Day One in Costa Rica - Alajuela to Mal Pais

Mal Pais Travel Blog

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About to board the ferry at Puntarenas.
Talk about being super enthusiastic. I'm up at 4:45 AM to re-arrange bags, shower and prepare for the shuttle to pick me up. I don't remember the last time I was up so early but it's very easy to pop out of bed with the ocean calling me out to play. Actually, I don't remember what time the shuttle is supposed to arrive. The lady at the Surf Camp told me the shuttle usually arrives around 6:30 but I think the receptionist mentioned 6:00. Better to be safe than sorry.

I slept well. The fan helped keep the room cool and the bed was spacious and great for sprawling across. The mattress was a little hard but my back liked it. Alajuela is cool in the morning. It's inland. I am actually wearing the long-sleeved hoodie I brought with me for the plane ride and it's cool enough to wear it this morning.
Puntarenas Ferry.
However, I know that as I travel outside of the city toward the Pacific Coast, it will warm up significantly. I'll end up rolling it back into my backpack later. Guaranteed. I had been checking the weather in Mal Pais for weeks now, hoping for sun, blue skies and heat. Weather forecasts leading up to my arrival were great, sunny and 29 celsius on average. Perfect.

I try to head to the lobby for that free continental breakfast but apparently, at 5:30 AM, it's too early. The building is locked up for now. Darn. Looks like I won't be eating breakfast after all. It's a good thing I packed nuts and granola bars in my checked bag.

The shuttle arrives almost exactly at 6 AM and I climb into the cool air-conditioned vehicle, joining two other women for the journey.
View from the ferry, still at port.
It's early and we're all still sleepy so we keep to ourselves as the shuttle van leaves Alajuela and makes for the two lane highway. Blue sky and sun. It's already starting to warm.

An hour or so into the ride along winding roads and rolling hills, not so green in the drier season, the shuttle pulls over at a truck stop and the driver tells us we have 20 minutes to use the rest rooms or grab a bit to eat at the cafeteria-style restaurant. There is also a small convenience stand and while it would be smart to grab something to eat since I didn't have breakfast, silly me didn't buy colones, the local currency. Travel guides and the lady at the surf camp told me I could bring US dollars so I brought US dollars and a credit card. I'm unsure if a small, local shop will accept US dollars and for some reason, I'm too timid to ask.
Leaving port.
Out come the nuts and granola bar and I nibble as I sit out in the sun on a picnic bench, watching the cars go by and taking in every single moment. I still have a smile on my face.

The two other women actually eat breakfast and by the time we all return to the shuttle, we're much more awake and we start chatting, getting to know eachother. One woman is heading to Montezuma while the young woman, closer to my age, tells me she is spending a few days in Montezuma and then learning to surf at a women's surf camp in Mal Pais. Very cool. I had looked in to the camp she's heading off to. It looks amazing but I am on a budget and decided to backpack instead.

By the time we arrive in Puntarenas to catch the ferry, it's very hot and I pull off my hoodie and roll it back into my backpack.
Now this feels more tropical! The ferry is in the port and there is a line of tourists waiting to board. It is an hour long ride to Nicoya Peninsula. The ferry's destination is Paquera. After taking a few pictures, we are instructed to meet with the next driver at Paquera and all three of us board the ferry and kick back and enjoy the ride over.

Eyes wide with wonder, camera snapping up pictures, I relax and settle in to my seat, enjoying the wind on my face and taking the opportunity to start slathering on the sunscreen. Boy is it ever hot! I can't wait to change into my bikini and boardshorts.

We're picked up on the other side and quickly climb in to another shuttle to continue on our journey.
On the way to Paquera.
It winds through Tambor and Montezuma for about an hour and then, about 20 minutes before I arrive, the road turns to dirt and boy is it ever bumpy! And the dust! Clouds of brown-ish dust make visibility difficult at times and the grass and vegetation lining the roads are covered with layers of it. I am alone after the shuttle makes a stop in Montezuma and I am bouncing around in the back of the shuttle van as it braves the hills, twists and turns as it heads out toward the coast. It's a good thing I have a strong stomach!

I arrive in Mal Pais at approximately noon and the temperature is now hot and slightly humid. The sun is blazing in the blue sky directly overhead and I can hear the sound of waves crashing in the distance.
Mal Pais Surf Camp entrance
No, the ocean roars and I am ecstatic as the shuttle turns left at the intersection and makes it was to Mal Pais Surf Camp where I will be staying for my entire trip. I've never been to Costa Rica but my surroundings are all familiar to me now as I had done quite a bit of research beforehand. I know what I am looking out for and when I finally see the sign to the camp, I can't help but grin. I made it.

The staff is warm and welcoming when I arrive and I am quickly directed to the communal rancho I am staying in. It's got 6 beds, a roof and 3 walls but one side is entirely open. I can tell my experience will be a lot like camping, but not. I was smart to bring plenty of bug repellant. After settling in and choosing a bed by the open side, I change into my bikini and board shorts, pack my mini laptop into my smaller backpack and make the 5 minute walk down the dirt road back to the intersection and 'town'.
Path toward the ranchos
Playa Carmen. Artemis Café, the trendy little café I know has Wifi, is in the new development at the intersection and I settle in at a small table to order lunch and boot up the laptop. I Skype with family and friends and reassure everyone I made it to my destination in one piece, dishing out details of my trip thus far.

So, all kinds of travel guides warned me about eating and drinking in Costa Rica. Even the doctor at the travel clinic told me not to eat any raw fruits or vegetables, sushi, ice water, and all kinds of things. Before the trip, I got it in my head I'd be very wary of what I eat. Well, when I glance at the menu...all those warnings go bye-bye. It's hot out and all I want to do is order fresh juice and a nice, fresh SALAD. So...I do. Ice cold, fresh apple juice with ice and a beautiful, leafy salad.
Inside the restaurant/bar
Travel advice ignore right there. Sure, I feel slightly guilty and I know I will just have to suffer if I end up sick, but man....my meal is amazing. I feel refreshed, energized ad ready to hit the beach. Come ocean!

I walk back to camp along the beach. I can't go right away because I need to return my lap top to the safe room. But I marveled at the beautiful expanse of the beach, relatively quiet. I admire the surfers, both tourist and locals as they rip across beautiful, perfect waves, and I realize that the tide is high and the waves are high enough and I just might die if I head out there myself, the beginner that I am. I'm okay to wait and after dropping off my bag, I head back along the path toward the beach, stopping to admire the horses along the way, and I pick a nice spot and just veg under tall leafy trees.
Learn 2 Surf at Mal pais Surf Camp!
There's no one around right now. I have a beach all to myself. There are others a lot farther down, closer to Playa Carmen where the ocean floor is sandy. The sun is gloriously hot and the ocean roars as waves crash down upon a quiet beach at high tide. Mal Pais Beach is not surfable during low tide. I read it's incredibly rocky and high tide is deceiving. At least, I wouldn't surf it. I don't know about the hardcore surfers. There are far too many rocks but I am content to lie on my towel in the sand and just admire the scenery as it is. Stunning. Breathtaking. Peaceful yet dynamic at the same time.

I spend the afternoon working on my tan and wading out into water as warm as bath water every now and then. It's funny that I can't actually cool off in the water as the water is so warm, but it still feels nice.
Communal ranchos for $12 USD a night!
By the time I head back, an hour or so before sunset, I've got a nice golden tan already. Wicked.

The camp restaurant serves chicken tacos for dinner among other things. I hang out in the restaurant/bar area with a book and watch people come and go. I'm still too shy to really speak to others right now so I keep to myself. I'm still adjusting and relaxing, taking everything in. The big screen tv over the bar plays surf videos and I am sipping a bottle of Pilsen, Costa Rican beer. It's cold and quite good.

I make sure to sign up for a surf lesson the next day. I know the basics and can stand but I feel more comfortable easing myself into surfing in this new, foreign place. I'm hoping the instructor can help me familiarize myself with this particular beach, Playa Carmen. Again, better to be safe than sorry, right?

It's only 8:30 when I decide to walk up the path toward the ranchos.
Path toward the pool
I gaze up in amazement, admiring the dark, velvety sky and the twinkling stars hanging in the heavens. It's so nice to be away from the cities and the light pollution. I wish I could see more stars in Montreal.

The air cools down at night and I am quite comfortable as I slather on a layer of insect repellant and climb into bed. I know there are a few others in my rancho but I haven't them yet. I am the first to bed. I want to be the first awake so I can walk the beach in the early morning. I need the alone time still. This is me time. This is my time to get away from every day life and release all the stresses I've been carrying with me. I am okay to stay alone for now. There's plenty of time to meet new people. Tomorrow's another day.


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About to board the ferry at Puntar…
About to board the ferry at Punta…
Puntarenas Ferry.
Puntarenas Ferry.
View from the ferry, still at port.
View from the ferry, still at port.
Leaving port.
Leaving port.
On the way to Paquera.
On the way to Paquera.
Mal Pais Surf Camp entrance
Mal Pais Surf Camp entrance
Path toward the ranchos
Path toward the ranchos
Inside the restaurant/bar
Inside the restaurant/bar
Learn 2 Surf at Mal pais Surf Camp!
Learn 2 Surf at Mal pais Surf Camp!
Communal ranchos for $12 USD a nig…
Communal ranchos for $12 USD a ni…
Path toward the pool
Path toward the pool
Mal Pais Beach at high tide.
Mal Pais Beach at high tide.
High tide.
High tide.
Iguana by the pool!
Iguana by the pool!
Mal Pais
photo by: loscar727