Story & Photos by JD Dotson
OUR SOUTHERN INDIANA COMMUNITY WILL ALWAYS BE HOME, BUT I WAS READY FOR A BREAK. SO I TOOK ONE TO COSTA RICA WITHOUT BREAKING THE BANK.
The first night in San Jose was spent in a really cool little hostel, $15 a night, but the night was long. Headache, stopped up sinuses, and sharing a room with six of my nearest and dearest and a couple of strangers meant little to no sleep. The morning was spent on a 30-minute bumpy flight to Tambor on an 18-seat twin propeller plane and a van drive that took about 45 minutes to the town of Santa Teresa. The tiny surf town off the Nicoya Peninsula and Pacific Ocean. I was surprised by the number of people, animals, ATVs, bicycles, horses, buses and motorbikes sharing a bumpy/partially-paved, mostly-gravel road.
I arrived at Don Jon’s Lodge and Restaurant and reunited with my friend Kara, who went to school with Don Jon. Don Jon’s Lodge is a covered patio with tables flanked by hammocks around the edges. The sign overhead proclaims the motto of the Lodge, “Relax to the Max!” The reception area and kitchen just inside is the place where you can book a tour, sign up for yoga, order a beer or a burrito, or have your fill of coffee. Along the side of the building are the lodge rooms, eight bunk beds going for $15 to $20 a night, with a shared outdoor kitchen in the back of the building. Just beyond is the apartment building, which sleeps up to five and has a private kitchen and showers for $80 to 120 a night. In the back are six rustic cabins where my crew stayed, sleeping three per room for a total of $60 per night. There were three separate two-story, teak wood cabins connected by bridges on the canopied rooftop. The rustic cabins look like a Swiss Family Robinson-esque treehouse with stairs and hammocks everywhere surrounded by jungle.
It took us no time to drop our bags and walk a block and a half to the beach, which is beautiful and tree lined. The surfers were out in force, and there were dogs everywhere. There pups played in the water, running up and down the sand, back and forth in the surf, playing fetch with coconut husks. Dog lovers will appreciate knowing pooches are in the outdoor restaurants, walking up and down the street, and are happy, fed and well-loved.
Additionally, there always seemed to be people piled high on ATVs, babies in laps, grandma holding onto the back, with a pup at her side. There are lizards everywhere. Some are tiny, little salamander types but most are huge dragon-like creatures. And the monkeys howling as they hop about in the trees is a sound to behold.
The people of Santa Teresa are a mix of tourists, locals, a lot of impossibly-tall Norwegians, all young and extremely good looking and friendly as well. What’s not to be happy about in paradise? By mid–afternoon, my headache was gone and my sinuses cleared. This was paradise.
“Pura vida” is a common phrase used in Costa Rica in a variety of ways: as a hello or a goodbye, as an answer to an inquiry about how you are doing, as a celebratory toast. The phrase finds its way into every conversation. The simple translation for “pura vida” in English is “pure life.” Yet, it takes a visit to this beautiful country to understand that pura vida is more than a phrase; it is a way of life. No matter what your situation, life for someone else can be less fortunate, so appreciate yours.
I was curious about running in Costa Rica. Should I stick to the road or run on the beach? Do I wear shoes if I run on the beach or hoof it barefoot? So, I experimented. I started on a dusty road and did some massive hills, but ultimately decided that if there is a beach near you, you must run on the beach. I am an early riser and would start my run around 6:30 a.m. before the heat of the day. I started in my running shoes where the sand was packed close to the water. I worried about getting sand in my shoes and getting them wet, and then I hit loose sand and it was hard to run. Patches of tiny pebbles piled up into my shoes. I was paranoid about twisting an ankle and felt like I was running in quicksand. Three miles into the run, I hid my shoes in a tree and continued on barefoot. There are still places where it was difficult to run because of thick sand or tiny pebbles that hurt my feet in spots, so I slowed down and treaded more carefully, appreciating the places where the sand was packed, and I felt fast and strong. On my run, I met many dogs frolicking in the water and have come to a conclusion: All (lucky) dogs do not go straight to heaven, they make a detour to Costa Rica first.
There are adventures to be had all over this tiny town. One day, we rented quad four wheelers for a harrowing drive to the town of Montezuma. We took a long hike over suspension bridges, up and down jungle hills to the foot of a waterfall, and watched locals and tourists dive from dizzying heights into the cold spring water. We swam and jumped from not-so-scary heights and sat in the sun while white-faced capuchin monkeys ran around us. We rewarded ourselves after a long hike at the beachfront Restaurante Montezuma. Some of our group went fishing and brought a haul of mackerel and black fin tuna back to the lodge. That night, we dined on ceviche, sashimi and fish tacos. Part of our group went on a paddleboard snorkeling trip. My friend Kara and I rented bikes for a day and explored the town, rode on the beach and encountered wild horses. Surfboards can be rented inexpensively, too, and beach bonfires are plentiful.
At one point, we found a great little shop, Boutique Jungle AV, filled with products and jewelry from Costa Rica. But, the one thing we were sure to do everyday was walk down and watch the sun drop out of the sky and sink below the horizon in a spectacular show of color. And, without fail, we all spent glorious amounts of time in a hammock.
The food is wonderful in Santa Teresa. Everything was fresh and delicious, and there were drink specials to be had all over town. One of our favorite places, Ranchos Itauna, has a two-for-one happy hour just before the sunsets. Sitting on pillows on the sand or under a pergola with a delicious pina colada, margarita or caipirinha and watching the sun go down on paradise with your best friends and your significant other is a bit of heaven on earth. We made a point to go several times to El Smokey Bigote for the happy hour special frozen coconut mojitos, which was everything I want in a cocktail. We loved the food at Burger Rancho as much as we loved the signs and decor. Almendra was spot for iced coffee, the surroundings full of color and my cup full of creamy, caffeinated, cold goodness. Directly next door to the lodge was Zwart Art Café, will bills itself as a “friendly, arty place” where you can eat good food, look through the bookstore or check out the gallery.
Surrounded by fresh, delicious food and drink at every turn, I would still have to say the best meals we probably had were the burritos we shared at Don Jon’s every morning. They were packed full of vegetables and so filling. It was the perfect way to start a day in Santa Teresa on our perpetual search for pura vida.
EXPLORE SANTA TERESA FOR YOURSELF.
Go to www.donjonsonline.com
Search “El Smokey Bigote” on Facebook.
Search “Almendra Sweets” on Facebook.
Search “Jungle AV Store” on Facebook.
Go to www.ranchos-itaunas.com.
Search “Zwart Art Café” on Facebook.
Want to go on an excursion of your own but need a little help?
Contact Bliss Travel, 1614 E. Spring St. in New Albany, at 812.945.1212 or www.blisstravelinc.com.