Travelogue – Costa Rica

Note to anyone expecting a perfume post for today. This will touch on smell, but it’s mostly a Travelogue.

Our trip to Costa Rica was wondrous.  You never really believe a place can be that lush and almost untouched, until you drive down the backroads and see this simpler life unfolding around you.  Then all you feel is a wave of gratitude that it doesn’t look like Cancun and hope fervently that it never will.

The first part of our trip was up to Arenal to see the volcano.  Well, mission so not accomplished there.  The hotel, The Springs Resort and Lodge or Lodge and Resort, something like that, was gorgeous and wicked expensive.  Yeah, it had 18 hot springs to swim in, the hotel was immaculate and built in a way so every room had an amazing view, even when it was cloudy and misty for the four days we were there.  I’d recommend it if you have money to burn.

The driving!  I just can’t think about this too much without hyperventilating.  There are no road signs in Costa Rica, no highway signs.  It’s like the one-person transportation department made up a big game of travel checkers with the $1200 yearly budget and left no directions except the 12 road signs in the entire country – all of which poorly painted and come up about 100 feet before you might need to turn.

An argument broke out in the car over the No Hay Paso sign.  What do you think that means? I thought it meant I couldn’t pass, but it’s a wrong way sign of sorts, as I found out when the other cars coming right at me in my lane pointed out to me with their horns and some other visual cues with their hands and fingers.

Another good recommendation if you plan to drive in Costa Rica – just rent the GPS they offer at the car rental place.  With all the extra insurance you’re paying for – with great reason! – it’s a small amount, and apparently they have a monopoly on accurate GPS mapping, as we found out after we downloaded one that people raved about, only to find it had no idea where we were exactly most of the time and figured out how to take us on a longer route back to San Jose than the already convoluted way we had gone going in the other direction.

We returned the car, paid off the debt with my arm and leg and get a taxi to the teeny domestic airport, Bolanos, to catch our flight to the more remote Puerto Jimenez in the Osa Peninsula.  They weigh you before they let you on the plane. then they put you on a van to drive you to the teeny prop plane. It sets down in Puerto Jimenez, which is this sleepy little fishing village by the ocean, they clip the trees with the landing gear on the landing, wheel around and stop – right  next to a cemetery.  I was laughing too hard to remember to get a picture of it, and I was distracted, too, trying to figure out which person waiting at the gate (and I use that term exactly – it was a gate that swung back and forth exiting the landing field) was there to take us to our home for the next week. Ah, the guy that nods yes to “La Pina?”

No road we had taken up to this point prepared me for the road from Puerto Jimenez to Pan Dulce.  It was the worst road ever.  I have some authority in this because I grew up on a farm in Kansas, where we had to deal with narrow, washed-out bridges, sand roads, dirt roads that became mud pits when it rained. This road had a bridge that was made of rebar and just fit a vehicle on it.  Driving through water with lots of rock on the bottom made me a lot happier.

We finally got to La Pina, which is so darn cute.  It’s a bamboo house, all solar, with a huge porch to watch the monkeys, macaws, coatis, pizotes and butterflies from.  Which is what we pretty much did that whole first day. The monkeys were swinging by as we arrived, and 40 or 50 of their friends went back and forth through the trees like three times that afternoon. We were mesmerized.  The first howler monkey howling – more like a woofing roar – made me look in the trees for the dinosaurs.  Amazing beyond belief. Rugged, beautiful, untouched, pristine, where you feel like you are definitely not the one in charge of anything.

The beach we had all to ourselves most of the time, though we did share it with Ticos and pelicans fishing.  The pelicans would dive bomb right beside you in the water.  As remote as you can get, staring out at the waves and an old inactive volcano across the water.   I could happily spend my life just watching the waves come in.  It reminds me that I always need to live my life from my center – the part that knows who I am and needs no one or no thing to define me – and that we should all live like water, never resisting, just flowing.

We walked everywhere.  Down to Martina’s, the little dive by the side of the road 15 minutes’ walk away, for beer. We walked up the super-steep hill to Lapa Rios.  It’s perched in the hills up from the beach, surrounded completely by rainforest and has a view that almost makes you weep because it breaks your heart that you can’t hold that sight forever in your memory.

The smell?  Clean, lush, ripe, green, alive.  In our yard was a ylang tree that the caretaker, William, showed me.  I’d never smelled fresh ylang before, and it wasn’t exactly what I was expecting.  Yeah, it smells like Chanel No. 5, but lusher, overripe.  I went out and picked some every day and wore it in my swimsuit strap.  It was enchantingly perfect for where we were.
Then there were the bug wars.  The sun went down at 6 p.m. every night, so we’d turn on the lights so we could see a little to read on the deck.  The bugs didn’t bother you at all until the lights went on.  We quickly beat a retreat to our beds by 8, so we could crawl under the mosquito netting.  But then it would just get weird because we’d have the light on reading, and you’d look up and around the mosquito netting and see some scary things crawling ont he netting surrounding you. Some mornings there were strange bugs just hanging around, really BIG ones.  Normally spiders, bugs, snakes makes me scream and cry like a little girl, but for some reason they didn’t bother me there, they just don’t move fast, it’s like Jurassic park bugs, you don’t really believe the big ones are real.

Our alarm clock was the howlers.  4:30a on the dot, and it would go on for a couple of hours as they moved through the trees, on all sides.  Since we went to sleep at 8 most nights, the early wake-up call was pretty great.

All of that are just the things that we saw/experienced, but you can never really get a feel the Osa Peninsula by the details.  It is much more than that. It is a pacing, the attitude of manyana manyana – there’s time for that tomorrow.  It was perfect because it felt real – not a vacation spot, but a place where people live – really live.

Then it was time to go home, and I cried a little, and I miss it still.

  • Sarah says:

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  • AnnieA says:

    Hmm, time for another monkey icon…:(|)

  • melanie says:

    My son, age 28, is in Costa Rica for the month of January with some friends. They have rented a house near a town called Tamarindo. they are working everyday via laptops and wifi,but are surfing every afternoon; also went to visit a volcano this past weekend. Sounds like you were close to where he is now. his blog is is you want to check it out.

    • zeezee says:

      OH! Playa de Tamarindo is EASILY the most idyllic spot I’ve ever been in the world, let alone in Costa Rica. It’s a Bounty beach, with gorgeous if frightening waves, and access to the beach is horribly difficult (you need a 4×4 to get through the swamp, ’nuff said) so it’s relatively quiet.

  • Tara C says:

    Hmmm… sounds a bit too “wild” for me but obviously it was just right for you! Welcome back!

  • Disteza says:

    OK, I so need to go back! :((
    The street signs, when they’re there, ar a little confusing, but as long as you know the important ones you should be OK. No Hay Paso basically means ‘Don’t Go That Way’, either because it’s a dead end or a one-way street. Alto is stop, which you probably already know, and No Virar is No (Left or Right) turn.

  • Margot says:


    Memories of Costa Rica came flooding back when I read this – you captured the feeling of Costa Rica, and especially the Osa Penninsula, beautifully. So mesmerizing. I found myself thinking and speaking (!) Spanish, despite the fact that I have NO training in the language. I mourned for weeks when I returned.

  • Elizabeth says:

    Lovely to read this…thanks for sharing. Glad you had a wonderful trip.

  • Fiordiligi says:

    Thank you Patty for a wonderfully evocative piece about your trip to a place which is so incredibly different and almost beyond comprehension for a European! So glad you had such a fab time, even if the driving was something else.

  • bryan says:

    That, my dear, was utterly beautiful and enchanting. I thank you for sharing your journey with us and I can say I was moved by the way it touched you. I don’t know if I could do the little plane thing, but I think of myself as pretty adventurous.
    I particularly loved the way you describe the water. You’ve mentioned staring at the waves before and I think you hit it on the head with your analogy….that we should live from the center. That really struck a cord with me; and I’m going to try to do that more often. Thank you Patty, for reminding me that life is an adventure.