Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Arrival in Monteverde - Monday 3-23-2009

I woke up at 6:15AM Monday morning for a 7:30AM Grayline bus pickup. Grayline Tours (, phone: 2220 2116) and Interbus are the two main private shuttle companies in Costa Rica. Both run daily shuttles between major tourist spots in the country. I decided traveling this way would be less stressful than trying to navigate Costa Rica’s maddening public bus system. Ironically the bus picks me up 15 minutes late, which stresses me out considerably. The driver makes several more stops. I say hello to the pair of travelers from the second stop when they sit down behind me. “Habla ingles?” I ask. “Yes,” the thinner man answers. I ask where he and his friend are from. He said they are from Portugal. I introduce myself and the man introduces himself as Ricardo and his friend as Fernando. Ricardo and I talk for much of the ride. Fernando is self-conscious about his English and so largely keeps quiet. Ricardo and Fernando work together in Portugal. The pair are traveling through Central America for two weeks, starting in Costa Rica. Ricardo speaks English articulately, with an easily understandable accent and ample skill with which to display his wit. Fernando is shy but polite. I decide quickly that they would make good traveling companions.

The bus ride passes swiftly as we move northwest into Costa Rica’s ranch and plantation country. It is pretty country, dotted with colorful cabinas and roadside sodas. We drive for two hours then we stop for 40 minutes in Las Huntas (I think) to change buses. The crowded rest stop is well kept, with an enclosed ATM, bathrooms, a soda and a souvenir shop, all with tiled floors. The wind is hot and dry, but the rest stop offers plenty of shade. Just behind the rest stop is a small deer farm. I chat more with Ricardo and Fernando, learning that Ricardo works in finance and Fernando works in engineering.

This second part of the ride lasts over two hours, most down unpaved roads. Though the ride is bone-jarring, it offers spectacular views of the Nicoya Gulf and the surrounding country. The shuttle bus labors upward. I note how dry Costa Rica is at this elevation. There are few tall trees here, mostly bushes and shrubs. Plant leaves are brown with dust. The grass is yellow. This is no rainforest. Not until we near Santa Elena’s outskirts do the dusty shrubs gave way to taller, more verdant foliage. The driver begins dropping people off. When Ricardo and Fernando disembark, we agree that Santa Elena is so small that we will see each other around. I am dropped off last, at Manakin Lodge past 1:30PM.

Manakin Lodge (, phone: 2645 5080) is about one mile uphill from Santa Elena. At the end of a dirt road, and rundown on the outside, my first feeling was disappointment. I check in with Yolanda, who greets me heartily. She owns the lodge, while she and her family run it. I had booked a Single Superior room for $20 per night. This was supposed to include a private bathroom, a view of the rainforest, and a balcony which backed into the rainforest. I remember the balcony is what sold me on this place instead of Cabinas Vista al Golfo (, phone 2645 6321), in town. I also remember the Manakin Lodge website quoting this room at $25 per night, five dollars more than what they are charging me. The first room Yolanda gives me is a basic double room, not what I booked. I point this out. Yolanda tells me that the room I booked has been occupied by a Canadian woman for the last three months and that she keeps extending her stay. Yolanda flips through her guest registry for several minutes, probably hoping I would acquiesce, but then gives me a family room when it becomes clear I was going to sit in her office until I got a nicer room. This family room doesn’t have a balcony, but it does have a private bathroom, two queen beds in one room and a queen bed in an attached room. It’s a nice room and for $20 per night, I swallow my perfectionism and my complaints. Yolanda says she’ll move me if and when the Canadian girl leaves. Still, I should book on from here on out. I’ve never had a problem booking through them. Yolanda shows me around the lodge, proudly telling me about the paintings she drew and which now hang in the dining area. The dining area is bright, airy, and spacious. Natural light floods in from windows looking out onto the rainforest. The wood paneling, wood furniture, stone masonry, and Yolanda's paintings lend a comfy, warm feeling to the space. Yolanda tells me she used to run a tour company but sold it to purchase the lodge, she tells me. She also introduces me briefly to Stephanie, the Canadian woman who hasn’t relinquished the room I booked.

I walk into town around 2:30PM, starving because I hadn’t eaten since 6:30AM. I eat at La Maravilla, in Santa Elena right across from the bus station. The food is cheap and serves typical Costa Rican fare – beans, rice, meat, tortillas. As I eat my chicken, tortillas and salad (filling and good at 1900 colones, about $4.90) Ricardo and Fernando come in to say hello; they saw me in the window. I invite them to sit. They tell me about how they need to book their bus into Nicaragua, their destination in two days. I finish and we walk together to the booking office. They spend an hour finalizing their itinerary. We all book a night hike to the Preserva Santa Elena for tonight ($17 per person including transportation), and an unguided day hike in a different part of the Preserve for the next day ($20 per person including transportation).

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