My first full day in Montezuma was off to a great start as early-morning rises usually mean a long, productive day ahead. At 5:00AM, I awoke to the first rays of sunshine coming into my room. I grabbed my book and retreated to the balcony so I could enjoy some quality reading time in the peace and quiet of the early morning before everyone else woke up. I love early mornings anyway but this was the kind of place that could make even the latest sleeper want to get up and enjoy the day!
At around 6:30 I went downstairs to have a quick swim before fruit was served and yoga class began. I was surprised by how many people were already there. I’m not used to being around many people back home who love mornings as much as I do! At 7:00, a large bowl of mixed fruit was presented in the main dining area. I never really gave papaya and pineapple much thought in the past, but after spending two weeks in Costa Rica and eating almost nothing but those two fruit, I can’t leave the grocery store without buying one or the other!
I was looking forward to my first Yoga class of the week because it had been a while since I had done it and I enjoyed it. However, the long flights, long days of overland travel and change in time zones had done a number on me and these classes were a little more advanced than I was used to. I suffered through the pain and soaring morning heat for the entire class – an hour and a half - and then collapsed into the pool and remained there, barely able to move, for the rest of the morning. Breakfast was served immediately after, but the heat and exhaustion had taken my appetite.
After lunch, I was feeling better and my energy levels returned to normal so that I could hike down the hill to Montezuma, do a bit of sightseeing, shopping and sunbathing on the beach and walk back up the hill in time for dinner. Going down wasn’t too bad but the mid-day heat was pushing 40 degrees Celsius and I knew there was no way I would be walking back up that steep hill to Anamaya unless someone was carrying me.
Montezuma was once a small fishing village and is now a small and widely popular surfing destination. One can see immediately that the town’s vendors and shops mostly cater to a certain demographic; surfers, yoga enthusiasts and beach lovers. Jewelry made from rocks and seashells, clothing made specifically for surfing and practicing yoga, swimsuits of all sorts, surf boards and related equipment and souvenirs made with treasures found along the shore fill a dozen or so small shops along the main streets of the village.
Before I left Canada, I called my hotel in San Jose to verify that I was able to exchange my Canadian dollars for Costa Rican Colones. I heard it was best to exchange Canadian dollars for American dollars before arriving because American dollars were more widely exchangeable. However, the front desk clerk at my hotel confirmed that I could bring Canadian dollars and exchange them right there at their front desk. There must have been a misunderstanding because when I tried to do this, I was told that Canadian dollars couldn’t be exchanged. I was stuck using my credit card and the few American dollars I had on me during my time in San Jose. This meant I was being charged fees on my credit card and a lot of places only accepted cash so the first thing I tried to do in Montezuma was find someone to exchange my Canadian dollars. The bank was in a nearby town that required me to hop on a bus so I saved that option as a last resort. I went into every store and restaurant and asked if anyone knew where I could do the exchange. After asking more than a dozen people, I was told that the Super Mamatea (which was a small supermarket that sold food and other basics) might be able to help me. I walked across the street to the store and was distracted by the display of hats at the front. I forgot my sunhat at home and I desperately needed one to avoid a repeat of the almost fatal heat-exhaustion episode I had two years earlier in Mexico. The price was right except I didn’t have enough cash on me at that time. The cashier told me he could exchange my money but I would have to come back in an hour to do so.
So off I went with only a few dollars to my name. An Ice Cream and Gelato shop sandwiched between a couple of shops across the street caught my eye. Ice Dream was small, bright and cheery and most importantly, air-conditioned! The display case was filled with various flavors of homemade Italian ice cream and because I ordered the two-scoop serving, I was able to choose two flavors and you can’t go wrong a mixture of chocolate and peanut butter! The woman who served me was very friendly and started a lively conversation with me about how the shop came to be and how she came to be in Montezuma. She explained that she had arrived a few years earlier from France, loved the place and the lifestyle and settled. This was a story I heard many times during my travels throughout Costa Rica; It seems the laid-back, easy-going, carefree life near the beach locked many visitors in for good. It crossed my mind several times during my trip that maybe this was a lifestyle that I too could get used to.
I still had some time to kill before going back to exchange my money, so I walked around the entire village. The carefree lifestyle that the people enjoyed here was evident everywhere. Shops were open but workers were sitting outside waiting for customers, enjoying the sun and talking to passerby instead of remaining behind the counter. The ones who had the day off were sitting on patios enjoying a cold smoothie, laying on the beach or heading to where the surf was best that day with their surfboards to catch some waves. There was an elementary school located right on the beach and I envied the children playing soccer in the sand during recess. Even friendly dogs roamed free without leashes and without a care in the world. Everyone seemed to embrace a healthy, active lifestyle in Montezuma. All of the restaurants I saw had signs advertising organic meals with natural ingredients and smoothies of every concoction imaginable. I also noted that there was only one bar in the town and no one was drunk or rowdy like in the bars here at home. If you live in paradise, I guess there is no need to drown your sorrows in a half dozen pints! This was the “Pura Vida” I had read about on the internet while doing research about my trip. The pure life…
The most common modes of transportation I saw were Land Rovers and ATVs. I guessed that this must be because the only way you can get to some of the best beaches is with either one of these vehicles because some of the roads were too bad for regular cars. I thought about renting an ATV so I could just drive off into the unknown but since I never drove one before, the idea was quickly dismissed. I may have had full coverage on my travel insurance but I didn’t want to spend the rest of the vacation in the hospital.
I returned to the Super Mamatea to finally have my currency exchanged and bought that hat and some sunscreen. Without thinking, I placed the hat on my head and was on my way. I must have been walking around those streets for a good half hour before someone approached me, discreetly informed me that the tag was still on my hat, smiled and went on his way. I don’t often walk around with the tags still on my clothes but if I did do that here at home, I would get funny looks, weird stares and some chuckles before anyone would inform me of my fashion faux pas, if anyone told me at all. But in Montezuma, it was like no one even noticed or cared. The townspeople seemed to just do what they wanted and wear what they wanted, when they wanted without anyone giving a second thought as long as they were not hurting anyone. I was beginning to like this place. I was beginning to like it a lot.
I was dreading the walk up that steep hill back to Anamaya and decided that since I had acquired some cash, a cab would be taking me there. For a mere 6 dollars, it was worth it to avoid the torture of walking up that hill in that extreme heat. But first, I went on a mission to find the best smoothies in town. I noticed The Bar Restaurante Moctezuma was serving smoothies to patrons on the outdoor patio so I walked in and took a seat. There was so much to choose from and I had no idea what to order so I told the waiter to surprise me with something light, refreshing and not too sweet. A few minutes later a green concoction made up of a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables arrived at my table. The drink was really good but the price was not. At a cost of 7 dollars for an average size glass plus tip, I vowed to search for a less expensive option the next time I walked into town.
It was starting to get dark and dinner was being served at Anamaya at 8:30 so I made my way to the taxi stand to get a ride up the hill. I waited a while for one to come before learning that there was a trick to getting a cab in Montezuma. They rarely wait at the taxi stand; you need to walk the streets and find a cab that is empty and just hop in if the driver is present. If he is not present, walk into the nearest business close to where his car is parked and call for him. So that is what I did and a very friendly young man who could speak no English offered to drive me to Anamaya. His first words to me were “hola, te importa si enciendo la música?” And so we made our way up that steep windy road to Anamaya with the music blaring and an English-speaking Canadian and a Spanish-speaking Costa Rican singing at the top of our lungs to George Michael...in perfect English!