by Nancy Van Veen
“Pura vida” ~ Costa Rican expression meaning ‘Pure life’
Having survived the perilous journey on an insanely narrow road, along an impossibly steep cliff, packed like sardines in an airless, rickety bus, the violent thunder storm that welcomed us to Montezuma, Costa Rica seemed just par for the course.
With a wicked crack of thunder, my intrepid daughter and I grabbed our backpacks and sought shelter. We found refuge on the edge of town at the Luz De Mono Hotel, right by the beach within the jungle rainforest. Exhausted yet starving, we changed from our soaking clothes and headed into town in search of dinner — a challenge, as the still-rumbling storm had left Montezuma powerless. But with the Tico’s (Costa Ricans) ‘pura vida’ outlook, improvisation is a way of life.
Montezuma is a Costa Rican village lost in time on the southern coast that has a Bohemian surfer vibe. Despite its remote location and wee size, it offers eclectic dining options and has lots of funky shops.
We filled our days there with lazy, flip-flop walks, yummy patio dining (often with a cat or dog waiting patiently, nestled at our feet), beachcombing and treks to local waterfalls. Yet, some of our most memorable moments were spent at the hotel. Walking through the gardens to our unit we’d dodge the giant cane toads, while seeking out the shy agoutis. Herds of purply-orange Halloween crabs would scurry by us sideways — signaling the coming rainy season. Arriving at our door, we’d peer above to the peaked frame and count the bats, hanging like gothic ornaments. Watching out our window, we’d giggle at the acrobatics of the white-faced capuchins.
Our first night we awoke to a Stephen King-like living nightmare — spine tingling, throaty howls roaring from the jungle. We cracked open the door to spy the infamous howler monkeys lurking nearby.
One time we came home and I went to sit on my bed. Amy shouted “Watch out Mom! There’s poo on your bed!” (Not something one hears everyday!) I took a nervous creep through our room. Who was the culprit? Finally I looked up to find unwanted gecko roommates decorating the ceiling. On another occasion, I went for a swim in the cement pond. After a relaxing float on my back I righted myself to discover the pool sides populated with crabs, while large iguanas basked around its edges — yikes!
Our day trip to Isla Tortuga was an added adventure. It was challenging just getting aboard for the hour ride there. Montezuma’s waves are so rough, one must wade out and haul oneself into the bobbing speed boat. It took the driver several attempts to get close enough to shore to reach us. Eventually we managed, and were delighted to have a school of dolphins escort us to the island. Once there, we had a marvelous time swimming, snorkeling, exploring the white-sand beach and chowing down on a BBQ lunch.
As we boarded the boat for the ride back, the sky suddenly turned darkly foreboding. The waves became choppy and a squall ensued. Ten of us were aboard, and as the situation became dire we grew deathly silent, while keeping a white-knuckled grip on our seats and life jackets. The mounting tension was hilariously broken when one of the passengers started belting out the theme song from Gilligan’s Island — of course we all joined in! It was a skilled captain with a ‘pura vida’ attitude that delivered us safely home that day, taking us on an emergency detour so he could dock and call for land transport!