Remember that guy on the bus, the one that wouldn't stop talking? Not Ron Hart, but his marathon-of-talk companion. One of the things he told us is that Costa Ricans don't like the Caribbean coast of the country, no, not really, not much at all.
Of course, the people I know and met who actually live in Costa Rica seem to feel differently. As do I.
There's a little road, some paved, some not, lots of potholes, slow going that winds its way along Playa Negra. I haven't been able to find it on any maps we have, but it's there. We've followed it from Cahuita to Puerto Viejo to Punto Cocles and Punta Uva to Manzanillo,
We first saw this area a couple months ago, when we went to renew our visas. Then again, last week on our way back from San Jose. Something was happening on the road from Limon, so the ride took a couple hours longer than normal. We left at 2pm to stumble off the bus in Puerto Viejo just a shade before 8pm. We all slept along the way, so I can't say we were exhausted, but after all the hours of sitting through tours in San Jose, we were stiff and rather cranky.
This area is a slice of the afterlife just sitting there on the coast. It's quiet. Not a lot of cars. Lots of bikers, hikers, backpackers and surfers. Actually, it's similar to Bocas in many ways, but next to the sea instead of right in the middle.
Before finding the place were stayed, we made our way to Coco Cielo and sat down. Sort of. I was so discombobulated from the trip I just stood there, staring at things. Then Jordan, the owner of the place came to welcome us. Something about her just made you happy. We sat down, had an Imperial (a great! beer) and relaxed.
That's when I noticed a smell in the air. It reminded me a lot of marijuana. I assumed someone on the street was smoking, but it was so strong it would have had to come from right near us. It was right near us. One man at the bar, let's call him M, sat there rolling and smoking like it was us drinking our beers.
I heard him later on chatting with another man about the legal ins and outs of smoking weed in Costa Rica. According to M, it's been decriminalized. If you're caught with it, assuming it's a small enough amount for personal use and not for sale, your stash will be taken, stomped on. Nothing more.
Here in Panama, I've been told, you'll be rounded up and sent for a night at the police station in Changuinola.
There, it's considered a disease, an illness, and a smoker needs help not prison.
Later on, M joined us at our table. Very interesting man. He's traveled all over. Lived and owned bars, restaurants and strip clubs in.Holland, Panama City, Puerto Viejo. We promised to drop by his pizza place at some point and went off to find the place we were staying.
And what a place! Noah found it through Vacation Rental By Owner. Carter and Pamela, also the owners of a local restaurant and bar called Loco Natural, rent three cabins on their property. A piece of land filled with cacao, pineapple, guayabana, noni, nutmeg, teak and more.
I've never seen fresh nutmeg before. There are male and female trees. The nutmeg comes from the fruit of the female plant. That fruit looks like a green plum and the nut inside has a web-like deep red covering. You peel that to extract the hard, woody nutmeg seed. We brought one home to use in cooking. Last night, it came in handy. Our neighbors came over for dinner and we made seco with warm milk, honey and a final touch of nutmeg grated on top.
Back in Puerto Veijo, though, we spent the night in a mostly open cabin in the jungle. The next day, we walked around town a bit before taking a cab to Manzanillo. About 15 kilometers away, but it takes almost half and hour to get there by road. It would have made more sense to rent bikes and ride our way down the road instead.
The cab driver knew that road blind. He swerved back and forth to avoid potholes, often while looking into the back seat to say cute things to Lila. If you're ever in the area and need a cab, though, he's the guy to call. (8 854-4411, Chofer Padrilla, I believe is what it said on his card).
All along the way, we saw restaurants, bars, hotels, places offering guided tours of the area, surfing, bike rentals, bodegas. Anything you could need or want, unless of course what you want is a swanky five-star resort with a clean swimming pool and towels waiting for you in your room. At the end, we found ourselves in the center of Manzanillo. A tiny place surrounded by more national park land. The beach goes all the way down one side, the jungle on the other. And right in front of us, Maxi's, a restaurant well recommended by both people who live in the area and guide books. They were right.
Then we went walking through the jungle, spent some time playing on the beach. Lila and did yoga together, ran around and made sure every single inch of us was covered in sand. The best was when we gathered rocks then skipped them into the water, which was blue and warm.
We missed the last bus back, but a guy named Roberto (nicknamed Goofy) drove us to Puerto Viejo. He was born there and is related to 90% of the people around. He also has family in Bocas and all over the Chiriqui provence in Panama. We talked a lot with him about the process of buying land. Prices on beach front areas have skyrocketed, as they have in Panama. although technically, nothing is this area sits right on the beach. In Costa Rica, there are restrictions on building so close, but you can find a place right across the street and perhaps set back a bit in the jungle. He suggested getting land all the way out in the jungle with enough space to grown your own food. Everything grows here. I've seen bok choy, lettuce, squash, tomatoes and any tropical fruit you can imagine. Then, you come to town and the beach when you want, but when you're done, you disappear to the peace and quiet of your jungle retreat.
Just thinking of Puerto Viejo and around makes my entire self relax. I would love to go back for a longer visit or perhaps even live there, but I also wonder for how long it will be the way it is now. A bit of a backwoods, four hours away from Bocas, five from San Jose. But more and more people are moving there. Lots of American retirees, surfers, people from wherever who want a bit of peace and perhaps to fade off the map for a bit or perhaps forever. I wonder how long this place will last as it is.
It took three days and four showers before I stopped finding Manzanillo beach sand in my hair. I'm a bit sad it's gone.