The 29th of February is a rare, unusual day. One that doesn't exist most years of our lives. Time is a funny thing. It is our most important possession, a man-made system of measurement, yet something that doesn't truly exist. Time is not tangible, but you can lose it. Time is not guaranteed, so don't waste it. You don't find time for things, you make time for things. I'm going to use this bonus leap day that we've been gifted, during the month of love, to share a photo tour of our beloved Caribbean beaches of Costa Rica.
The Caribbean side of Costa Rica is known for it's grouping of long, expansive white, black and brown sand beaches. Also known for its diversity, both in people and sand, the Caribbean coast is a melting pot of cultures, lifestyles, flavorful food and expansive animal species. With not much of a dry season, the rains come every few days to replenish the Earth, keeping the vegetation vibrant and flourishing. When a gorgeous, sunny day comes along we make sure to get out and enjoy these magnificent beaches that surround us.
This is Playa Negra, the black sand beach that lies right outside our front door, at the quiet, northwest end of Puerto Viejo. It is known for its layer of powerful waves and narrow shoreline:
Below is Playa Puerto Viejo, the small stretch of beach in downtown Puerto Viejo, location of the famous Salsa Brava wave break, and where many surfer's spend many days:
If you head northwest from Puerto Viejo you will come across the small village of Cahuita after about 14 kilometers. You can hike to Cahuita Point and you're almost guaranteed a capuchin monkey sighting while hiking this jungle trail along the sea.
Turning around and heading in the other direction from Puerto Viejo, the first beach you will come to, right outside of town, is Playa Cocles (pronounced Coke-lace, not Cockles). This picture is taken from the beach looking out on a small island:
Next up comes Playa Chiquita, a quiet stretch of sand and calm, clear water:
Further down the road you will come to our favorite Caribbean beach: Punta Uva. Each side of this beach meets up to form a point in the middle, which is how this beach was gifted its name. The first road to Punta Uva is a perfect spot to kayak, stand-up paddle board, and swim, as the turquoise waters are very calm and inviting:
The second road to Punta Uva is our chosen favorite beach spot. We prefer to post up underneath some palm trees for the day and go back and forth between ocean swims and sand naps:
The last beach on our tour is Playa Manzanillo, which borders Panama. You can hike a short trail out to an expansive lookout point, where you can admire the endless, blue sea and the pristine stretch of beach (or show off your yoga poses):
That winds up our Caribbean Beach Leapin' Daze tour. Peace Out Beaches!
our house is a very, very, very fine house…
Our little beach cabin has been perfect for us. It can’t be more than 400 square feet in size, the roar of the waves is the constant background vocal of our daily lives. The cabin is surrounded by lush vegetation and foliage, including two low-hanging coconut trees. We used to drive over an hour to find low-hangers and now we have two in our yard, with a seeming endless amount of fresh coconuts, for our coconut drinking pleasure. We are loco for cocos.
Right outside our front door there is also a star fruit bush and a papaya tree, which we can and do help ourselves to. We love to sit on our quaint, wooden porch, especially first thing in the morning as the jungle is waking up, and watch the birds, butterflies and lizards. A steaming mug of french-pressed coffee cradled in my palms, our bird book open in my lap, crossing off new bird species…this has become my new favorite morning routine.
Our neighbors: Damion, Chris and Caitlin, live just next-door, through the foliage. Their cabin has an enormous wrap-around porch, on which we’ve spent many evenings chillin’, laughing, listening to old-school music and telling stories until midnight.
Friends. For. Life.
Banana Azul, the resort just down the street that we have access to, is a little piece of beach/jungle paradise. We walk in and admire the man-made pond and river system that flow throughout, filled with massive koi and a friendly family of turtles. A serene pond covered in lily pads and water plants hides frogs, lizards and more turtles. Each time we stop for a visit we meet a new animal friend. Animals are beautiful people.
Beyond Banana Azul there is a nice beach road, perfect for a beach walk. After almost 2 miles we notice a sleepy sloth posted up for a nap in a tree. This is the closest we’ve been to a sloth and they truly are majestic, peaceful, hakuna matata creatures.
cuckoo for cacao…
After meeting Christina, owner of Talamanca Organica Cacao & Fine Chocolate, at the farmer’s market we arranged to take a chocolate tour of their cacao farm, located just on the outskirts of Puerto Viejo. Christina came to Puerto Viejo, years ago, on vacation and never left. That is a familiar story around these parts: people seem to show up and never leave. Christina bought a piece of property here that she fell in love with, on which she built a house and a successful cacao farm. Her husband Dan toured us around their property, pointing out all kinds of trees, plants and birds.
We sampled a freshly picked cacao pod and munched on luxurious pieces of pure, dark chocolate. Having only two ingredients, 100% organic cacao grown on their farm and a small amount of organic sugar, the chocolate is simple, decadent and melts in your mouth. We end the tour with a chocolate body scrub, which we use to exfoliate our bodies and faces. Leaving reeking of fresh chocolate, with glowing skin, we make plans to buy chocolate body scrub from Christina at the next farmer’s market on Saturday.
Saturday rolled in, and luckily we remembered what day of the week it was. At the farmer’s market we stocked up on a few more of Christina’s chocolate bars and a package of the chocolate body scrub (of course along with an armload of fresh fruit, veggies and as many coconut biscuits as we could carry). The next day I was teaching Andy how to make soap, and as we were melting the soap base we had the genius idea of adding some of the chocolate body scrub into the melted soap. The resulting stack of peppermint chocolate soap filled our house with mouth-watering smells. This is officially my new favorite soap scent. (I may have to add a warning label to not shower while hungry.)
do mosquitoes have souls?
On the Caribbean side the animal species are abundant. Almost every day is peppered with an unforgettable animal experience. We’ve had so many up-close sloth encounters, unforgettable capucin monkey meetings/attacks (our neighbor Caitlin learned not to eat a granola bar in front of a white-faced monkey unless you want to be forced to share), and we have finally checked spider monkeys off our list (of the four species of monkeys in Costa Rica these were the only ones we hadn’t seen yet).
The only wildlife I don’t care for here are the bugs. Even the name, bug, gives you permission to dislike them. Bugs bug me. I’ve had a love affair with animals since the day I entered this world. I greet every dog, cat, monkey, bird, lizard that I see. I prefer animals to people. When I look in their eyes I see their souls. I never like to see anything killed, I feel the suffering of an animal inside my heart.
But the bugs…I have a hard time with the bugs. Mosquitoes are the only thing I kill. It is so satisfying watching them light up like a firework as I electrocute them with our bug zapping racquet. The smell of fried mosquitoes lingers in the air around our cabin like cigar smoke. The ravenous, disease-breeding little blood mongers. Mini vampires, sucking the life out of us, gorging themselves on our blood, our lifeline, never getting their fill. What is your purpose?
Osa Mountain Village…
We finally found a place for the month of March. The Osa Peninsula is a rugged, deserted part of Costa Rica with not many roads, or people. Andy’s been anxious to explore this section of the country for months and we lucked out by finding a 1 BR condo up in the hills, overlooking the Pacific Ocean, snuggled right above the entrance to the Osa Peninsula.
Osa Mountain Village is the name of the place we’ll be staying, a small organic farming community/resort. Fresh organic fruit and vegetables, as well as farm-fresh eggs, and roasting chickens will be available to us weekly.
The place is somewhat remote, located up a steep, winding, typical Costa Rican mountain road, 4-wheel-drive is recommended. The owner promised our deposit back if our car can’t make it up the road. Yikes. Andy is excited to try, and the owner said we should be okay, just do NOT slow down and make sure to gun it the whole way. Our forerunner has seen some gnarly roads in our time here, and with Andy’s talented and aggressive driving skills we’ve always managed to survive. But maybe I’ll wait safely at the bottom of the mountain on the first attempt…
The village is a short drive from Playa Uvita, located within the Marino Ballena National Park, and is famous for its “whale tail” of a beach. Playa Uvita is a 2-mile stretch of pure white sand, with crystal clear water and moderate waves. It’s one of the most beautiful beaches we’ve seen, and we’ve only been to it once. It is the home to our first experience drinking fresh coconut water out of a coconut. We will be wasting many future days at Playa Uvita.
This is an aerial view of the whale’s tail at Playa Uvita (I obviously did not take this photo):
Living a month in each place is bittersweet. Just as a place starts to feel like home we are bidding it farewell and moving onto the next. Rolling with the gypsy lifestyle, fulfilling our soul’s desire for wanderlust, chasing dreams that are hard to catch. Having no plans and seeing where each day takes us. Just riding the waves of life...
I can see clearly now, the rain is gone...
After 3 straight days of intense Caribbean downpours, the sun is finally making a comeback. The rain washed away our past and the sun is now rising on our future. We emerge from our beach cabin ready to explore new beaches, the farmers market, a surf competition and the jaguar rescue center.
Taking advantage of a dry morning, we head over to the farmer’s market. Lines of stands, overflowing with fresh fruits and vegetables, freshly baked goods, and funky cheeses.
The happy Tico farmers pick the best morsels, handing them to us with an appreciative smile. I appreciate them in return, in a way only a farmer's daughter can. They have planted these seedlings months ago, nurturing and raising them up to be strong and good beings, then carefully plucking them at their exact moment of perfection. Sending them off to what they hope is a good home, in exchange for a few cents, so they can nourish another as they were nourished. Paying it forward to the circle of life. Rinse, eat and repeat.
We fill our arms with crunchy plantain chips, homemade coconut biscuits, fresh pineapple and cantaloupe, three perfectly ripe mangoes, 6 avocados, 2 bright heads of lettuce, a crisp garden zucchini, and a single carrot. Our total comes to…$12. It feels like grand larceny.
Toucans grow on trees around here and we are officially bird nerds. As bright as the rainbow, they are magnificently colorful with large beaks and old souls. Seeing one in person is a chilling, life-changing moment when time seems to stop and the planet suddenly makes complete sense.
They fly into the trees in follow-the-leader fashion, one always shadowing another. Just far enough behind to observe, but not close enough to have to make small talk. They respect each other’s boundaries, as all souls should. Their movements are slow and deliberate, calculated and almost sloth-like. Their dry croaking call vibrates into the energy of the atmosphere, followed by an eerie silence. One takes off, making room for the next, now replaced by its shadow, and life goes on.
Puerto Viejo is a laid-back surfing town. A town where no one is in a hurry, except to catch a wave. A town where your cool factor is determined by the size and curl of your hair: the bigger and curlier, the more Holas and fist bumps you receive. It’s a town where everyone is all smiles and no worries. A town where Bob Marley rules and the only jerk is a chicken. A town where rasta colors dominate, reggae music fills the salty air, and lazy swirls of smoke line the beach.
Locals ask where in the states we are from. “Oregon”, we reply. We are met with a knowing laugh and a wink. Oregon has a reputation around here. A friendly, green state ahead of its time, carving the path for the rest. Mad respect mon.
Everyone in town, resident or visitor, lounges on the sand, around the Salsa Brava, waiting for a surf competition to begin. A line of surfers slowly form, just beyond the break. They hurry up and wait, for the perfect delivery. Predicting the wave before it’s born, paddling furiously to beat his co-workers, one surfer drops into the sweet spot and sails toward shore, his hair trailing a moment behind him. The crowd cheers and laughs, cameras click, someone’s shrill whistle pierces the air. For him it’s just another day at the office, high on life.
Hearing about the Jaguar Rescue Center, we decide we must go, so we load up the car with our cool neighbor friends and we each pay $20 to take a guided tour through the animal sanctuary. Our tour guide, Sky, takes us around and introduces us to all the animals.
The rescue center tries to rehabilitate injured animals to be released back into the wild, but not all animals can be returned to the wild for a number of reasons. Either their injuries are too severe, or they have become too tame and unafraid of humans, depending on them for their next meal. Some of the animals we meet are residents for life, claiming their stake and marking their territory. But most will eventually rejoin their animal society, as that is the ultimate goal of the rehab center.
All of the workers here are volunteers, and the money from the guided tours is the only source of income for the rescue center. They make sure to tell us multiple times how much they appreciate us being there and that our money helps the animals to have a better life. Everyone here shares an intense love for animals, and in return the animals thrive in the loving environment. Passion, positive energy and kindness exude from this place and it's contagious.
Pit vipers, anteaters, parakeets and toucans. Monkeys, crocodiles and frogs. Baby sloths, deer and turtles. No animal is turned away, all species accepted. They live together amongst each other, in peace and equality, all pura vida. Some wander around freely socializing with any animal or person that crosses its path, while the more dangerous and venomous creatures are safely contained.
We watch as a baby sloth is hand-fed and cuddled by a volunteer. “Um, how do you get the baby-sloth-cuddling job, and are you hiring by chance? Because I’m pretty sure I’d be really good at that….” I add baby-sloth-cuddler to the growing list of things I want to be when I grow up. Where was that option on career day?
We wind through the village of little animal homes and learn the name of each resident and his or her history. Some have tragic stories of abuse and neglect, but all share a happy ending of love and acceptance. We wrap up the tour with a sweet image of a tame and nurturing mama deer nuzzling an injured baby toucan. They greet each other with a hello and a kiss on the cheek, as if this is their usual morning routine. No discrimination or segregation here, if a deer and toucan want to be best friends, or lovers, then so they shall be. No rules, limits or restrictions. Just One Love.
Hasta luego to our dear friend Angi. She had an incredible, life-changing two weeks with us in Samara and is already planning her return trip.
Just after dropping Angi off at the airport we got pulled over by the policia. Apparently we had not paid our 2016 Marchamo fee, which we were unaware of. They wrote us a $100 ticket and removed our license plates on the spot. I can understand the ticket…but taking our license plates off? That seems loco to me. I was worried we were getting scammed by some corrupt Costa Rican cops, so I made them all write their names and badge numbers down (after shedding a few tears and yelling a few bad words at them…good thing they didn’t speak English).
We drove back to Samara, with no license plates, and packed up our lives once again into our forerunner. Heading back to Liberia to pay the ticket and pick up our plates, we hit the road Jack. We’ve heard many complaints about the lazy Costa Rican system, but this time we got to experience it for ourselves. The cops told us they thought we could pay it the next day and pick up our plates, but apparently they aren’t paid to think.
Stopping at two banks, the INS office and Cosevi, and waiting an hour in line at each place, we were told a different story each time. There was no record of our ticket or license plates in the system. One place told us to wait until manana, another said to come back in two days, and yet another said 8 days. Our Tico friend Brian warned us it could take a month for the cops to enter our info into the system. We’ve come to realize that “manana” in Costa Rica is a non-existant time in the near future where everything happens, yet the day never actually arrives. Each day we were told to try again manana, existing in our own version of Groundhog’s Day. Welcome to purgatory in Liberia!
Luckily we found a hotel within walking distance to all the offices we needed to shuffle back and forth between, so we wouldn’t have to drive our non-license plated car. From the outside the hotel looked like a prison with chain-link fences topped with razor wire. It was next to the chaotic freeway, surrounded by dust and the constant sounds of 18 wheelers engine-braking.
Walking into the hotel grounds we were shocked to enter a tropical oasis hidden from the miserable outside world. Covered in mango and papaya trees and bright green grass, with a winding pool and hot tub, it felt like the perfect escape from the hot, stuffy city of Liberia.
Although we were frustrated with our situation, and the fact that we were already paying rent on a beach cabin in Puerto Viejo, we decided to treat this ordeal like a mini vacation. Our room had a comfy king bed, a flatscreen TV with HBO, A/C and wifi, and a delicious breakfast included. We were able to walk to a nice restaurant each evening to enjoy dinner and drinks. It definitely could have been much worse.
Each day we stood in line at the bank to pay our ticket, and each day we were told there was no record of it and to try again manana. After 5 days of Liberian purgatory we got lucky and were finally able to pay our ticket and get our plates back. See ya never, Liberia!
Getting a late start on Thursday, we decided to drive 2.5 hours and stay the night in La Fortuna, which is a quaint little town at the base of the Arenal Volcano. Within an hour of our drive the landscape around us changed dramatically. The dry, dusty desert transformed into a lush rainforest. The vibrant jungle foliage surrounds the winding road and bamboo forests. Lake Arenal is breath-taking as we were given glimpses of it around each corner. Windsurfers and kitesurfers took advantage of the strong winds as the sun bounced off the water. We turned off the A/C in our car for the first time in 6 months and rolled down the windows to enjoy the refreshing cool 70 degree mountain air. It was as if we drove straight from hell, right into heaven.
Along the way we notice a “please don’t feed the coatimundis” sign. Coatimundis, also known as pizotes, are a small mammal species usually mistaken for raccoons. To us they look like a combination of raccoon, monkey and anteater. Right after the sign asking people not to feed them, we notice a tourist bus pulled over, surrounded by about 30 coatis. The coatis were all begging, standing on their hind legs, as the tourists fed them nuts from the windows. Leave it to the Americans to disregard the rules. But it was a fascinating sight and we enjoyed seeing so many of them, including some small baby coatis.
Pulling into our hotel we admire the quaint, colorful cabinas and the well manicured grounds. The cloud forest moves in above us and it begins to downpour. The air fills with the wonderful fresh scent of rain. We both fall in love with this area and add it to our list of places we want to live.
The drive from La Fortuna to Puerto Viejo took us about 5 hours. Along the way we see four rare green macaws soaring above us, as if guiding us to our new home. The Caribbean side doesn’t have much of a dry or wet season, it rains year-round so the foliage stays a vibrant green.
Arriving at our tiny beach cabin, we notice two low-hanging coconut trees right outside our door. Fresh coconut water for breakfast every morning tastes like happiness. Our cabin is very small, but perfect for us. A short 2 minute walk to Playa Negra, we are at the quiet end of Puerto Viejo.
After unpacking, we drive up and down the main road, scoping out potential restaurants for our first Caribbean dinner. We’ve been told that the food is incredibly flavorful on this side of Costa Rica and we make a mental list of places we want to try.
The town is busy and crowded, but the laid-back reggae beach vibe filters through the ocean breeze. It already feels like home. Everyone is incredibly kind and welcoming, with a smile and greeting ready for every passerby. Caribbean sodas on every corner and rasta beach bars line both sides of the street.
The guy we’re renting our cabin from, Michel, recommended a restaurant called Stashu’s, which is a global infusion of Thai and Caribbean food. We choose a seat in the funky restaurant and admire the décor. We order Jamaican hibiscus margaritas, spicy red curry mussels, sweet and spicy chicken, and thai peanut chicken with lemongrass and ginger. It’s the best meal we’ve had in weeks.
The owner, Stash, comes over and introduces himself. He is warm and friendly, sharing with us some information on the area. His smile lights up his face and is infectious as he shares his love for this town. It was an incredible meal and we promise to come back.
The next morning we meet our new neighbors who are staying in the beach cabin next to us. Two sisters Damion and Kaitlyn, and Kaitlyn’s husband Chris. They are all from Virginia, but Damion has lived in Portland for a few years and Kaitlyn and Chris are planning to possibly move to Portland also, after their cross country road trip. Oregon connections always brings out the love in people and make instant friends out of strangers. We spend the next couple days getting to know the area and our neighbors, and we already consider them our new BFF’s (although we do miss our Samara peeps!)
The internet is extremely slow at our cabin, worse than old-school dial-up speed. So no photos on this blog for now, but we’ll try to post some soon. I may have to use the wifi at the resort next to us for my future blog updates. The limited internet access already seems like a blessing, as it causes us to spend more time in nature and to be more present in the moment.
This town instantly feels like our new home and we are overflowing with love and excitement to get to know this new piece of Earth. I’ve done a lot of research on Costa Rica and the Caribbean side doesn’t have the best reputation. Everyone says it is much more dangerous than the Pacific side and to not walk the beach alone at night. Although we will follow this advice, I’m starting to think people over-exaggerate the danger just to keep the tourists away. Walking the beach and wandering the streets, I see nothing but smiles and happiness around us. But we will still make sure to bring our machete on our beach walks, especially at night.
From Liberian purgatory, to volcanoes and rainforests, to rasta, reggae and black sand beaches to new special friends…it has been a whirlwind of a week. Let the new adventures begin!
Kari Pinkerton Silcox
It would be a tragedy to die, having never really lived. Which is why my husband Andy and I quit our jobs, sold our house and decided to chase our dreams. We moved to Costa Rica without a plan, and this is the story of our adventure.