Old Man of the Cloud Forest
"What'd we hit?"
Cindy glanced aft, then everyone did. The boat slowed to idle. We sat for a moment bobbing in the middle of Golfo de Nicoya.
"It's a Manta.. oh, we hit a manta ray," Cindy reported. "David, I think the crew are crying." I couldn't look back. I had figured as much. The Ticos, as they call themselves, take great pride in their stewardship of this remarkable environment. I finally looked back. The tears were real. After a few minutes Juan, our captain, advanced the throttles and the twin Yamaha 200s pushed our 32' open fisherman back on plane and we continued our planned passage across the gulf to Montezuma, Costa Rica.
We had come to this country for a long weekend of R and R. It was a good opportunity to see Cindy again and spend some stress free time together- something we hadn't known in a while.
Our home base for this adventure was actually the cozy town of Jaco, sitting hard on the mid-Pacific coast of Costa Rica. While there we enjoyed a couple days of doing absolutely nothing except savoring the leisurely breakfasts of eggs with black beans and rice (rice and beans are served with everything here) followed by walks on the dark volcanic sand beaches, poolside smoothies the locals call refrescos, made of local fruits mixed with coconut milk and guaro, Costa Rica’s national liquor. Then later, down the street for civeche-to-kill-for chased down by ice cold local cervezas. Our two nights in Jaco were topped off soaking in our own balcony jacuzzi tub listening to the pacific surf.
Jaco Beach Breakfast; Everything was served with rice and beans
We made lots of friends… Some even joined us at the pool bar…
This was a perfect place to relax, but Cindy and I always need a little adventure mixed in, and so we caught a water taxi for a 30 mile dash in an open boat over the open water of the Nicoyan Gulf, towards undiscovered wonders.
While everyone on the water taxi was saddened by the episode with the manta, and those unfamiliar with small boats a little rattled, slowly the blue sky and crystalline pacific waters renewed our spirits. Then the lush hills of the Nicoyan Peninsula started to rise above the horizon. The hamlet of Montezuma, our destination, boasted pristine beaches, and above, jungle cloud forests filled with high waterfalls, orchids, and howler monkeys.
I had heard of a little bed and breakfast called the Mariposario Montezuma Gardens, up in the hills above Montezuma with its own butterfly garden, reputedly holding the Blue Morpheus, a most impressive, exotic critter. Cindy loves flutter-bys, as she calls them,so this was a must. We would also take in a zip line tour- my first- over and through the canopy of the Costa Rican jungle cloud forest and the famous El Montezuma waterfall.
We slowed to an idle as we approached the rocky beach of "downtown" Montezuma, actually a series of hostels dubbed "The University of Montezuma." Young people read books under palm trees or napped in hammocks. The water-taxi's crew helped us off the boat and we waded to shore- no docks here- then un-stowed and carried our "luggage", all in heavy duty100 gallon trash bags to protect them from the elements, to us on shore. The real town of Montezuma was just north, the trail up to our B&B was to the south.
The luggage comes ashore… Relaxing at the “University”
I would need it…
We shouldered our backpacks, explored the university a bit, then headed up the primitive dirt road towards Mariposario Gardens. Now, I am in fairly decent shape for someone holding an AARP card, but I must tell you my stubborn inclination to "hoof it" nearly killed me.
The 90 degree heat and 100 percent humidity conspired with the steep Costa Rican terrain against us. Carrying my backpack and dragging Cindy's, this new adventure got old real quick. The steep dirt roads typical of Costa Rica, despite what you might hear about their "progressive infrastructure," are muddy torrents in the wet season and dust cyclones in the dry. As recreational four-wheelers- the preferred method of transportation among the residents- sped past us, I would gasp, choke on the dust, then weaze my way to a prone posture somewhat like the Trendelenburg position.
Cindy was faring a little better but I could read her thoughts: 'In our travels you've made me walk barefoot from Bleaker Street to Times Square, got our asses lost finding the Arc de Triomphe, the Vatican, and anything in Venice, all the while consistently refusing any and all offers of assistance or hospitality from everyone from the Serbian ambassador to Paris to Count Basie's band… and now this.'
"Guilty," I mutter.
Forgiveness came when Cindy saw her first Blue Morpheus. She snapped photos while I lounged on a bench deep in the shade of the glorious butterfly garden, a fountain trickling near-by, hoping to entice these extraordinary flying palettes to my shoulder. My blood pressure was probably as good as its been in years. But alas, it came time to walk, again, up ( yes up!) to the Canopy Zip Line tour office and continue our jungle adventure in the clouds.
Only one word comes to mind- Rush. It was a singular experience; putting all your faith in a skinny steel rope, literally and figuratively letting go, launching yourself off a cliff or tree-top across a valley of green with only the sound of the line, the monkeys, and your own heartbeat. It's one of those times that you feel truly alive and in this world. The only thing to do is let out a yelp of joy. As usual, Cindy looked great, zipping over the canopy with the required hard hat and a flower in her hair. The waterfall was spectacular, a most invigorating plunge into the cool mountain water; a necessary respite from the jungle's mugginess. Once again, I became aware of my mortality and the fact that this type of thing would barely have winded me 10 or 20 years ago. Better late than never.
Cindy and flutterby… Getting Rigged… One of many landing spots and perches while zip lining
The pool under Montezuma Waterfall
That evening we walked back down into town ( a cab ride back up to our room was planned ) for dinner and stumbled onto Amor de Mar, one of coolest, most romantic restaurants I have ever been to. Hard on the pacific shore with surf breaking over the rocks, the little open air bistro featured pillows for seats, low stone tables and oil lamps made by local artisans. The lamplight glowed against the fading twilight and a spectacular setting sun. The place was pricy and Cindy and I were on the tail end of a tight budget, so we shared a some tapas and ordered the cheapest beer on the menu. Everything was mouth-watering, but most memorable was the snook, shaved razor thin and served sashimi style, garnished with pepper nuts and olive oil. We lingered for a bit, soaking in the ambiance, enjoying the warm breeze, acknowledging that evenings like this don't come too often.
We continued our journey into town and sampled Montezuma’s varied drinking establishments, mostly open air affairs with music, spicy relish and crackers and lots of American ex-patriots. One of them was a gentleman who told us he had been coming here for "maybe 20 years" to surf. It didn't appear he had more than a bicycle to call his own. But he looked happy and content to this reporter. I envied him that. Another by the name of Robert, a very amiable, good looking type, said he owned a home here. When we asked, he opined that the real estate market in Costa Rica is starting to soften due to the same pressures we have in the states but Robert wasn't concerned. He said it was beach-front property he owned and he described the location. It sounded to us to be just north of town, so we should be able to see it on our way back across the gulf.
It didn't seem Robert's style to brag, but it sounded like quite a piece of property.
Cindy and I wrapped it up about 1:00 am and called a cab. I wasn't about to slug up that mountain again in the dark. We fell into bed and fell immediately to sleep. We had had quite a day.
One of many wonders… Cindy the way I love her…
We traveled the two hour trip back to San Jose airport. It had been a most pleasurable 5 days in a paradise on most people's bucket list. Upon entering the airport, I learned there would be a $65.00 departure tax to pay before we could leave the country.
"So that’s how they keep those taxes so very low and still pay for all those beautiful National Parks," I thought. That and, of course, no military. Perhaps something for the US to consider. Unfortunately, I don't think you can be in our position and not have a military. But the departure tax... Now that's a way to balance the budget.
I think those Ticos are on to something.