Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica
So after I was finished in Uvita I headed to the next place along the coast of Costa Rica that seems to get rave reviews, Montezuma. Montezuma is described by guidebooks and Lonely Planet tourists as some beautiful and undiscovered hippy beach town, so I went there expecting maybe something like Byron Bay was 10-15 years ago.
I was sorely let down, and I feel all those people need a strong reality check. The place is horribly overrun by tourists. It felt like the last real local had left years ago and now there is nothing but pot smoking gringos, pretending they're in some hippy paradise. Or maybe that is hippy paradise, and I'm just jaded. Having grown up close to both Byron Bay (when it was far less developed than it is today) and Nimbin (where at least there are pot smoking locals too), I felt Montezuma brought nothing of interest to the table.
I had a huge amount of trouble finding a decent room. Most places I tried were full up, with the remaining places either being empty and super creepy, or without lockers. Not cool at all with the reputation this place has specifically for thieves breaking into hostel rooms. Eventually I found a place with room for me but it was a complete dive.
I tried to switch hostels to one of the highly rated places the next day to see if my opinion on the place would change, but they were full up again so I reserved a bed for the following day after that.
I really tried to give the town a good chance, but even after moving hostels to the fully booked one, no one was ever around. For a town that was full up in terms of accommodation, it was strangely like a ghost town during the day. It seemed like everyone staying in Montezuma disappeared off to snorkelling tours or surfing lessons in other towns... Why exactly do people come here again?
It wasn't all shit though.
I decided to go see the waterfall, and that turned out to be really worthwhile. The walk to the falls was pretty easy, a lot of rock hopping over the steam leading away from the falls. The bottom fall was very beautiful, with lots of people swimming in the pool at the bottom or sunning themselves on the surrounding rocks. It looked like it would be very dangerous to jump off, but that didn't stop some folk.
I climbed up to the top of the second fall via the alternate path. There were some extremely steep parts where you only really had a rope to hold on to to climb up and down, almost like abseiling. The path went up quite a bit higher than the falls, around the side and then came back down to the top of the falls.
There were lots of people up there, some Ticos were jumping down the second waterfall into the pool below it. I'm told it's 15M, and it looks like a fairly safe jump straight down. I heard some long screams before they finally hit the water. However, being a solo traveller with no one there to look out for me I wasn't willing to jump myself.
I climbed back down to the bottom falls, and went for a swim there. It was cool that you could get right against the rocks, behind the water curtain and hear the falls pounding down in front of you.
On my last night there, while wandering around the streets waiting to see the fire show that happens on Thursday nights, I met a friendly American couple who waiting for reggae night in one of the bars to start and spend the night talking with them. It just so happened they were driving to Santa Teresa the next day and so they offered me a lift there with them in their air conditioned 4WD. Score! Sure beats the bus!
I found Santa Teresa to be a much nicer place than Montezuma. There's a long surf beach going for kilometres in either direction, mostly with a sandy bottom perfect for learning.
I walked the whole length of the beach on the day I arrived to get an idea where places were, all the way down to Playa Carmen; a long enough walk that my legs were sore afterwards.
I took a surf lesson with Al Chilli Surf Shop, with a group consisting of two German girls and a Korean girl. We were shown how to jump up, practiced on the sand a bunch of times and then went out into the surf with the instructor holding the board and telling us to paddle and jump up as the waves came through.
I managed to get up and ride the wave all the way in a few times, and towards the end managed a few times completely unassisted; I was pretty happy with that!
I happened to be in Santa Teresa at the time of a full moon, and one of the beach bars was having a big full moon party which I went along to with some people from the hostel. It was a pretty big night with loads of people. I got to practice some Spanish on some locals and didn't get home until the sun was up.
I felt like crap the next day, awake by 9am because of the heat, but I went out surfing anyway because I had 24 hours of free board rental with my lesson. I was really struggling to paddle hard enough because I was so tired, but still got up a few times.
I had not been paying enough attention and the current took me about a kilometre down along the beach. When I came back in I had no idea where. It took me ages to figure out which direction I needed to walk to get back, barefoot on the hot road, then back down to the beach to get my flip-flops.
I went out again the next afternoon with a bit more energy and seemed to be getting up a bit more easily, but most of the waves were just dumping over in one go, so you couldn't properly catch them.
I ran into Kaya, one of the German girls from the lesson, and her boyfriend Francisco and hung out with them for the afternoon and organised to meet up early the next day for a surf. I also went back to the shop and swapped out my giant 2.8 metre board for an 2.6 metre one, to see how I went with a shorter one the next day.
The next morning we were in the surf at 6am and the waves were pretty good for about half an hour, but then the surf went flat so we went and had breakfast together, before going our separate ways for the day, with me having a good nap.
I went back down to the beach at 3pm for another surf and the waves were much better. I actually managed to catch a couple before they had fully broken, a sensation that feels much faster and a whole lot more fun. I ran into Kaya and Francisco again and it turned out they were heading up the peninsula in their car the next day, the same direction as me, and offered me a lift to Liberia. Score!
The drive up the peninsula had roads of quite varying quality. From Santa Teresa to the close ferry port was pretty OK. From there to the far ferry port was crazy bumpy and torn up so we crawled along very slowly for that part, but once we were past there the roads were pretty great so we made good time.
Kaya and Francisco kindly dropped me off at a nice little hotel in Liberia, where I spent my last night in Costa Rica before getting the bus to the Nicaraguan border early in the morning.