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Sunday, May 8, 2011

Time In Tamarindo

A decision has been made. Pack up and move a day early from Samara Beach and explore something different for the last day before returning our rental vehicle and getting horizontal on all-inclusive lawn chairs.
We're off to check out the hotspot surfing community of Tamarindo. We hear it is noisy and filled with Californians.
We pull in after an hour drive and it does seem quite busy with boutique shopping, condos and upper scale hotels. But we manage to find a very reasonable cereal box, with a king bed and fridge, to throw our suitcases into- complete with a Grandma and Grandpa security team that watch over your vehicle and room while you wander. The kitchen is closed as the staff needed a break after the Easter insanity, they tell us, but not to fear. They are surrounded by top eateries right on the beach.
The sunset viewing from the beach in front of our room is spectacular. A large red ball you hardly recognize as the same sun we sit beneath in Houston slowly lowers itself down to the edge of the water before seemingly plunging in.
The surf here is double what it was in Samara and the surfer dudes are all out there in a row ducking beneath the waves that threaten to crash on top of their heads. They remain out there until it is too dark to see them come in.
I forgot to mention my wrestling match in the waves while in Samara. I went in with my sunglasses on, planning to only cool off and not put my head under the water. A rogue wave had other plans for me, breaking on top of me, pulling me beneath the waves before trying very hard to remove my bathing suit as well as my glasses. I couldn't tell which way was up and before I could break to the surface, I was dragged much further out than I was happy about.
I managed to redress myself, picking my suit out of my butt and down from around my neck before realizing my sunglasses were long gone. No wonder there are multiple vendors selling them for $8-$10 bucks a pair on the beach. It takes me a good five minutes to fight the under tow back to the beach. Of course my husband had no idea the alarm I had suffered through. Too many other distractions on a beach full of bikinis. That cost him a pair of sunglasses and an ice cone called a copas (made with shaved ice, flavouring and sweetened condensed milk)before he was back to being my hero again. Lucky for him it all came to well under $12. If we'd been in Tamarindo the damage would have been far greater.
We had a superb dinner of Pacific lobster tail while I whispered for the tenth time what a great idea it was to see one more Costa Rican beach before heading to Playa Hermosa in the morning.

The hotel treats us to a typical CR breakfast of Gallo beans and rice, eggs and toast, fruit and coffee. We say farewell to our two weeks of exploring Costa Rica and return our rental car to the Liberia airport without incident. A shuttle arrives to take us to our week of pampering at the Villas Sol resort.
We're talking $20 massages on the beach, snorkeling and fishing excursions, free Joy-yah (yoga in Spanish), aquarobics, water volleyball and all you can handle pina coladas.
Oh my! What a way to end a vacation.

Easter In Samara Beach

I can't stop looking at my feet! They are actually uglier than my wretched post-chemo hair style with their patch-sized red blotches that look ready to blister or bleed at any moment. The redness on my shoulders and left knee cap are like beacons to the wandering eye of people approaching. What has that woman done to herself? Or maybe they, that's gotta hurt. Which it does.

All this after a two hour session on the beach. That quick hose-down with the alcohol-based spf15 was a disaster, shield wise. Big holes in my protective armour. The insides of my arms, a swath on my belly and now my ears don't match my body anymore. I have un-accessorized myself.
The sunless tanning lotion I used the week prior to arriving has worn off in patches, the marshmallow white skin poking through that glorious rich brown shade. The hot springs at Arenal, here in Costa Rica, chipped at it enough to let the sun in. I figured I was good-to-go and today can barely stand to wear sandals. Or a bed sheet. Or a smile. Of course the pavement and sand are too hot to go without shoes, so I'm not going too far. Good thing there are lots of beach restaurants with chairs beneath wide palm tree branches. There is a place in heaven for everyone.
A decision has been made to get back into the rental vehicle that sits collecting iguana pooh and dust at $57 a day. A town only 5 km away has an excellent two table restaurant named El Dorado we are prompted to visit. Sounds a little too small for us, but what the heck. It can only go one of two ways. We get food poisoning for the few days we have left here or we don't. As I said, I can't go too far with these feet, so what else were we doing?
You must cross a riverbed that still has a river running through it to get to the restaurant or else travel another 21 km up a mountainside to come at the town from the other side. El Carmen. Population 10 by our eye count. To get there you pass by the next beach south of Samara called Playa Carrillo. The sides of the road are lined three deep with cars, vans, three wheelers, quads, tents and people everywhere. It's Easter in Costa Rica. No liquor sales at the store, restaurant or bar for two days. It doesn't look to be a problem with the stacked coolers between all the tents. A very white sand stretch with minimal surf is choked with bobbing bodies, kids running, dog's tails wagging and everyone is happy, happy. As they say here, Pura Vida! (Pure heaven)
We think we are lost a few times as we travel up and up and twist and wind around impossible but astoundingly paved roads until we reach an intersection we can't agree on. We back up to the sign hidden behind the shrub to try and read it again. Go straight, I say, so he turns right. This is Barry's new "rule." Do the opposite of what Deb figures. Unfortunately, I am beginning to see that he is right and the rule does seem to work? I don't really care how we get to where we're going as long as we get there. I do, however, care about that smug look on my husband's face.

We pass people soaking lazily in the river we are following and more flower and mango-treed properties. We ask directions of a carpenter building a house and he's never heard of El Dorado. A younger man tells him something in Spanish to which he replies in Spanish, "that's its name?"
We round two more corners and spot the sign hanging off a blue stucco canteen. An open air eatery with bright green linens draped over solid wood tables. The menu boasts mostly seafood but accommodates everyone with even a hambergesa con papas (burger and fries). For me, it's the best and biggest bowl of seafood soup I have ever seen. A whole fist-sized crab, an entire lobster tail, a 6 inch strip of dorado, a dozen or more clams and mussels, sliced octopus and calamari and two of the largest shrimp we have seen in Costa Rica. For 4000 calones (about $8). Well worth the drive and the smug face, we profess over and over. Best part is the mother and daughter team of cook and waitress try to communicate with our broken Spanglish and never once laugh at my silly touristy red blotches on my body.
On the way home, we braved the river bed after watching a dozen vehicles much lower to the ground than ours, roar through. We made it easily and were back to the hacienda within minutes.

The second best thing we did while in Samara Beach was go on a nature hike with a young man named Alvaro Teran who took us up the mountain behind Samara to his Grandfather's Werner Sauter Biological Reserve. Alvaro picks you up at your accommodation and drives you to the start of a two hour trail he has hand cleared through a dense forest of typical Costa Rican trees and plantation. He knows a lot about everything you see. The tour climaxes at a spectacular viewpoint of both the Carrillo and Samara bays. Alvaro offers fruit and cereal bars before guiding us back down the far side of the mountain. He fills up our bags with fresh mangoes and mangas from the field before returning us to the Bambula.
It was a good climb up in that heat- all part of the master detox plan. Get that fresh air in and sweat all the toxins out.
I spent a good ten minutes letting the shower water run over my head before I could get out. It was a coincidence, I'm sure but I suddenly realized I needed to comb my hair for the first time! It had somehow grown enough since my last shower to need to be swept to one side or the other so that it didn't stick up. (no, it's no-where near my eyes yet! It's still only an inch at the longest part.)

We settled in for a home made seafood pasta dinner on the deck, clinking glasses of wine in celebration of the combing mile-stone. We didn't bother to run the air conditioning to try and drown out the noisy frogs, howler monkeys, cicadas and iguanas that try to drown each other out every night. With all that fresh air and exercise we slept extremely well!

Blue Feathered Parrots and A Brown Haired Deb

Our rental car is mini shredded wheat size, but it's a 4 wheel drive at the touch of a button which within hours we have to use. The highway pavement disappeared somewhere around a corner we had to take to get to the Cloud Forest Reserve area better known as Monteverdi. Word on the street says the government does not maintain this portion of dirt road because they don't want a flood of people on it. In truth, if we hadn't been meeting Barry's daughter we might have been dissuaded by the teeth rattling three hour bounce. The posted speed limit of 25 km is a joke- you can't possibly go that fast and not end up a vegetable from shaken adult syndrome!

When we can tear our eyes from the potholes and washboard we see beautiful terrain with large gathering slopes like railings to our right. Lush and deeply scented, dotted with canopy shade trees and wooden box-shaped homes with dark skinned people fanning themselves from chairs on porches that face the view. After miles of this we spot an oasis. Pavement! Can it be? Out here in the middle of nowhere? We have arrived in Monteverdi and the tires once again feel round instead of square. We are driving on pillows.

You never stop to think how good you've got it until something is taken away!
It is such a big thing to remember as we travel through our lives.

We enjoy our one night stay to the max, sadly waving farewell to Lindsay and Richard as they head south and us east on our separate holidays.
We continue to bounce and bumble to the "swinging bridge hike" within the reserve where we spot black cats they say are jaguars. Exciting. Even more exciting is the grinding noise our rental now makes every time we turn the wheel slightly to the left. Try that on hairpin, "don't look down that steep bank" turns. It gets you to worrying about the brakes as its all downhill from here! Literally.
Something is very, very wrong with our vehicle.
We decide to try and keep going as we'd rather be held up at the hot springs versus the Cloud Forest.
We reach pavement two hours later with audible sighs and continue to the next hotel which is the amazing Arenal Lodge. Here the sight of the Arenal Volcano is all encompassing. It fills your sight, your head your dreams and you can't stop looking at it. It hasn't had a lava flow for six months now but it will again from this side only, they tell us. We can't stop looking at it. Our room isn't ready so we get upgraded to the cabins on the highest ridge. The entire front of the room is glass, filled with the majesticness of the volcano. A couch and easy chair face the giant "A" so you can sit and stare to your content. Bright green and blue parrots fly past which reminds me it is finally time to do something about this grey hair! They advised me to wait a minimum of two months and I think, as I eye up the cabin's dark green towels, that the time is close enough.
There are two ground level hot tubs on the lawn in front of the reception/restaurant area. They are surrounded from behind with fragrant privacy bushes and both face the volcano. It reminds me of our hot tub with our view of the Telkwas. Each wonderous in their own right.
The next morning we find a much younger (and happier) looking Debi with patchy brown hair ready to attend the free nature hike with our guide Miguel. We see a butterfly farm, a deer, a hidden tarantula hole and an ant that removes a sliver Miguel has jammed into his thumb for us. Amazing. They use these same ants for closing wounds during ancient times, he tells us and shows us how the ant clamps onto his skin and won't let go until he manipulates her mandibles.
Our second rental vehicle seems to have the same problem as the last rental, but not yet to the same degree. As we only have a twenty minute drive to the next stop at the Baldi Hot Springs in La Fortuna, we decide to chance it. What the heck. I now have brown hair and feel like a million bucks.
What more could possibly happen, right?