Samara is a beach town on the Nicoya Peninsula. The road to there from Mal Pais was a potholed dirt road with 3 river crossings. Of course Priscilla took it in her stride.
Unfortunately when making a tight turn on these roads, the brakes failed (problems with the ABS system) and we took out a small part of a farmer’s fence. Only later did we realize that a part of Priscilla’s bull bar rubber had been left behind. No one was around to report the incident to, one of those mishaps!
Samara is a popular destination for American and Canadian tourists. The advantage is that there is good infrastructure; cleaner water; public services, supermarkets, and with tourism comes good bakeries and restaurants. The disadvantage is that it is very touristy and it was insanely busy when we first arrived, as it was the Christmas break. Many Costa Ricans also vacation in this area, camping in the campgrounds by the beach.
Samara had been on our radar since Ecuador. The Ng family from California had told us about an international school that accepts visiting students. Their son Ty had spent a week at the school and loved it. Also Mike needed to have good Internet access for work purposes and we had 10 days to wait before our friend Murphy arrived from the States.
Since the campgrounds were all full, we sort out a restaurant and hostel reported on ioverlander, called Casa Paraiso. They had a garden parking area where we could camp and use their facilities. It was a challenge to take a proper shower with it being cold water and exposed to onlookers walking by. There was one advantage as our bathing suits got a wash at the same time we did.
The restaurant itself was Italian and they had delicious food, which we enjoyed several nights between Mikes meals. When you are camping at someone’s place and using their facilities more than regular guests you tend to get to know the owners in more depth. Rudy and his mother Slyvia, were very kind to us.
The beach at Samara was relatively calm in that it had no rip currents and the waves were not as strong. Many people learn to surf here for this reason. For Keira it was perfect. She learnt how to duck under waves herself and there was no stopping her and no getting her out of the water.
Keira attended the Mareas International and Homeschooling school for a week whilst we were in Samara, and she loved it. The school gave her a chance to be with other children and to be in a school setting that wasn’t just her Mum teaching her lessons. She also practiced Spanish, although since most of the children there are bilingual, she opted to speak English with them most of the time. Who can blame her, as it has not been that often that she has got to play and converse with English speaking children. I was very pleased to hear from her teacher Hannah that Keira is right where she needs to be in terms of her learning and skill level. A relief for me as her homeschooling parent!
Mareas International School was started with the intention of it being a home school for about 5 children. When word got out, more parents wanted their children involved, and so the school developed. The school has approximately 28 all year around students. This number swells over the Christmas and high season periods as many foreign families enroll their children in the program whilst vacationing or completing business in the area. Other students are a 15 year old who attends 6 months a year. He is completing his own homeschooling program, but comes to the school to complete the work and to have access to the teaching staff. They also support a teenage professional surfer who is also doing homeschooling when on the surfing circuit. He attends the school when in the area and accesses the teachers as needed. The teachers and staff are very dedicated, and we were very impressed with the school and its flexible philosophy on learning.
Whilst Keira was at school, I got to do some individual Spanish study myself, and Mike and I actually got some time as a couple!
Keira was sad to say good-bye to her teachers and friends at the school. She is now looking forward to attending school when we return to New Mexico.
New Years Eve in Samara turned out to be quite fun.
Everyone congregates on the beach in the evening. We took a blanket down, some pillows and settled in to watch a myriad of fireworks, and glowing lanterns take to the sky. Approaching midnight the fireworks increased and bonfires were lit up and down the beach. By this stage Keira has passed out sound asleep on our blanket, not even waking when fireworks exploded into the air 40 meters from where we sat. That girl can literally sleep through anything!
Michael Murphy is a part of our extended world family. We met Murphy in Winston Salem in North Carolina about 20 years ago. Murphy is a creative director. Mike and Murphy worked together at Long Haynes Carr, where Mike got his first real start.
This was Murphy’s second trip overseas, the first being to our wedding in Aussie. This trip for him would become a trip of firsts.
We were all very excited to have Murphy arrive in Samara to meet us. This was the first time Keira and Murphy met and they instantly became best buds.
We spent a couple more days in Samara, letting Murphy relax a little and have some beach time. During this time, Keira and I did a horse ride on the beach, which was fun.
Samara was such an easy place to be, but it was more than time to move on, especially with our approaching deadline of being back in Albuquerque for Mike’s work contract at the end of February.
HIGHLIGHTS/CHALLENGES OF THIS AREA:
MOST VALUED POSSESION: board shorts
BEST EXPERIENCE: Mike- Murphy arriving; Keira- Murphy arriving/going to school; Riss- Murphy arriving/Keira being excited about school/going out to lunch with my husband
MOST CHALLENGING EXPERIENCE: Mike-Murphy not drinking rum; Keira- saying good-bye to my teachers and friends at school; Riss- finding my groove when I had free time whilst Keira was at school
BEST FOOD DISCOVERY: Mike- pumpkin ravioli from the restaurant, Keira-chocolate volcano cake; Riss- veggie burgers at Luv Burger
BEST CAMPING SPOT: Casa Paraiso
MOST VALUED POSSESION: my new sarong!!
BEST EXPERIENCE: meeting Keira
MOST CHALLENGING EXPERIENCE: my early morning wake up calls from roosters, dinosaurs and howler monkeys
BEST FOOD DISCOVERY: Mikes cooking of course, and beer
BEST CAMPING SPOT: Casa Paraiso, a shit tent and a concrete floor.
Mal Pais is a small coastal town on the southern tip of the Nicoya Peninsula. It is a 30-minute drive from the more famous beach location of Montezuma. It is also the location chosen as a reunion destination with our very good friends the Mensink family.
Over the years we have met many interesting people when traveling. We exchanged emails and information, keeping in touch initially with many travelers, however over time some of these contacts were lost. The people we did keep in touch with long term have become our extended family. I know I have said this many times, but we feel so fortunate to have so many good friends from all over the world. The Mensinks were there at the beginning when we started to collect our world family members.
We had met Marco and Miranda in 1998 on our previous trip to South America. We were staying in the same hostel in Nasca, Peru, spending a few hours together in the middle of the night while we all waited for buses that were hours overdue. Enjoying each other’s company we decided to meet up again in the next town of Arequipa. Being tour group snobs, we organized our own tour to Colca canyon to see the sometimes-elusive condors. Two Canadian lads joined us for the trip.
This trip is what sealed a lifetime friendship; dancing in the rain and fog with drunken villagers during a festival; nearly dying of dehydration in the Canyon itself whilst being circled by condors; soaking in hot springs to recover from the trauma and sharing a few drinks to seal the memories. Since that first meeting 18 years ago, we have met up again, 9 times on 4 different continents in 5 different countries, and sharing 3 Xmas’ together in 3 different countries.
It was during one of these get togethers that Maartje aged 1 1/2, giggled at Mike melting his heart, and he was sold on the whole idea of having a child of our own. On another occasion whilst visiting the family in Belgium, Marco had us touch a statue that he told us was for luck. Only afterwards did he inform us that in fact it was a fertility statue. 11 months later Keira was born.
Marco and Miranda are parents to 3 amazing kids, Maartje (aged 13), Marijn (aged 11) and Marjolein (aged 9). We often refer to the family as the 5 M's.
FERRY TO NICOYA PENINSULA
Our journey out to the Nicoya Peninsula involved taking an hour-long ferry across the Unfortunately due to delays with repairs on Priscilla, we were unable to catch an earlier ferry with the 5 M’s. Fortunately for us, this put us on the ferry at dusk to witness a very beautiful sunset.
Marco and Miranda had rented a villa for us all in the hills above Mal Pais. It was amazing! The views were spectacular, the setting “tranquil”, and we had everything we needed.
We finally had a real bed to sleep in, a sofa, a real kitchen and a pool.
The road up to the Villa was quite steep, needing 4x4. Usually we would all pile in Priscilla for our daily excursions. The kids loved this, as it was like a roller coaster ride. Keira loved screaming out very dramatically " we're gonna die!"
The kids did a lot of playing and the adults a lot of talking. I think we covered all the main topics; politics, the state of the world; religion or our lack of; and our plans for the future. All a little more dramatic with a few glasses of wine and rum.
And the 5 M's brought us " stroopwafels" (yummy caramel filled Dutch wafer cookies) "drop" (Dutch licorice") and Belgium chocolates. We were very happy!!
We celebrated Christmas together. Not having traditional items like a tree and decorations, we made our own. The kids even baked Xmas cookies. Christmas Day was not traditional either; dinner was a cookout, and we played a treasure hunt game. It was how Christmas should be, relaxed, free of comercialism and spent with people you love.
Marijn and Mike spent time cooking together and playing computer games! Downtime was the occasional movie.
There was an abundance of wildlife surrounding us. We had resident iguanas and geckos who visited us everyday, and monkeys who would make their way through the trees.
THE NATIONAL PARK
I asked Marco to write the entry about the National Park near Mal Pais, as he worked in the park 25 years ago. For us all, it was exciting to be with him as he returned to the Park, relived his experience there, and shared his stories and knowledge with us. We all particularly liked the story where he lent on a snake when reaching for a tree! As we hiked through the park sweating profusely, we marveled at how Marco did this hike and more in the rainy season with intense humidity and mud everywhere. Here is his account:
La Reserva Natural Absoluta Cabo Blanco is the first national park established in Costa Rica, already in 1963. When I first arrived in Cabo Blanco in 1991 with two of my friends, one of the original founders, Karen Morgensen was still living in Montezuma. The director of the park at the time was Joaquin Alvarado Garcia, whom we met in the Netherlands. He invited us to come over and work in the park. Without knowing anything about it, we flew to Costa Rica for one of the best times of our lives.
Cabo Blanco is a relatively small reserve, but full of birds and animals. It is the park most tourists miss out on, but actually the park that one should always include in a Costa Rican travel itinary. One finds monkey in the trees above, Ocelot, Pizotes, Iguana's, snakes and spiders all around. And a stretch of west coast rainforest that is unparalleled.
We lived as park rangers for three months, in both the ranger station and research station. We had no running water, no electricity, no food other than rice, beans, avocado's and fruits. And most important no mobile phones! We used to walk 11 kilometers to Mal Pais or Cabuya to reach a shop or phone.
Coming back 25 years later mobile phones have arrived. But the park is the same. And our friends and park guards Lupe and Maria are still there. Carlos was in good shape and 76 years by now. Showing the park to our extended family, kids, Mike, Riss and Keira was amazing. We walked the trails to the beech and got bombarded with nuts by the white faced monkeys, again. I renewed my love affair with the place.
BEACHES IN THE AREA
We visited several beaches in the area. Keira got a boogie board for Christmas which the kids enjoyed playing with.
We had such an amazing time with the 5 M's. It was so easy to be together.
For Mike, and I, we felt an extra closeness to Maartje, Marijn and Marjolein on this trip, as they are now understanding English and Maartje is speaking English very well. With a drease in the language barrier we were able to get a greater depth of understanding of their personalities, We are so thankful that they speak English because frankly after all these years, our Dutch has not got beyond "drop", "Stroopwafels" and "pindakaas" (peanut butter).. So sorry guys, we know we are pathetic!
Saying good-bye was really hard but we talked a lot about future trips together and are all committed to making them happen.
We love you guys and look forward to meeting up again.
HIGHLIGHTS/CHALLENGES OF THIS AREA:
MIKE, RISS AND KEIRA:
MOST VALUED POSSESION: our Dutchies; not really a possession but they are ours!
BEST EXPERIENCE: Mike-Marco, Miranda and the kids ; Keira-meeting the kids, well I had meet them before but I was little and didnt remember; Riss-hanging out together
MOST CHALLENGING EXPERIENCE: Mike- -having to work some of the time whilst together/saying good-bye; Keira- saying good-bye to the kids; Riss- saying good-bye
BEST FOOD DISCOVERY: Mike-,stroopwafels; Keira- "stroopwafels" and red icing cupcakes from the bakery; Riss-"drop" and "stroopwafels" and belgium chocolate
BEST CAMPING SPOT: no camping, yippie!!! A wonderful villa!!
OH and worst food- well they were ok, but there is something not right about having to take plastic wrap off each individual hot dog before cooking them.
THE 5 M's:
HIGHLIGHTS/CHALLENGES OF THIS AREA: Visiting this amazing place again after 18 years. For Marco after 25 years. And meeting our best friends again after 4 years
MOST VALUED POSSESION: our Aussies, our extended family
BEST EXPERIENCE: Marco-waking up with the sound of the howler monkeys; Miranda-the easy going nature of being on holiday with you guys; Maartje-the meeting in the airport hotel and Keira's WE ALL GONNA DIE; Marijn- cooking with Mike and Marco's walk in Cabo Blanco; Marjolein-the visits to the smoothie- and ice bar
MOST CHALLENGING EXPERIENCE: Marco- leaving Costa Rica and my friends ; Miranda- leaving, saying goodbye ; Maartje- when Mike was throwing me in the pool and the waves took our towels ; Marijn- sand everywhere and the bug bite at Cabo Blanco beach ; Marjolein- my heat rash after some days
BEST FOOD DISCOVERY: Marco- coconut milk at the beach ; Miranda- Mike's cooking ; Maartje, Marijn, and Marjolein-coconut ice cream made by Riss and the smoothies from the bar in the village
BEST CAMPING SPOT: Our beautiful villa in Mal Pais, most valued possesion at the villa was definitely the POOL
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Manual Antonio area was our next stop. We had chosen this location as our good friends Nita and Kevin were there. They had just gotten married in London and had chosen Costa Rica for their honeymoon. CONGRATULATIONS!
So essentially we were crashing their honeymoon! But since we had not seen each other for ~6 years we were all very excited to spend time together again.
To give a little background of our friendship, we met Nita 10 years ago on a train in Thailand, and spent several weeks together on Thailand beaches. Since then we have met up in England, and Nita and Kev came to our wedding in Australia. Despite not seeing each other for huge chunks of time, they are a part of our extended family and we have a real connection that time does not affect.
Keira, Mike and I camped on the beach near Manuael Antonio using the facilities of the Beachpackers Hostel. It was a decent location with monkeys in the trees, iguanas in our immediate environment and the beach right at our door step. Nita and Kev had an amazing honeymoon suite which unfortunately they didn't spend much time in as we were together so much.
Nita and Kev had not met Keira, so we were excited for them to spend time together. We spent the days and evenings with Nita and Kev; enjoying the beach, chatting to catch up on 6 years, eating in restaurants (our favorite being a Fallafel restaurant) and enjoying a few drinks together.
We also did a day trip to Dominical, a little hippie surfers village that had a great vibe. It was really amazing to spend time with Nita and Kev. We love them very much. We were all very sad to say goodbye, but have promised to meet up again soon
Throughout this area and also in Panama, we saw the huge tracts of land that had been taken over by palm tree plantations. A lot of jungle habitats have been destroyed in order to clear the land for these plantations. Palm oil is in so many products and it is hard to avoid. But I challenge everyone to start looking at labels and to try choose brands which do not contain palm oil. Maybe if we all do our part, no more rain forests will be sacrificed!
Keira and I are struggling as we are addicted to lime plaintain chips!
Unfortunately we began to have a problem with Priscillas electrical system. The car batteries were not charging properly. Mike deduced that it was the alternator. After some research we were able to locate a mechanic in a suburb of San Jose that had been recommended by another overlander. Mike charged the batteries with a trickle charger so we could charge the batteries from an external electrical outlet.
Setting off from Manuel Antonio we had a full charge on both our batteries. After a 3 ½ hour drive through winding mountains roads we just made it to the mechanics with very little charge left in both our batteries.
We were very pleased to arrive at Americar mechanics. David Ortiz was in fact an excellent mechanic, and very accommodating.
After one false start with a faulty new alternator, we did get the correct part. And we had a functioning fridge once more.
HIGHLIGHTS/CHALLENGES OF THIS AREA:
MOST VALUED POSSESION: a new alternator
BEST EXPERIENCE: Mike- spending time with Nita and Kev ; Keira- meeting Nita and Kev and teasing Nita about spiders because she doesn’t like them; Riss- spending time with Nita and Kev defiantely
MOST CHALLENGING EXPERIENCE: Mike-working out car problems; Keira- waiting yet again at a mechanics for Priscilla to be fixed; Riss- saying good-bye to Nita and Kev after such a wonderful few days.
BEST FOOD DISCOVERY: Mike-fallafels, Keira- deserts at the Tapas restaurant, but the portions were too small; Riss- falafels/mint and pineapple shake
BEST CAMPING SPOT: by the beach- the only campsite for this blog
Costa Rica is probably one of the most well-known and most western countries in the whole of Central America. It is also the most expensive! We had visited the east coast for a 2-week vacation 3 years ago. We really loved the beaches and seeing the wildlife.
This time our plan was to visit the West coast, and to meet up with friends along the way.
Our first stop after the border crossing was the Osa Peninsula, the southern most peninsula in Costa Rica. It is known for the Corvado National Park, which is said to contain one of the last remaining untouched rainforests in Central America.
We headed to a beach camp at Carate on the Pacific coast of the Peninsula. The drive there was beautiful, taking us through rainforest, with several small river crossings and some pretty bad roads. We had a toucan fly across the road in front of us, which was pretty cool.
The beach at Carate was gorgeous. Our camping spot was under the trees right near the beach. The beach stretched for miles in either direction with the border of the National park 2 kms from where we camped.
During our stay there, we had macaws flying over and roosting in the trees right around our camp. We saw 2 different types of monkeys, squirrel and woolly monkeys. We could also hear the howler monkeys loud deep call in the surrounding trees. Hermit crabs inhabited the whole area, coming out in force in the evenings.
We spent our days swimming, reading, and going for walks. Keira spent many hours catching and releasing hermit crabs. And in the evenings we had a fire on the beach. We were in Paradise once again.
We could have stayed on the Osa Peninsula longer but we needed to start heading north to meet friends and Mike needed wifi for work purposes.
Many months ago in Chile a friend Tori, told us about a tree house hostel near Uvita. We decided to check it out and were not disappointed. Cascada Verde is indeed a tree house with open living areas, rooms and a fully equipped kitchen. It is run by a German couple who run a pretty tight ship, but their rules make the hostel a clean and comfortable place to be in.
The owners were very accommodating allowing us to park and camp in a pull out of their driveway. We basically slept in the tent and spent all our time in the wonderful living spaces. The tree house is surrounded by rainforest with visiting monkeys. There are hammocks, sofas and rocking chairs to relax in.
The extra bonus was that the owners had a 3-year-old daughter. They had an amazing play area, a tyre swing and also a dog! Keira was so incredibly happy.
The only downside was that as we were setting up the tent, my old back injury decided to revisit me with vengeance. I was in a lot of pain and had trouble moving. Once the pain settled a little Mike and I began using the techniques that my friend and PT Genevieve had taught us. Over the course of 2 days it improved but I was still in pain. Genevieve came to the rescue for the second time during the trip. We completed a Physical Therapy session via skype and she was able to guide us through some techniques. Thank you Genevieve!
It still took me a few more days of stretches and butt massages (Mike provided these with no complaints) to feel Ok again. I am still working out the kinks. At least I had the ideal place to recuperate.
Once moving well enough we visited the waterfall close to the property. It had several very cold-water pools, which we swam in. It was glorious!
Leaving the tree house was hard but our next stop would be at Manual Antonio where we would meet our friends Nita and Kevin, so we were excited.
HIGHLIGHTS/CHALLENGES OF THIS AREA:
MOST VALUED POSSESION: our fresh water tanks – we have enough water to last 5-6 days of wild camping
BEST EXPERIENCE: Mike- Osa peninsula camp; Keira- catching hermit crabs and playing with Lutsi, the little girl at Cascada Verde hostel/swimming at the waterfall; Riss- everything about the Osa peninsula
MOST CHALLENGING EXPERIENCE: Mike-treating Riss’ back; Keira- leaving Cascada Verde, Lutsi and all the toys; Riss- definitely dealing with my back injury
BEST FOOD DISCOVERY: Mike- nothing stands out, Keira- icy poles/popsicles in the heat; Riss- Mike’s cooking
BEST CAMPING SPOT: Carate surf camp on Osa Peninsula
Just a place to keep our mates informed on where we are at, and what we are up to.