Pristine Beaches in Uvita (Linda)

On Sunday we drove from Monteverde, pretty much due south to Uvita. The roads were quite windy at first, but paved the entire way. Overall an easy drive.

Our rental house is in a quirky neighborhood. It looks like our street was developed fairly recently by one developer — as Cassidy pointed out, it’s almost a bit like the gated retirement community where Marji and Ron live in Florida, but without the gate. Oh, and much smaller, no golf carts, and no alligators 🙂 Probably only about half of the small, manicured lots have houses on them, so there are maybe only 6-8 houses total on the street, which ends in a cul-de-sac.

Our Airbnb – Casa Mia – in Playa Colonia neighborhood

Meanwhile, the ‘main road’ is a mish mosh collection of small modest motels & hostels, Costa Rican-style ‘campeos’ (campgrounds), and somewhat dilapidated houses next to small mom and pop farms. Quite a few of the motels and cafes seem closed, most likely due to COVID, and the whole area has a rather abandoned, unkept but authentic feel — in such contrast to the super modern homes on our street!

Entrance to El Campeo (Campground)
Our neighborhood cows – about a block from our house

When you get to the end of the street (just a 5 minute walk), there is an entrance to the Parque Nacional Marino Ballena and one of the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen. I would say this beach tops Playa Santa Teresa for pure natural beauty — it seems much more desolate and pristine, with tons of lush green palm trees lining the coastline as far as the eye can see, and hardly any people.

There are waves here for sure, but they are fairly gentle and super evenly spaced. And because the beach is so flat, the water stays pooled on the beach as the tide recedes. As a result, the reflections of both the palm trees and the sky in the wet sand are mind boggling. Check out this one of the double sky!

The one trick with having our main entry point be the entrance to the National Park is that we have encountered some challenges getting onto the beach when the park is technically closed. The park (and therefore the beach) closes at 4pm every day and is closed all day on Tuesdays (related to COVID). However, setting a bad example for Sierra, I easily scoped out another way onto the beach on Tuesday. The two of us took a quick dip in the ocean before the park guy on an ATV started kicking people off the beach. (Sierra was incensed.)

Early yesterday morning Sierra and I walked out to the Whale Tail – a long sandbar that you can only walk on at low tide and that is actually shaped like a whale’s tail (better appreciated from above — I’ll try to get that picture for a future blog!) It took us a good 45 minutes to get there, so we had to cool off in the ocean along the way. Wow – what a gorgeous walk, and so few people! The ripples in the sand are so cool, almost looks like pictures I’ve seen of the Sahara…

View back toward the shore from the Whale Tail

Last night we managed to see our first sunset on this beach. I thought for sure it was going to be a bust, as it was super cloudy right at 5pm. We couldn’t even tell where the sun was it was so cloudy! But just after the sun went down, the clouds in the West turned first pink, then coral, and then flaming orange. It was incredible, hard to capture in photos, but I tried!

A Day Above the Trees (Sierra)

We’ve been sleeping terribly here in Monteverde. I mean, I guess I’m one to talk since I’m most of the reason Dad hasn’t really been sleeping. Let’s just say I’m a notorious sleeping partner in our family. And I don’t blame the Hotel Trapp Family for our restless nights, either. I blame the wind and the tight living quarters.

We’ve also been getting up early. Today (Saturday) we didn’t have to get up that early, though. We were going ziplining at 9:00! Cassidy and I had only ever been ziplining once, and it was a kind of pathetic single line very close to the ground with no view. So we were very excited to be on a ten-line tour that was above the trees!

We didn’t start out ziplining. First we went on the Tarzan swing. Dad went first. Cassidy went second, and I went third. I almost didn’t go. I was terrified. But somehow I convinced myself to go, and I hated the first swing. You had to literally jump off a platform and hope that these people knew how to measure a rope. Neither Cassidy or I lost our challenge to not scream.

Sierra on the Tarzan swing – this is the 3rd or 4th swing, it started much higher!

Then we finally got to go ziplining. We started by climbing up a staircase so steep that I have bruises from banging my shins on the steps. There were 10 ziplines in all, with platforms in between. The platforms were not enjoyable, they were just very high metal grates attached to very tall trees that were supposed to hold the wait of us, the 4 other people on our tour, and a guide or two. Did I mention they were high?

In the middle we did a huge rappel down to the ground and then climbed up the inside of a ficus tree, which was very cool.

Sierra climbing up the inside of the ficus tree

However, the huge swaying ladder to get back up the the 50 ft (at least!) high platform was super scary (fortunately we were roped in just in case).

Mom climbing the ladder to get back up to the platform

For the ziplining, the first 5 or 6 lines were double lines, which meant that you didn’t go as fast. But then we got to some single lines, which go MUCH faster. So fast that at the end they expect you to go up to the next platform, and Cassidy and I weren’t heavy enough, so we went together. (She got to go in front every time, 😡 ) [Video hopefully coming, we are having tech challenges!]

After the zipline tour we got lunch at the Orchid Cafe, except in spanish and I don’t know how to type those little accent thingies. Then we went to Selvatura Park, which was almost as touristy as Isla Tortuga, but in a very different way. Cassidy and Dad went to the sloth sanctuary, but mom and I decided we would rather stay in the trees, so we did this bridge hike where you walk along and then every once and a while you cross a suspension bridge over the trees where you are looking down on the cloud forest. It was super cool! 

View of the treetops – with epiphytes – from one of the hanging bridges

Afterwards we went on a night tour. I would tell more about that, but I will leave it for someone else, because it needs an entry of its own.

Bosque Nuboso de Monteverde (Linda)

I love the word for cloud forest in Spanish: bosque nuboso. Somehow this sounds like it looks — misty, mossy and a bit mystical. As you walk through the cloud forest you feel like you’ve stumbled into an enchanted forest from The Hobbit…(or so I imagine, I’ve never actually read The Hobbit!)

Admittedly it was a shock to the system to go from hot, sunny Santa Teresa to cool and misty Monteverde, but I’m really glad we made the detour. And we have actually been incredibly lucky with the weather — it didn’t rain at all on Friday, and then just misted on and off on Saturday. In between we’ve had lots of sunshine making its way through the clouds. It is extremely windy however, so much so that the howling wind at our hotel would wake us up at night!

We arrived here on Thursday afternoon and have been staying at the Trapp Family Hotel (yes, we all wish it were the Von Trapp Family, but no). The first afternoon the girls and Noah caught up on school/work with this lovely view from our room.

It was definitely cozy with all four of us in one room, but we survived 🙂

On Friday morning we got up early to visit the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. We had a private tour with a pretty amazing guide named Rodrigo, who was probably in his late fifties and has been doing this his entire life. He literally spent 17 years climbing the towering trees here in the cloud forest to study the hundreds of thousands of different epiphytes that grow on the trees, working with a professor from the University of Washington. His knowledge was pretty incredible, but he was not a big talker, which I actually appreciated.

We started off the 2-hour tour with a stop near a big avocado tree (not like the avocados we eat, much smaller) to see if Rodrigo could spot a resplendent quetzal, a super colorful and rare bird that can only be seen in Central America. After about 20 minutes we gave up and continued our hike, which was disappointing but not surprising. The quetzal is extremely hard to spot, as they hang out alone, not in groups, and apparently they only sing during mating season, which is in March/April.

On our hike we did learn lots of interesting things from Rodrigo about the epiphytes (plants that live on host trees) and other flora, and Cassidy took some lovely photos.

We also stopped at a small waterfall in the midst of the cloud forest.

At one point we were lucky enough to see a baby viper snake, which was coiled up on a fern plant sleeping. Apparently these snakes become bright green as they mature, and they are quite poisonous. I was somewhat relieved that we got to see it in harmless baby form!

As our two hours were winding to a close, Rodrigo suggested that we return to the avocado tree to try one more time to spot the quetzal. Incredibly, he was able to spot one, way up in the big tree – which was actually some distance away. I have no idea how he spotted it, but we were all so excited! For the entire hike Rodrigo had been carrying a huge scope that allowed us to see the quetzal as you can see it in the photo below (taken from the scope).

Although none of us are birders, I felt such awe at seeing this colorful and rare bird in its natural habitat. For the longest time we could only see its back, but Rodrigo encouraged us to be patient, and sure enough the cooperative quetzal eventually flew from one branch to another, and showed us that incredibly bright red chest that had previously been hidden.

After the exciting quetzal encounter, we went to the Colibri (hummingbird) Cafe to see the brightly colored hummingbirds and eat some yummy chocolate cake.

After that the girls and Noah went back to the hotel for online school and work, while I went back to the Reserve to hike to the continental divide, pictured below.

Continental Divide from the Monteverde Reserve – looking toward the Pacific

Friday night we had an absolutely delicious dinner at the restaurant at the Hotel Belmar. This was probably one of my favorite meals on this trip to date, and we had an awesome view of the sunset from the balcony where we were seated.

Perks and Quirks of Santa Teresa (Sierra)

For most of our Santa Teresa trip we’ve been forming this list in our heads. As we were driving to Monteverde today we came up with the final version. As you can see by the length of the list, there are many quirks of Santa Teresa!

Things We’ll Miss

The gorgeous beach at low tide, especially being able to go before school

The beautiful sunsets that were different every night

Surfing on the (sometimes) mellow waves for Noah and surf lessons for Cassidy and me

El Patio, especially the smoothie bowls, Tico Burrito, and lattes

Cassidy’s first Coconaughty Smoothie Bowl at El Patio

The friendly dogs roaming free on the beach while their owners are surfing

Sierra with Hazel and Jorge

The pool at MarAmar surrounded by jungle, where we sometimes did online school

Howler monkeys at 2:00 pm

Iguanas in the trees bobbing their heads in the sun

Gerald the giraffe decoration/stuffy, who Cassidy was extremely sad to leave behind at the condo

Anthony Ramos, the worker who cleaned our driveway area and who we thought looked like the actor Anthony Ramos from Hamilton

Koa, the border collie from next door

Sushi at restaurants Nami and Nectar

Small-town nature- we knew like 5 people in the town and we saw them everywhere

Our decks at our condo with jungle views and a bit of the ocean peeking through

Danny, Dad’s bestie from Alamo Car Rentals, and Camille, our waitress at the Cafca Cafe and yoga receptionist

3 smoothies a day, we’ll especially miss Mom’s homemade passionfruit smoothies and the Cocoberry smoothie from the Cafca Café

The Palm tree lean-to on the beach

The plants everywhere, including beautiful flowers and our Christmas palm tree

The hermit crabs- Amigo, Carolina, and Carlos

Things We Won’t Miss

The non-paved, dusty road, crowded with ATVs and motorbikes and giant delivery trucks

The overflowing trash bins and occasional sewage smell

The ride to and through Cobano to get anywhere

The steep hill up to our condo that our rental cars always had trouble getting up

The big spiders that liked hanging out at El Patio

The tiny kitchen

  • The oven- there is still a debate about whether it was a toaster oven
  • No dishwasher
  • Very little storage space for food
  • An annoyingly safety-conscious electric stove
  • Extremely high water pressure + shallow sinks = water everywhere

Having to throw away toilet paper instead of flushing it down the toilet

Howler monkeys at 5:00 am

Poor mask etiquette- either not wearing one or just wearing it over the mouth

The cheeky bikinis and tattoos in places you never thought they should go

The dog that always pooped right in front of our door (thank God for Anthony Ramos, who faithfully cleaned it up)

The unstable wifi- we all got booted from Zoom multiple times

Swinging at Sunset (Cassidy)

On Tuesday afternoon, after me and Sierra had finished our schoolwork, me, Sierra and Mom walked down to the beach for dinner. But not to play in the waves, we were going to a restaurant called Rocamar. (Rocamar means rocky sea in spanish) We’d bean there once before and knew about the swing that hung from a big pretty tree and blew in the wind no matter how hard the gust of the sweet smelling salt from the water. We also knew about the woman who fell out of the same big tree just to get that swing down which had wound all of its silky limbs around a branch of the tree. And we knew about their limited menu. That only had burgers, fish tacos, cocktails and smoothies. But the swing is the part for me. For it doesn’t have to be a swing. It can also be used as a -rather silky- rope.

Me climbing up the “-rather silky-” rope/swing

To be honest, I think Sierra liked the swing just as much as me, but didn’t want to show it. So, she swung/climbed on the swing too.

Sierra swinging on the rope swing thing

Off-roading the Nicoya Peninsula (Linda)

Friday was our last day with the rental car (which was 4-wheel drive), so we decided to go for broke and take the ‘back roads’ to Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve. Keep in mind that the main road is mostly gravel and quite rutted, so this was perhaps a questionable decision. Fortunately, Noah is an intrepid driver and Cassidy has been coaching me not to suck air through my teeth when I’m scared. I’m making good progress.

It turns out the road was fairly passable; we only had to cross 3 small streams, and only the third one was worrisome enough for Noah to get out of the car and scope out the best line to cross.

Cassidy and Noah assessing the depth of the stream on the road to Cabuya

When we finally arrived at Cabo Blanco the road was actually even narrower and just as rutted as the road we had traveled to get there. It’s hard to believe this is Costa Rica’s first national park! It almost seems abandoned.

There was only one other car in the parking lot when we arrived, so we were hopeful that maybe we’d get to see lots of wildlife. Alas, that was not the case. As I had forewarned the girls, it’s pretty tough to spot birds in the jungle, as the trees are so tall, and the vegetation is so dense. So we HEARD lots of birds, but the only thing we actually saw was a hummingbird, since they fly so low. We also spotted some morpho butterflies, which are bright blue and just stunning.

After a one-hour hike through the jungle — Cassidy was complaining after the first 15 minutes — we were hot and hungry, so we went in search of a late desayuno. We found a nice hidden gem in the town of Cabuya called Cafe Coyote. The extremely chatty owner Jenny made banana pancakes for Cassidy, and the rest of us had the typical Costa Rican breakfast of gallo pinto with huevos.

in the garden at Cafe Coyote

The girls got to meet and pet the neighbor cat, which I think made them miss our kitty even more…

On the way out of town we stopped to look at this crazy ficus tree — I wish I could explain how they grow, but I don’t think I would do it justice. Apparently they start as a vine growing on the side of a ‘host tree’, but eventually kill the host tree and take over, becoming a giant hollow ‘tree’ with numerous trunks.

Sierra and Cassidy at the huge ficus tree in Cabuya

From Cabuya we made an even more questionable choice to follow google maps on a different route back to Santa Teresa, just to see some different scenery. Let’s just say Cassidy’s coaching went out the window, and I did way too much sucking of air through my teeth on the extremely steep dirt road that we took up and over a mountain. The scenery was lovely though — once you get inland here it’s mostly ranches in the rolling green hills. But I cannot imagine having to drive these roads every day; it took us over an hour just to go about 20 km if that gives you an idea…

Friday night’s sunset was lovely (I need some new descriptive words for these sunsets!), and Sierra continued to improve her Frisbee skills (slowly but surely…)

After sunset we drove to Chicken Joe’s for rotisserie chicken and fish tacos — Yum! Wish we had discovered this place sooner, as it is high quality food and generous portions, but unfortunately a bit far to walk. The restaurant is owned by a Peruvian woman (the chef) and her American husband (originally from New Jersey!), so the ceviche was also top notch — and prepared Peruvian style. Wish I had taken photos…

A colorful Passtime

-Cassidy

Before we left home to come to Costa Rica, my art teacher Mrs. Bahrt gave me and my class an art project. (For me, it was my last project until we went to costa Rica.) The project was to water color a bird of your choice. While I was doing my painting, I decided that this project would be a perfect pass-time for Costa Rica. So I jumped on my computer and emailed Mrs. Bahrt to tell her about my plan. I guess my Sierra (my sister) liked my idea, cause when we got to Costa Rica she was actually the first one to do a painting. But the only difference from Mrs. Bahrt’s project was that me and Sierra didn’t just do birds, we did all sorts of animals and landscapes. Here are a few of our favorites:

My poison dart frog
Sierra’s white faced monkey
My hummingbird
Sierra’s sunset (they are BEAUTIFUL here)
My berry bush
Sierra’s pink plant that we don’t know the name of and is outside on our deck

The final hours of 2020…Vista de Olas!

-Linda

I wanted to go somewhere a bit special for New Year’s Eve, and the woman who owns our condo recommended Vista de Olas (view of the waves), a nearby hotel up on a cliff overlooking Playa Mal Pais. We got there around 4 and spent some time in the rather spectacular infinity pool before dinner.

Infinity Pool at Vista de Olas

They even had a swim-up bar, which we decided to use, even though we were actually getting cold due to the clouds and breeze (the pool was warm).

We put on dry clothes for sunset, followed by dinner in their lovely outdoor dining room adjacent to the pool. (The girls are both sporting the tops I bought them here in Santa Teresa as Christmas gifts!)

The food at the restaurant was just OK — except for the nutella crepe for dessert, which was amazing. Noah and I toasted the new year with champagne around 7pm, and then Cassidy fell sound asleep in the car on the way home (despite the fact that I was blasting Hot, Hot, Hot at full volume).

All in all a pretty excellent way to say adios to 2020…feeling hopeful for new beginnings in 2021!!

Adios 2020, Bienvenida 2021!

-Linda

Apparently I’m the only one in the family who knew that the pineapple is a symbol of welcome – in addition to being the national fruit of Costa Rica (well, maybe not really). Anyway, we can all agree that it is pretty exciting to be finally welcoming 2021 after the longest year ever!

Sand sculpture designed by Sierra, Cassidy & Linda

For the last two days we’ve had quite a bit of rain, which they say is unusual in the dry season. Maybe it’s a sign of cleansing — washing away 2020 in a tropical rainstorm seems entirely appropriate. As a result, we’ve had some nice lazy mornings, and the girls started a project of watercolor painting the animals they have seen (or hope to see?) in Costa Rica. Yesterday we also screened a Netflix matinee of Back to the Future, which was such a fun blast from the past.

Both yesterday and today the weather cleared by about 10am, in time for a good beach outing this morning back at Playa Santa Teresa (our ‘home’ beach). Both girls practiced their surfing, and it’s so exciting to see them catching waves!

The last two nights have been too cloudy to have great sunsets, but we had two amazing ones on Sunday and Monday nights. The girls did their surf lessons at Playa Hermosa, which is about a 15 minute drive north of here. As the name would suggest, it is an absolutely gorgeous beach, with nice gentle waves perfect for beginner surfers. The low tide sunset there on Sunday night may have been the best we have seen to date.

Sunset at Playa Hermosa
Just before sunset at Playa Hermosa

On Monday night we also had a glorious sunset when we went to Habanero for dinner. Sadly, the restaurant itself was quite disappointing: overpriced, mediocre food, terrible service, and ear-splitting music. Alas, the location almost made up for it!

Sierra and Noah at Habanero Grill – Playa Santa Teresa

Tonight we are headed to Vista las Olas for a New Years Eve swim and outdoor dinner. Thinking of all our friends and family tonight, and looking forward to a BIG NYE party one year from now!!

Montezuma Waterfall

-Linda

This past week we had a rental car, since the girls were off school, and Noah took vacation days from work. On Tuesday we drove the mostly dirt road to the little town of Montezuma (about 45 min) and hiked to three different waterfalls in the jungle.

The first part of the hike we were actually hiking through the river (possibly took the wrong fork?!), trying to balance on slippery rocks. Both Noah and Cassidy ended up with wet feet, but Cassidy loved it. This is probably the only kind of hike that she will tolerate now that I think about it!

The first (lower) waterfall was the biggest of the three, and we were able to swim underneath it in a perfect, deep swimming hole. It was actually hard to get close to the waterfall once we were in the water, as the current would push you back toward shore.

Swimming under Montezuma Waterfall

By the time we left there were quite a lot of people arriving, so I’m glad we got there early. From there we had to cross the river and then hike up a TON of stairs to get to the two upper waterfalls. The top one was so pretty, and you could get right under it to take a waterfall shower.

After the waterfall hike we went in search of the “Butterflies and Beer” establishment that I had read about in Lonely Planet. Sadly, both the restaurant and butterfly garden have closed, primarily due to lack of business since COVID. But the owner (an American) is still brewing beer and passion fruit soda. We sampled both (yum!) and also got some to bring home with us.

We grabbed lunch at The Bakery in Montezuma; we decided to try the “Casados” — which are the local dish of rice and beans + meat or fish. We got to see lots of white-faced capuchin monkeys; it’s interesting how we have howler monkeys in Santa Teresa, but just a little ways down the road you only seem to see the white-faced monkeys.