Costa RicaCosta Rica

Day 2: Nosara Biological Reserve and a Day at the Spa

Destination: Nosara

I awoke just after 6:30 a.m. A delicious breakfast of ripe fruit, toast, coffee and freshly squeezed orange juice was waiting for me by the pool at Lodge Vista del Mar. Around 7:30 a.m., Vincent and I arrived at Playa Guiones to watch the surfers do their thing. Gale walked by, surfboard tucked under his arm. White crabs, as opposed to the more typical red ones, scurried beneath our feet. After about an hour of beach combing, it was time for a hike.

We returned to Lagarta Lodge, the entrance to the Nosara Biological Reserve, where we had witnessed such a spectacular sunset the previous evening. Descending the steep staircase from the hotel was tough, but thankfully there were handrails to guide wary hikers.

Vincent spotted two trogons, beautiful black birds with bright yellow bellies and sky blue rings around their eyes. Less than 30 feet from the top of the cliff, a family of howler monkeys studied human passersby. There were a disproportionate number of baby monkeys to adults, making me think for a moment that this must be some sort of monkey day care.

We had six interconnected paths to choose from, including a walk by the river mouth, where the rivers of Nosara and Montana converge and empty into the Pacific Ocean. Since I tend to scare away wildlife with my clumsy walking habits, I resolved to sacrifice my own viewing pleasure for the sake of Vincent snapping some decent pictures of our journeys. We separated; I took a side-trip to the river opening, and he began to explore the dense trails.

A small flock of long-legged white herons greeted me. Colorful stones littered the black sand beach, which was all but deserted. Then I backtracked to the staircase, continued over a bog walk, and hiked for about an hour more.

Of the 270 species of bird in the park, I heard more of them than I was able to see. Every half mile I was treated to a new singsong call, and a trail marker posted on a tree. These signs corresponded to a key on the map I had received at the hotel's reception area, identifying the tree species as well as location in relation to the rest of the reserve. I passed by silk cotton, spiky pochote, big belly, corkwood, matapalo, pealing bark, and grape trees.

Farther along the path, I was treated to the sight of hundreds of fluffy pods filled with my all time favorite seeds from the mighty Guanacaste tree. Up to 12 are contained in capsules called orejas, or ears, so named because of their elliptical, ear-like appearance. I like to carry a few of these seeds on my person at all times to calm and remind me of the earth. For me, rubbing the kernels between my thumb and fingers relieves tension better than Chinese stress balls.

Looking forward to a 4:30 p.m. massage and 5:30 p.m. yoga session, I skipped back to the car. After a lunch of a fish sandwich -- and probably the best coleslaw in Central America -- at Marlin Bill's Restaurant, we drove over to Harmony Hotel. There I was introduced to Janet Montiel, my Costa Rican masseuse. Janet is an expert in re-balancing bodywork: a combination of deep tissue, joint release, rocking, and unwinding techniques.

The massage was more or less standard, except that Janet had a few surprise methods that I had not experienced before. She started with light pressure along my back. Playing with rhythms, she began to warm up. My shoulder blade became a paddle ball bouncing between Janet's fingers. Then, she rubbed my forearms so that my fingers uncontrollably clenched and curled according to her whim, like a puppet. After a while, her hands began to feel hot to the touch. My muscles were so tight that the sensations often turned to tickles and I laughed. Toward the end, she rolled my feet back and forth rapidly in her hands.

Afterward, I was fashionably late to "restorative yoga," which I found to be significantly slower than my normal style. Expecting taxing stretches and calming balancing sequences, I found the poses were designed to relax and to reintegrate -- which meant that they require a great deal of patience and tranquility. This session would be great for those who are looking to unwind and rehabilitate rather than to exercise; but it wasn't quite for me. I like my yoga upbeat, sweaty and, above all, challenging.

Following the session, I thanked Tammy for her kindness and services. She showed me her meditation garden, grown on the property, which is used to formulate all of the spa's body treatments from scratch. Even their nail polish is natural and water based: "if a small child swallowed it, he/she would be just fine," she informed me. (CostaRica.com does not advocate the feeding of nail polish to children).

My favorite treatment on their menu is ear candling, an ancient Egyptian practice to cleanse the inner ear. A cone-shaped hollow candle is placed inside the ear canal and lit. The smoke swirls around inside, creating suction that extracts wax and debris. It works.

As we were wrapping things up, I noticed "man-scaping" instead of "landscaping" treatments on the healing center's list of services. I laughed at the cleverness. On that note, Vincent and I said "happy Saint Patrick's Day" and went back to the hotel.

Day 2: Nosara Biological Reserve and a Day at the Spa in Pictures