Costa Rica, Day 5: Jacó to Tamarindo (A Love Story)

I’m currently at Pura Vida Hostel in sunny, beautiful Tamarindo, Guanacaste province, Costa Rica. It’s late Saturday night (1:30am, more precisely), and I’m locked out of my room. Can’t make this stuff up, folks.

See, my bunk mates and I were all lounging in the common areas of the hostel, so I suggested we keep the sleeping room door open to get some circulation through the room. AC in hostels is rare or possibly nonexistent, especially in multi-bed dorms. Even in the hot, steamy tropics.

Anyway, the problem is they all decided to go out partying and locked the door with my key inside the room. Ok, fine. I can sleep outside if I have to. But the other fun thing is the bathrooms are INSIDE the dorm rooms. Ah, yes. I was told Cost Rica would be an adventure! They weren’t wrong.

So, since I have lots of time (presumably) before my bunk mates get back, I thought I’d start the blog chronicling my journey from Jacó to Tamarindo.

Saying goodbye to Playa Jacó today for sunny Tamarindo

Saying goodbye to Playa Jacó today for sunny Tamarindo

Started my morning today at cuatro y media (4:30am). I actually woke up at 4:11 with NO ALARM. Crazy. I took a shower before bed so I could just pack up and go in the morning. I had the security guard, Franco, call me a cab at around 5:25 or so.

I keep hearing how the taxi drivers here try to rip off gringos, but I’ve seen none of it. My most expensive taxi ride at this point was around $4 USD. This one was the cheapest, at 1250 colones, or $2.31 USD.

The driver dropped me off at the bus stop at around 5:40am, so I had a bit of time to kill, but not enough to go anywhere, so I just stayed put and waited. Soon a dude rolled up in a cab, full beard, chest tat, earrings, speaking English to the taxi driver. I asked if he was American, and when I heard him talk a bit more, I detected a French accent. French Canadian. I’ve met lots of Canadians on this trip, and lots of Germans. More than US Americans, actually, on both counts.

I chatted up the dude, and found out his name was Etienne, and he was on his way to Monteverde to see the cloud forest. I was on my way to Tamarindo, but we both had to stop in Puntarenas and get on a different bus.

While we were waiting, I saw a Tica waiting for the bus as well, sporting a sharp Polo that said “GraphikArte” on the chest, and beneath it, “Diseñador Gráfico”. I asked her is she spoke English. I realize I punked out, but the conversation I wanted to have with her, I wasn’t prepared to have in Spanish.

“Perdon, señorita,” I said. “Habla Inglés?”

“Yes, I do,” she said with surprising confidence.

Most people here, I’ve noticed, even if they speak English pretty darn well, usually smile sheepishly and say, “A little. Not much.”

I told her I noticed her shirt and that I’m also a graphic designer. We exchanged introductions, and I found out she goes by Lidia (she goes by a different name on Facebook. I assume one of them is not her birth name). She told me she has a day job and owns her own graphic design business in Jacó, which she works on in the evenings. Gotta respect a work ethic.

She was on her way to Puntarenas as well, so she, Etienne, and I all boarded sitting in seats close to each other. It’s nice having someone with whom you can communicate well to help you when taking the bus, because it can be pretty confusing in Costa Rica. And I’m finding out the Spanish I have learned so far is woefully inadequate to have any real conversation with a Tico (informal name for people of Costa Rica – Ticos: males or mixed gender, Ticas: females).

The bus made a surprising number of stops between Jacó and Puntarenas, and a surprising number of people got on the bus at each stop. Not very many got off the bus, either, so it filled up fast. Soon every seat was occupied, and the aisle was full of riders standing. Apparently a lot of people needed to go to Puntarenas. It is a major transit hub for the country, so I guess it makes sense. Anyone going to Liberia, Santa Cruz, Tamarindo, Monteverde, and even some going to San José had to go through Puntarenas.

Puntarenas wasn’t much to look at. In such a beautiful country, it was kind of an eyesore, actually, as much as I hate to say that. Old buildings, dirty streets…it had an overall industrial feel, and not in a cool, urban/boho/hipster kind of way, either. In a crappy/dirty/port city kind of way.

Its saving grace was the trees that graced the shores on either side of the long, narrow peninsula, and the few that made the streets a bit less unsightly.

When we got to Puntarenas, I gave Lidia my card and told her to look me up on Facebook and I promised I’d like her business page. Etienne and I de-boarded and looked for someone we could ask where to catch our connecting busses.

We went our separate ways. I found out that my next bus didn’t leave for another hour and change. This particular public bus was a slower route because it picked people up at several stops in almost every town along the route. I resigned myself to the fact that I wouldn’t be in Tamarindo until late afternoon, probably after dark.

A boisterous young guy was walking around trying to get people to take taxis. I think the drivers are paying him a cut of their profits, but who knows? He asked me where I was going and I told him Tamarindo. He said it would be “more better and cheaper” to take a cab 18 km to the Pan American Highway and catch the coach bus from San José to Tamarindo, which was a direct shot. I was apprehensive at first because it would cost me a lot of money at the regular price. The young, enterprising Tico asked me how much I could pay for it. I told him 10,000 colones, or around $18.50 depending on the exchange rate at the time. He found me a driver who would get me there on time for that price. He stuck to his word, too, even though his meter went over 10K colones. I appreciated that. My most expensive taxi ride, but worth it.

The main reason I took the deal is because I shaved about 3 or 4 hours off my travel time by doing that. The bus with all the stops would’ve been one of at least two more buses I’d have to take – Puntarenas to Liberia transit station, Liberia transit station to the airport, and the airport to Tamarindo. BUT the coach bus on the Pan American Highway was a straight shot into Tamarindo with not nearly as many stops.

The taxi dropped me off at the bus stop and there were a handful of Ticas of various ages waiting. I couldn’t tell if they were family or if they were just chatty. It seems people don’t have that much to talk about unless it’s with family. The youngest spoke a little English. She moved over, offering me a spot in the shade, which I appreciated since I’d gotten a bit too much sun in Uvita.

I told her in my crappy Spanish that it was my first time in Costa Rica, and that I loved what I saw so far. She asked in her broken English (which I found endearing and cute) where I was from. I told her I lived in Minnesota, then proceeded to try way too hard to explain that it was on the west edge of the Great Lakes, which I did in English, so I’m pretty sure she has no idea where I’m from.

The bus arrived and we boarded. I took a seat across the aisle from the young, pretty Tica who was likely now very confused about where I live. She put in earbuds and fiddled with her smartphone for a good duration of the trip. We made a stop shortly after we departed Puntarenas. I wasn’t sure why, but she looked over at me and explained in Spanish that we were stopping to eat. I found that odd since we’d just taken off minutes ago. But I’ll take the win. i hadn’t had breakfast yet anyway.

I got off the bus and moseyed into the soda (do people still mosey?) and approached the bus driver, who was already seated, and somehow already almost half done with his meal.

“Perdon, señor,” I said. “Cuanto minutos aqui?”
(“Excuse me, sir. How many minutes here?” Did I mention I’m not a Spanish whiz?)

He told me 15 minutes (in Spanish, of course), looked at his watch and corrected himself. TEN minutes.


I hurried to the counter and asked the line server if she spoke English. She did not, so I tried my best to order in Spanish. I ended up getting some scrambled eggs, chorizo, greens salad (apparently, they don’t use dressing in Costa Rica. Just an observation, not a complaint), some chicken stuff that was remarkably similar to chicken stew we make here in the USA, and some fried plantains, which are incredibly delicious. I’ve made it my unspoken goal to have them at every meal while in Costa Rica. Total for the meal was 1750 colones, or $3.24 USD. Unbelievable. But I’ll take the win.

Back on the bus, and pretty Tica was back in her seat, earbuds firmly inserted in her ears, and fiddling with her phone.

Somewhere along the trip I fell asleep, and awoke to the sound of one of my bags crashing to the floor, its contents spilling out. Brilliant. Now there are kiwis, floss picks, my toothbrush and Heaven-knows-what-else rolling and sliding all over the floor of the bus.

When I finally regained my composure from the embarrassment, I settled into a quiet near-sleep again. I decided to finally introduce myself to pretty Tica.

“Perdon, señorita. Como se llama?”

“Yansi.” She replied (guessing on the spelling. I’ve seen it spelled this way and with a J, but based on how she pronounced it, I’m guessing it’s a Y).

“Me llamo Donovan,” I said back. “Encantado.”

(Encantado is “Enchanted” or “charmed,” literally, but culturally, it’s the same as, “nice to meet you.”)

We went through Liberia and soon were in Santa Cruz, where we pulled into a transit station filled with ticos catching busses to wherever. Those few moments we were stopped, I noticed how unbelievably hot it felt in that city. Being in the transit station where the air wasn’t moving didn’t help either. Yansi began fanning herself with her hands.

Why is it that with some people, everything they do is adorable?

Sidebar: I’ve noticed this week that Ticos have a lot endearing mannerisms, not just the young, pretty Ticas.

Speaking of endearing mannerisms, I noticed a couple of times on the trip that Yansi pulled out a tiny compact mirror, opened it and applied lip gloss. You’ve just been sitting there, Yansi. Is it even possible your lip gloss got messed up? Oh, Ticas!

When we finally approached Tamarindo, Yansi turned to me and with a stern, serious tone began to tell me that she’s getting off the bus, but that since I’m going to Tamarindo, I need to stay on the bus, because my stop is coming up soon, but she won’t be here to help.

“Ten minutes more. Then you get off.” she said in her terribly cute broken English. “Tamarindo.”

“Ok,” I said. “Muchas gracias.”

The bus stopped and she stood and started toward the door, then paused and turned around.

“Bye!” she waved and smiled at me.

Pretty sure I love her.

Between my crappy Spanish and her crappy English, our attempts were just un-crappy enough so that we understood each other.

A few more minutes passed, and the bus driver pulled over on a dusty street in front of a high-rise condo building and called out, “Tamarindo!” I stood, gathered my stuff, got off the bus and stepped out into the street.

My modus operandi so far for reaching a new city has been: 1) Get off the bus, and 2) Find an internet cafe, or a soda or restaurant with WiFi, so I can look for lodging.

Luckily, Tamarindo offers plenty of options for WiFi because it’s a mecca for tourists. Along the two main streets in town, you’ll find recognizable businesses like Sharky’s Restaurant, Longboard BBQ, Eat at Joe’s, Subway, Coldwell Banker, Budget Car Rental, etc. as well as a few Costa Rican places.

I found Mandarina Tropical Juice Bar and set up shop. They share a WiFi connection with an adjacent hostel and surf school. I jumped online and searched for hostels in Tamarindo and found a handful that still had beds available for the night. The best and most reasonably priced was Hostel Pura Vida, which is where I ended up.

A nice Eastern Eurpoean fellow by the name of Thomas checked me in and showed me around, gave me keys, wrote down my passport number, and answered some questions. I haven’t paid him a cent yet. Not sure if that’s common, but I found it odd.

This hostel isn’t super swanky like the last one, or boho-zen-jungle lodging like the one in Uvita. It’s ok, comfortable, and very affordable.

There are two kitchens at Pura Vida. This is near the one furthest away from the front gate. i don't think anyone has used it yet

There are two kitchens at Pura Vida. This is near the one furthest away from the front gate. i don’t think anyone has used it yet

As with all the hostels I've seen the common areas are cool, and the rooms are just places to store your crap and sleep

As with all the hostels I’ve seen the common areas are cool, and the rooms are just places to store your crap and sleep

The kitchen I'm pretty sure no one's using

The kitchen I’m pretty sure no one’s using

After checking in, I met some other folks here, then gathered up my things and brought my clothes to a laundry service. It would be a bit before my clothes were done, so I wandered across the street to a little open-air food court and grabbed some tacos at Taco Tico, a little shack owned by an American who had his arm in a sling and sported a pencil thin, shaped gotee. He had graying hair, cut short and was balding on top. He wore shades and a floral print Hawaiian shirt and called me “man.”

“How you doin’, man?”
“Sure thing, man!”

I was half-expecting to hear a “brah” in there too, but to my disappointment, it didn’t happen.

Perhaps my Midwestern upbringing was coming through, but when he brought me my tacos, I had a twinge of guilt because he only had use of one hand. I wanted to get up and help him, but I let him do his thing so as not to make him feel like a charity case.

After picking up my laundry, which was dried and folded and bagged for me, I went back to the hostel, grabbed my camera and started heading for the beach. It was after five, so it was almost prime sunset time.

When I got to Playa Tamarindo, the sun was still pretty high in the sky, but there weren’t many clouds and as sunsets go, it wasn’t the most interesting, but I did get some nice shots.













A playful tico couple having some fun on the swings

A playful Tico couple having some fun on the swings

The money shot. A surfer girl under a Tamarindo sunset

The money shot. A surfer girl under a Tamarindo sunset

This is the magic of Costa Rica.

Tamarindo has been great. Lots of tourist traps, yes, but friendly people are everywhere from everywhere. I’ve met lots of Germans, Swedes, Canadians, Brits, as well as Latinos from Cost Rica and elsewhere.

Today has been a fantastic day! I’m loving Costa Rica and it’ll be really hard to leave on Tuesday.


4 responses to “Costa Rica, Day 5: Jacó to Tamarindo (A Love Story)

  1. thank you for chronicling your visit. i feel as though i’m with you! Beautiful pic and great writing! Stay safe!

  2. Sounds very fun, Donovan. I’m glad you’re having a good trip. Costa Rica is difficult not to like. But I once talked with a guy at the Hotel Capitan Suizo in Langosta/Tamarindo who announced that he wouldn’t be back to Costa Rica because they didn’t have sidewalks or street lights. I think he should restrict his international experiences to Epcot at Disneyworld. I guess it takes all kinds but I think we could do better without some of those kinds.

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