The joy and splendor of travel lost on one man

Montezuma, Costa Rica.

Rae had this past Monday off from school, so we headed to the beach at Montezuma. It was going to be our first time there. We left Friday after school.

As always, getting around Costa Rica was a tad laborious. We caught a ride down off the mountain in Monteverde to the beat-up sand pit that is the town of Puntarenas. It took us about two hours. Puntarenas is probably the biggest town on the Nicoya Gulf. The casual observer might initially think the whole place is nothing more than a weather-beaten sand pit in need of a good, cleansing hurricane. The more seasoned eye would note that Puntarenas is also home to an outstanding community of winos, pimps and drug addicts.

In Puntarenas, we hopped on the Tambor Ferry for a 90 minute ride across the gulf to the town of Paquera. Grabbing a cab in Paquera, we started the last leg of our trip. The drive from Paquera to Montezuma only takes an hour. You get to enjoy some beautiful views of the ocean as you start working your way toward the southern end of the Nicoya Peninsula. The whole trip from Monteverde took about five hours, but it felt much shorter.

Now, about Montezuma…

Montezuma just made me feel old. I recognize that there was a time in my life when I would have had a blast there. Sadly, that time has come and gone. Instead of embracing the laid back, chill atmosphere of the Montezuma, I just wanted to turn a fire hose on the whole place.

The main part of town is only about two blocks long. There are a handful of restaurants and bars along the water, a couple of hotels, a grocery store, and a few shops selling various crap. The whole place is crawling with 22-year-old clumps of dirt with dreadlocks, leathery old hippies wandering helplessly through the trees while searching the sand for 1967, and a handful of tired Ticos who have be asking themselves, “Seriously? This is what a global super power like the United States breeds?”

I hauled our bags out of the back of the cab and grabbed a table at a restaurant looking out onto the street. Our hotel was actually a five minute drive along the beach just north of town, but the tide had come in so the hotel’s Jeep couldn’t come pick us up for another hour. We had to wait in town until the tide went out again.

We ordered drinks and a few snacks then sat back to watch some of the street scene. Rae enjoyed it, and Pam got a kick out of it, too. I just couldn’t quite buy into the vibe.

Some guy in front of us was trying to hustle some change from tourists. Again, there was a time when I would have admired his carefree spirit and playful nature. Now, though, I just wanted to take him by the shoulders and say, “Look, I wish Jerry was still alive, too. We all miss him. But please, take off the jester’s cap and stop juggling bowling pins in the middle of the street! You look like an asshole, and you’re blocking traffic.”

Our ride to the hotel eventually arrived, and we headed up the beach.

The hotel was pretty cool. It is called the Hotel Ylang Ylang and bills itself as some kind of eco resort. Normally I’m a bit skeptical of eco resorts. “Eco Resort” is usually code for “we didn’t spring for A/C or hot water,” but the Ylang Ylang has both. And instead of hippies juggling bowling pins, they have hippies doing yoga. I don’t really care for either, but at least Ylang Ylang’s hippies do their yoga in a separate room and not in the middle of the hotel’s pathways.

We threw our bags in the little geodesic dome that was our cabin and grabbed a bite to eat. If you ever feel like heading down here, I highly recommend the restaurant. It was probably the best food we’ve come across in Costa Rica. The hotel itself is fine, but you can probably find better values in town. The beach in front was a death trap when we were there. Lots of rocks and a very strong undertow. No one was swimming there the whole weekend. Our room was also tiny and had a few issues that I will get to in a moment.

Another strange thing about Montezuma is that for a beach town, it has pretty crappy beaches (at least when we were there.) You can’t really swim or surf. There are rocks the size of Volkswagens all over the place, and many of them are just under the water where you can’t really see them until you’re being pounded into little pieces. There were no surfable waves when we were there. Most people head over to Mal Pais if they want to catch a wave. Just like the beach in front of our hotel, the parts of the beach in Montezuma that weren’t blocked by boulders dealt wicked undertows.

Like concussions and multiple contusions? Swim here.

So when we wanted to get into the water, we walked about 30 minutes north to Playa Grande. It was great. The beach is maybe 1.5 miles long and incredibly wide. It’s probably 150 yeards from the edge of the trees to the water, and in between is fairly pristine sand. The only real downside is that from the water, it takes about 30 seconds to cover those 150 yards when you’re trying to catch the kids who just jumped out of the trees and stole all your shit. The three women we ran into who had just been robbed explained this in great detail.

We found a group of tourists who were hanging out on the beach and asked if they could watch our stuff while we hit the waves.

The waves at Playa Grande were perfect for body boarding, and Rae wasted no time. She really enjoys the water. She was riding the white water for about 50 yards. Pam grabbed the board and caught some waves, too. She wouldn’t go out very deep, so she was just riding the white water, too. There was one wave, though, where I really wish I had the camera.

Most of the wave faces were in the 3-5 foot range. Pam wold let them break first, then ride the foam. She was in the middle of doing this when a wave formed behind her that was closer to the seven feet. It formed perfectly and was a beautiful clear blue. It closed out all at once and sent spray and foam exploding about 12 feet into the air. Pam was riding the previous wave and had her back to it. Good thing, too. She would have had a heart attack if she had seen that thing coming at her.

I didn’t tell her about it and just sent her out to catch another wave.

Playa Grande–great for playing in the waves and robbing people.

If you don’t feel like swimming in the ocean, you can take a dip in one of the rivers that comes down out of the hills to meet the sea. There are plenty of nice little swimming holes and waterfalls that you can hike to. We stopped at one that was about halfway between Playa Grande and our hotel. A few folks were hanging around and drinking beers, but it wasn’t overly crowded. There was also a pretty nice rock garden there.

The whole rock garden.

OK. Stacking rocks is actually a cool hippie pastime.

Back at our hotel, we had two nice run-ins with the local wildlife. For starters, the Hotel Ylang Ylang is overrun with crabs. Not “three-day shore leave in Okinawa” kind of crabs. I’m talking about Halloween crabs like this one that was hanging out with his beetle pal on our screen door:

Who doesn't enjoy a tasty beetle for breakfast?

The other wildlife story is now becoming old hat around here. We were all in bed. Pam and I were reading. Rae, of course, was refusing to go to sleep. It was about 10:00p.m., and she was pulling out all the usual tricks.

“Dad, I’m really hungry. Can I have a snack?”

“No, Rae. You just ate dinner. Now go to sleep.”

“Dad, can you tuck me in?”

“No, Rae. I tucked you in 15 times already. Now go to sleep.”

“Dad, there are ghosts in the room.”

“There aren’t any ghosts in here, Rae. Now go to sleep.”

“Dad, there’s a giant scorpion by your head.”

“No there’s not, Rae. Now go to… HOLY SHIT!”

There was indeed a giant scorpion on the wall right by head. It was the same kind that I showed you in the last blog entry. I pancaked it with my shoe and spent the rest of the night staring at the ceiling directly above my head.

Overall, I’m glad we checked out Montezuma. I’d heard a lot about it and wanted to see it. That having been said, I see no real reason to go back. There are much, much better beaches in Costa Rica. The town itself isn’t enough to be a real draw. It’s not really funky enough to be interesting. It’s only funky enough to be annoying.

6 Responses to “Montezuma, Costa Rica.”

  1. Nick

    Sue, do you mean Sugar Beach just north of Playa Flamingo?

    I think Nosara may have changed a bit since you were last there. There is a lot of petty theft there now. It’s overrun with expats who bought for pennies all the coast land from the Ticos, which forced the Ticos inland. The Ticos, who can now only get jobs waiting tables, go back to their cruddy homes in the jungle every night and fume about the invasion of their beach. (Wait a minute. I just described every beach in Costa Rica. Never mind.)

  2. Sue

    Never went to Montezuma but I know lots of the teachers headed there on breaks. Our favorite was Sugar Beach and Nosara.

    Eager to share more when you get home.

  3. Nick

    Craig, you should come down here.

    “I got a concussion while surfing some gnarly double-overheads” sounds a lot better than “I knocked myself unconscious while trying to pick up a dog turd.”

  4. chris

    so nice to take the trip to monteverde with you and enjoy the sights and stories. i love your whit and ability to write which such knack and humor…You made me smile through the entire trip. I cna’t imagine 7 foot waves and Pam out there. SHit I wouldn’t be in waves more than 2 feet….and the scorpions,,,i don’t mind spiders but scorps might end that for me…
    tell rae that I had a little baby bird that flew down the chimney and wound up in my wood burning stove…(now being I am afraid of birds flying around) I immediately called a friend to come and take the tiny bird from my stove…It was quite humorous and I am sure after being around scorpions Rae might enjoy my fear of little tiny birds..i find it rather humorous myself…

    I miss you all very much, can’t wait to see you and for summer to come…a b and b might be something to look forward to doing…Pam says her spanish coming along nicely hou about you? Bet rae is doing great with hers. I might be able to say hello how are you and a few other things that’s it.
    Mom and is doing quite well still. I am fine, wish I had alittle bit more freedom but doing ok…
    Can’t wait to see you, give yourself, Pam and Rae a hug and kiss for both mom and me…
    love y

  5. Lynne

    LOVED this entry, Nick…feel like I’ve been to Montezuma, too…and also don’t need to return (I’m just glad none of you were stricken with…er, “Montezuma’s Revenge”!!!). Till next time…:-)


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