Day 6 – The best time to spot wildlife is early in the morning so we eagerly set off at 7:00 am, this time on horseback, with our guide, Raul, who speaks no English but knows the steep trail up Cerro de la Muerte, Mountain of Death! The ½ hour ride leads to a clearing where Raul ties up the horses and then gestures for us to follow him for the 45 minute hike up the mountain through jungle-like vegetation resembling the foliage in the movie, Jurassic Park. Unfazed by the high altitude, rugged terrain, and uphill climb, Raul gingerly moves through the ancient trees while we huff and puff behind. Grateful for a break, we stop to admire a pair of quetzals in a giant towering tree. Motioning for us to continue the steep ascent, Raul promises “grande vista!” so we trek on. Our reward is a towering huge oak tree, hundreds of years old and several feet wide at its base, reminiscent of a California redwood. Back down the mountain to our horses, we return to the lodge and our waiting driver, ready to transport us to our next hotel on the Pacific coast.
More winding mountain roads lead us gradually downward to warmer temperatures and the Pacific coast, past the “hippy” community of Dominical. Many Americans live and vacation here we learn from our driver, Marcos, though his English is about as good as our lack of Spanish. The Lookout Inn near Ballena Bay is perched on a bluff overlooking a beach in the distance. We are greeted with, “Do you have a reservation?” The young girl at the desk seems surprised at our arrival and we sense that this hotel will be the only down side to an otherwise flawless itinerary. Christine, cousin to the owner and newly in from California, wonders who booked us and scrambles to find us rooms. “The kitchen is closed,” we’re told, but sandwiches are offered and appease us at their open-air bar overlooking the pool.
Where is our local guide and promise of an afternoon at the renowned Ventanas beach we wonder? As the day slips by and no sign of the hotel owner, Christine volunteers to take us to the beach herself. We pile into her car and she drops us off about three miles away in a parking lot. We walk about a ¼ mile on a trail cutting through private property, eventually opening up on a small, grey sand beach being pounded by huge waves. At 3:30 pm the skies are overcast and the sands are sparsely populated but we are happy just to be out of a car and on a beach. Ruggedly nestled in a small bay, Ventanas beach also boasts two caves which we investigate before the tide fills them with its roaring surf. After wading along the shore and skirting the many small crabs running underfoot, we notice that other people have deserted the beach. The rainforest of palms and coconut trees edging the sand grow darker as the sun sinks and a light rain begins to fall, so we decide to head back. We are surprised to find that we are locked in by a gate and barbed wire fence, a good hour before our ride is scheduled to return. Scaling a stone wall, the four of us scramble over the enclosure and hike a mile along the busy road to the nearest phone at The Twisted Toucan, a local bar. We’re laughing that this really is an adventure when Christine answers our call to be picked up at the bar.
Returning to our hotel we check out the dilapidated pool with crumbling cement and a few lazy bugs swimming the surface. Hot and sweating in the humid air, we decide that the pool is still inviting enough to enjoy. Giant buzzing cicadas and huge grasshoppers that remind us of the insects from Men In Black, entertain us at dinner in the open air restaurant while the local caged parrot whistles and sings, “Hello! Ola!” Our personable waitress, Hannah, charms us with her accented English, lovely smile, and attentive service. Determined to make the best of our stay on the South Pacific coast, we arrange for a zip line tour at the national wildlife refuge, Hacienda Baru, for the following day.