Montezuma and the Howler Monkeys

This is the story of our journey to Montezuma.

We began our trek at 8am at Casa de las Tias where we met Gail and Jerry. The B&B owners had already called us a cab and we raced to the Intercontinental hotel in San José to catch the Interbus we had reserved. The Interbus is a (somewhat) private shuttle you can reserve to transport you from hotel to hotel or airport. You ride with others, pick them up and drop them off, and it is actually quite pleasant and organized; they definitely cater to the international, more timely, customer. The Interbus took us to Puntarenas, a touristy fishing village known for it’s car ferry to the Nicoya Peninsula.

Traversing the Gulf of Nicoya took about 70 minutes, not including the sitting, the waiting… the sweating… After leaving beautiful, breezy, 70º F weather then sitting in an A/C van for two hours the hot and humid coast hits you like a wall. The views on the water, however, were worth it; we witnessed the meeting of fresh and salt water, islands inhabited by thousands of birds, and Red Tide.

Red Tide

While the ferry transports cars, buses, and trucks, we had a different bus and driver waiting for us on the other side of the gulf at Puerto Naranja for the final leg of the day’s journey. Montezuma was about an hour away, if my memory serves me right, but the drive is more accurately measured by encounters considering the variance in driving speed, mud puddles, and number of passengers that need to be dropped off along the way. The last quarter is down steep hills and dirt roads, giving most of us quite the headache.

Something that really stuck with me was how dry everything was. I knew that the North Western territories of Costa Rica are dry outside of the rainy season but to what extent was beyond me. Leaving the Central Valley you notice the forest fires, controlled or not I am unsure, and the mountains have lost some of their lushness but it isn’t until you reach the coast that it really hits you. Everything is a shade of brown. While waiting at the dock we saw a cloud of dust rising above a line of trees, still green because of it’s proximity to the river. It was eerie and clearly not smoke. When we reached the Nicoya Peninsula the dessication was even more apparent; think of Michigan in late August after a dry summer. The dirt road we took to reach Montezuma was lined by vegetation, houses, and fences covered in a thick layer of a uniform brown dirt. We were unsure if this is what was waiting for us in Montezuma but to our relief, we arrived (safely) to a little oasis.

Montezuma is best described, as I saw it, as having a hippie vibe. Colorful, carefree, and very young. Everyone was tattooed with Hindu symbols, wore board shorts, shirtless (the men, anyway), and topped with dreadlocks. I actually saw shops where you could get dreadlocks yourself. Apparently braided and beaded spring break hairstyles are out.

Our hotel, the El Jardin, was a series of rooms built into the hillside. We had reserved the ‘house,’ a two bedroom, two story, wooden building that had a playhouse feel. Nick and I took the upstairs bedroom which had a deck and hammock overlooking the ocean. The pool was two-stories; a smaller pool that had a waterfall leading into the lower. This, I think, is the only reason we survived. Beer by the pool at peak heat and post hike was exactly what we needed. Necessary, I would say.

Starving, we picked a restaurant with second floor deck seating and watched the Pacific ocean crash on the rocky beach. No one was swimming which we attributed to either the red tide or the precarious rock formations all along the waterline. Probably both. Everyone felt a little queasy from the traveling so we reached for comfort food. I had spaghetti and tomato sauce, which was delicious.

Bellies full, beer in hand, it was time to cool off in the pool and create the master plan for our short time here. Chatting, reflecting, we suddenly heard a loud howl the echoed overhead. We stopped, looked at each other, immediately thinking the same thing. Monkeys. All wide-eyed, we began speculating what this repeating call could be and speculated, whether we were right or not, we just heard howler monkeys. It was decided right then that hearing these guys was going to be the highlight of our trip. Little did we know these were howler monkeys, a family of about eight, and travel and eat right above our little cabina. The first to spot them was Nick, whose sole mission in Costa Rica (oh, yeah, besides to make money) was to see some monkeys. The look on his face was priceless. And the monkeys were cool, too.

We explored Reserva Natural Absoluta Cabo Blanco the following day after a great breakfast, more details of that trip to come. The car ride their allowed us to see beyond our area and realize that Montezuma is actually larger than what we’ve seen. Keep in mind, it is a small village, so that isn’t really saying much. We found the restaurant Playa de los Artistas that came highly recommended to us from a very trustworthy source. The woman at the front desk kindly made reservations for us and after a much needed beer and dip in the pool we walked our way to the best meal here yet. We all tried ceviche for the first time, a raw seafood dish that is marinated in lime juice. ‘Raw’ meaning kept under 115°F but the highly acidic marinade denatures the proteins as cooking would, also denaturing, or killing, any potential pathogens. Bed soon followed. Crawling into our little bug-netted beds in our little two story house, I was too tired to write and fell asleep quickly.

We again ate breakfast by the beach, walked the town while we waited for our bus to pick us up at El Jardin, but not before Nick could get one last swim in. The interbus ride was smoother this time around but we did have to wait for the ferry to dock this time. While we all wished the trip was longer, we enjoyed Montezuma, there was an air of anxiety. More unrest than anything I suppose, but that is how travel days are. We arrived back at the Intercontinental, were promptly met with a large taxi, and then we were home. The rest of the day is a blur. Naps, I do recall there were naps…

– Jes


2 responses to “Montezuma and the Howler Monkeys

  1. Pingback: Over the Hills We Go: By Bus, By Boat « with our legs on the edge·

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