Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Spring Break Part 1: Chilling in Puerto Viejo

Spring break fell during Semana Santa (Holy Week); this turned out to be both a blessing and a curse. It fell at a nice time during our semester, so that it seemed like we got back from Nicaragua, had a rough few days, and then got to leave again for an amazing adventure. But, we soon found out that Semana Santa means that transportation is very difficult and that most things in less touristy places are closed (not just for Easter Sunday but Thursday through Sunday). Despite the inconveniences, I was simply amazed at the importance and sanctity given to observing this holiday, the most important in the Christian calendar. I really liked that the Ticos aren’t afraid to close down everything so they can spend this special time with family and friends at church and at home. The Ticos that I spoke with on the bus and back at the Center spoke of spending lots of time with family and eating a lot of really good food, especially desserts (I think I would fit it minus the Spanish speaking!). 

There was a large group of us that left for Puerto Viejo at 7:00 am last Monday (Tico time meant that we didn’t really leave until 7:45). The ride was uneventful until we pulled off at a rest stop for Chan to use the bathroom; as I walked past the front of the bus I saw the driver’s husband using the fire extinguisher on the front left wheel. But, we just kept going and made it to Puerto Viejo around 1. On our way in, we realized we were no longer in Atenas. Poverty could be seen in the shacks that lined the road and contrasted with the palm trees and beautiful clear blue ocean. When we arrived, the driver proceeded to rip us off by saying that we agreed to pay 13 colones rather than $13, which we had all already paid. 13 mil colones is $26 dollars (1 mil colones= $2). But, we were happy to be there (although sweating profusely) and on spring break. We checked into Rocking J’s, the mother of all hostels. They had tents, hammocks, rooms, or beds in a dorm for rent. My group stayed in a dorm which proved relatively comfortable although my locker was mouse-infested. I found out about the mouse that night when there was granola all over my locker and my backpack had a hole chewed through it. The mouse even opened up completely sealed, unopened snacks.  For lunch, we waited for our meal of pizza and salads for at least an hour and half. We even saw one of the workers leave on his motor bike and come back with straws and napkins for our order. We learned that long meals were the norm and not the exception here. After lunch, we went the grocery store and then out on the beach during the late afternoon. It was very relaxing; I had a strawberry daiquiri cooler and my friends and I listened to live music. The water was so clear and very warm. But, I got devoured by sand flies. I stayed in that night; it had been an overall good day (mainly because of the beach), but definitely trying. I think I came pretty close to having a bit of a breakdown. I distinctly remember praying for a good attitude about spring break; looking back, I am very glad I did because it was the best spring break I have ever had.



The sign in front of our hostel, Rocking J’s


My first sunset in Puerto Viejo, spent listening to music with friends

Each day, I woke up around 6 am. This is due to some inherent alarm clock that I was blessed with; once I get in a routine of waking up early, it is impossible for me to sleep in. But, I enjoyed quiet mornings reading by the beach and eating a first breakfast. My group went to Puerto Viejo Bakery for breakfast (my second of the day, but who’s counting). It was one of the highlights of my trip. I was in bread heaven! I split a multigrain baguette with a friend that was almost as excited about it as I was. Disclaimer: good whole wheat bread doesn’t really exist in Costa Rica. But, this was amazing!!! It had poppy seeds, flax seeds, golden flax seeds, whole wheat flour, and probably other things. The chew of the bread and the slight nuttiness was beyond comparison. I could have easily eaten the whole thing. I also met someone from the town of Davidson that was studying abroad in Costa Rica; I know her father and worked closely with him in my internship last summer. It was truly a small world moment but it was amazing to make this connection and new friendship. My group had a morning of shopping that led to many of my friends buying splurge outfits and all of us getting hair wraps or braids (I got a braid with pale pink string and shell on the end). I also got some fruit at a fruit stand and proceeded to eat half of a watermelon and some homemade trail mix for lunch; it was light and perfect! We went to the beach for the afternoon. That evening we went to a vegetarian restaurant for dinner. I got the raw veggie ceviche which was a combination of unripe plantains, tomatoes, peppers, onions, and lime served with plantain chips. It was delicious but not super filling. We got caught in the pouring rain while trying to find a place to listen to live music; kind of an epic fail but fun regardless.


The bakery that we visited three times and my half of the multigrain baguette


View from the street along Puerto Viejo


My friend Hannah and I after getting our hair done, she got a wrap and I got a braid


My wonderful lunch, eaten on the beach

On our second full day in Puerto Viejo, I went to breakfast with two of my friends to a place I had read about in the travel guide, Bread and Chocolate. We were completely baffled as to what to get because everything on the menu sounded so delicious. All of the ingredients were natural and homemade, especially including the bread and chocolate. Our meal was amazing and we were pleasantly surprised by the friendliness and speed of the service. After breakfast, my friend Sarah S. and I went to look for the bus station and an ATM. We were going at a leisurely pace and stopping at shops, etc. At the bus station, we asked another English-speaking girl about the buses. One thing led to another and we just adopted her into our group. It turns out her name was “Sarah” too, but spelled Sarai. She was from Canada and here for her sister’s wedding to Tico man but traveling before the wedding.She hung out with us the rest of the day and then went with us to La Fortuna; so glad I got to befriend her! We had a late lunch at a restaurant called Monli. I had fish that was really delicious and had a Caribbean twist; the fish was served on the bone with the skin on but had tons of flavor and was piled with Caribbean spiced sauteed vegetables. I also really appreciated the extra spicy hot sauce. It was a slow meal so we finished lunch at 4 (this is very bizarre for a girl used to eating at 7 am, 12 noon, and 6 pm on the dot every day) and then went to the beach for a few hours. On the way back to our hostel, we stopped at the bakery again. I got a whole wheat baguette that I ate for dinner later because no one felt like a real meal. We had a chill night because some people were not feeling well but we mainly played cards and talked.


Needless to say I got, both bread and chocolate for breakfast at Bread and Chocolate, an amazing restaurant/bakery where we breakfasted. I ordered tea, French toast (with cream and very fresh strawberry preserves) and a Chai truffle; all were wonderful choices (and breakfast dessert is my absolute favorite!)

The last day in Puerto Viejo was a short one because we had tickets to leave at 9:30. We carried our luggage (never have I packed so light or been so happy I did) in the rain to the bakery/restaurant Pan Pay near the bus stop. I had a delicious breakfast of sunny-side-up fried eggs and toast. The bakery specialized in croissants though so on the way out I snagged a croissant filled with cream (again, I succumb to the temptation of having breakfast dessert). It was very good, although I was more impressed by the quality of the cream, which tasted like an excellent chocolate ├ęclair custard filling, more than the croissant (they aren’t my first choice of baked good though, to be fair). We had a long day of traveling ahead of us. We first went to San Jose. Little did we know that San Jose would be a ghost town, with all restaurants, stores, and museums closed for Semana Santa. Our taxi drivers in San Jose convinced us it would not be a good idea to stay there (we wouldn’t be able to take public transportation to get out until Saturday) but that it would be a good idea to pay them $30/person to drive us to San Ramon in order to catch the last bus of the day to La Fortuna. We made a quick decision to do it. More of this epic tale in my next post, so stay tuned….


One last walk on the beach


View from the bus of the countryside near La Fortuna

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