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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Mooning the Howler Monkeys

“In sickness and in health” took on a whole new meaning this week as Layne and I have both been under the weather with cold/sinus infection blues. Feeling tired and stuffed up offers no incentive for writing, that’s for sure.

But as Lady Gaga might say, “The show must go on.” Did you see her terrible fall from the piano bench during her Houston show recently? Goodness, the woman is a real trooper to keep on singing after a tumble like that. Even if she was lip-synching, as some cynical commenters charged, it was still amazing that she got back up and kept performing.

Katia at Apartotel LaSabana
So I’ll try to buck up and offer a brief report on our recent (pre-snuffles) travels with friends from Oregon, Sue and Christine. We met them at our San Jose home-away-from-home, Apartotel LaSabana, the comfortable inn located just far enough from downtown to feel safe and secure but close enough to be convenient to museums, parks and restaurants. Although Layne and I arrived quite early, our two-bedroom suite was all ready for us so we had time to lie around the pool. One of the best things about Apartotel LaSabana is the helpful staff so while we awaited Sue and Chris’ arrival, I got some friendly advice from desk clerk Katia regarding the bus schedule for the next morning -- destination: Paquera on the Nicoya Peninsula by ferry from Puntarenas.  After due consideration, we opted to take a later ferry rather than push our jet-lagged friends on to the early bus to Puntarenas.

Puntarenas Ferry Terminal
Following the relaxed and delicious Tico breakfast at Apartotel LaSabana, we headed to the bus station for the two-plus hour ride to Puntarenas, a rugged port city that stretches out along a narrow peninsula into the Gulf of Nicoya. As we dropped down from the Central Valley toward the Pacific coastline, the weather changed from fresh and comfortable to muggy, hot and humid, a dramatic illustration of the microclimates in this small country.

Vigdis, our lovely hostess
Humidity notwithstanding, the short ferry ride to Paquera was delightful as sea gulls, pelicans and frigate birds sailed the ocean breezes around us while we nibbled on leftover lamb from dinner the night before and sipped Costa Rican beer. Soon enough we pulled into the dock and were met by Vigdis Vatshaug, a captivating sun-tanned beauty who with her husband Thomas Jones runs Bahia Rica, a fishing and sea kayaking lodge just a few minutes drive over rough road from the ferry terminal. With her vibrant smile and sun-bleached hair, Vigdis presented the perfect beach welcome to us weary travelers.

One of the many exotic birds 
Relaxing on the veranda
Vigdis and Thomas are charming Norwegians who met via the Internet and have successfully fulfilled their dream of running a fishing company and bed-and-breakfast business in the heart of the tropics. Located at the top of a large hill with views of the Gulf is the lodge, a unique pole-built structure constructed by the Dutch owner to European standards, offering three large rooms with a queen and a single bed in each. Rising two stories up into a jungle of trees, with long open verandas on each level, the lodge brings guests into close contact with wildlife all around.

A View for the Monkeys
And boy, was there some wildlife! Colorful exotic birds and a variety of butterflies flitted through the trees on the second floor where we stayed and howler monkeys moaned their distinctively fearsome calls only yards away. Situated between two sleeping rooms, the upstairs bathroom was an open-air arrangement, which we shared with our Atenas friends Sally and Leonard who had arrived earlier by car for this two-night stay at Bahia Rica. Showering with howler monkeys watching from their treetop perches was quite a bizarre experience!

It was a treacherous path down the steep hillside 
that led to Vigdis and Thomas’ rustic beachfront cottage, set in a clearing full of mango and cashew trees and adorned with tempting hammocks at the water’s edge. Sally and Leonard opted to make the extreme climb back uphill to the lodge but Layne and I, along with Sue and Christine, only managed the vertigo-inducing hike down.

All the meals prepared by our hosts were delightful, including Norwegian breakfasts of homemade bread, light meats, cheese, sliced tomato and cucumber. Vigdis showed cooking creativity the first night by adding mango to chicken quesadillas. Delicious! The second night we enjoyed fresh-caught mackerel that Thomas had snagged on an outing with sport-fishing clients, then cooked for us himself. It was truly the best fish I’ve ever eaten, just lightly breaded and sautéed, served with salad and mashed potatoes. 

The happy kayakers! 
Our morning sea-kayaking excursion was adventuresome and strenuous fun as we paddled our way out into the Gulf, along the way watching schools of leaping black tuna feed on sardines in the surface waters. We circled nearby Jesuito Island and stopped for snacks at a secluded beach inhabited only by a family of Ticos. Frolicking in the shallow water was a small girl who shyly befriended me and pointed out her house at the top of the surrounding cliff. I enjoyed a leisurely swim in the incredibly warm waters until it was time for us to move on and reluctantly make our way back to Bahia Rica. Along the way we were suddenly bombarded by an aerial feeding frenzy as dozens of large black frigate birds, with their scimitar wings and forked tails, began diving headlong close to our kayaks, grabbing some of the sardines away from the tuna. An amazing sight!

At noon we crowded into Sally and Leonard’s SUV and headed into the little town of Paquera for lunch. Talk about a step back in time. It felt like Hawaii in the 50’s with kids riding along dusty roads on bicycles, mangos hanging in clusters from the trees and bougainvillea lining the yards. Our lunch at Mapi’s, a small hotel and restaurant run by a Tico family, was excellent and inexpensive.

One very virile monkey!
As we lounged on the verandas that afternoon, a whole family of howler monkeys paid us a noisy visit -- a mother with a baby on her back who kept her distance, a big male with enormous pink testicles which drooped down below the branches where he sat arrogantly observing us and several others leaping through the tree limbs. Although we have heard the sound of howlers now and then even here in Atenas, we had never before seen them. Being so up-close and at their level in the treetops was a thrill.

And yet this wonderful two-night adventure was just the beginning of our travels with Sue and Christine. As we waved goodbye to Sally and Leonard in Puntarenas following the ferry ride back across the Gulf, we headed off to Lake Arenal for still more exciting activities. Stay tuned! 


  1. What an amazing trip report! Thanks for this. You did in a two night trip what some people can't do in a lifetime.

  2. Thanks, GoingLikeSixty - Bahia Rica is a one-of-a-kind place. We're lucky to have found it.

  3. I suffered from sinus infections during the first years I lived in Costa Rica. It happened frequently enough that I suspect there is something in the air that your body has to adjust to when you move to San Jose.