Thursday, April 12, 2012

Playa Guiones Beach and Why I Hate Bikes - Travels in Costa Rica (Part 7)

March 15, 2012
The 7:30am bus to Santa Cruz arrives at the hotel bus stop at 7:20. Thank god we got to the stop early. The bus fills up quickly. One quirky passenger uses his cane to poke a man boarding the bus in his large belly. Then, he put his fingers down the back of the man’s pants and tugs on his belt. The man doesn’t seemed amused, but I sure am. We pass by houses, sitting on the edge of the road or further back, solitary or lined up with a few others. These rural homes are small, but tidy and inviting. Most have pretty gardens, many have fences or gates, and some have wrought iron designs over the windows. Some are charming, some elegant, some beautiful. They look like homes I would like to visit, have a conversation with their owners. I wish I could walk through neighborhoods of these homes, but they never seem to be in the places we visit, only the spaces inbetween. We pass a mare nursing her colt and cows with big flaps of skin dangling from their necks. 

At the Santa Cruz bus station, we learn that a bus to Nicoya doesn’t leave from this station. Of course not; that would be too easy. A friendly “taxi” man drives us to another station for $3, and we join the long line already forming. Our bus is late, and eventually those in charge call out to the crowd to get on another bus instead. The line disintegrates, and it’s a mad dash to get on. We’re left standing on the crammed bus (I guess we’re not very good at dashing). At least we’re on. It’s a short half-hour ride to Nicoya, so it’s not too horrible, but my feet get achy from bearing the weight of my backpack while wearing flip flops. 

We are heading to Playa Guiones, a  tiny beach town near Nosara, and the bus doesn’t leave Nicoya until 2:30, three and a half hours away. Nick and I walk down the street and find a lovely city park, where we relax on a bench shaded by a large tree. We watch the most enormous iguana I’ve even seen munch on mangoes. We munch on mini bananas and pastry.

The bus to Nosara is quickly crowded, and we’re forced to sit for two hours with our packs in our laps. We arrive in Playa Guiones hot, sweaty, and dusty (and lucky that we got off only one stop sooner than we should have). 

The beach is simply enchanting in the evening. It’s a long stretch, and both ends have rocky cliffs with mist trailing out to the ocean. Waves break and break and break. The sand squishing through my toes reminds me of Connecticut beaches, of my home, of my childhood. We sit and take in the beautiful sunset. Already I’ve decided this beach is nicer than Playa Grande.

We eat dinner at the hotel’s restaurant, in an outdoor dining room with a band playing. All the other tables are occupied by Americans (and maybe some Canadians; it’s hard to tell). Where do the ticos vacation? I wonder. Surely they must travel around their own country... After dinner, we take a walk on the beach. Venus, sitting low in the sky, is so bright that it casts a glow on the water. Venuslight.

March 16, 2012
This is a nice beach. The sun is bright in a cloudless blue sky. The breeze is refreshing, without being so strong that it blows sand all over you. The water is cool, but not cold. The waves are powerful, but not overwhelming. It’s pleasant. It’s easy to spend the day here.

In the late afternoon, we walk to the other street in Playa Guiones. There are a couple nice jewelry/art shops, but I especially enjoy Robin’s Cafe, which has homemade ice cream.

March 17, 2012
We go out for “dawn patrol” this morning, when surfers check the waves at daybreak. Nick surfs, and I walk. Then we roam the streets, looking for the farmer’s market. When we find it, there’s not much, and no pineapple, which is what I really wanted.

Nick thinks it’ll be fun to ride bikes to the town of Nosara, about six kilometers away. I’m not so sure. Bikes haven’t really been my thing since I was a kid. Probably since I had to switch over to adult bikes, and now they’re always too tall. It’s a funny little hopping, tilting dance I need to do whenever I stop or plan to get off. And the seats hurt my butt. And I think it’s misery riding a bike uphill. I’d much rather walk; that way, I only have to drag myself. So, maybe I wasn’t approaching this adventure with the best attitude... We rent our bikes from the shop across the street and begin pedaling down the dirt road. The bikes have no gears, but I feel like I’m stuck in tenth. Even just to make the bike move on flat ground, I feel like I’m exerting an enormous amount of effort. Forget the hill up to the main road; I walk. Sections of the road are dirt, and every time a truck or car or motorbike or ATV zooms by, I’m left with dirt in my eyes and another layer of dust over the rest of me. The entire road, even the paved portion, is bumpy, uneven, and riddled with potholes. Every time I reach another hill, I have to hop off my bike and walk, pushing the bike along. And it’s not just uphill; I walk down steep hills, too, because the brakes barely work and the tires skid over the sandy dirt. I grit my teeth. I have a strong urge to kick my bike and hitch a ride back to the hotel with the next pick-up truck that passes by. But I keep going, my grip tight on the plastic handles that keep sliding off the metal handlebars... at least until Nick’s bike gets a flat tire. A brief scenario plays through my head where I scream out, “See, I knew this was a bad idea!” and take off, leaving him eating my dust, but I refrain. We’re left walking the last couple kilometers back to Playa Guiones and arrive at the bike shop hot, sweaty, and grimy. I don’t know if “fun” is the word I’d use to describe our bike ride... Really, I just need to learn to laugh it off, instead of letting my frustration take over. What’s the point? It certainly doesn’t change anything, and actually makes the experience worse. Negative emotions poison the moment, taint the memory. And why ruin the single memory of riding a bike in Costa Rica? Really, it’s not worth it. I will remember this next time I grumble.

Despite all the frustration, it is actually nice riding through Nosara, which turns out to be the first (and only) truly authentic Costa Rican town we visit. Not a single tourist in sight. Homes, a few shops, the produce stand, a couple sodas. It looks like at some point Nosara tried to join the tourism industry, but a dilapidated hotel and boarded up disco makes me think it wasn’t successful. I guess people wanted to stay closer to the beach. A lady walks slowly down the street, a horse’s version of a leash in her hand, and a young girl rides in the saddle. I’m happy to at least get a brief glimpse of Costa Rican life in rural towns.

At the market, I pick up the BIGGEST, JUICIEST pineapple I’ve ever had in my entire life. After dinner, I cut it up, and pineapple juice flows everywhere, dripping off the counter and down my arms. Mmmm, it is sooooo good. I think I could eat pineapple everyday and never get tired of it. While I savor dessert, the sounds of Spanish classical music played by a young man on his acoustic guitar trickles through the screen windows, and I savor that, too.

March 18, 2012
It is my last sunrise walk. I walk far, watch the sky grow pink, feel the cool breeze. I can’t resist picking up more shells; never in my life have I been anywhere with so many pretty shells - The currents must carry them all to the shores of Costa Rica. 

It’s a very relaxing day. We spend some time on the beach, playing in the waves of high tide and soaking up the sun. For some relief from the intense heat of midday, we escape to the shadows cast by palm trees surrounding the pool area. Then it’s back to the beach for another long walk (Nick catches a baby iguana!) and another pretty sunset. 

In our warm room with a barely existent breeze, we pack up to leave in the morning. I don’t mind. Three days at a beach is enough for me, as much as I’ve enjoyed it. But I will miss my morning walks.

We stayed at this hotel based on a friend’s recommendation, and I’m happy we did. I almost made us reservations at The Guilded Iguana (practically across the street) based on TripAdvisor reviews. I don’t know about the rooms at Guilded Iguana, but I liked the set-up and restaurant at KayaSol better. KayaSol’s rooms are large yurt-like structures, or they have a couple buildings with two levels (two rooms on each floor). Our first night we stayed in a separate building because one of the cheaper rooms wasn’t available. It was huge. It had two large rooms, and there was a well-equipped kitchen area in one. Definitely more space than we needed, but great for a family or if you’re staying awhile and want to cook meals. Our remaining nights we stayed in a room in one of the buildings on the bottom level. We were happy that we still got a fridge! None of the rooms have air-conditioning here, so it’s pretty warm at night, even with a ceiling fan and all the windows open. We wondered if a room on the upper level would have a better breeze...
KayaSol also has a small pool area, which is a great place to escape the sun (the entire area is shaded by trees the entire day). There are a few lounge chairs that look very nice, but the hard wood makes them a little uncomfortable after awhile. I liked the pool area at Hotel Las Tortugas in Playa Grande much better, but it was okay because I’d rather spend time on the beach here, anyway.
KayaSol is in a good location. It’s a short walk to the beach, the surf shop is across the street, and the convenience store is practically across the street. There are a couple other restaurants and shops nearby, too.

KayaSol Restaurant
In my opinion, this is the best place to eat in Playa Guiones. Everything we ate here is good, and the prices are good, too (and if you stay here, you get 10% off the bill). Anytime we tried to eat somewhere else, either the menu didn’t interest us, it was too expensive/overpriced, or it was closed (many places are closed on Sunday). I had the house salad and quinoa salad - both were great. If you’re sharing, get a full order; otherwise, a half order should be plenty. The black bean burger is really good, and Nick really liked the buffalo chicken sandwich (he ate it twice). A yummy appetizer is the nachos (I devoured them for my lunch one day). The chicken chipotle, barbeque wings, and caesar salad are good, but not our favorite. I was excited when I received the largest pour of wine ever, and for only 2,000 colones ($4). Granted, it wasn’t the best wine, or even that good of wine, but whatever, I was happy. I tried the ice cream sandwich for dessert our first night, and it wasn’t that great, so I skipped dessert the rest of the time.

Robin’s Cafe
It’s a short walk (maybe ten minutes) from KayaSol to the cafe, located on a nearby street. It has a small menu, but what interested me was the homemade ice cream. It’s a little expensive (1,700 colones for a small), but it’s good and refreshing in the sticky afternoon heat. I enjoyed the caramel oatmeal cookie flavor.

Surf (I think this is the place Nick rented his board from, but I’m not sure.)
Boards are available for rent at the surf shop across the street from KayaSol. They are $15 a day.

Ride Bikes
We rented our bikes from the surf shop for $10 a day per bike. I would suggest not renting their bikes. They suck. Also, when we returned with a flat tire, they couldn’t fix the tire or give us another bike. So, even if we wanted to, and even though we already paid, we couldn’t ride bikes for the rest of the day. There is another place down the street that also rents bikes (they didn’t have any bikes available when we wanted to rent), but hopefully they’re better.

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