Travelling around Costa Rica by road can be a challenge. At best it will test your patience and drain your energy. The truth is that the pothole filled, single lane, winding roads are great for adventure but fall well short of what we are used to in North America.
Therefore, we decided to forget about being road warriors when we planned our March trip from Liberia to Quepos, which is further south on the Pacific coast. We booked seats with NatureAir, a well-known, environmentally friendly airline of Costa Rica. A 19 passenger, Canadian-made aircraft known as the Twin Otter, provided an aerial adventure for us, and with stops in Tamarindo and San Jose, we got a bird's eye view of a big chunk of the landscape.
The DeHaviland Twin Otter opened up the Canadian north and is said to have made more trips to the North Pole than any other plane. However, the Otter is perfectly at home in tropical Costa Rica as we found out.
Prior to boarding we had to weigh our luggage, but we had to get on the scale as well. The weight restrictions apply both to baggage (30 pounds) and to people (250 pounds). We discovered later that people weighing more than 250 pounds have to purchase two tickets! Fortunately, our combined weight was 330 pounds so we escaped surcharges!
Once we lifted off from Liberia, we were treated to breathtaking scenery that you usually see in travel magazines. Our first stop was the popular Tamarindo, a tourist mecca about 15 minutes away by air. The runway resembled a small, asphalt laneway carved out of a palm tree plantation.
In less than an hour we were ready to land in San Jose, the capital of the country located on a mesa, between mountain ranges, with slightly cooler temperatures than the rest of the country. We learned that our final destination of Quepos was only a 15-minute flight but by vehicle was a 3 to 4 hour drive through the mountains.
We landed in Quepos where we rented a car with our Canadian friends and drove an hour further south to Matapalo.
Five minutes away from the airport and faced with a bridge under construction, we drove across a riverbed with fast moving water hitting the windshield and splashing the doors. The kids wading in the water smiled at us as we made it through without a push. 'Pura vida' as they say in Costa Rica, or "Pure Life".
We arrived at Playa Matapalo, a secluded beach that really is off the beaten path and spent 7 glorious days at a beach house less than 100 metres from the breakers and the clean, smooth sand. Later that day, we drove along a parallel road to the beach for 20 minutes, approached the water but nothing had changed. The enchanting view of the coast, the distant mountains and the roar of the waves were just the same.
We learned from the locals that the largely, unspoiled beach stretched for 45 kilometers, with only traces of habitation.
The sunrise is a very special time of day, a time when darkness gives way to light, when the moisture on the palm leaves begins to evaporate, and the cool breeze off the water starts to warm up. The sun explodes over the horizon, a great orange and red ball.
The day warms rapidly in a tropical climate, and as I walked back to our beach house, the setting reminded me of the movie "Castaway" starring Tom Hanks, and I imagined myself gathering up loose coconuts, picking fresh mangos and papayas and building a roaring fire on the beach. The only thing missing were the cameras.
The beach house where we stayed is a family property and resembles a medieval, fortress-like building complete with an attached turret. Security is right up there on the list in Costa Rica, and if something is not bolted down, you may never see it again. Properties that sit idle for months at a time with no supervision must be very well secured. Even live, electric wires are used to keep out intruders.
One afternoon when the tides were low, we arrange to go horseback riding with a Swiss woman who owned a nearby stable. We arranged the two-hour excursion just prior to sunset, and were treated to a magical ride through the palm groves, the mangrove wetlands and finally a glorious finale on the beach as the sun began its descent.
Getting off of the horses was another story though, and our undeveloped muscles in the thighs and buttocks took a beating.
Our last night in Matapalo was truly unforgettable. With the low tide, the four of us had a considerable walk to get to the water. With the sounds of the waves resonating in our ears, we were treated to nature's slideshow of a full moon reflecting off the top of the breaking waves. The shimmering sands also reflected the abundant light, and we felt like we were in the midst of a fireworks celebration.
When I read about new condos and hotels changing the landscape in Costa Rica, I think about the natural beauty and tranquility of a place like Matapalo, and am thankful that we had a chance to experience it.