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  • juliafruane

Life's a beach | Mind the sea urchin | Paradise found (again)

We are now at the beach!! After a month of travelling around the Central Valley and Rainforests of Costa Rica, we've finally made it to the sea. Well, the ocean to be precise, and to be even more precise, the Pacific Ocean (which I've never seen before!).

We've got a base in a place called Playa del Coco (or El Coco to the locals). We've discovered that the area we are staying in is called the Canadian Quarter by the locals too thanks to all the Canadians who have bought homes here! It's certainly rather nice. Here's the view from our balcony.

And, yes, that is Esme immediately in the pool!

It's great to finally have our own space again! After a month moving around hotels (and a horrendous few days in the black mould apartment in Monteverde) we finally have two bedrooms, a kitchen, dining area and sofa.

Only one problem with having your own apartment? It comes with normal household problems that now, of course, we have to sort! For instance, we had lovely hot water for the first few days, then nada. It wasn't actually that noticeable because, boy, it's hotter here on the coast. And 'cold' showers (aka about 30 degrees C as that is what the outside temp is) were actually a welcome respite.

We also weren't entirely sure if we'd done something wrong or, indeed, if we'd imagined the hot water at the start (there doesn't seem to be too much demand for it judging by what we've experienced so far), but it turns out the water heater was indeed broken. It got fixed the next day.

Then there's the laundry. We can finally do it ourselves again, rather than pay a 'Lavanderia' to do it for you and not know for sure everything will be fine (mostly it was, but not always).

We've packed light for this trip so a few days' clothes is all we have. Laundry is therefore essential.

Because I knew we were coming to a place with a laundry room we stored up our dirty clothes ready to be washed when we arrived. Great idea, yes? I mean the washers they have here are the massive American ones that can take a 21Kg load! Our entire wardrobes just about covered the bottom few inches.

So I threw everything in and left it to do it's stuff. When I went back to check on it I discovered that the lock to the laundry room door was broken. So all our clothes were sitting there wet, it was late on a Saturday night, and we had no hope of getting anyone in to fix it until the Monday morning! As luck would have it, the gardener turned up on the Sunday for some (unplanned but rather fortuitous) reason and I managed (in my very flawed Spanish) to ask him to help. He showed me a handy way to break in to the laundry room and all was fine! :-D Our AirBnB host was also great and the lock was fixed the next day.

Quick note on this - before coming to Costa Rica a lot of the videos etc we watched talked about 'Tico time' ie it'll get done when it gets done, tomorrow is fine, don't expect things to move quickly etc etc. What we've actually found is that every taxi driver not only turns up on time, they turn up early, things get fixed fast and nothing is any trouble for anyone. So don't believe everything you hear.

So, some very minor issues aside, we were settled in, and for the next few days we did nothing except watch telly, play on our phones, read books and, if we were feeling adventurous, go for a dip in the pool. This may sound strange, but, after a month of adjusting to the time zone, of adapting to a new culture, language and climate, of going on multiple trips and getting excited as we discovered new things, we were exhausted. I thought this sort of thing was supposed to be relaxing! Fun, yes. Incredible experience, yes. Relaxing? No.

So, now I've finished grumbling about having to fix stuff and just how awful it is to have to have an amazing time (yeah yeah I know, we're lucky sods) we actually decided to venture out a bit. After all, we were by the seaside now (oceanside??)!

Our place is only one block away from the beach so it's just a 2 min walk away, but unfortunately we can't see it from our roof terrace thanks to all the trees and nature and stuff in the way (oh yes forget to mention that! We also have a roof terrace, which sounds like a great idea but only I will go up there as the rickety stairs and height is too much for Ali and Esme, and I don't stay for long as it's painted white so I go blind if I try).

Anyway, it's a lovely bay, about 2 km long, with black volcanic sand which is metallic (we know this as it stuck to the magnets on Ali’s sandals!). The sea is lovely and warm. And the sunsets are brilliant.

It's also not too commercialised. Yes you get a lot of people approaching you with stuff to buy (mostly bracelets for some reason, which they walk around with wrapped around long pool noodles) but they go away quickly when you say "No Gracias". There are also no major hotels here, no buildings above a couple of storeys high and still lots of land around. There are even houses and bungalows along the beachfront that clearly belong to locals and have been here before tourism truly took off. In other words no multinational conglomerates have come along and spoiled the place!

It's fun to walk along the beach and just take in the view. But it's not a beach you can navigate that easily. We had vague hopes of being able to come out and do early morning runs along the beach while we were here (which is hilarious really as we hate running and I didn't even bring a sports bra!). But this particular bay has lots of small rivers flowing into it, which of course dump in a load of silt and soil and anything else they pick up along the way, and it means you have to wade through them to 'walk' the whole beach. Plus the sand is really very sticky so you'd end up a couple of feet taller if you tried to run over it. And there's no joined up walkway or boulevard to go along either. Which I guess is the flip side to not being commercialised.

There is however a lot of everything else you need in order to, well, live here! ie Supermarkets, some clothes shops, restaurants, coffee shops etc. One thing our lovely apartment didn't have for instance was a kettle (nowhere we've stayed here in Costa Rica provides a kettle!) so we bought one. Now I can have a cuppa whenever I want - THAT is luxury!

With the the beach off the list as the perfect place to go, we instead spent a lot of time walking around the area to explore (during which time we discovered that the coffee shops are also the best places for aircon - a win win!) but eventually we felt we needed to go further afield. Car hire is extortionate here and I couldn't convince Ali and Esme that an hour's walk in this heat was a good thing so we hired a golf buggy for a few days. What fun!

It meant we could get to the next beach along, called Ocotal, in just 15 mins. This place is fantastic! The sand is more sand like, the sea is clearer and it's easier to swim in. One end was quite rocky (more old lava lying around!) like in the pic below, but the other end was flat and sandy all the way.

Because we'd driven there it also meant we could bring along a couple of beach chairs and a parasol that we found in our apartment. Bliss. We spent a couple of days here just soaking it all in. I put my goggles on and swam underwater in the sea for the first time ever too! (I'm building up my courage to try snorkelling next - yes I know I'm a wuss!).

There is one restaurant on this beach (which is a really good one) and just one tour operator, offering boat rides etc. In other words you are left completely undisturbed while also having access to fresh water, toilets and food.

As we were exploring where the sand meets the trees, Esme even discovered something pretty cool - lots and lots of tiny hermit crabs! The one in the shot below was one of the 'larger' ones ie about 2cm wide.

Plus there were various birds about such as this sandpiper and squirrel...

But what really got our interest was this spiky creature!

I had to lie down flat on my front on the beach to get that shot of the sea urchin, as the tide was coming in pushing it towards me! Luckily we spotted this on the way away from the beach, otherwise we may not have been so keen to spend the day in the water!

Actually, there was one other creature we discovered in the sea - a jellyfish. Unfortunately the way we 'discovered' it was because it stung Esme's arm :-( She was a complete trooper about it. We had anti-histamine cream on us and we were about to head home so could put warm water on it. It soon healed, I'm pleased to say.

It did put Esme off the sea for a bit. Well, for about 12 hours to be fair (as you can see below) as the next day we went up the coast and headed to a different beach called Playa Hermosa.

Hermosa is the Spanish word for 'beautiful'. As such there are lots of beaches called Playa Hermosa in Costa Rica. To be honest I wasn't expecting much as a result, as I figured they can't all be that beautiful. Turns out I was wrong.

Another stunning bay, with a beautiful sandy beach. As with Ocotal it was rocky at one end and lovely and sandy at the other.

It's clearly a popular place and the first one we've seen with an even split of locals and tourists. Ali and Esme spent the afternoon just playing in the water with randoms and I sat watching from the bar enjoying the serenity.

At this point though I feel I need to add in a little dose of 'reality'. This place is beautiful yes, but remember that nowhere is picture perfect everywhere. Take these three shots for instance, the first was taken looking to my left, the second one straight ahead from my viewpoint, and the third one was the view to my right.

All from the same spot. So, depending on your (literal and metaphorical) point of view, you could show that this beach was 1) messy, 2) deserted or 3) quirky.

Note - I do always try to capture what's real in my photos but I do also focus on what really stands out for me. That means I don't tend to take photos that include crappy stuff, as I don't really notice it (unless it's like the wiring in San Jose!). Instead I try to capture the beautiful or interesting. I guess I just wanted to add that in because this post has quite a lot of the 'beautiful' in it!

We stayed here for the day until sunset came as we had a sneaking suspicion that it might look rather good from this spot. We were right...

As we sat in a bar, watching Esme in the swing seat as the sun was setting, I actually thought it was so beautiful that I cried. Maybe it was because I'd been sitting drinking beer all afternoon, or maybe it was just an emotional time of the month but for that moment I was completely overcome. And if that doesn't make this whole trip worth it, I don't know what does.

Pura Vida everyone.

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