By Vicki Barnes

After several days of biting cold and constant drizzle in the cloud forest above the Costa Rican capitol of San Jose, we could take it no longer, We bugged out of that frigid zone and headed for the beach.

imageThough Costa Rica is a small country – about a third of the size of Florida – there is no direct route to any place. We wound our way down from the mountains, through the suburbs of San Jose and on to the main highway through Central America before exiting at Puntarenas where we boarded a car ferry to the Nicoya Peninsula.

The ferry costs 810 colones (about $1.50) per person for a 90 minute trek across the Gulf of Nicoya to the peninsula where we had another 44 kilometers to the beach where we were setting up base for a week of warm weather adventures.

Until the 1980s, Montezuma was a remote fishing village. When American expats began staying and telling their friends about the quiet little place, many on a budget made their way there. Quirky little hotels and hostels sprang up in a two-block downtown situated between a pair of stunning waterfalls.

Nomadic teens and twenty-somethings set up camps and communes on the beach. In town, they sell the macrame jewelry and trinkets made from coconuts and shells they make. They spend their money in the local bars and at the Super Montezuma (a grocery on the main drag).

Around them, a thriving tourist industry has taken root. South of town, beach chalets host families and “respectable” visitors. The Ylang Ylang Resort offers stunning accommodations in a Zen-like atmosphere starting at $210 a night. At the Lys Hostel, just north of downtown, rooms start at $10 a night. Camping on the beach is free and fairly unregulated. Bonfires are not illegal.

With the rise of the resorts along this quiet stretch of beach, the budget will be stretched thinner in coming years, but the natural beauty and the wildlife that traverses the trees from the jungle west of the town to the gulf shore remains flourishing.

imageOn a trek to the smaller of the two waterfalls in town this afternoon, we saw iguanas scurrying across the path and monkeys dining in the trees. In the distance, howler monkeys made their eerie calls. A pair of parrots perched in a tree and flew freely away. Free and open to all, the waterfall crashes from the jungle, cascading from volcanic rocks and pooling up on several levels before trickling out to the Gulf.

A box lunch, a few cold drinks and an afternoon with nothing to do is all that is needed for a wonderful time. Nothing is subtracted from the budget, but tranquility is added to one’s mind.

On the way home, we passed a huge outcropping of volcanic rock that is being gently carved by the waves. The surface, lunar like, is pockmarked by crevasses and cracks through which the waves rumble, They crash violently inward, wearing away rock by imperceptible shavings, Then the Gulf pulls them back and pushes then through again and again. image

A splurge tomorrow, I am heading down to the Ylang Ylang for a yoga class ($12) on their deck overlooking the water. After that, we’re planning to tackle the other, larger waterfall in town via a zip line tour. I certainly hope I overcome my fear of heights to report on that.