Costa RicaCosta Rica

Day 1: A Nosara Sunset

Destination: Nosara

The day began with a friendly game of what I like to call, "how-many- people-can-we-cram-onto-a-60-passenger-bus?" Today, the answer was about 100. This is the Costa Rican public transportation system's favorite game, and the reason why I always arrive at the station early. People were wedged into the aisle like sardines, all but hanging out windows and sitting on strangers' laps. To my amazement, everyone was in a surprisingly good mood considering the complete absence of personal space.

Not all public vehicles are like this, but every Liberia-Nicoya bus I have ever traveled on has been. It is best for early birds to claim a window place, even for claustrophobes who swear by the aisle. Waking up from a nap to find a complete stranger's rear end 1/8 of an inch away from your face, I promise you'll wish you had the protection and breeze afforded by an inside-seat. After paying two dollars for a two-hour ride to Nicoya, I wasn't really entitled to complain; so I smiled and and tried not to think about it.

Our photographer, Vincent, picked me up at Super Compro, a grocery store across the street from the Liberia bus stop. Shortly outside of town we passed through a "cow jam" (a traffic jam in which cows instead of cars block the road), and I reached for my camera. Upon pressing the "on" button, the machine sputtered and died. I felt extremely sad -- not for the loss of my camera, but for all of the photos I would not be able to take this week.

We traveled about 1.5 hours west along the scenic and bumpy road toward Nosara. The glimmering ocean suddenly appeared signaling our arrival. The town is made up of 3 beaches: Playa Guiones, Playa Pelada, and Playa Nosara. Just north of Playa Nosara sits Playa Ostional, famous for attracting droves of nesting Olive Ridley sea turtles. Almost all bars, restaurants and other establishments are located on side roads off the main drag, making Nosara appear much smaller and less lively than it actually is.

We ascended a large hill to our destination, Lodge Vista del Mar. True to its name, the hotel offered a spectacular view of the Pacific Ocean. Owner, Gale greeted us with helpful advice and recommendations on local restaurants and points of interest. He took us on a tour, and we chatted in front of his 25-yard swimming pool.

I asked about the stately, beachside structure in the distance. Gale explained that someone had illegally built a Gaudi-like hotel within the 565-foot "no build" zone from the coast. The building, which looked like an enormous indigenous statue, was essentially worthless.

Vincent and I decided to venture down for a better look. We drove to Playa Guiones' northernmost point, only to find that the abandoned building was even stranger the closer we got. It was somehow at the same time oddly attractive, like something straight out of Smurf-land.

Next, we explored the neighboring beach of Playa Pelada. This literally translates to "peeled beach," meaning devoid or bare. Relatively deserted and more fitting for swimming than surfing, Pelada's picturesque bay was nothing short of idyllic. Waves exploded out of a blowhole on the south end, and the sun sparkled on the water in a way that seemed surreal.

I found a coveted "hamburger seed" (ojo de buey), which are perfect for making jewelry and key chains. After jumping for joy, I landed upon a sharp nub from the spiky cedar tree. Limping back to the car, I agreed with Vincent that our next stop should be Lagarta Lodge, where we could supposedly find Nosara's most stunning panorama.

The lodge owns the 90-acre Nosara Biological Reserve, home to over 270 species of birds, including motmots, herons, manakins, waders, and toucans. Coatimundis, monkeys, raccoons, armadillos, snakes, and anteaters are not uncommon in this wilderness. At the entrance, I picked up a brochure by the Nosara Wildlife Refuge and SIBU Sanctuary. They rescue all local animals in need, but specialize in the howler monkey. I was shocked to discover that the most imminent danger to this species is the mass of improperly insulated power lines, which monkeys often use as ladders and playthings. Upon swinging, the animals are electrocuted, or maimed beyond recognition. I was immediately moved to donate to this worthy cause.

We walked from the parking lot to a 130-foot balcony draping over the edge of a cliff, where we sat in stunned silence. The two rivers of Nosara and Montana intertwine in the shape of a twisted "U." Paralleling this was the Pacific Ocean and miles of deserted black-sand beach. Just beyond, Playa Ostional stretched out into mist. You could almost taste the freshwater meeting the sea, and the sun was enormous and pink as it set in front of our eyes. We left shortly thereafter in order to go to sleep early, planning to return first thing tomorrow to explore the reserve.

Day 1: A Nosara Sunset in Pictures