Costa Rica: Coconuts on the Playa

Playa Ventanas, Costa Rica: December 2021

Continued from: Costa Rica: Swimming with Sea Turtles

The sonorous groaning of the howler monkeys announced another morning in paradise but as is local custom, they were a few minutes late. I was already out on the chez near the pool watching a toucan nibble at something in a palm tree. Despite the reliably hot and humid afternoons, the first few hours of the day in Costa Rica were remarkably pleasant and almost temperate, unlike August days at home where walking to work before first light feels like morning in a greenhouse. This daily reprieve I think is how people can cope living in a place with no seasons.

That day I had a fresh pressed guava juice with breakfast instead of a coffee and I think Ana and Cesar wondered if something was the matter.

‘Did you enjoy the snorkeling yesterday?’ Ana asked. She had been the one to book it for us. Lauren and I answered affirmatively and then she asked what was on the agenda for today. We weren’t quite sure ourselves. We wanted to get some groceries for the rest of the trip and maybe check out one of the beaches. Gregor’s mom on the tour had recommended Playa Ventanas for its scenery and lack of tourists. There was also Playa Uvita and Manuel Antonio, probably the two most famous on the southern coast. Ana echoed the earlier advice and said for sure go to Playa Ventanas and so that’s what we decided to do.

First, groceries. We needed some snacks and also a few easy things to cook in the kitchen at the villa instead of relying on the chef or dining out constantly. I went back to get the keys to the rental and, after nearly coming face to face with an equally startled Señor Bat, saw that the housekeepers were there and turned back around. Lauren was sitting with her feet in the infinity pool and I succumbed to a cup of coffee and joined her.

‘Changed your mind?’ Ana asked and smiled.

‘Oh, they’re cleaning. I didn’t want to get in the way.’

‘That’s okay, it’s your villa. You can go in.’

‘Eh, it’s no worries. I don’t mind waiting.’

Later I drove up the short but severe incline out of the villas to get to the dirt road that goes up and down the mountain, except this time the car had other ideas. The back tires did a dance that nearly put the left one into the ditch before they simultaneously decided to head back toward home. I was able to get the brake applied enough that I more or less remained still about halfway up the drive. I slowly let up and tried to switch to the gas pedal but in the interim the big vehicle slid back another half-car length and I lost some leeway between my side of the car and the edge. Lauren told me to stop trying that. I mentioned, less gently than necessary, that we had no problem getting up the hill yesterday to which she  asked how that fact helped us right now.

A handyman who had been hand-shoveling gravel near one of the other drives must have heard either the screeching or swearing because he hustled over and asked if we needed help.

‘Quatro por quatro?’ He asked.

‘Si’ said Lauren and I both.

He pointed at a knob in the middle of the dash and repeated ‘quarto por quarto.’

I saw then that the knob was turned toward H2. In the chaos of the drive in I guess I had never activated 4×4 even when driving up the muddy mountain road. 

‘How did you get up before?’ Marlon asked that night. I told him I had no idea. Either I had accidentally bumped the knob just that morning or I had been the first guest to ever make it to the villas in two wheel drive. Either way, we thanked the handyman, who politely tried to hide the fact that he thought I was an idiot, and drove up the hill and down the mountain to the store.

The grocery in Uvita had armed guards out front and played Genie in a Bottle by Christina Aguilera in Spanish over the speakers. We bought some pasta and vegetables, a few snacks, and some plantains to cut up and pan fry. I also ducked into a closet-sized backstreet tienda to buy some sunglasses after mine dropped on the beach and broke during the snorkel tour. When we finally got to Playa Ventanas, it was nearly noon, but no matter, it was uncrowded as promised.

Playa Ventanas, or Window Beach, is just south of Uvita, and is called that because of the caves that completely breach the cliffs that surround the bay, allowing a tunnel through to the water at low tide. It’s also known mostly to locals and expats so it’s less commercial and crowded than its more famous coastmates. We had to ford a small stream in the Fortuner to get there, an unremarkable task after the quarto por quarto incident, and just on the other side was a small parking lot that opened right out to a crescent-shaped beach surrounded by high, tree covered cliffs. There were a few people on the beach itself or in the water but most lounged beneath palm trees around the perimeter. A few makeshift stalls selling Imperial beer and coconuts with straws in them lined a dirt path toward the entrance. An old man was brightly painting the side of an old ice cream cart to say Copos con Helado.  

The tide was coming in but still low enough to see the windows and we walked across the sand toward where the waves came through. In the side of a promontory to the right of the beach were several holes, tall isosceles triangles carved out of the rock like the eyes of a surprised jack-o-lantern. A few hundred feet through to the other side was the open ocean, and each time a wave hit the far side of the cliff, seawater flowed through the long chamber and out the other side to where we stood. Lauren and I had the tunnel to ourselves and walked into it as far as we could before the undertow became too rapacious. The waves swirled between the walls and the whole place echoed. At true low tide you could walk all the way through and look out the far end as if it were a second story window above the water, but we decided to do an about face before the waves disallowed it. On the way out the cave entrance formed a vignette of the palms and distance and a group of children played soccer on the sand. Once the ball rolled into the tunnel and was nearly stolen by the surf but one of the kids rushed in to grab it from the foamy estuary before kicking it up the beach.

We walked along the waterfront and watched surfers semisuccessfully navigate the encroaching waves and then climbed some rocks on the far side of the beach, where it began sloping sharply upward into the mountains. After a while, we joined the other people of the playa beneath the palms up away from the ocean.

A chorus of ‘Cerveza? Cerveza?’ repeated itself as I walked down the line of refreshment stalls. I went over to one and paid 1000 Colones (about a dollar twenty-five) for a coconut that the guy clearly had just picked up from beneath one of the trees on the beach. I handed him the red bank note with the picture of the sideburned former head of state, not the blue one with the shark – That one was worth 2000.

Lauren and I shared the coconut while sitting on a weathered log, and almost immediately a ripe one dropped from the tree a few feet ahead and rolled for a second before coming to rest in the sand. A tall, tanned guy who looked like he had spent so much time on the beach that they began to resemble each other got up from a towel and said ‘Do you want that?’ 

When we said it was all yours, he picked it up, borrowed a hatchet from the guy painting the helado stand and whacked it open, quaffing it in a hurry and tossing the husk aside before returning to his resting state. We sipped on our not as fresh coconut and watched the waves creep increasingly closer. The windows were nearly full and the ocean was beginning to spill over to where the kids were playing soccer. This all meant it was getting to be mid afternoon and we made our way back to the car.

We had tacos and cervezas from an open place on a Uvita sidestreet that looked like it belonged in rural Australia. From the front patio we watched as across the street a woman sold technicolor tapestries with rainforest animals on them along a sidewalk and dozens of backpacker types walking up a path toward a waterfall. After the late lunch, we took the same path the other way to the center of town but the sweltering heat of the day made this arduous and so the destination became a tienda that sold six packs of Pilsen. We drank a couple of these in the pool. 

Afterward, I dried off and fried some of the plantains we got from the store for a quick snack and then we both sat on the chez longues and listened to the Costa Rica Top 50 playlist on Spotify until it was hot again and time to slink back into the pool. Bad Bunny played often. It was a perfect afternoon.

Each night so far had treated us to a fantastic sunset, courtesy of the southwest view from our villa and the oncoming predictable rains that opened the sky shortly after the sun dove beneath the Pacific. Then for an hour or so the night was as pleasant as a late summer evening before our noisiest neighbor the tink frog began its chirping. Lauren and I were usually in bed by nine, which made waking with the sun at five something all the more enjoyable.

The evening of the day we went to Playa Ventanas we decided to go to the bar area for sunset hour. It was just Marlon and the chef lounging around behind the bar.

‘Nobody else around?’ I asked.

‘No. Some nights all the guests just keep to themselves. I get bored so I invent drink recipes.’ Marlon said. He was placing a frozen slice of some milky-colored tropical fruit in a blender. The chef, who looked excited to potentially have something to do, said nothing and went back into the kitchen. The sun angled lower and lit up the patio in goldenrod. 

‘Try this’ Marlon said and offered us each a piece of the frozen mystery fruit and told us what it was. I don’t remember it’s name but it tasted like a hard pear.

‘What to drink this evening?’ He asked us. ‘We just got this new beer, the name translates to English I think as…what was it…Panty Dropper. Does that sound right?’

‘Probably. I think I’ll have a rum, though.’

He poured a dandelion yellow local rum called Centenario 7 over a single ice cube. Lauren had some wine. We walked over by the infinity pool to watch the sun finish its dive with a sudden blast of neon orange that bounced off of the distant rain clouds. The dancing wave crests far below atop the Pacific reflected the gold light and looked like the inside of a treasure chest. Even as far as tropical sunsets go this one was stunning.

Continued here: Costa Rica: Swinging with Sloths

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