside the park. We saw a lot of Ticos carrying in coolers with drinks and food. Good idea! There are lots of spots to have picnics inside the park.
Monday morning we took a catamaran cruise with Planet Dolphin. It was amazing. Other than the fact I got a little sea sick, we had a wonderful time. The staff was funny, the food was pretty good. We snorkeled, saw a pod of “delfines manchados” that we followed around in the catamaran. The kids had fun on the boat’s slide where they plunged into the ocean and they loved jumping into the water off the roof of the catamaran. Thank you Juan, Wilson, and the rest of the crew of Planet Dolphin for a wonderful time.
After the cruise, we went back to the Rana, where they had graciously kept our bags in storage, then walked to the car rental office in town to pick up our little 4×4 Toyota to head to Dominical.
Travel Tip: When traveling to Dominical, get a 4×4 car. You will need it!
In the next blog post, I will talk about our time in Dominical and Tristan’s other brush with death.