Playa Negra, Cahuita, Costa Rica. 2010
My mother told me, you don’t know someone until you travel with them and anyone knows me knows that I have an… ehm… “efficient” approach to dating. I can get a year relationship out of the way in 2 weeks, so naturally, in February 2010 when my then boyfriend of around 1/2 a year suggested a late spring vacation, I thought “Finally! Let’s get serious here.”
Can you spot him?
I don’t remember how we decided on Costa Rica. I do know that our choice of Cahuita was probably heavily influenced by me. Instead of the more populated town of Puerto Viejo, a surfer’s paradise known for the nearby break, Salsa Brava, I thought we should be based in considerably smaller, Cahuita. Should I ever become an operative, I think I’d be good at the whole “disappearing” bit. So “we” decided on Cahuita and chose to stay at Playa Negra Guesthouses. It came down to the great price, at the time $60/night, location, right across the street from Playa Negra, a 10-minute walk (albeit along an unlit dirty country road) from the center of town and a 15-minute walk from the National Park, and finally, how amazingly accommodating, Greg, the owner, was. They arranged for a French Canadian couple, Marise and Pierre to pick us up from the airport for a fee, which after considering all of our choices, was the best option, but in hindsight, made no difference versus taking the bus, more on that later. The grounds of the Guesthouse were stunning: immaculately curated, with beautiful cottage bungalows and vegetation everywhere you looked. There was even a large toad in our room one night!
Cahuita town is tiny, really consisting of a strip on the main road about a quarter of a mile, if that. But we weren’t looking for too much razzle dazzle, so this was perfect. We were looking for beach, sun and surf and I’m a sucker for black sand beaches. Bursting with vegetation, the jungle seems to go right into the sea; the fauna something out of Fern Gully! There was a rescue center nearby that took in animals in need of refuge. And I saw a baby Jag! It’s pretty close by but far enough to not be walking distance in the early morning, we took a cab there but got a ride back with a nice American man and his daughter.
Side note: Even when my mom is unable to go on a trip with me, she’s the best virtual travel buddy, often researching a place more than I do. (No joke, she can tell you about the classical music scene in Bratislava.) And in Heather fashion, she dropped a fun fact on me that a good amount of Jamaicans emigrated to Cahuita and it’s a Jamaican enclave in Costa Rica. You can definitely see this in the food, music and my favorite, the language; the Spanish spoken in Cahuita had a bit of a patois lilt: pretty cool, extremely melodic.
And again, the food! I like to eat my way through vacations and so if not restaurants, I usually have a few local dishes I know I want to try out before I get there. My first arroz con pollo meal in Costa Rica (Billy had steak in chimmichurri sauce) was remarkable, and quite an experience that I’ll detail below. There was another meal at Cha Cha Chá where we had delicious langoustine, didn’t have enough money to pay and the owner, Betrand Fleury, was nice and trusting enough to say, “Just leave what you owe under the door tomorrow because we’ll be closed.” And then there was that other place… with the beautiful ocean front views, and delicious squid ceviche that caused both Billy and I a mild case of food poisoning. Really, the sounds of his projectile vomiting coupled with the rainforest rainstorm that was going on that nice made for a pretty Oscar worthy performance. He paid his dues the next morning, in turn taking care of me as I swore it was actually penance because I walked off with a starfruit from that restaurant that we didn’t pay for.
But really, the star of the show, why we were salivating from the moment we arrived in Cahuita, was Miss Edith’s. We were so eager we went earlier during the day to make a “reservation.” Which was really just a “hey, we’re coming by tonight.” Miss Edith’s is a famed local restaurant serving mouth-watering Jamaican-Costa-Rican specialties.
“How hot ya want it?”
“I can take it.”
The waitress, one of Miss Edith’s family members smiled and walked away.
I looked at Billy, amused. It was his birthday dinner, but my family is Jamaican. That was dumb of him. Fast forward to the end of the meal and his table setting littered with napkins wet from a Scotch bonnet-induced sweat. To the unfamiliar, beware of the Scotch bonnet.
But Miss Edith’s definitely lived up to the hype.
Now about that ride with Marise and Pierre….
The San Jose Airport is in the middle of the country from coast to coast and it’s a minimum 3.5 hour ride either way. The real clincher is that at the time, there was only one 4-lane highway going from coast to coast. Marie and Pierre picked us up and everything was going swimmingly. We decided to stop about an hour in at a place they recommended for lunch, La Ponderosa BBQ. As we finished our lunch, the waiter came out and normally asked us if we would like dessert. We noticed a lot of running and chaos going in and out of the kitchen behind him; he insisted everything was fine and proceeded to tell us desert options that we declined. Walking out of the restaurant we saw smoke was engulfing the back. While he was calmly telling us dessert, the restaurant was on fire! Talk about customer service! About 15 minutes down the highway we had to pull over because the fire truck was trying to make it through. We heard it, just couldn’t see it yet. Then about 20 minutes later we hit standstill traffic. What happened? A banana truck toppled over and blocked the highway in both directions. Traffic was at a standstill for hours. Our 3.5 hour trip turned into 6. Luckily we were stalled next to a pineapple plantation (I know, WTF) and kids started hopping over and handing them out. It was actually the most fun traffic jam I’ve ever been in! “Welcome to Costa Rica,” Pierre said, “You’re getting pure vida in it’s truest form.”
Check out my pics below and the fun video about howler monkeys!
Sobre Las Olas. +506-2755-01-09
Miss Edith’s. +506-755-02-48 (but really, just go in)
Cha Cha Chá (now closed unfortunately!)
Playa Negra Guesthouse. +506-2755-01-27
Tree of Life Rescue Center. +506 8317-03-25