part 1 | part 2 | part 3
Day 4 - Wed Nov 18 - Transfer to Palo Verde National Park
Hotel El Establo offers an exquisite breakfast and right after this Palo Verde National Park is your next destination. Here you will get the opportunity to embark on a boat safari tour and get a close up view of crocodiles, monkeys and hundreds of different species of birds and reptiles. After this adventure you will be visiting the cultural pottery town of Guaitil and learn about the Costa Rican traditions and culture while observing how pottery has been made for centuries. You will also acquire knowledge about historical facts of Costa Rica. Afterwards you will make a quick stop to visit the oldest church of Costa Rica, built in 1644 in Nicoya. After a short drive from Nicoya to Playa Sámara you will then arrive at the Hotel Villas Playa Sámara for the rest of your trip.
i woke early & used the hotel hair dryer on my jeans until they were dry enough to wear, then took some panoramas of the morning view on our back porch. aj heard animals screaming in the jungle last night - he said it started with just one, then everything in the place was shrieking - but i completely slept through it. i wished we were staying here another night. at breakfast, accompanied by oddly rave-like music, we enjoyed cassava pancakes, plántanos, more awesome pineapple... & jalapeño poppers. okay, costa rica, breakfast rave with jalapeño poppers - no problem.
aj noted there were no fast cars, but then recognized that the terrible roads probably play a big part in that. we drove on towards sámara on probably our first paved road, stopping at an area where tons of scarlet macaws hung around for their photo ops, & i bought a piece of dulce de leche cake. we saw an immense tree, "el guanacaste", the national tree of costa rica, also called an elephant ear tree.
the next stop was in guaitil, where we saw a really cool pottery demonstration (after aj & i were totally distracted by a wild ctenosaur (awesome spinytail iguana) sitting on tree stump a half block away). a guy whose family had been making pots for some eight hundred years threw a pot for us, & it was perfect. he showed us that they don't glaze the fired pots, but instead polish them with a quartz rock, & talked about how they're painted & all. only the men are the potters, which is contrary to what i'd expected. entranced, aj & i both bought pots - his an urn with designs all around ($50), & mine an interestingly-shaped flat vase with a lizard painted on it ($30). we felt pretty good about supporting this cool village.
we drove past the most giant of fluffy white clouds to the palo verde national park. we stopped for photos when felipe spotted howler monkeys, & at the same time found ctenosaurs & a super fuzzy caterpillar that i was strongly warned not to touch, haha. our next stop was a boat tour on the tempisque river - we saw great blue herons, great egrets, long nose bats, several crocodiles including one eating something vicious, an osprey, & tons of iguanas, many of them bright orange. YAY. the open boat was pleasantly breezy & had a canopy so i wasn't too sunlight-exposed, & i loved the whole thing.
after the boat, we had lunch nearby - i had the fried sea bass, & the table shared picadillo salad, rice & beans, & a terrific light blackberry pineapple juice - very refreshing. after, they brought us bowls of dragon fruit sorbet, & i was happy.
we drove on to our final hotel, the villas playa sámara. we checked in & found we'd been given a suite right on the beach with a kitchen & two bedrooms (though one was locked, haha). i went back to the main reception area to catch up on wifi just in time for a torrential downpour to begin. relaxing on a sofa in the open-air reception, enjoying the warmth & humidity, bonding with the staff, surrounded by flooding rains & wet people running for cover while i myself was dry & reading a book - that was pretty great. :D aj had a swim (first in the pool, then in the walkways - the rain came down for hours!) & then we had dinner with the entire tour group. i was impressed by the hotel's buffet, & they had a dijon pork loin that made me go back for seconds. we said goodnight to the group & i took a cute photo with Grandma Cheekbones, but i figured i'd see everyone again here & there for the next few days.
Day 5 - Thu Nov 19 - Transfer to Villas Playa Sámara
You will be at Hotel Villas Playa Sámara enjoying one of the most magnificent beaches that Costa Rica offers. Recently voted the 2nd best beach in Central America by TripAdvisor; Sámara is a top destination to relax and enjoy the sand and sun. Hotel Villas Playa Sámara has many other benefits at your service. You will also be entitled to a 2 for 1 discount in Spa Packages. Onsite you will find a Monkey Tours desk with many other activities you can schedule through our tour operator.
the breakfast buffet had lovely vanilla pancakes & pineapple jam, & the yellowest local butter i've seen anywhere. the day was starting with our second round of costa rican horseback riding, a two hour trail through the jungle, & i was stoked. the hotel shuttled us ten minutes out to playa carrillo, & the driver let us know that this is "the father" beach, & sámara beach is "the daughter". okay, sure.
we mounted cute white horses, & aj was happier this time as his horse was much more attentive. there were two guides & two strangers with us; all were friendly & happy to be there. we trooped down the street for a few blocks & then turned into a jungle path. it was pretty glorious walking along through all the lush greenery. one of the guides stopped & started scraping something off a tree - he came over & told us that anyone lost in the costa rican jungles could survive off these - termites! he ate one & offered them to us, & i jumped right in. the small bugs popped like tobiko & tasted like pine nuts; really quite pleasant.
we carried on, & started up a major hill. it was rocky & awesome & really fun. i was chatting with aj, & encouraged him to come up alongside me so we could talk better... & though they'd been well-tempered until then, the horses did NOT like that. we'd been walking in the order the horses had chosen - guide, Dude Stranger, me, aj, Lady Stranger, guide - & when aj rode up next to me, chaos ensued. aj's horse tried to bite mine - we avoided that, but the horse in front of me was having no truck with the shit happening behind him, & he kicked both back legs at my horse. only one of his hooves landed... but it landed on ME, square on my shin.
the kick was over before i realized it hurt. i barely saw his horseshoe flash. i looked down & there was a big muddy hoofprint on my jeans. scared that he'd broken my leg, i carefully wiggled my toes... but thankfully, everything in my foot worked fine & without pain. we walked a few steps before i had to stop the group to look at my leg, & it's a good thing i did - the kick had cut open my shin & was bleeding fairly freely. one of the guides dismounted to pour some cold water over the wound, & that helped to slow the bleeding. Dude Stranger handed me a wad of tissues, & the guide helped me to tuck it up under my pant leg, then push my pant leg into my boot to hold it in place. they asked if i wanted to turn back, but we were only fifteen minutes into a two-hour trail that i was seriously enjoying. it didn't hurt THAT much, & though i figured it'd need stitches, i knew people waited way longer for stitches in the ER... so i elected to go on. i was generally cheered as a badass, & we continued up the hill.
the group passed howler monkeys in the trees - the guides called to them & got them to call back - & continued up the steep rocky road to a plateau. it was gorgeous - we were higher than anything else around, & could see out to the ocean. we spent a few minutes walking around on our horses, & took a bunch of pics before heading down. after following the steepest part of the path back down, the trail split to a new direction, & we wound through the jungle & up to a second plateau. it was starting to spit rain at this point; having left my raincoat at the hotel, i was concerned about getting my phone wet, so i didn't take more pics.
leaving the second plateau, the rain held back a bit & we came to a long beach with dark gray sand. there was hardly anyone around, & i would've LOVED to canter along it, but i knew that jarring my leg would be the worst idea. i felt like the bleeding had slowed & i didn't want to dislodge any clots that had formed. so i walked on carefully, & laughed as my horse bowed to drink saltwater from tide pools & make hilarious tongue-led faces. we snapped more photos, then left the beach through a field, a bit more jungle, & then back to the street we came in on.
back at our starting point, one of the guides VERY carefully helped me down, & i hobbled back to the van. the big mass of tissues that Dude Stranger gave me were nearly all wet with bright red blood, & i reveled in grossing everyone out by offering them my "sangre rojo". we dropped off the strangers & then i was driven over to the nearby urgent care, accompanied by one of the hotel stewards.
the nurse & doctor there were both awesome. they spoke great english & were amused by how excited & interested i was in my injury. before starting, i asked for an estimate on cost, as i didn't have travel insurance & don't like financial surprises. i was told the antibiotics would be about $40, & the office visit, all-inclusive, about $130. sheesh, that's less than this would've cost in the states WITH insurance!
they proceeded to do some things i'd never had done - the horse's hoof had cut me straight down to the bone, so after a few syringes of lidocaine, the nurse had to feel all around inside my leg to make sure there was no bone splinter or other dirt in the wound. i got a really gross photo of her a knuckle deep in my shin (& this is your only trigger warning for the pics below :D ), then i flipped around on the table so the doctor could get to sewing. proving his awesomeness, he asked if i wanted to see my bone! i couldn't bend that far, but i got a great photo showing all the little lines in my tibia.
i felt a good portion of the work - i'd warned them that i metabolize anesthetics super quickly, & both were impressed that i could feel anything after three full vials of lidocaine. they said they couldn't give me more due to health concerns, & i assured them i knew that & that we were good to go. boo to poor anesthetic response, but yay to high pain tolerance, hey? the area was kind of mush - the horse had kicked me so hard that he even tore my jeans against the backstop of my bone - but the good doctor placed four internal & then five external stitches (nueve suturas :) ) to put me back together. he did some kind of fancy suture technique for the outside ones so it'd heal flatter. they offered me the forceps & suture scissors they used, noting that they're one-use & would be discarded otherwise, & i happily took them for my medical collection. after a shot in the butt (antibiotics or tetanus, i forgot to ask), i was given a prescription for six days of azithromycin ("azitromicina"!) & we were done. i shook the nurse's & doctor's hands & thanked them for their good care. the doctor said, "it was fun!"
at the front desk, one of the guys from the hotel stepped up & said they'd like to pay for the office visit for me. i thought that was SUPER kind, & i gladly accepted the offer. i don't know if it's because i didn't sign a waiver before riding, or just because they liked me & appreciated that i was understanding about being hurt, but that was unexpected & lovely. we drove to the pharmacy to fill my antibiotics, & then went back to the hotel.
i forgot we were swapping rooms from the beach-front suite (which had some warped-wood struggles like any beach place will have, but more importantly there was a lake that formed on all paths to it when it rained) to a regular room closer to reception, & with a tv at aj's request. (either room was fine by me - i liked relaxing in the reception area when i wasn't off doing activities, & i'm not a beach girl anyhow, so whatever.) they moved our luggage for us & we settled in. i did my best to wash the blood out of my jeans, then aj hung a clothesline for drying them.
i limped back to the reception area & we had lunch at the hotel restaurant - we split the mahi mahi tips with tamarind sauce (the sauce tasted like what teriyaki should be) & unbreaded coconut shrimp in which we could easily taste the fresh coconut. totally delicious, & we got a couple of guanabana smoothies to go with, too. happy & fed, i barely moved off the sofa until dinner - just relaxed with my leg up & read books, occasionally telling the story to our trip friends & the hotel staff (who already loved me from hanging out with them the previous night & quietly mocking the over-inflated nasty american tourists who didn't understand that hey, costa rica has bugs).
i had meant to have my Grammy Memorial Tattoo addition done saturday or sunday, but the tattoo artist had to bail a few days before my trip due to a family issue. it was a bummer since his shop was within walking distance of the hotel, & i'd been having trouble finding ANY other shop, much less a clean & safe one. i asked my buddies at the front desk, & they said they'd ask around.
Day 6 - Fri Nov 20 - Villas Playa Sámara
i noticed that the toilet in our new room was oddly tall, & my feet didn't touch the floor when i peed. amusingly enough, this was a benefit considering the state of my leg, heh. i was able to hobble around on it well enough, anyhow.
we had a light breakfast at the hotel before proceeding to the three-hour "ocean tri combo" tour. supposedly we were taking a boat out to do some fishing, snorkeling, & a dolphin watch, but the water was too choppy to snorkel (fine by me, i hated it both times i tried it previously), & the fishing ended up being "we tied these two poles to the boat & are now going way too fast to catch anything". oh well. it was still a nice boat ride, though much too long for me. & it was also nice to bond a bit with Grandma Canada & Grandpa Canada from our group, though Annoyed 20yo & Giggles stayed to the back of the boat. in the last hour, we did spot a whole slew of dolphins. they weren't as playful as the ones i'd encountered in hawaii, but we saw a lot of dorsal fins cutting the waves, & it was aj's first time, so i had fun.
aj carried me back off the boat, as he'd done to board it, as i couldn't get my stitches wet. (keeping the wound dry was also why we canceled our kayak tour to chora island, but i'm glad i got onto the water in at least one way.) i limped back to the room, passing some crazy looking red & black striped variegated squirrels & a few big ctenosaurs - one of which was trying to get into a residence, haha. there were also several horses just wandering down the beach - i wasn't sure if they were wild or just out for a stroll, but i loved them.
back at the reception area, i asked if they'd had any success finding me a tattoo artist. i wasn't holding my breath, & figured that even if i couldn't get my tattoo done in costa rica, at least i'd have a costa rica scar, haha. but my buddies came through for me - they called over one of the massage ladies (who spoke no english) & she knew a guy who the front desk called for me, sorted out an appointment, & explained how to travel to! tomorrow, on my birthday, we'd be taking a bus from just outside the hotel to nicoya (about an hour), then taking a cab to la mansión (30 minutes). i did a quick google search for the artist, evans jiménez, & saw his name come up a bit, but i didn't see his work. i didn't care, honestly - they said he was clean, & that plus the experience is far more important for this project than getting perfect linework or anything.
excited for tomorrow, we decided to go into the little town near the hotel. we took Giggles & Annoyed 20yo with us, & i paid the cheap 3000c fare. the first shop we found had some really cool pots & flutes & jewelry boxes & such with clay iguanas & snakes & frogs on them, & i almost bought in, but was too distracted by food. we ended up at the jardin marino, where we split aj's usual casado, with a big roasted pork chop this time, & a whole fish plate. the fish was a glorious red snapper with fried plantains and smashed plantain patties, & i could eat that every day.
after lunch, aj bought a fresh coconut right off some dude's truck - he hacked it open & handed aj a straw for $1. it was delicious, & later we went back & they chopped the whole thing open & gave us a little piece of the husk to use as a scoop on the meat, which was tender AF. i don't even like fresh coconut very much, but i loved it.
wandering about the little town, we came to a jewelry stand with several people standing behind it. my spanish isn't fantastic, but i remember plenty enough from high school to know the ~22yo guy was muttering to his friend that i'm crazy for having hair like i do. i looked up & saw he also had dreads & was smiling when he called me loca, so i said, "¡tú también! (meaning, "you too!") he laughed at that & came around the table, & we conversed decently in spanish about the age of our dreads (three years for him, eight for me, & his were barely touching his ears) & i let him play with the three super long ones i keep at my nape. that's one of the best parts of being a weirdo in other countries, when i get to have interactions like that with friendly, curious locals.
we walked around a bit more, then aj bought some local soaps, & we were horrified at the packaging on cigars. i snapped some pics; costa ricans are NOT fucking around when it comes to how terrible smoking is for you, damn. we decided to take a taxi to la selva wildlife refuge. we found a taxi stand - all the drivers were sitting around playing cards for cash, haha - but it started raining on the drive & they were closed when we arrived. so we just went back to the hotel. the dinner buffet that night had a terrific chicken with a mushroom cream sauce, & pork with pineapple so good i went back for seconds.
after dinner, i swapped tattoo stories with my favorite cute front desk guy, diego. he told me all about the pieces he wanted, & he was excited about my upcoming adventure to mansión.