On the Way
This post will begin and end with a personal declaration of appreciation for my wife and her driving aptitude. From the winding roads in the Nicoya Peninsula, through the narrow lanes around La Fortuna, Ramona was on her way to covering a thousand or so kilometers in the drivers seat through uncharted territory, in a foreign country, where streets and motorists are not considered to be especially manageable. Through it all, she kept positive and on her game, allowing our traveling companions to stay relaxed and be engaged in the Central American scenery, and providing me an opportunity to complete some programming work done while running shotgun. Other than our third week in the country and our stint back in the US for the holidays, yours truly drove very little over the eleven months we lived abroad.
Another outstanding chauffeur effort was made by Ramona, as a six-plus hour drive from our rented house in La Fortuna took us through some unfamiliar roads and towns (Zapote and Estanquillos, in the heart of the country) before our destination of Ojochal was to be reached.
Before we reached Ojochal, a quick-ish stop for lunch at Runaway Grill in the marina in Quepos hit the spot as we reached the west coast. Ramona and I hadn’t visited the Quepos/Manual Antonio area since our wonderful two month stay near the start of our journey, so this brief stop was bittersweet. During the trip planning stages we had hoped to share this place so near and dear to our hearts with Jess and Sherié, but the tradeoffs of the planned trip required a longer visit to be sacrificed.
Part of the “Jaco” sign out of town. The rest of it was blocked by other folks posing for photos
Getting Settled in Ojochal
Arriving via Highway 34, our 4×4 navigated into the small town of Ojochal as clouds began to form. The town has one main road, which takes visitors by the markets, church, school, and the other usual landmarks. The Airbnb accommodations we’d reserved were difficult to navigate to, with directions written in broken English by a native French speaker. Eventually, it was determined that we would need to slowly work our way up a small road barely wide enough for a single vehicle. Reaching the driveway, there was nowhere to go but straight down the bumpy, narrow entrance, so steep that the driver and passengers could not see the path in front of us. Eventually, we made it to the bottom, as a massive rainstorm began. I sprinted back and forth between the vehicle and the house with our bags, becoming drenched in the process.
The house on the hill in Sámara is still number one in my heart, but this one is a close second. A full, open air kitchen and living room area leads into a long infinity pool overlooking the foggy, misty backdrop of the hills. As thunder arrived and echoed throughout the hills and rattled the house, it sounded like World War III was commencing.
Here are a couple of videos I shot as the storm began on our arrival, and we figured out where the keys were to get into the bedrooms.
Note at the end of this clip the large tree outside the house that’s struggling a bit to stay up. It was ripped up and most of the large branches were down on the ground the next day when we awoke. The awesome power of nature.
Parque Nacional Marino Ballena (Marine Whale National Park)
A reasonable drive from our house in Ojochal was to the town of Uvita, and Parque Nactional Marino Ballena (Marine Whale National Park), which we opted to check out on a typically gorgeous early morning. The ocean waters around the park are a mating area for humpback whales passing through from California and further north. Unfortunately for us, we were visiting past the end of the whale season (December to April), and were not expected to spot any.
There are plenty of dinky, local restaurants and merchants hawking sunglasses and hats right outside the park. A $12 fee is required upon entry, and basic showers and bathrooms are at the entrance, which was handy.
In a nice twist relevant to the park’s wildlife, the beach has a great geographical feature: the appearance of a whale’s tail extending out into the ocean. This feature is a little more obvious if riding above in a helicopter, a view which is well covered in various snapshots online, but there are still some classic panoramic viewpoints for photo-taking on the tail portion of the beach itself, as you can see below. The tail area is all rocks though, so good luck traversing on it too much with bare feet.
The distance from the park entrance to the tail is about a mile, and after a short trail with some palm coverage, it’s all exposed beach. The sand is hot. Drink all the water you can, carry some on your person, and also bring lots of sunscreen, reapplying liberally.
Generally, the sheer vastness and openness of the park provided the feeling of first stepping on the surface of another planet (I can only assume). After baking in the sun to get out there, the temperate water felt amazing. Our group could have swam for hours. In pairs of two we took turns either wading into the ocean or watching our towels and gear, although I did not feel that we were in a place where our stuff could be swiped (I had read some petty theft stories online prior to visiting that raised my alarm slightly). We did let our guard down for a minute though (or better said, I did), and the tide slowly crept up on our towels and backpacks, soaking them (sorry Sherié!). Verily, this was the only downside of our time at Parque Nacional Marino Ballena.
Visiting Playa Ventanas and Cascada El Pavón
The two closest natural attractions to Ojochal were deemed to be Playa Ventanas (roughly, “Windows Beach”) and Cascada El Pavón (“Peacock Waterfall”). The beach was first on the agenda, and the tide was low enough for us to make our way into the neat little window-like cave. Some decent waves were present for frolicking around in (they managed to “steal” Jess’ cheapo sunglasses), and some surfing or paddling was accessible had we been up for it. Out of the approximately twenty thousand beaches we visited while in Central America, Ventanas ranks about dead-center for me. A friendly Tico in the parking lot with a machete sent us off with a couple of fresh coconuts for our drive to the waterfall.
There was not a soul in sight as we approached the El Pavón waterfall, looking completely untouched by humans. Dripping with sweat on this hot afternoon, and delirious with excitement where our mini-adventure had taken us, the crew entered the brisk water and immediately felt refreshed and at peace. We swam, explored the small cavern beyond the falls, and took turns at playing photographer. A pair of toucans descended onto the top of the falls before hastily gliding promptly as I pointed them out (no peacocks of the waterfall’s name were spotted, however). An adjacent, secondary swimming area had a great spot to remain reclined, as downstream water from the falls cascaded upon your shoulders.
Then, a funny thing happened. The tranquil sound of running water became engulfed by the sounds of tramping feet. An entire tourist group had invaded la cascada, turning our majestic moment into a mad house.
Twenty or so loud tourists got down to their swimming gear, entered the water, and the guide installed some sort of rig allowing people to…I don’t know, kind of climb the rock at the base of the waterfall and “jump” down a couple of feet? Neat, I guess.
Alas, this event turned out to be more humorous than annoying (we were basically getting ready to head back when the tour group arrived). This truly reiterated for us the merit of traveling solo or in a small group, natural exploration, and blazing our own trail.
A Day in Dominical
Dominical was visited, seen, and conquered in a day trip for us, before dropping off Sherie in the late afternoon to catch a ride back to the capital, en route to returning home to the US. We did get a decent taste though…
The first stop, Playa Dominical, is a small, pleasingly rocky beach. A brief swim was followed by a perusal of a local market along the beach.
There a few more amenities in Dominical compared to the other nearby towns, so in our day trip we made sure to stop in at Fuego Brewing to sample some cervezas. Craft brewing is not exactly a big hit in Costa Rica, but these guys do a solid job, and their treehouse brewery/restaurant has a great jungle vibe and a varied food and drink menu.
Lunch at Phat Noodle turned out to be a good find as well, with Asian fusion food freshly prepared from the kitchen, which exists inside a hollowed out bus.
The Trek Continues
Sherie said goodbye to Costa Rica, while Jess, Ramona and I embarked toward unfamiliar territory. Our 4×4 would soon travel about 150 kilometers from Ojochal, zigzagging toward Puerto Jiménez in the Osa Peninsula, the base for our next adventure.
A toucan at our visit to the Alturas Wildlife Sanctuary
By the way, my wife is a wonderful driver.