Central Highlands

La Cruz Travel Blog

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View from Deck

Shifting forward (I will try go back), Dawn and I are at a rather stylish bed and breakfast called El Cafetal Inn where I have the full attention of a young girl of four years named Tatiana, her dachshund, Taffy and her collie, Tyson.

She is the daughter of the hoteliers, Lee and Romy who are not here at the moment. We have not met them yet because they are out doing errands. There is a goat and a rather tame green parrot that climbs in through a hole in the screen door and walks around the house looking for dinner. The parrot and collie are great friends. The parrot often stands on the dog's face and picks the bugs out of his ears. Down the hillside thirty steps is the pool with a bar and a restaurant where they serve a "Sunday in the Country" brunch.
Painting in our bedroom
The room comes with breakfast that is a wonder, starting out with a hot chicken broth based soup of home grown fruits and vegetables.

We are still not as good travelers as we would like to be. I think also that Dawn and I are leaning in different directions. I think I want to go at a slower pace, while Dawn would like a quicker one. Also, we know we are traveling, but are momentarily confused about what we are doing while we travel. Are we vacationing or are we supposed to be doing something else? I am sure Dawn will have more to say on this subject.

Many of you may be wondering why we are not responding to your Email. It is because AOL was hard to get to and then one day I was interrupted in the middle of a transmission and that has seemed to have confused AOL about my mail.
Dawn on her horse
So we can send (occasional) but receiving has been difficult. The E-mail is not the only thing that has been confused. My credit card autopay arrangement fell through. I set it up on a checking account which I then closed shortly after. My long distance card has been canceled by my local service, and Dawn cannot seem to make her phone card work, either. So, we are having a slight mutual anxiety attack.

If you get this on Friday the 7th or so, it means that our journey back to the computer store in Santa Ana was successful.

Filling in...

After we left Nosara, we headed for the Monteverde cloud forest and stayed for three nights at the Arco Iris Lodge in Santa Elena.
Others in Waterfall
The drive up from Las Juntas was 1.5 hours to go 30 kilometers (c. 20 miles). At a couple of points, Dawn and the hitchhiker had to walk a short distance to give me enough clearance to make it successfully. At one point, I had to get out and "walk the road" ala a whitewaterer looking for the correct line. In my case, I got to alter the route by filling in one particularly nasty hole to make the passage possible.

We took two long walks in two preserves and visited a butterfly farm. Again, we didn't see too many animals or birds but on the way into Monteverde preserve, Dawn saw and I got a glimpse of a quetzal. They are very, very spectacular. Check your bird books for more details.

The communities of Monteverde and Santa Elena are filled with tourists from all over the world.
EL Cafetal
Our host, Heymo, spoke it seemed an unlimited number of languages, and his wife maintained an organic garden from which she cooked delicious meals. We went to dinner at a local restaurant with a Swiss couple who turned out now live in Alicante, but were in Tokyo for many years. We exchanged cards so maybe we will see them again.

After talking to some people at the El Cafetal Inn, we have decided to backtrack a little to the very Northwest town of La Cruz. If I lean forward a bit, I can see the Nicaraguan coast from where I am writing. Earlier this morning, I thought I saw the ghost of Ernest Hemingway on the verandah. . .

We are now at the Amalia Inn. Here is what the guide book says.

"Amalia Inn is a newly opened American run hostelry operated by Lester and Amalia Bounds, boasting fabulous clifftop views over Bahia Salinas and north along the Nicaraguan coast.
Parrot and Dog
Its seven rooms have private bathrooms. A pool is handy for cooling off, though the inn's setting is breezy enough. You can prepare picnics in their kitchen. They offer horse and boat rentals. Rates $25-35 s, 35$-45 d, including American breakfast"

Yes and no.

We expected a young, enthusiastic couple from California or Colorado or someplace, with a freshly scrubbed place. What we got was a small hotel, slightly run down, operated by an old Spanish speaking woman and her brother, Hector. The place is full of large paintings, signed LB, done in a sort of Fauve style. She showed us two rooms and we took the one on the second floor. We of course stopped negotiations long enough to look for the green flash at sunset that we had become used to in Nosara. No luck here, I think a little too hazy, but the colors were much more intense and the view was exactly as advertised.
Lee and Romy
We are perched at the edge of town, overlooking a sea of treetops that spread out to farmland and then to the sea which is about a mile or two away. To the South, peninsulas with rugged hills jut out into the sea. At night, the farm has a few lights, and there are two small villages out there; otherwise, it is dark.

Our room is large with a double and single bed, and a coffee table with a couple of wicker chairs around it. We have our first bathtub since we have been in the country. We negotiated a price of $35 a night, tax included, but not breakfast, if we stay a couple of nights. I think we are planning 4 or 5. The pool is inviting with a Centro-American, Picasso-ish mural on one side, maybe 10' by 50'. There is a doctor staying here who is finishing his required national service and about four guys from Nicaragua, perhaps fishermen or drug smugglers.
Amalia and Dawn
That seems to be about it.

There is wind. Constantly.

Here's the story, pieced together in Spanish from the woman and the house maid named Carmen. She is Amalia, maybe seventy years old. Her husband did the paintings, but died about a year ago. She is Costa Rican and her husband was from Washington, DC. She seems very old world, more Hungarian than Spanish. She is wonderful and Dawn has taken to her immediately. For this morning, Dawn got us coffee served at six thirty, which we had at a small table at the very edge of the precipice. Amalia is also doing our laundry although all we asked was to use the equipment and we ended up doing the loading.

There is a large Verandah outside our room, where we sat last night with our G and T's and where I am now writing.
4 men headed for Nicaragua
Dawn is stretching by the pool, and the wind is increasing. This place has one thing in common, and certainly one thing only, with our house, the contrast between the front of the building and the back. At home, we have a busy street in front and our small woods in back that we share with our neighbors. In the summer, we cannot see any houses in that direction although Met hill rises behind us with it's streets of houses. Here, we drive up a village street with somewhat dilapidated houses on it and drive through an iron gate to the enclosed space in front. After we enter, we walk down a narrow corridor to the back of the building and walk onto the downstairs Verandah and we can see ten miles in all directions only nature in its grandest form with only the farm and a couple of houses to our right to interrupt.


You can really see what the guidebook means when it says that this is an area "crying out for resort development." How lucky we are to have gotten here first! Like Roslindale, the town is working class funky. Except for one renowned seafood restaurant, the place is not at all fancied up for tourists.

About the pintorras (paintings): They are huge canvases, boldly colored, cubist, and some of them sort of fauve, as Stephen said. In our room alone, there are 5 large canvases...so we are surrounded by this man's vision. My favorite is a cubist nude woman, seated in front of a Matisse-like background. The stuff may be derivative, but it certainly makes a statement. The wall next to the pool is sort of a cheerier "Guernica" with Mayan overtones!!

Yesterday marked the scariest event to happen so far, for me. Getting our money ripped off in Nosara was no fun, but yesterday's incident was scarier. Since we are near the Nicaraguan border, the car is stopped every so often by border patrol. They want to know where we are headed, etc. The second time we were stopped by two armed guards in camouflage, we told them we were headed for La Cruz. They kept asking something else which we did not understand. Finally, Stephen realized that they wanted a ride. Now we have picked up many hitchhikers here, mostly Ticos and occasionally Gringos, but I have never driven the car with two men in fatigues sitting behind me with automatic rifles. I was totally tongue-tied and could not respond to their questions and polite chatter with one word of Spanish. I had to keep a light foot on the accelerator as my instinct was to gun it and get the hell out of there (not that that would have accomplished anything since they were in the car!) The guy was saying to me, "You don't understand much Spanish, do you?" I was trying to tell him that normally I did much better when there weren't guns behind my back, but fortunately they got out at their "commando station" and all was well.

Stephen and Dawn - con mucho gusto:

This part is a writing assignment. Take:

In La Cruz, a border town with Nicaragua, on a bluff 250 meters high overlooking the Pacific Ocean and Bahia Salinas.

From Amalia's Inn, Amalia Bounds, a seventy-four year old women who was born in San Jose (her parents came from Madrid), and who runs the inn and with help of

Carmen, a thirty year old Costaricense with three children and

Hector, Amalia's brother who lives next door and is a highway engineer. Lestor Bradley Bounds, Amalia's dead husband, a painter from Washington DC.

A young doctor finishing his national service, who never appears

From the Ehecatl Restaurante, a restaurant that belies the statement that for eating places, the better the view, the worse the food. See below for more details.

A young handsome waiter, name unknown.

From the hacienda and the farm stretched out below,

Amalia's sister who lives "alone"-her husband always working the farm and her 18-year-old grandson who has lived there since he was 17 days old when his mother died in an accident.

From Bahia Salinas,

a middle-aged, portly man who drives a gold 1970,8-cylinder Buick Skylark. He helps a few young men load sacks of rice onto a beat-up row-boat with outboard motor.

They sail off into the sunset...to Nicaragua. The man says they come to Costa Rica to buy food because it's cheaper. Two gringos (guess who) who pick up four women hitchhiking up the big hill from the salt pans and cow fields to the town, two of whom are from Alajuela. The Gringo woman who is driving says in her best Spanish, "Oh we just met a man on the beach from Alejuela." They say, "Was he fat?" The Gringa, being polite, says "Mas o menos. He drives a 1970 Buick Skylark. "They say, "Oh, it's her husband, Carlos!"

From The Frontier Guard Post

Two fully armed amiable hitchhiking border guards.

And finally -- A constant wind.

For extra credit, add the two chubby bakers at the local panaderia who made incredible pastry and opened at 6 a.m.

Write a novel, or a short story, or a play (perhaps observing the unities) or whatever. Enjoy.


The restaurant has about the same view as the Hotel. The bar is downstairs, with the restaurant up. The food was excellent. We have gotten behind in our writing and must now run to catch up. We spent three nights with Amalia before leaving; I think we left mostly because of the wind. I think she is the person who has affected us the greatest since we have been in this country. She is childless for reasons unknown to us. We came back one night and talked to her. She admitted that, because of her loneliness since the death of her husband and the geographical remoteness of her family, she wanted to die. We were stunned, our responses inarticulate, but we gave her kisses goodnight and went upstairs to our room and fell into each other's arm crying. We cried for her and we cried for ourselves.

Our existences are so fragile. Both life itself and the framework that we all build to make ourselves happy exist only a moment away from dissolution. We all live on the edge of tragedy. . .

Our first day in La Cruz we went on a two hour horseback nature trip at the Lodge at Los Innocentes. With about six other people, we walked our horses through their fields and forests and looked at animals and birds. We didn't see much except a band of spider monkeys, which made the whole trip worthwhile. I seemed to remember my days at the Lazy K Bar Ranch in Wyoming when I was thirteen and could get my horse to do what I wanted to do.

Our second day there we took a hike in the Santa Rosa National Park. We walked in the fiercest heat by far of our trip, and waited in the middle of the driest forest imaginable at two watering holes for animals to appear but none showed.

The third day we left after lunch at the Mirador. It was a sad good-bye for us, but I think our attentions to Amalia cheered her up. We gave her our address and told her to visit us. She said that she wanted us to visit again and this time it would be as her guests. She added that she planned to be here. So we felt that we had brought a change for the better. I think she liked us; she would not let us pay more than $30/night for the three nights.

We never did get to see the doctor.

We headed down the road, looking for a place near the volcano Rincon de la Vieja. The place that we liked in the guide book never answered the phone so we picked the other and drove 12 kms. up a barely dirt road to the Buena Vista Lodge. The place was pleasant, but the room was rather dark. We negotiated a better price and took the room because they offered a horse ride to some waterfalls and a volcanic mud bath with hot tub.

Also, the 12 km had taken an hour to negotiate and we didn't want to do it back down the hill in fading light. They were having a "bull fight" in their corral with the local cowboys for the guests of the lodge. They weren't as good as the cowboys in Nosara, but not bad either. During the event it began to rain. Although we did not know it at the time we were now trading one natural phenomenon (the wind) for another (the rain). Afterwards the cowboys came up to the bar and had a "few" beers and sort of checked out the tourists most of whom spoke German with a few speaking French.

The evening event for that night turned out to be a buffet supper and dance. It was very much like a cruise ship. After the supper was over, the boom box went to "Latin" music of varying quality, and the cowboys began to come over and ask the women to dance. At first, they had no success, but eventually the women began to accept. What we have not been able to figure out is whether this was part of their job at the lodge. Some were more sober than others, but in all cases the results of the dance pairings were interesting. Although Dawn and I were stuffed from the buffet, we danced so that Dawn would not have to dance with one of the cowboys. One of them got through our defenses and Dawn did dance with a Campesino/Caballero.

The next day, we got up early and had breakfast, and began our riding adventure. It could not have been more different from our first. Although there were only four people taking the early morning ride, each couple had its own guide. This was because only we were headed for the hot springs after the waterfalls. Dawn and I started off first and soon were doing quite a bit of trotting as opposed to the first trip where, except for about five seconds for me, we walked the whole way. I was pleased to find that I remembered how to post, or some version of it so that it was pretty comfortable. Soon the other couple cantered past us and we thought that they must be advanced riders.


Not so. Soon our guide, Socorro, rode behind us instead of in front, and with a set of verbal noises controlled the pace of things which meant that all of a sudden our horses took off on a gallop. I LOVED it! No one ever taught me to ride a horse and it was only my second time on one in the last 40 years or so, but the rhythm of the gallop was so wonderful after all that bumpy trotting. The horse, "Pomada," and I seemed to be dancing together in a rounded polka or something. My respect for these animals is tremendous. I cannot tell you how steep some of those trails were - both up and down - and how well those horses negotiated them. They knew how to avoid the slippery places or the rocks and when to speed up or slow down unless Socorro (or occasionally I) had another idea. I guess I now know where the expression "horse sense" came from. Returning to the ranch, we galloped up a hill into a field of toros! One of them was standing firmly across the trail, all 2000 pounds of cattle testosterone and horns, staring right at us. I brought Pomada to a halt and weakly looked back at Socorro and said, "Toros." "Si," he said, utterly unconcerned, but he galloped up and rousted them far enough away for me to feel like I could get by without having a heart attack.

Stephen with Dawn Comments:

After our horse trip and lunch, we headed down the rocky road again; by now there is a good clunk coming from the rear right section of the car whenever we go over a bump. We push on. Our destination is a river raft float trip for the next morning with a reasonable cheap place to stay for the night. We see a good place in the guide book, but miss it on the way into town. We drive back the requisite 8 kms. but find nothing. So we move onward to Safaris Corobici. We arrive to find it run by a Swiss man with whom we arrange a 8 a.m. float trip and who recommends a couple of places. We find the Bed and breakfast and for $30 total we get a basic and clean room and a great breakfast with cloth napkins. We are happy to be here because it is run by a Tico family.

Early next morning, we meet Oscar our guide and get some more film for our camera. We then set off on a three hour fairly sedate float trip down the Corobici River from the Pan American Highway, just Dawn, the guide and myself. Oscar, at my request gives us the bilingual tour, which is Spanish first and then some English fill-ins if we don't understand. It is a great trip, full of information, silences, a swim at a sandy beach, howler monkeys, a huge assortment of birds, a glimpse of a crocodile's tail as he flips off a log, a swim in the river along side the raft as it drifts with the current, a delicious pineapple and cookies and a couple of Jesus Christ lizards (they walk on water).
After lunch at a restaurant we make the decision to drive to Lake Arenal on our way to the Caribbean side of the country. As we climb out of the Coastal plain, it begins to rain . When we get to Arenal it is too early to stop because we don't want to hang out in the rain so we push on to Fortuna and have a couple of afternoon refrescos and plan our next step. While doing so, we see some Americans not handling their language barrier very well and before we can feel too superior remember that soon we will be headed for countries where we will be in the same boat. Hope we handle it better. We pick a place out of the guide book. (I hope we have mentioned that we are mostly using Chris Baker's Costa Rican Handbook published by Moon Travel. It is very good and we recommend it to all who would visit this country.) We call them up and arrange a room and they tell us it is two hours away. Right, two hours by jet on a clear day.

About three and a half hours later we arrive. I navigated a wrong turn into a forty-five minute delay.

I asked directions of a gentleman standing in front of a church. With map in hand, I asked him, "Donde estamos?" He answered, "Estamos en Nicaragua!", which was a pretty humorous and bold response from a complete stranger. We DID know at least that we were not in Nicaragua. -Dawn

The rest of the time was just driving in the rain and then driving in the rain at night on gravel or potholed roads with no shoulders and pedestrians on them. I think we have mentioned that the roads are shared by everyone. Well, the sharing continues in the dark also and makes the driving very difficult. A few miles north of Virgen, near the Sarapiqi River, we got to the sign, which we had to read with our flashlights. It was pointing down yet another rocky path -- 7 kms -- or was it 1 kms? With relief we discovered it was a one and pulled into the place exhausted.

It was a beautiful place with a beautiful room. We made a snack and a couple of G and T's and went to bed. In the morning the rain continued. We were now high up in the central valley and we decided that the weather would be better on the coast as it had been on the Pacific. After a walk, we packed up and started out.

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View from Deck
View from Deck
Painting in our bedroom
Painting in our bedroom
Dawn on her horse
Dawn on her horse
Others in Waterfall
Others in Waterfall
EL Cafetal
EL Cafetal
Parrot and Dog
Parrot and Dog
Lee and Romy
Lee and Romy
Amalia and Dawn
Amalia and Dawn
4 men headed for Nicaragua
4 men headed for Nicaragua
La Cruz
photo by: jsbuck1