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Goodbye, Papagayo; Hello, Hermosa

Destination: Playa Hermosa

I woke up early, hungry for breakfast and excited for the next leg of our trip, Playa Hermosa, just a few miles south. Over our rice and beans, scrambled eggs, fruit and coffee, Cesar and I both contemplated Papagayo's wide-water views one last time, happy with where we had spent the last three days, but eager to move on.

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Before we left, though, Cesar had one last, small excursion in mind. We walked along the resort's dirt road, where on-going construction had prohibited car traffic and discouraged those on foot. Undeterred, we headed out to the hotel's borders and the very southern tip of Snake Bay. If the views from our suite and the onsite restaurant had been incredible, these were even more so: small islands dotted the horizon, boats lazily made their way across the ocean, and the water was clear enough to shame the Caribbean.

We stood for several minutes, simply absorbing the sights around us. In silence, I committed the views to memory and cherished each moment, knowing that this would likely be my last time on this beautiful point. A small vulture perched in a nearby tree, disinterested in our movements, but keenly aware of others. We parted ways, and Cesar led me down a small, bumpy dirt road toward the promised beauty that lay ahead.

The path was covered with hermit crabs, some much larger than any I'd seen before. One in particular caught my attention -- almost as large as a ping-pong ball, he plodded slowly down the path, rolling and sliding down stones and hills. I picked him up for closer inspection, and he immediately hid inside his shell, his tiny claws giving me a quick warning pinch. Dragonflies -- thousands of them -- buzzed all around.

When I looked up, we had arrived at the beach, a tiny strip of pristine gold hidden between two large boulders. I stepped off the path and sank into sand so fine that the words "quicksand" and "escape!" rushed to mind. I calmed myself and tested the beach floor, finding that my feet only submerged two or three inches. Taking my shoes off, I put my hermit friend down, and Cesar and I left our shaded path in exchange for this sunny piece of paradise.

The waves were gentle, and even a few feet into the ocean, we sank down into the sand. The water lapped at our ankles and calves, cool and welcoming, and we commenced with our photo op. Tropical trees reached out onto the beach, huge rocks soared above us, outer islands painted the view, and the sun filled the blue sky. Mr. Hermit, safely on (relatively) dry land, rolled around in the incoming waves, digging his claws in just deep enough to withstand the tide's pull.

Check-out time looming, we reluctantly grabbed our shoes, rinsed off, and said goodbye to the beach. I dropped Mr. Hermit off on the path where we had first met, and Cesar and I commenced our uphill trek back to the hotel. We grabbed our belongings, said goodbye to the bats who lived on our room's balcony, and locked up. Reception called us a cab, which whisked us away to Playa Hermosa for $10 -- a bit pricey for the ten-minute journey, but very convenient.

As we wound south down the coast, huge storm clouds billowed ahead. With Hurricane Gustav just off the Caribbean Coast, stormy weather had been pulled into the Pacific, and we knew that heavy rains were just a few minutes away. Our beautiful Playa Hermosa hotel gave us a warm welcome and showed us to our rooms, where we dropped off our bags and doubled-back to the onsite restaurant.

Cesar and I, both nature lovers, chose a table right next to the hotel's gardens. Loud birds called to each other, and it seemed that some were angry about perceived offenses or stolen food. Soon after we ordered -- thick-sauced pasta and French fries for Cesar, nachos and chicken for me -- the daily downpour began, and we were forced to retreat to an interior table.

It rained all afternoon, confining us to our rooms, but as the dinner hour neared, the storm let up, if only just a bit. Armed with water-resistant shoes and umbrellas, we headed out to explore a bit of Playa Hermosa, since we would continue farther south to Playa del Coco the next day.

Our wanderings led us to the beach, just a few blocks' walk from our hotel. The night sky was pitch black, and the beach was curiously empty of the typical beachfront restaurants. We managed to find one, though, and we tucked into chicken in a mushroom sauce, shrimp scampi, and a couple of ice-cold sodas while we discussed our adventures. Later, stuffed full of good food, we stumbled back to our hotel in the darkness, and collapsed onto our beds.

Goodbye, Papagayo; Hello, Hermosa in Pictures

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