Costa Rica 2014: Montezuma

Wednesday morning I left my jungle studio in Manuel Antonio for what promised to be a beautiful B&B in Montezuma. I got up at 6:00 to make some coffee and enjoy one last hour on my patio, along with a few cold leftover slices from El Wagon and then, at 7:00, my trek to the Nicoya Peninsula began.

My plan was to take a bus from Quepos to Jaco, where I could catch a (regular) taxi that would take me to a water taxi that left at 10:30. Or was it 11:00? Well, sometime around then. From what I gathered, this was the preferable of the two budget-friendly options, though the pricier of the two. The bus to Jaco would cost about $2 – the water taxi, around $45. But all told, it would only be a little over two hours in travel time. Since I only have two days in Montezuma, this seemed to be the way to go.

On the bus to Jaco, though, I met a Tico named Joshua and his Italian friend (whose name I don’t recall). According to Joshua, who was a tour guide that had worked in many parts of Costa Rica, the water taxi was a money trap for lazy tourists, and a terrible, bumpy ride, at that. It would be much better, he told me, to take the bus all the way to Puntarenas, an hour and a half more in bus, then take the ferry across to the peninsula. Then, of course, I would have to take one more bus – from Paquera to Montezuma. But won’t that take all day? I asked? I mean, what time would I finally arrive in a Montezuma? He laughed, and explained that if I got off in Jaco, I would wait at least two hours for the water taxi, probably more like three. Then, it would take 45 minutes to get to Montezuma, putting me there around 12/12:30. If I stayed on the bus and kept him company, I would get to Puntarenas before the water taxi even left Jaco – around 10:30. That would give me just enough time to get across town and jump on the 11:00 ferry, which he promised was a beautiful ride that would get me to Paquera around 12:00. Then i would just hook up with a bus that would take me to Montezuma, about 25 miles away. All in all, it would get me in an hour or so later, but it would save $40 and have a much more enjoyable trip. We got to Jaco a few minutes later, and instead of jumping off with the majority of the other travelers, I stayed on, trusting the advice that he had given me.

As we continued on to Puntarenas, I suddenly had a nagging thought enter my mind – not only had I had just changed my planned upon itinerary on a whim, I did so based upon the advice of a man I had only just met, and one who would be getting off at my stop with me. Suddenly his friend moved up from behind us to sit across the aisle from Joshua, and the two men began a conversation in Italian, a language I don’t speak. Now that I had a closer look at the Italian guy, he did seem a little suspicious looking, with bad tattoos and a guarded face. Was I making a mistake traveling with them to Puntarenas? I tried to put the thought out of my head. Joshua seemed like a genuinely nice guy, and until that moment, I had no sense that he was someone to watch out for. As we kept moving towards Puntarenas, I was further comforted by our continued conversation. He told me about the divorce he was going through with a young American woman he had married a few years back. It had been an impulsive marriage, he admitted, and once they found themselves together as man and wife, they realized that they had very different expectations for how that marriage would work. “She’s just not happy,” he said, “and neither am I. It hurts, because I still love her, but if it doesn’t work you have to let it go, right?” I agreed, telling him that neither one of them was benefitting from a partnership that didn’t fulfill them – better to find the right partner than to try to make something work because they had said “I do.” The more we talked, exchanging stories and perspectives, the worse I felt about having suspected him of some possible plot to, I don’t know, steal my money or take advantage of me in some way. Suspicion is such an ugly feeling, when you get right down to it.

Suddenly, we were in Puntarenas, and everyone got off the bus, jumping into cabs that seemed to magically appear with signs that read “Ferry.” “You don’t want one of these,” Joshua said, taking my elbow. They’ll charge you three times the rate just because you’re an American getting off a bus. Here, let me get you a cheap cab before my friend and I take off.” And suddenly we were walking down the street away from the bus, and the taxis, and… well, everything, except for a sleepy street with no cabs – or people – in sight. And suddenly, again, I was struck by my vulnerability in this situation. I walked along with them for a few minutes, taking careful inventory of the people and places around me. A few cabs raced by, yet none paid any attention to our attempts to flag them down. “I guess we’ll have to walk into the downtown,” Joshua said apologetically. “It isn’t too far.” The whole time, the Italian friend was walking 20-30 feet behind us, smoking, and I was feeling less and less sure that I wanted to walk any further with these guys. Warning bells were starting to go off in my head now, as much as it pained me to admit it, and seeing a group of men hanging around the entrance to a nearby bodega, I told Joshua I would wait there and keep trying to flag down a taxi; that they should continue on and not let me take up any more of their time. Even as I tried to extricate myself from their company, I did realize that, more likely than not, he was simply a good guy trying to help someone out – something I would do myself for someone traveling in a place that I knew well. And Ticos in general are incredibly friendly and very, very generous, so I knew even as my instincts kicked in that I was almost certainly reading too much into the situation. Still, instincts like these exist for a reason, and as a woman traveling alone, the best policy is to trust those warning bells and red flags that occasionally pop up, even if it means being overly cautious from time to time.

Then, magically, just as an understanding frown was starting to cross Joshua’s face, a taxi appeared, and when he waved it down, it actually stopped! “Finalmente!” he exclaimed. “I’m so, so sorry that this ended up being a hassle, and I hope I didn’t make you uncomfortable. I just wanted to help – you were so nice to keep me company all the way here, and to keep my mind off of… you know. Now give me a hug!” And so that he gave me a big hug and a peck on the cheek, opened the cab door for me, and said, “now, have a safe trip. Be careful in Montezuma, and don’t walk in the beach at night alone. Okay? En serio. Adios, Brittany, y pura vida!” As the taxi sped off and the two men stood at the curb, waving cheerfully, I hated myself for suspecting anything sinister about them. They were just nice guys, doing a nice thing. I realize, though, that this is just one of the unfortunate byproducts of the culture of violence against women: we are trained to fear violence from men, and must always have our guards up. What a shame.

As promised, the bus had gotten me there just in time to buy a ticket, board the ferry, and pick the perfect seat from which to enjoy the ride. And I did enjoy it! It was a beautiful 70 minute trip across the gulf to the peninsula, and I managed to snap a few shots before the wind got to be too much for my iPad:

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Having never taken a ferry before, it was interesting to watch our arrival into dock, and the flurry of activity that took place, with crew members tying onto various points and those waiting on the docks operating a complex system of chain hoists and directing procedures.

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The bus was awaiting, as well, and I was pleased to walk straight from the dock onto a bus headed for Montezuma. The ride was longer than I was prepared for (about 2.5 hours), but I had a great conversation with a spirited and inquisitive 13 year old boy seated next to me. Finally, I arrived at Montezuma around 2:30, and quickly found a taxi to take me up the series of hills to El Mariposario.

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As I walked up,to the door, one of the owner/operators, Pauline, sprang out of her chair in the office and came to meet me. An effusive and utterly charming young woman from Montana, Pauline (along with her fiancé Josh, the original owner of El Mariposario, which they now run together) would prove to be the best host a traveler could ever hope for. Not only did she provide excellent advice on what to see, do, and eat while in town, she was also a joy to talk to, and an amazing guide through the butterfly gardens that she and Josh maintain on the property. After I got settled in, she took me through my first of many tours through the gardens, taking the time to show me its many wonders, from caterpillars to chrysalises to the multiple species of butterflies housed there:

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After chatting with Pauline a while longer, and meeting Josh, who is every bit as sweet at his fiancée, I went downtown to grab a drink and a bite to eat before returning home for the evening.

In the morning, Pauline was kind enough to take me to the mariposario again to show me two butterflies that had emerged from the chrysalises just that morning. I felt so lucky to be there at that moment!

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Then I went back to the house for a breakfast that FAR exceeded my expectations:

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Another stroll through the mariposario after breakfast proved to be the perfect way to spend the next part of the morning. Not only did I see lots of gorgeous butterflies, the gardens themselves are just beautiful, and walking through them provides a real sense of peace and tranquility, as well as a distinct sense of awe of the complex cycle of life.

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And this time, I made a friend! This Tiger Leafwing (sp?) accompanied me for nearly twenty minutes as I made my way through the mariposario, observing the Blue Morphos, Owl Butterflies, Blue Waves and Small Postmen, among other species I didn’t know enough to identify.

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I took a few hours to rest after my stroll, feeling like an R&R day might be in order. Having traveled quite a bit since my arrival 10 days ago, I’m feeling a little run down, and this seemed like the perfect place to rest and recharge for the final legs of my trip. In the afternoon, I walked a little further up the hill to hike out to the waterfalls, which are a main attraction in Montezuma. So over the suspension bridge I went:

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And down a trail with many ups, downs, twists, and turns:

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Unfortunately, after walking a little ways, I realized just how exhausted I was (probably exacerbated by dehydration, as I’ve been having some ongoing, um, stomach problems. Montezuma’s revenge? Ha!) Anyway, after giving it some thought, I decided to turn back. I was dripping sweat, dizzy, and starting to see stars, so I thought it was best not to push any further. I was disappointed, though. I got so close, and it wasn’t even a long or difficult hike! But what can you do, sometimes your body makes the call for you, even when it’s not the one you want.

So I walked back to the B&B where I took a nice cool shower and a short nap. When I awoke, it was staring to rain, which quickly turned into a torrential downpour. I hung out downstairs talking to Pauline for quite a while, swapping travel stories and talking about various other life experiences. When the rain abated, a few hours later, she was kind enough to call me a taxi so I could go downtown for dinner. Hummus, falafel and homemade focaccia bread, with a pineapple passion fruit smoothie really hit the spot!

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Content to call it an early night so that I could get up in time to have breakfast and take one final stroll through the butterfly gardens, I took another cab back to the B&B to get ready for yet another trip the following day – this time to Monteverde.

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