JACO BEACH – COSTA RICA'S PLAYGROUND by Mary Craft firstname.lastname@example.org I escaped our wintry weather and headed for Costa Rica with my son, Alex. Many of my friends have been there and all rave about it and some are even planning to retire there. I was soon to learn why my 50+ year old friends visit this male haven. But more about that later. A physician friend from Costa Rica suggested Jaco Beach on the Pacific coast for our destination because it is not so touristy and has more nightlife. He described it as the country's playground where the natives (ticos) go to play. No one I know had been there, they all go further north to Tamarinda that you get to by flying into Liberia. Getting There We took Continental Airline to Houston had an hour layover then picked up the 3 hour flight to the capital city of San Jose. We had just carry-ons so we walked out the airport and spotted the driver waiting with our name on a sign. Kevin's Transfers has English speaking drivers which made the 90 minute drive an educational tour. We learned that they export bananas and coffee of which half goes to Starbucks. On the way to the hotel we stopped at a long bridge and got to look over the railing at the many crocodiles in the river below. According to our driver Paulo, the country has been a democracy for many years and has no military because they do not want to risk a military leadership taking over the government. It is very safe unlike some of the other Central American countries. The people are friendly and have a laid-back attitude demonstrated by the phrase you always hear “Pura Vida” which basically means “It's all good”. Ex-patriots Beach Habitat We arrived at the Poseidon Hotel, which like many of the other bars and restaurants in Jaco, is owned and run by Americans. The couple from Colorado bought the 14 room hotel eight years ago. It is located half block from the beach and is walking distance to everything including shopping. The beach is a popular destination for surfers and the Billabong sponsored International surfing competition was held last summer in nearby Playa Hermosa beach which attracted thousands of surfers from 40 countries. There are many surf shops that sell the usual name brand gear and they rent boards for just $10 a day. There are three bar/restaurants on the beach each with a different theme. Carlita's is a sports bar where we enjoyed listening to a band while playing horseshoes. Ganesha's is a reggae bar with leather couches and tables outdoors where you can comfortably sit while sipping your umbrella drink and watching the sun set over the Pacific. Sunset is around 6 pm all year long because it is nine degrees from the equator so there is just a 40 minute day length difference all year. Bohio (bay) Bar & Grill is a local hangout so it has its afternoon regulars and was down the street from our hotel. We met Billy from California there who teaches surfing and has a spot in front of the bar. He arranged for us to go snorkeling and spear fishing with Howie who became our friend, driver and personal guide during our stay. Pacific Ocean Adventure Howie was a stunt man and stunt driver in LA for a few years then had several businesses in Vegas before coming to Costa Rica. He is a large, bald guy with lots of tattoos and plenty of stories. He took us up some narrow muddy roads in his V8 four wheel drive Chevy truck to get some spectacular views. We then went to the reef at this beautiful cove that had no other people except for those on a couple of anchored boats. The 30 minute walk to the cove made me feel like I was on the Survivor show. We had to carefully walk over fossilized lava because it was very slippery in the wet spots. Then there were boulders to climb over. We finally arrived and I was anxious to experience snorkeling for the first time and Alex could not wait to spear a fish. Unfortunately three steps into the water he was stung by a sting ray that was under a rock. Howie thought it was probably just a rock he stepped on because of how shallow the water was. So we continued on while Alex went to sit on a rock on shore. It did not take long to get the hang of breathing with the snorkel but when I found out that I would probably see eels all I could think of was “Here I am snorkeling and hoping I don't see anything.” After a few minutes we realized Alex was in pain so we went ashore and found out the pain had gone up his leg. We tried to hurry back to the truck and went to a nearby upscale resort which had a medical service. He put his foot in hot water and the pain lessened immediately. The next stop was a pharmacy where the pharmacist took him to the back room, gave him a shot and another hot water soak. The experience is a very painful one for about three hours. The up side of the experience was that he got the pretty pharmacist's phone number. Feeding the Crocodiles Our next adventure the next day was the Crocodile Man Tour nearby that two local brothers started ten years ago. Their tour beaches the boat when they see one of the big crocs and they get out and feed it hunks of chicken. Of
course they make the croc go on shore and raise up to get the chicken. Needless to say they have plenty of scars on their feeding arm. They have named the crocs, we saw the green eyed one they named Angelina Jolie but did not see the largest one they call Osama Bin Laden because it is hard to find. There are other croc tours but they do not feed the animals. Romping with the White Faced Monkeys The next day was an hour trip to Quepos for the monkey tour. It is a two hour tour that costs only $35 and the trip down the river and mangroves is worth the price without the monkeys. We were about 40 minutes into the cruise with no monkeys in sight although the guide was making monkey sounds. I did get to see what they call the “Jesus Christ” lizard because it walks on water. I felt like I was on the Discovery Channel. This lizard ran across the water with all four feet spiraling. We also saw a brown boa which wraps around a tree limb to look like a nest. Then the white face monkeys came and the fun began. How can I describe how it is to interact with monkeys in the wild except to say it was the highlight of my trip. We ended up visiting with three monkey families on our cruise. The large male in charge would just watch from a nearby tree limb with a grimace. The females are shy but the adolescent males come on board and jump on our shoulders and head. They are known to take off caps and fling them in the water so we were prepared and hatless. They jumped all over the boat and its canopy and frolicked with each other. Tram Ride up the Rainforest The next day trip took us to a nearby rain forest with a tram and educational tour which also had a zip line I was not adventurous enough to take. The tram took us way up into the forest where we saw a sloth on a branch. There were the sounds of the forest, water falls and zip lines. Night Life in Jaco Beach Then there is the night life and the ladies of the night who are also the ladies of the morning and afternoon. Wherever we went there were attractive young ladies in their early twenties. I did not initially realize they were hookers. They dress like the women dress there and do not approach men but wait for eye contact first. Most are from nearby neighboring countries like Nicaragua, Columbia and the Dominican Republic. The baby boomer men who want to relive the sixties can do so except they have to pay, but not too much. Coming Home Back to reality came at departure since the security measures increased with the Christmas day Detroit fiasco. All passengers were frisked and carry-ons were searched. They took my favorite eye shadow and a fellow passenger's small toothpaste. Another passenger had a package of coffee he bought at the airport, which is one of the few souvenirs you would want to bring back, only to have it confiscated. Costa Rica Travel Tips Tips before you go – do not tip, it is included and not expected. Bring small bills because your change will be in colones. Tours and drivers are cheaper with cash. Peak season which is also “dry season” is from December to April. Costa Rica is absolutely beautiful and easy to get to. Go and enjoy. Pura Vida!