Chillin’ in Esterillos Oeste

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Soda Margarita

We spent a week on the Pacific Coast over Christmas at a beautiful home with mom and dad and Keith and Annie and enjoyed lots of pool and beach time and exploring a few nearby towns (Uvita and Manuel Antonio). The closest town to our rental home was Esterillos Oeste, a super chill small town laid out on dirt roads right along the beach with a few restaurants, a small grocery store and a couple places offering surfboard and boogie board rentals. It’s about 20 minutes south of the popular surf town of Jaco. We had stopped here once before a few months ago just to check it out quickly, but finally made it back this time to soak it all in.

At low tide, tide pools appear at the northern end of the beach along with La Sirena, a statue of a mermaid gazing out to sea..kind of random, but kind of cool. Supposedly, no one knows how it got there. The beach has some good waves but it’s shallow for a ways out so it’s fun for swimming and boogie boarding (we all had a ball trying to catch the waves – Oscar is quite a pro now!), and popular for surfing too (Keith was stoked to catch some rad barrels). Ha!

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Treasure hunting
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Ice cream and granizado (like a snow cone but better) vendor on the beach
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La Sirena

We also enjoyed a delicious lunch at Soda Margarita which came recommended by a local, but finding it was half the fun. After starting off along the road and then walking along the beach for awhile looking for a ‘little pathway’ just beyond ‘La Sirena’ statue, we had to stop and ask a few people along the way to find this hidden family-run place. We finally arrived after inadvertently crossing a few backyards and were pleasantly surprised by the casual and friendly atmosphere and delicious traditional meals, pescado entero (whole fish) and arroz con camarones (rice with shrimp) to name a few, along with their fresh fruit juices.  The kids were entertained trying to crack open a coconut they had found as well playing with all the animals (kittens, dogs and parrots) at the home.

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Pescado Entero (whole fish) with patacones (fried plantains), rice and salad
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A coconut entertaining the kids

More adventures from our Christmas week coming soon! Happy New Year!

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Road Trip to the Caribbean!

We spent last weekend celebrating Dad’s birthday on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica in the relaxed beach town of Puerto Viejo de Talamanca and surrounding tiny coastal towns of Cahuita and Manzanillo.

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The 115 mile trip took us SIX HOURS (that included about an hour for lunch)! Yes, it is slowwwwwww going on these roads. We had to skirt around San José (yet still got caught in traffic) and then climb through the mountains and into the clouds of Braulio Carrillo National Park topping out at about 5,300 feet before heading down to the eastern lowlands,

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The blue bags protect the bananas from bugs and being damaged.

banana and pineapple plantations and finally arriving at the Caribbean coast. Most of the route is two lanes and it’s especially slow when you’re behind large semi trucks in the mountains and also going through a few mile very congested stretch of road just outside of the port city of Limón which is full of semis and commercial shipping / sea container yards (Chiquita and Del Monte among them).  But we eventually made it to our lovely beach home for the weekend.

 

Our first adventure was to Cahuita National Park, Dad’s birthday choice, where we enjoyed a beautiful hike that ran parallel to the coast and saw iguanas, sloths, beautiful flora and a picturesque coastline! We were hoping to swim and snorkel here but unfortunately the water was quite rough due to a coming storm so we really didn’t get to swim.

The tiny town of Cahuita had a very chill vibe with lots of local characters and color!

 

Puerto Viejo is one of the larger towns in the area and we were surprised at the number of tourists and expats that lived there, as well as all of the English spoken and prices in USD. That was quite a change from Atenas!  We had some fabulous meals (Madre Tierra is a must for fancy tropical cocktails and dinner on the second floor, Chile Rojo had yummy sushi and Pan Pay offered delicious pastries) and enjoyed a little shopping here too as the weather wasn’t so conducive to outdoor activities.

 

We also visited the Jaguar Rescue Center which was awesome and we highly recommend it for anyone traveling to the Puerto Viejo area. The center takes in injured or sick animals and their goal is to rehabilitate them and release them back into the wild. There aren’t any jaguars there today, but the center began when a sick baby jaguar was brought to the home of the eventual founders after its mother had been killed by farmers. There are a lot of sad stories of injury and abuse (sadly, many stories due to humans) but most animals are eventually released. However, there are a few that are permanent residents including a margay (member of the cat family) and a crocodile that had been abused. The center is mostly volunteer run (with the exception of two veterinarians) and offers small group tours at 9:30 and 11:30am every day. We were able to see baby sloths and monkeys and get closeups of two types of toucans that live in Costa Rica, the Keel-billed Toucan and the Chestnut Mandibled Toucan.

 

We were hoping to spend some good time at the beaches, but with the storm and huge waves, we instead enjoyed quality time relaxing. We did drive south along the coast along some beautiful stretches of coast to the town at the end of the road, Manzanillo. I loved the feel of this town – authentic, colorful and laid-back! Hoping we’ll get back here one day to further explore the area and do some hiking in Gandoca Manzanillo National Wildlife Refuge. Here are some of the colorful quaint homes in Manzanillo:

 

and a few more photos for good measure. ha!

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Special beverages!
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My sweet boy
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Coconut oil for sale was popular in the area. We had to stop of course!
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‘thatch for sale for roofs’

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Our Border Run to Nicaragua

We’ve been here for 3 months already (wow!), which means we needed to renew our 90 day visas and do a border run. Many longer-term expats in Costa Rica do a day trip to Nicaragua or Panama to take care of the visa, but we wanted make a weekend of it so we headed to the northwestern part of Costa Rica (Guanacaste), famous for its beautiful beaches, and visited Nicaragua at the border crossing of Peñas Blancas to get our visas renewed.

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Arriving back into Costa Rica after renewing our visas in Nicaragua.

The 4 hour drive from Atenas to Playas del Coco was an adventure in and of itself with beautiful views, mostly two lane roads and a variety of different landscapes – mountains, tropical forests, the Pacific Coast and finally the dry, flat Guanacaste region known for its sabaneros (cowboys) and cattle.

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Playas del Coco

We based ourselves at an AirBnB condo in Playas del Coco for 3 nights and enjoyed spending time at the beach, swimming in the pool of our little complex and exploring the area. Playas del Coco is a cute town once you get to know it with basically one dusty main street lined with restaurants, shops and a couple of grocery stores that ends at the beach. It seems that stand-alone houses are few and far between here. Rather, lots of condo complexes surround the town and there are many more tourists here than we typically see. The beach wasn’t our favorite in the area as the water was cloudy and the sand was rocky, but the sunsets were beautiful, the boardwalk was lively with food vendors, tourists and weekending Tico families, and we found some amazing sea urchins at low tide.

 

We also visited Playa Hermosa just north of Playas del Coco to watch the sunset and enjoy dinner at Aqua Sport, located in the sand right in front of the beach.  The made-to-order ceviche and whole pargo rojo (red snapper) were amazing. The sand was much nicer here and there were lots of people enjoying the long wide beach.

 

Last but not least, we drove the 10 minutes to Playa Ocotal located just south of Playas del Coco and spent our last morning there. An almost deserted black sand beach, this was unexpectedly our favorite of the three! It was a smaller beach with calm clear blue water, amazing tide pools with tons of life and lots of beautiful seashells. Snorkeling off the beach is also popular here. You do need to be aware of riptides as the signs note as it gets deep quickly and currents can change, but we stayed in the shallows. Apparently, Father Rooster’s is the place to grab lunch as they are right on the beach and well-known for their fantastic pub fare, but we unfortunately had to hit the road.

 

Thankfully our border run to Nicaragua overall went very smoothly. We planned for spending the better part of the day to make the 1.5 hour drive to the border, do the crossing and then drive back to our AirBnB, and despite an extra half hour getting there due to construction and an extra hour on the way home due to an accident ahead of us, it all went according to plan. We had amazing views of three volcanoes (Miravalles, Rincón de la Vieja and Orosi) just east of the route which also made the trip pretty special.

The crossing at Peñas Blancas is a busy one so there was about a 4km line of trucks waiting to cross into Nicaragua. They have to go through a different process so we were able to pass them and parked right in front of the Costa Rican border crossing. There were a lot of people wanting to ‘help’ us for a tip but we said no thanks as it’s a pretty straight forward (thanks to My Tan Feet for that). After paying our $7 per person exit tax, we waited in the short line to have our passports stamped out of Costa Rica. Next step is to walk or hire a pedicab over to the Nicaraguan border in order to enter Nicaragua. Of course, we opted for the quick and fun pedicab ride.

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Pedicab ride
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Nicaraguan border crossing office

The Nicaraguan border agent confirmed with us that we were just staying for the day, we paid the $12 per person entrance fee and he then stamped our passports. Then we were officially in Nicaragua which was a bit livelier than the Costa Rican side with a bunch of little stands and shops selling latest in wares as well as a number of small sodas (typical, family run restaurants) with meats grilling right out front. We chose one and enjoyed a delicious lunch (rice, beans, grilled chicken, cheese, tortilla and salad) complete with a Victoria, the national cerveza of Nicaragua, to celebrate our arrival.

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After our celebratory lunch, we turned around and headed back out of Nicaragua paying our exit fees and then pedicabbed it back to the Costa Rican office where we waited in yet another line to get stamped back into the country. All in all, it was a long day with two little ones, but it was an adventure and we were happy it all went smoothly.

We’re now trying to decide where our next border run will be in early February – Nicaragua again but maybe at Los Chiles instead of Peñas Blancas, Panama, or we may take a flight to Guatemala (to visit Antigua) or Mexico City and make another weekend trip out of the event.  Any suggestions?

It’s Not Always Rainbows and Butterflies…

…but it sure is exciting. It’s been a weird week with certainly some ups and downs, but the adventure continues:

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EARTHQUAKE!

There have been a number of earthquakes around the world this past week or so including the devastating one in Iran and Iraq with many lives lost. Our thoughts are with all of those affected and now trying to rebuild their lives. Tectonic plates seem to be shifting as many of you may have heard of the strong tremor that struck South Korea on Tuesday evening as well as another that hit Costa Rica this past Sunday night. The Tico Times article regarding Costa Rica can be found here.

Being from the midwest and northeast, earthquakes have never been part of our lives though I do remember feeling one in Boston many years ago when my computer screen was all fuzzy and we couldn’t figure what was happening.

So on Sunday night, the kids had just gone to bed and Palmer and I were relaxing. All of the sudden, we notice a loud noise and the windows and doors are rattling. I first think it’s the neighbor’s cat who likes to scratch on the windows but then realize it’s much bigger than that and for a brief second, I think it’s a big gust of wind or sudden storm, but it then quickly dawns on the both of us at the same time that it’s an earthquake. We both rush off separately to the kids rooms but the shaking soon stops and the kids continue sleeping. After regrouping and figuring out the emergency plan, an aftershock hits and we both run off again. For us, it felt strong though nothing fell off the shelves or broke and there was no damage. Neighbors did mention that their pool water was sloshing around and hanging plants were swaying, but we were certainly spared the worst of it as the epicenter was about 30 miles southwest of us. It seems that most of the country felt the 6.5 magnitude earthquake centered just south of Jaco on the Pacific Coast and it’s a fairly common occurrence here as we are located on the Ring of Fire, but I’d be okay with not going through any other tremors or earthquakes thank you very much.

HORMIGAS

Yes ants. There are lots of them here, and many different varieties from large leaf cutter ants that can eat every leave off a large plant in a day to regular looking ants to minuscule ants that appear around any crumb or dead insect inside within minutes. Well, Alice stepped on an ant hill in our yard while playing with Oscar and got ant bites all over her legs. Her poor leg is covered in itchy welts, but she seems to be dealing with it quite well despite the itchiness. There are so many different variety of insects here… so we are learning a lot about bug life here and what to watch out for. As a side note, scorpions like to hide out in our grill cover if we forget to put it back on the grill after cooking so that’s been ‘interesting.’

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Check out the leaf cutter ant highway that Oscar was entranced by.
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Pobrecita!

 

TYPICAL KID INJURIES 

Of course, with a 5 and 2 year old, we have injuries here just as we did in the states. For one thing, EVERYTHING is tiled here (entire homes, patios, restaurants, stores etc.) and it rains a LOT this time of year which means slippery ice-like conditions on the wet tile. Of course it was inevitable that someone would soon slip and take a digger, and Oscar took the prize this past weekend chasing a ball on the wet patio when his legs went out from under him and hit the back of his head on the tile. OUCH! Thankfully after some rest and some ice, he was fine. This event followed Alice falling face first into our ottoman in the living room the day before and her bottom teeth piercing her bottom lip almost breaking through all the way. Luckily, it was a clean cut and is already healed. I promise they are 100% healthy and happy!!  See?

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Afternoon rains and sunset