On the Caribbean

Puerto Viejo Travel Blog

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Garden Restaurant
On the Caribbean
Friday, Feb 14

This time we made no calls and when we got about an hour South of Limon we started going into places that looked promising or that we had read about in the guide book. The first place was Aviarios, a beautiful riverside lodge with guided canoe trips and a wide, polished-wood verandah and a pet sloth that Dawn got to hold. Its mother had been killed and they had raised it. It was now 5 years old and they were in the process of starting a study of its pregnancy. (Actually they were still looking for a mate and setting up a collaboration with the University and talking to the Discovery channel, etc.) Buttercup was very cute and spent her time with Dawn looking as if she had just woken up from a nap, which in fact she had. To my mind, she also looked as if she had just heard a joke that she didn't quite understand.
Miraflores, our bedroom
The place was $60/night without breakfast with the room downstairs near the parking lot. It also looked like another dry land cruise ship.

So we moved on to Puerto Viejo, Limon and stopped into a place that had gotten a guide book rave, run by a woman named Elizabeth Newton. Well in my opinion Elizabeth needs to relax a little if she wants to be a Caribbean hotelier. The place was beautiful with chamber music playing on the stereo and Oriental rugs in spaces that weren't sure whether they were inside or outside, a pool and a fancy restaurant. A room costs perhaps $50 a night. We came over to the Caribbean side because almost every Costa Rican and foreigner that we had met had told us not to.
Miraflores, Main Street
They said that it was violent, full of crime and drugs, that people were lazy, etc. To me that sounds no worse than Boston and , hey, let's find out. Also, I suspected that a little racism might be at a bottom of some of this. It was not until fifty years ago that members of the black population were allowed in other parts of the country besides Limon province, although I have heard that evidence of this existence of this law, now repealed, is hard to find.

So Elizabeth's place did not seem to be enough "there". It seemed isolated from the area. So, with a couple of longing glances over her shoulder by Dawn, (it was still raining, mind you), we moved on into the actual town of Puerto Viejo and for the first time ran into places that were full. One proprietor would send us to another and tenants would tell us where their owners might be if they weren't there when we were inquiring until we found the Jacaranda cabinas and the attached Garden restaurant

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Miraflores, from the front
The restaurant was highly praised and the cabins were barely mentioned. The cabins with shared bath were 2500 colones and the meal was 8800. ($12 and $40). The meal was great! A bottle of wine, plates garnished with hibiscus blossoms, the works. As we ate we tried to figure out which of the two women moving from table to table making sure things were right was the owner. We picked the one in the sheath dress and asked her.

"Oh, no", she said, "Our boss is the cook" and we turned to notice the small wiry black woman who had been working away in the kitchen all night. We stopped by the kitchen on our way out to praise her food and her vision.

Lucky none of the tenants felt like making love at the Jacaranda cabinas because we could hear every breath in the adjacent rooms. In the morning the rain continued as we hurried to breakfast to drink coffee and to discuss the rain. The town which might be charming in the sun was looking mighty bedraggled and a mite depressing. For those of you who have been in Christiana, Denmark or any other alternate community, that's the way the place looks. It has much energy, much building and selling, but not enough planning of things like streets and sewage systems. The beach had driftwood strewn on it and the water was rough because of the 7 -9 days of rain and storm that they had had. Our room had been very dark and we decided to move yet farther South away from civilization and find a place that would work in the rain as we hoped for better weather, although, I, Dawn, liked hearing all the reggae and seeing those handsome dark men struttin' their bodies on the beach. Apparently, there's a lively "escort" service established by the dreadlocked natives for the pleasure particularly of the Nordic European blonde ladies...

We were looking for light and air and on the beach. We stopped at a couple of places but they were too dark. So we drove to about the end of the road to look at another guide book rave called Coral and Almonds Tent Camp, "a bit of Kenya in Central America". It was a disappointment, but a spectacular one. Large tents on six foot high platforms connected by walkways lit by methane gas from the bio toilets. So we headed back up the road, checking the ones we had passed until we got to Miraflores, which is the place that had been recommended to us in the first place by Roger in Nosara.

The book said that the bottom floor units were dingy but the second floor units were wonderful and the book was right. They had rooms available, three upstairs, and we picked the best and moved in with the rain still coming down, off and on. The building is based on Bribri architecture. It is made mostly of bamboo with a corrugated roof. The four bedrooms upstairs are on two sides of a central corridor called the living room. There are no end walls so the living room is more a street with roof than a room. In the rooms the windows are large with no glass or screens. One can birdwatch while lying in bed, and watch out because the hummingbirds occasionally used our room as a shortcut. At night we used the mosquito netting, but it was not really needed. We kept our shoes at the bottom of the stairs per house rules, and the shower was mostly outside at the back corner of our "street". The sheets and covers were white with a red design motif and the art was striking. The rooms grabbed all the light and air that was available and we felt home.

Usually a place comes with a cast of characters and this was no exception. In order of appearance, they are:

Chris, the cook and person doing mostly everything from Charleston, SC. He could cook but was a little confused about Pina Coladas. He had been there for five months and now that his surf board was fixed wanted to really learn how to surf. He giggled a lot .

Dennis, he came over and introduced himself to me, so I asked him what his job was there, because he seemed to work there. He said his job was starting a new relationship with the owner. He also was the head of an attitudinal healing center in San Jose. He always looked me straight in the eye. He was in charge of the music sessions that took places after the dinner in the restaurant, head drummer. We were asked to dance, but demurred.

Maya, a woman from Toulouse, France now living in Alaska but moving to Seattle, who was looking for places to bring tour groups to stay in Costa Rica while they kayaked or walked or did their off the beaten track thing. She had led many kayak trips before, some North of the Arctic Circle, where you never want to tip over. She was big boned, robust, but also soft in a nice way. (DK-She was 54 and had gorgeous legs!)

Pamela, the owner. Her actual job was raising flowers and seeds that she exported around the world, or maybe her actual job was being on the board of a group that was working to get the indigenous population included in the tourist industry, or perhaps it was to get her relation with Dennis off on the right foot, because it didn't seem to be her B&B, which was left to bump along on its own as well as it could.

Ignacio, from Barcelona, now in San Jose. A web page designer trolling for business in the B&B waters of Costa Rica. Sort of business partners with Maya. Thirties. Looks like Peter Dimuro's younger brother, for those of you who know Peter. Very handsome. A go getter.

Two women from Minnesota, Julie and Louise (who wore a Thelma and Louise Finishing School T-shirt). They started downstairs, but we gave them a tour of the upstairs and they moved up with us. They worked at a women's shelter and went on snorkelling trips on their vacations. They raved about the French Polynesians.

We walked the beach in the fog. We took Maya, Ignacio, Julie and Louise in the car down to Manzanillo which is the end of the road, south of parts of Panama, and went to a restaurant called Maxis. Beat up, but the fish was great. The trip was an adventure, this time with five people getting out for the rough parts and once a couple of people pushing. We got back as the rain continued.

Stephen:

After our trip to Manzanillo, and a snooze, we went to an upscale French restaurant about a five minute walk down the dirt road. We walked into a huge rancho (a large space with an A-frame style roof made of bamboo and palm fronds. Ella Fitzgerald was on the stereo and we had a bottle of wine with the house pate. Ignacio was there to do some business with the manager. A great place, but to me it seemed not to be there. It seemed to belong in a hyperspace full of places like it where you are taken care of, everything is quiet, the people that you are with are polite and well to do. In the middle of Rasta's and surfer guys and run-down shanties, it was very pleasurable.

The next morning we listened to the details of a guided trip that was being planned. Pamela, our host, would take some people on a trip to an iguana farm and village artisan shop, both which were run by members of the indigenous population. Our job was to buy iguanas for release because they are eaten by the BriBri and were becoming scarce, and to buy baskets from the villagers (and maybe donate an article of clothing). We decided not to go, mostly on my call. Pamela's group had presented themselves as being interested in bringing the Bribri into the tourist economy, and certainly some of their programs such as training the locals to be guides did just this. For Pamela to charge us $20/hour for the group to take us to make donations in my mind did not fit in. It seemed like charity to me. It can be argued either way.



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Garden Restaurant
Garden Restaurant
Miraflores, our bedroom
Miraflores, our bedroom
Miraflores, Main Street
Miraflores, Main Street
Miraflores, from the front
Miraflores, from the front