So after the hour of a boat from Laguna to the terminal, and 3 hours on a bus to Guapiles, and another 3 hours on a bus to Limon, our bus dropped us off at the very last stop at the hotel around 4:30pm. There seems to basically be one woman who works reception there, and she said she’s there from 7am to 7pm. Her English wasn’t awful but it wasn’t anywhere near good. She showed us to our room, which we had to get to by rolling our stuff along a series of boardwalk-like plank roads.
At first, we were actually kind of impressed by our room. I mean, the hotel consists of 24 cabins in the rainforest. Seriously in the rainforest. Like, you better be able to sleep through the sounds of crickets and frogs and monkeys and god knows what else, because there’s plants and stuff surrounding you everywhere, and there is no such thing as shutting the windows, the best you can do for privacy is to put down the curtains. The room had two beds with canopies on them, with mosquito netting hanging down from the canopies. A hammock was in one corner of the room and a jacuzzi was in another corner of the room, and a small bathroom with a toilet and a shower stall was another corner (which was also kind of weird since there was no real way to make the bathroom private either, just curtains, again). I think if I liked camping more, this place would have been great, since it basically was kind of like a luxury cabin. And at least there were outlets everywhere to plug our stuff into. And we had a fridge in the room, which also seemed pretty cool since we’d at least be able to have some cool drinks to help with the heat.
After a few minutes we had a bunch of questions, though, namely along the lines of…
- how would laundry work? we had seen on their website that it was possible, and we’d only brought 7 days of clothes with us.
- were there any tours we could do? otherwise this place was going to get pretty boring pretty quick.
- why didn’t the wifi have working internet?
- WHERE THE HECK WERE WE SUPPOSED TO GET DRINKING WATER FROM? All the signs in the room said that the water wasn’t drinkable, but unlike Tortuguero they hadn’t bothered to tell us where the water sources were.
Thus started our adventure of trying desperately not to hate this place too much.
As for laundry, they claimed to have laundry service, and gave us a paper to itemize what we wanted washed, with the caveat of: no laundry service on Sundays, and you have to have your stuff in by 9am to get it back same day. For internet, she was surprised it wasn’t working and said she’d reboot the router. For water, we could either fill up water bottles in the lobby or in the restaurant. For tours, well, they had a partnership with a company called “Se Ua” down the road, which was two Costa Rican guys who spoke English and would take you on various tours for various prices, she said “just tell me what you want to do, and I’ll call and book it with them”. And they had bicycles at the hotel that you could rent for a half or full day to go to any of the “nearby” cities or attractions.
Anyway, we explored a little bit and found the (actually) nearby beach (which of course you can’t actually go swimming in due to riptides), and the hotel restaurant, and things like that. We got dinner at the restaurant. They were very nice people but the menu was pretty limited, and worse… they didn’t even have half of the things on the menu. Like we wanted a tuna dish they had, but they didn’t have any tuna that night. And when we tried to order dessert after dinner, it turned out that they simply didn’t have any dessert (they made up for it by giving us fruit and ice cream, I guess).
And then… there pretty much wasn’t really much to do around the hotel itself -- seriously absolutely nothing -- no pool, no entertainment area, there was nobody at reception, and so on -- and keep in mind the location of this place, the nearest “town” was Manzanillo, about 2km away, and the nearest place that actually had anything for real was Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, about 11km away. It was pretty much impossible to go to either of them at night without a car because the roads were dark and these places are so small that getting a taxi would have been pretty complicated and possibly expensive (though I suppose we could have looked into it more; it's also not like there was really anywhere to GO at night anyway!).
So we filled the hot tub and sat in it for a while. It wasn’t REALLY comfortable for two people but whatever. Then we read books until it was time to sleep. By which I mean e-books; it’s a good thing we didn’t bring any real books as this room was so humid that our passports and all other papers we had were withery and damp by morning.
Sleeping through the night was an adventure in itself. Keep in mind it was hot and humid, and then by putting down the mosquito netting, that pretty much made it impossible for any air to really move around our bed. Another weird thing was that I thought the bed had memory foam, but it turns out it was just missing a plank and so there was a dip in the mattress under my hips that also made it uncomfortable to sleep.
The next day was Sunday. We were originally scheduled to do the “Crazy Monkey Canopy Tour” that morning, which is a zipline tour through the Almonds and Corals hotel grounds itself, and thought we’d go to Manzanillo for lunch after. However, after breakfast when we got to the front desk to report for our zip line adventure, the receptionist said,
“Oh, sorry guys. You are rescheduled for tomorrow morning at 9:30. Sorry I didn’t tell you until now. It’s Sunday you know, and the zip line guides didn’t show up today. Cause you know, it was Saturday last night and they were drinking. So, no tour today.”
So we ask what we can do instead, like, can we do one of those tours listed on their poster?
“Oh, well, maybe, but you know, it’s Sunday, so a lot of things are closed, but, why don’t I call them and see if they can take you kayaking, how about that? Cause they can do that, it’s just a guy and his kayaks and a truck and all.”
So she calls and gets us scheduled for a kayak outing at 1pm.
We decide to go to Manzanillo for lunch. I’d looked at TripAdvisor a bit to see what was there and found a place called “Cool and Calm Cafe” that had decent ratings. Since it was just a mile or so away we decided to walk… which turned out to be sort of a mistake, it took 30 minutes to walk there in the heat, and it was a pretty boring walk at that (despite that this hotel claimed to be a great place to see monkeys and whatnot, the only animals we saw on our walk were ants and occasionally dogs). We walked around Manzanillo, but it’s pretty much a 2-blocks-by-1-block place. Seriously. I ducked into one of their “supermarkets” which is really more like a bodega, and got some root beer and ginger ale and a big bottle of water. It was 2200 colones. I gave them $5, they gave me 3 coins of 100 colones back each. Whee.
Lunch was pretty good, aside from the cafe having too loud reggae music blaring the entire time (the cook seems to be from the Afro-Caribbean descent part of the area). I got a casado with chicken, a casado basically being “rice, beans, plantains, and something”. Chris got fish tacos. They were decent. We were across the street from the beach so we could watch people playing. Lunch came to $26 (by which I mean it was 13200 colones and we offered $26 and they seemed happy with it).
We figured maybe we could walk back on the beach to save some time -- infact I’d read a review of Almonds and Corals which claimed that “Manzanillo is a 5-minute walk away on the beach”.
Except it turned out to be high tide. So. We got a little bit of the way in and then my waterproof hiking boots got completely doused in water. As a result of trying to avoid getting swept away in the waves, it took us 40 minutes to get back via the beach, even longer than it had taken to walk along the road. I was pretty miserable and wet and sandy and sweaty and all by the time we got back, and we had to meet the kayak group at 1.
I took a shower and Chris went to ask them what we should bring; he came back like “bring nothing, be ready to get wet”, so I took that to heart and brought literally nothing -- no phone, no wallet, no camera, no nothing, my feet in flipflops and no socks, my already-wet t-shirt, and my hiking pants.
The kayak guys came over in a truck, which of course had no seating, so we sat in the back of the truck with a girl from Norway who was also coming with us to kayak, and some guy I have no idea who he was, maybe he was just getting a ride somewhere.
We get to the beach/river at Punta Uva that we’re going kayaking from. Willie, the guide, says he’s going to unpack the kayaks, we should take a few minutes to look around the beach shops/etc. Chris wants to find a bathroom, so we do. I’m miserable because getting to the bathroom involves walking through some mud -- I already have bad balance and trying to do this in flipflops is super awkward and somewhat painful. And guess what happens when we do get to the bathrooms? We’re in Costa Rica, so people ask us for a dollar to use the bathroom. Except we have no money. So they say we can’t use the bathroom and that’s that.
Anyway, once we get on the kayaks it’s not so bad. Chris and I double up on a sitting kayak, and Norway takes a standing paddleboard. Willie has a seated kayak since he’s also bringing some snacks and stuff. There’s also a couple, I never caught their names either, and they’re doing the paddleboards too. So a group of 5 of us. We’re deliberately doing a slow easy kayak ride and stopping to look at wildlife and stuff. Infact, before we even get in we see a sloth in a tree across from where we start our ride. So that’s promising. Of course, I have no camera or anything else. Which was probably a good thing in some ways, but it’s a little sad to have no pictures of some parts of the ride.
Since I have no clue what time it was during the kayaking, I don’t know exactly how far we went. We pretty much rode until you couldn’t ride anymore -- there’s a point in the river where the boats basically are grounded in rocks because it’s too shallow, and that’s where we stopped to take a break. But before then we did have quite a wander along. We saw some bats under a bridge, and some birds and stuff, and we saw LOTS of turtles so I was happy about that (even one time, we came across a log that had a line of like 5 turtles all just sitting there; I really did miss a great photo op for “Turtles all the way down”).
The break consisted of eating some breadsticks and fruit and water and hanging out for a bit before setting back.
Of course, about 5 minutes into our return trip, the skies decide to open up and pour rain on us. Which doesn't let up for the rest of the trip. I was prepared to get wet so it wasn't that terrible, but it's sort of unfun to be kayaking out in the rain.
We get to the beach and Willie offers us all coconuts while he's getting stuff packed up. I don't like coconuts, but he doesn't seem to hear me say that and I get stuck drinking juice out of a coconut. (Spoiler: I don't like coconut juice either.) Then, his truck wouldn't start because of some battery issue so a bunch of people help him push it a bit to get it started. We get back to the hotel. I go to our room to change and lie down; Chris gets in a little bit later because it turns out that he had to pay for the tour separately in cash (he thought it was done through the hotel, but no, they are entirely unaffiliated). Whee.
We goof off some more by reading and whatever, and get dinner at the hotel restaurant again. This time the guy running the place tells us that they DO have tuna, so we have it (it's not bad, but definitely overcooked). AND they have desserts... well... they have one dessert, anyway, which is banana cake with ice cream. Fortunately for them it's pretty good. (And yes, when we came in that night they greeted us like "Tenemos postres!")
Again, the evening is a wash. All we did on any of the given evenings was play games on our devices and read and whatever, and usually go to sleep by 10pm. That night we also got our laundry together and tallied it all up on their laundry paper.
The next morning we get up, give our laundry bags to the front desk, have breakfast, and then go off for our CRAZY MONKEY CANOPY adventure!
Which turns out to be ziplining. And utterly terrifying. It was advertised as a "lovely and relaxing journey over the trees to see the monkeys and other animals of the rainforest" or something to that effect but in reality we were being guided around by two dudes who spoke about 10 words of English and we saw exactly one monkey (and that being, I saw it, not Chris, since the only reason I saw it was, while my guide was trying to calm me down at one point, he pointed out a monkey in a tree off in the distance).
The receptionist lady did a 2-minute explanation in English what was going on, and we got hooked up with all the ziplining gear, and then we were off. I wish someone had warned me in advance that the first part of it would be climbing up several flights of stairs up a tree in the heat because I hadn't brought any water and my throat/lungs were already unhappy with me before we started. And then I got totally freaked out when we got up to the top. I'm not even sure why anymore, it was just super scary, the platform we were on was shaking a bit since the tree was shaking, and we were high up, and I'd never been ziplining before, and it was just freaking me the hell out. Eventually I went down the first rope in taxi with one of the guides -- and ended up doing the first three ropes that way. I had my eyes closed for the first two. Finally on the fourth I decided to try going by myself -- and naturally I screwed up the braking and couldn't stop spinning and I got stuck about 10 feet away from the target platform and was TERRIFIED, dangling in the air over the forest, they told me to use my arms to climb up the rope to get to the platform. SO scary. The next rope I went by myself and kept spinning around again. Then the next rope I went with the guide again because he said "this one is really fast, you should go with me." The last few ropes weren't that bad -- I basically started doing them with my right arm to brake/steer instead of left (they had said use your strong arm, but I think these really were geared for right-handed people) and so I was able to get through all of the remaining ropes without any incidents. Still, I was really happy to get to the ground.
Soaked in sweat, we went back to our room for a bit. I don't even remember if I bothered showering again, I may have. (I showered a LOT during this trip.) And then we borrowed bicycles so we could go up to Puerto Viejo. The bicycles were one-speed with backpedal brakes, like Google bikes, and like Google bikes they had uncomfortable seats and underinflated tires. The road had two big hills at the beginning but after that it was pretty flat the rest of the way.
Puerto Viejo is about 11 km away from the hotel, so 7 miles or so. Chris and I ride bikes 3 miles each way to work so it's not that huge a deal to ride like this, except we usually ride much better bikes in much nicer climates. We stopped after 3 miles or so to drink some water, and then another few miles we stopped when we got to some roadside beach. The road was mostly just green, with occasionaly houses or shops along the way, or there was one field with horses in it, too. We saw some chocolate shops that had tours, and a wildlife rescue, but we didn't stop for any of that, just a few water breaks.
Eventually we got to PV, which is at least a bit bigger than Manzanillo -- the downtown is more like 5 by 3 blocks or so. Riding through the town we could at least see that it was big enough to have things like doctors, a veterinarian, pharmacies, various stores, even hardware stores and supermarkets and whatnot. Lots of churches and hostels and restaurants too, and of course a beach. We went to an art cafe for lunch since it was highly rated on TripAdvisor and that worked so well before. This one was called Como en mi Casa. They were rated highly for having vegan and organic food, and sure enough, they were full of choices for gluten-free, organic, etc food. They were at least laidback and spoke English and gave us their wifi password and had nice bathrooms so I could wash my hands and all. BUT, it took forever for us to get drinks, and it was HOT in there -- they had outdoor seating but it was full so we were indoors on the second floor and all. Also, we wanted passion fruit juice and they were out of it. Chris got a mango smoothie and I got a lemonade with ginger and mint, except it was WAY TOO STRONG with ginger and undrinkable to me. I had a tuna sandwich though and it was pretty good. The rolls were yellow, which they said was from using turmeric. Chris had a veggie sandwich, which he said would have been fine if it didn't have so much eggplant. I dunno.
We rode around town for a bit after that, and then since we really didn't have anything better to do... turned around and started biking back to the hotel. I mean, there weren't any obvious museums or other things in town to see, we rode along the different streets and saw the beach and whatever before turning around at least.
On the other hand, we had seen an ice cream stand on the road on our way up there and we decided to stop in there on the way back since it was about halfway between PV and the hotel. This was probably the best thing that happened all day, or maybe the entire trip to that part of the country. It was a place called "Alice", and had gourmet ice cream... I got chocolate and Chris got peanut butter. They were awesome. Apparently the chocolate came from some nearby region in Costa Rica, even. The guy running the place spoke perfect English and offered us the wifi password and all, and when we got to talking with him it turned out he had lived in the Bay Area for a long time and worked in software, even at SGI, at the buildings Google currently has in Crittenden. He said he was "taking a break" by running the ice cream shop, but that he'd been down there four years already. It was such good ice cream! I think it's kind of funny that we found the best ice cream in Costa Rica by pure random chance.
We got back to the hotel around 4:30pm and we asked the receptionist if we could schedule a tour for the next day -- the one for the chocolate farm, butterfly farm, and I forget what the third thing was on the list. (They were mostly just random things grouped together.) She called them up and said they'd be able to do a tour for us at 2pm. Great.
Also, where was our laundry? Oh, it'd get delivered to us. Or something.
We chilled out a bit in our room. The laundry still never showed up. At 7pm I was beginning to get annoyed since I knew that officially the front desk was closed from 7pm onward, so who would we ask? We went up there a little later and asked yet again, and some other woman was there and said she'd go figure it out, and so after a bunch of staff conferred, they did eventually come back with our laundry! (So much for "same day afternoon return".)
We got dinner. It sucked too. Chris ordered bruschetta which was... just awful. And again the only dessert they had was banana cake.
(I'm actually back in MTV now, it's taking me a while to brain dump everything. To be continued...)