Guanacaste Weekend

Hey Kiddo!

You probably won’t remember any of this when you finally get around to reading this, so I’m going to slide you a few details of the weekend.

1 May in many parts of the world is known as “May Day”, or “Labour Day”. Thanks to the Cold War, many people also think of 1 May as the day that Soviets drive tanks and nuclear missiles through Red Square. The Soviets kind of missed the point, there, as the goal of May Day was not to celebrate one’s military strength, but the power of your own proletariat — the workers themselves.

Here in Costa Rica, most people go to the beach.

Given how our Easter long weekend was totally thwarted by illness, we were quite anxious to actually leave Santa Ana for the first time since Valentine’s Day back in February (not counting our escape to Canada — that was already well-planned-for, and ultimately necessary due to visas). Mommy long ago made friends with another Avalon resident, Sandra, whose family owns a small B&B in Guanacaste province.

Where exactly they had their B&B was a topic for some debate for us (we only knew it was in Guanacaste, and that they were not far from a beach), but they claimed we were welcome to join them and experience a wonderful little weekend away from the Central Valley. That was pretty much what we needed, so the plans were put in place so we could head off bright and early Friday morning.

We left the condo at around 7:30, with the full intention of hitting the Denny’s near the airport for breakfast (not my first choice, but Mommy loves the place — you seem to dig the pancakes). We hit traffic within mere moments of getting on the highway. We drove on the shoulder for the last kilometre or so before the turnoff for breakfast. It wasn’t much better when we got back on, but thankfully let up just west of the airport (the highway narrows from three lanes to one lane, to two lanes, back to one lane (crossing a bridge) then back out to two again.

Highways in Costa Rica have … issues.

We hit pockets of traffic a few more times on our way west, just to the west of the road to Grecia, Naranjo, Palmares, San Ramón, before running up and down the mountains to Esparza — following trucks means you go slowly. And then there’s one stoplight (literally) in Esparza that backed things up for a few kilometres. After that things got better, but still a little slow. Especially when you’ve got trucks (again) that don’t move along well, and some of the older cars and pickups have trouble getting over 40 km/h.

We stopped along the way, just before noon, at a restaurant called “The Green Turtle”. None of us were particularly hungry, but I was parched with thirst, and we could all use a bit of a break. The only thing we ate were frijoles molidas (black beans ground into a paste) with tortilla chips. You love the stuff. But you were more interested in playing on the slides they had there — playsets for the countless children who would likely arrive as the day went on.

Finally passing through Liberia several hours later, we headed west towards the town of Guardia, where we’d turn south, and (hopefully) find our destination. Our instructions said “turn right at Guardia”. When I’d reviewed the instructions before I’d left the office on Thursday, they hadn’t made a lot of sense, especially when reviewed using the glory that is Google Earth.

The only right in Guardia would have turned us north, and we knew Sandra’s place to be near Playa del Coco. The next possible right seemed more “correct”, but when I looked at Google Earth, all I saw were farms. Now I know that Google Earth’s photos of Costa Rica are a few years old, so they aren’t that accurate. But even then, I could see fairly easily that there was something along a different road that showed what was likely the place we were going to be staying at for two nights.

(And yes, I’m intentionally being inaccurate about where we stayed. There’s a reason.)

Sure enough, when we turned right where the directions said to turn, all we found was farmland. (Burning farmland, actually. This seems to be the burning season when scrub is scorched in preparation for the rainy season.) After going much further down the road than we should have driven, we about-faced and headed back. Thankfully, Sandra also called and confirmed that we were on the wrong road.

Finally on the correct road, it was only a few minutes before we arrived at the B&B. (And yes, it was exactly where I thought it would be. Your father has his moments of self-perceived genius. You’ll come to loathe it as much as Mommy.) And it was hot. Damn hot. The Central Valley has a wonderful climate — never too hot, never too cold. Guanacaste doesn’t have the benefit of the mountains to keep things regulated, and the lack of mountains means less rainfall. It’s been the warmest and driest summer in 50 years (“summer” here is when it’s not the rainy season), and it was plainly visible: dry creek beds, brown grass, wilted plants, and even the cattle looked parched.

Our first destination was the pool. All three of us were far too hot for reason, and Sandra’s boys easily encouraged a plunge. You drank a little too much pool water, though. We don’t think it’ll cause any lasting damage.

Pool time, Comunidad, Guanacaste, Costa Rica, 2 May 2009

One thing that does puzzle your mother and I, though — you always seem to get sick when we go out to the coast. I hope it isn’t an allergy to something. Perhaps only something as awful as a change in temperature?

We headed into Playa del Coco to have dinner and do a little exploring. There was no mistaking the beach-town atmosphere, complete with open-air sports bars (including “tex-mex” food), souvenir and “artisan” stands, and more gringos than we’ve seen since we’d visited Canada. Playa del Coco is built-up, and away from the beach Mommy and I were reminded heavily of places we’d seen in Hawaii. The AutoMercado there carries things that we can’t even find in Escazú.

The beach itself is still a beach — it hasn’t been perverted into stands, stalls, and other commercial stuff. There seems to be a Costa Rican law that not only makes all beaches public (even when all the land surrounding them is private), but prevents their development — a beach is still a beach. And Playa del Coco is a nice beach, too. Not the nicest I’ve seen, but definitely in the upper third.

Playa del Coco, Guanacaste, Costa Rica, 2 May 2009

We ate dinner at a small restaurant at the beach’s edge, looking into the setting sun. It was a fantastic sunset, too — the best we’ve seen since arriving here last June (a very sad reality, given how many good sunset we had hoped to have seen by now). Sadly, dinner was a bit of a wash — you didn’t feel like eating (at all), screaming and whining through most of it. Sorry to be so blunt, but it was definitely unlike you — you’ve never turned down spaghetti before.

Sunset over Playa del Coco, Guanacaste, Costa Rica, 2 May 2009

That was followed by perhaps one of the worst evenings I can recall as a father. I don’t know what was wrong, kiddo, I can only presume you were so tired that you couldn’t get comfortable. But you whimpered and cried for what seemed like hours. Mommy tried very hard to get you to lie still and rest, but in the end she had to hold you for about a half hour before you would go to sleep. None of us rested well that night.

Playa Hermosa lies just to the north of Playa del Coco, so we headed up the extra two kilometres for a different beach. (Incidentally, we found most of the distance markers highly suspect — Mommy suspects the distances are “as the crow flies”, since there’s no way to drive in the short distances the signs suggest.) Despite the proximity to Coco, Hermosa is a very different place, being almost entirely a haven for condos and hotels. There are almost no stores, and there seem to be more residents or time-share owners than there are actual tourists.

Playa Hermosa itself is much nicer than Playa del Coco — the sand is softer, the water clearer, and there’s more shade, too. We got there at a perfect time to park near the entrance to the beach (little more than the end of a road) and claim a prime spot on the beach, still in the shade of a large tree.

That was about as good as it got, sadly. Maybe it was the lack of sleep, kiddo, but you absolutely would have nothing to do with that beach. I’ve never seen you object so vehemently about something. You hated walking on the sand (whether or not you wore shoes), and the thought of going into the water created sounds out of you that would have curdled the blood of the most fearless soldiers. You and Mommy spent almost all of your time on the beach mats, while I swam alone. It wasn’t the same without you.

You wouldn’t sleep back at the B&B, either. But a dip in the pool seemed to make everyone feel a better.Enough that the three of us scooted back into Playa del Coco for pizza (that happens to be one of your favourite words right now) at La Dolce Vita, just north of the town’s beach centre. You had an entire slice to yourself, which you ate quite happily.

We stopped for gelato on the way back. You had a mango ice, which you ate eagerly. You didn’t even shiver or make faces, which you usually do when eating cold things. I swear you would have tried to lick the inside of the cup if anyone had shown you that it was possible.

You fell asleep in the car on the way back to the B&B, and despite not liking being carried from the car to your playpen, you went back to sleep about 20 minutes later for about two hours, which I think you needed. Mommy and I sat outside reading — she was reading Dog the Bounty Hunter’s autobiography while I read up on climate change and Egyptian history in National Geographic. (I’m sure you know by now that your father is a geek.)

We tried to see the sunset that night at Playa Ocotel, a few kilometres to the south of Coco, but the clouds obscured virtually everything. There was a hint of light, but that was about it. We trucked off back to Hermosa for dinner at Ginger’s, which was a recommendation from Sandra. You ate a lot of the Sopa Azteca (“Mexican soup”), revelling in the tortilla chips and sour cream. You ate a lot that night, which made both Mommy and I very happy.

We all sleep much better that night.

Breakfast was at the Hilton Garden Inn, across from the Liberia airport. Mommy wanted something “typical” rather than “tipíco”. Although I’m sure she thinks that I disapproved of going there, I actually quite liked it. Everyone there seemed to love our adorable little girl who was smiling, babbling, and (mostly) behaving like an angel (the fork banging notwithstanding).

Our trip home was considerably easier and faster than our trip out, and you slept about half of it (so I understand if you don’t remember a thing about the drive — there’s lots of time for us to bore you to tears with long drives). We didn’t eat until we got back to Santa Ana, at the Soda Tapia. You had chicken fingers again, along with some french fried potatoes (which Mommy and I ate many of, as well).

And last night, you had your first ever experience with Indian food, which we got from Tandoori Palace, a little restaurance in Lindora, owned by a guy who had lived in Calgary for a few years. Arguably far better than I would have expected for Costa Rica, this Indian actually ranks way up in my books for quality and taste. You ate a lot of the rice and samosa, though Mommy and I weren’t up to serving you the butter chiken or the dahl — we were certain you’d find the spice a bit painful.

It was a long weekend, but in a good way. We all got a bit of a break, and I got to spend a lot more time with you than I usually get in a given week. We will have to try to have more of these weekends!

And yes, we have pictures of you there as proof.