We recently spent a day exploring the Barra Honda National Park. It’s about an hour from Samara and is a unique place in Costa Rica, as the park sits atop numerous intricate limestone caverns. The Barra Honda mesa is mostly flat but climbs up to 450 feet at its highest point with a dramatic view of the Tempisque Valley and the Nicoya Gulf in the distance. The base of the Barra Honda hill is a former coral reef, from over 60 million years ago. It was uplifted by tectonic faulting, which raised the seabed. The rains then created dramatic underground water paths, and the massive amounts of rainwater that flowed through these paths millions of years ago resulted in a mysterious system of underground caves, covered in sparkling limestone.
We each paid $30 for a guided hike through the park. Our tour guide Joe was very friendly and knowledgeable as we meandered our way through the vegetation. He paused to point out many medicinal and edible plants. He showed us a plant that tastes like garlic and is used to season food, and another plant that acts as a natural medicine for numbing tooth pain. He pointed out a bark that can be eaten to reduce kidney stones, and a special root you can dig up to help with sinus issues and breathing problems. Joe also showed us a plant with spikes on it, which the locals plant inside fences to keep animals or intruders out. The plant has a delicious pineapple-tasting fruit hidden in the center, protected by the barbed-wire like plant leaves.
Our first stop on the tour was the dramatic lookout point with a sweeping view of the valley, village and gulf below:
We enjoyed the view and fresh mountain air, and then continued on our hike to the La Cuevita cave opening to begin our cave spelunking. We were each given a helmet, head lamp and were hooked to a harness. One by one we descended the narrow ladder 17 meters down into this mysterious cavern below the Earth.
The cave is filled with a peaceful silence, as the wind and elements outside seem to disappear. As I shine my head lamp around I notice the luminous forms and patterns jumping out from the shadows. We are standing in an underground art gallery created by God. The special energy of this cave can be felt instantly and everyone is quiet with appreciative silence as we admire the works of art that surround us. We are being given a glimpse into the core of the Earth and the magic that is contained there.
Eventually we descend another ladder down into the deepest part of the cave. The limestone figures sparkle around us as Joe points out shapes and sections they have nicknamed. There is a giant sea turtle, a hidden octopus and a protective lion head overlooking the cave entrance. We admire a grouping of figures that is called “the holy family”, which looks like a naturally formed nativity set carved into the limestone.
We turn off our lights and sit in complete darkness, surrounded by a peaceful silence that penetrates our souls. I am blown away by Mother Nature and her talent. We are in a sensory deprivation chamber and this pure and naked moment is one I want to live in.
Eventually we exit the cave and climb back up the long ladder, to join the outside world. The jungle around us is filled with howler monkey cries and exotic birds calling to each other. A unique and beautiful experience, one we will never forget and will carry inside us.
scorpions for breakfast…
Sophie has a stomach of steel, she is a very adventurous eater and will try anything once. She has no fear. Watch out Andrew Zimmern! Watching her eat a whole tarantula was traumatizing enough for me, but I should have known that was only the beginning. The other night she started making her typical “doggy puke” sounds, and casually throws up an entire scorpion onto the kitchen floor. No big deal. And it was still in one piece.
We have no idea how long it was in her stomach, or where or when she ate it, but she seems to be fine and there is no evidence of scorpion stings around her mouth, or anywhere else. That scorpion didn’t stand a chance against the Sophinator. I hope he sent a message to his friends before he took his last breath, a telepathic note to at all costs avoid the loco-hotdog-shaped-canine-scorpion-hunter.
We recently discovered a hidden gem in Samara. La Perla is a small family-owned soda located just off the beach. Sodas are local restaurants that are known to serve delicious and affordable Costa Rican food, but they don’t serve alcohol (which may be part of the reason it took us so long to eat at one). We gather around a surfboard table and order. Almost everything on the menu is only $5. You can’t even cook a meal around here for that price. Angi and I try the chicken chalupa and Andy orders pan fried chicken. Everything is incredibly delicious and we are all impressed with the quality and amount of food we get for only $5/plate.
Angi and I love it so much that we eat there again the next day for lunch, and we’ve been back almost every other day since discovering the place. We love watching the family that owns it, and lives there, working together to take orders, cook the food and wash the dishes. They work hard, and are very welcoming. This place exudes good energy. If you’re ever in Samara this is a restaurant you have to try. (Mom if you’re reading this you better plan another trip back ASAP to try this local gem.)
the Caribbean is calling…
We are in the process of saying another temporary goodbye to Samara and getting ready to begin our next adventure. For the month of February we’ve rented a tiny 1 bedroom cabin in Puerto Viejo, 100 yards from the beach. It is next door to a funky beach resort with a large and welcoming pool, which we will have access to for free. The Caribbean side has limited air-conditioning but of course I managed to find the one rental in the town with A/C. (I have my ways.)
We’ve spent the last couple of months sharing our favorite parts of Samara with our families and loved ones. It’s incredible watching everyone fall in love with this beach town that will always have a place in our hearts. But now it’s time to get back to what we came here to do, which is to explore every inch of this country, and to see every possible beach that we can see. I love having the freedom to point to any place on a map and say let’s move there next.
For the next 4-5 months we have a list of places we want to check out. We plan to live for at least a month in each town, and to possibly venture into Panama, or Nicaragua, or another country. Our schedule is wide open, leaving room for us to stay longer in any place we fall in love with. February seems like a good month to fall in love. And eventually we plan to come back to Samara to end our travels in the same place they began.
Hasta luego Samara, until we meet again...
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.