Costa Rica: Montezuma and the Trip Home


I’ve been there a handful of times, and every time is just a little bit different. The first time I wound up there, I was with my buddy with whom I traveled throughout Central America and three of our friends who had come to meet us there.

We stayed at a villa on the hillside. The house was the nicest accommodations we had stayed in in months. It felt like Italy. The seaside cliffs. The views of the sea. The arid landscaping.

The second time I was there, it was low season. Town was quiet. Children were in school. There was a Saturday farmer’s market in the park. Kim and I were privy to the inaugural concert of the children’s music program; Tico kids and Ex-pat kids played songs like Frère Jacques and Heart and Soul. Within minutes of hearing the first song, Kim and I were ready to move there.

After this second trip, I was slowly forming a connection in my head: Montezuma felt like Italy. But why?

Only on this last trip, did it occur to me.

Montezuma is thronged with Italians. And I’m not talking Jersey Shore Guidos. But Italians, from Italy. Whether it is the climate, or the cheap land, or the community, or some unseen force that draws people of one culture together in lands afar, Montezuma has called to Italian expatriates.

Certainly, there are other ethnicities represented in the town. We met Americans, Germans, Kiwis, Argentines, and British to name a few.

Now, dear readers, you are probably thinking to yourselves, “Why is he writing about Italians in Costa Rica? I want to know about Montezuma.”

My point is thus: with its gelato shops, pizzerias, yoga studios, trattorias, marisquerias, boutiques, olive-skinned men and women, Montezuma has grown into a multicultural, multilingual paradise on the beach.

It is not your typical traveler’s town. Though a Central American beach town, Montezuma has the feel of a small Italian village.

There are motorcycles bobbing and whining through the streets. ATVs, occasionally with a basket on the front for a small dog, growl idly at the entrance to the supermarket. Cars, bicycles, people, buses, delivery trucks crowd the main street in town. Horns blare, Italians curse, sojourners drink beer, shoppers spend, men hock Ceviche out of coolers, and beautiful bronze bodies strut from shop to bar and back again.

Of course, we arrived on New Year’s Day. Which is one reason for town being so raucous. The low season, as I mentioned is entirely different, but that’s another story, er, post, I suppose.

Backdrop painted, I continue where I left off from my last post about Costa Rica:

Since we had experienced a monkey point blank in the first ten minutes of our time at Luna Llena, I could sleep happily.

Everyone cleaned up and we headed into town. After four days of jungle time and a day of uncomfortable travel, we were ready to treat ourselves to dinner and lounge on the beach.

Dinner must have been unremarkable because I can’t remember where we ate. However, after dinner we strolled down the beach a ways and laid in the sand chatting and watching the waves.

The infinite bliss created by crashing waves under moonlit skies is unfathomable. At that very moment, I felt like I could melt into the sand. All of this sinking into my senses plus wonderful vulnerable conversations with extraordinary people, and well, I officially remembered why I love to travel.


The next morning we had a delightful breakfast brought to us from a local woman; one of the many treats that Luna Llena offers. We lounged around sipping coffee until we all had fully caffeinated ourselves, and then set off to explore the town.

We wove in and out of shops, meandering toward the beach until we came upon the church.

Now, it’s possible I had never noticed it, and it’s possible that it was just rebuilt and it’s possible that it had been there the very first time I went to Montezuma. But for some reason, on January 2, 2013, the church really caught my eye. I insisted we go in.

The building was open and there was no one else inside of it. I took the opportunity to shoot as much as I could. While not ornate or ostentatious in any way, it was one of the most remarkable churches I can recall being in.

Maybe it is the “simplify” tattoo on my forearm, and maybe it is the “church in the woods” song I sang at camp as a boy, but something stirred inside of me when we entered that church.

I was not moved to pray, nor to accept Jesus as my one true savior, but I certainly felt more welcomed in a church than I had in a long time.

I digress. Kim and Zack were kind enough to indulge me for some time while I ran about giddily snapping photos.

They continued up the street until we finally made it to the beach.

Once again, I was distracted by more photographic possibilities and lost sight of them.

When I finally came upon them, only Zack was on the beach. The others were delighting in the waves. I snapped some more pictures and eventually they returned and I could leave our beach tapestry to enter the water.

I played around for a bit, body surfing and jumping and getting tumbled into the sand when a curious young man caught my eye.

He was playing with something in his hand, though I couldn’t tell exactly what it was. Surreptitiously, I began watching him a little bit more closely. In has hands was a glass sphere! The young man deftly passed it back and forth between his hands, whirled it up and down his arms and created the illusion that the ball was compelled to act by his very will. Remember David Bowie in Labyrinth? Bingo.

I rushed out of the water to grab my camera, determined to ask him if I could take some pictures of him. Earlier that day Zack advised me that I should start asking people if I can take their picture. Not having yet done that, I thought this would be a perfect opportunity.

As it turns out, I got some really incredible photos of this young man playing with his acrylic globe in the waves.

The next couple of days were marked only by the waves crashing on the beach and by the moon rising directly in front of our balcony.


Our third day in town some of us decided to hike to the Montezuma waterfall. Right at the start of the trail, we were greeted by some Mantled Howler Monkeys.

Shortly thereafter I was the only one who wanted to continue all the way to the waterfall. Unabashedly, I hopped upstream (narrowly missing a dirty diaper someone had forgotten to take with them). In front of me, an American girl hopped deftly from rock to rock. Silently, we hopped like goats and smiled at one another from time to time. We almost began racing as we cruised stealthily upstream. Each of us felt a satisfaction in arriving there more quickly than the folks who were hiking the trail.

When I reached the waterfall, I didn’t even stop to take a photo. I had heard about the upper pools and decided quite rapidly that I was going to scramble up to them.

Let me tell you, don’t go up there if you are meek. The climber’s trail was steep, slippery, exposed, and really fun! Though I broke my flip-flop on the way down, it was totally worth it.

There are two pools above the main waterfall each with their own cascading falls and plenty of cliffs to jump off of. I won’t say any more than that, and I didn’t take any photos. If you want to know, you’ll have to go.

That night Kim and I had made reservations at Ylang Ylang resort to have a celebratory dinner in honor of everything that our clients had done and experienced on the trip.

Kim and I walked out to Ylang Ylang early and prepared a fire on the beach. The plan was to have the shuttle pick our clients up in town, have dinner, and then walk back along the beach, stopping at our fire pit for a closing ceremony.

Shortly after we arrived at dinner, the rain began to fall. And fall. The shuttle driver, whose name happened also to be Eric, was kind enough to take us back to town, though his shift was over.

Kim and I had already decided that we were going to hold our ceremony on the beach right in town. There would simply be no fire.

So, with cell phones as flashlights, we conducted our ceremony.

Kim had collected a number of beautiful items earlier that day. I quickly found a large leaf at the edge of the beach. We sat in a circle giving thanks for and honoring whatever we felt was necessary as we closed 2012 and opened 2013. Our final offering looked like this:


Together we walked into the dark moonlit ocean and gave our offering to Mother Ocean so she might carry it away.


The next morning, I tossed and turned in the top bunk. There was a clamoring on the roof at an ungodly hour. Even with my earplugs, I couldn’t sleep. As I lay in bed cursing the continued clamoring, it occurred to me its cause:


Excitedly, I woke up and threw on my shorts. I ran downstairs and got a cup of coffee and got my camera out.

Minute after minute, the monkeys came gallivanting across the galvanized roof. Pounding and scratching and running and plodding and being sneaky!

Bang! Monkey. Click! Photo. Bang! Another Monkey. Click! Click! More Photos.

I finally woke Kim up and she and I sat watching the monkeys for who knows how long. Our clients eventually woke up because the Capuchins were making such a ruckus.

While shooting these creatures, I lost all sense of time. I may have been watching them for two hours, or two days. I have no idea. Below is what I captured.

Eventually, we peeled ourselves away from the acrobatics of the monkeys toward the beach. Our final hours in the sun were counted in grains of sand in our suits and waves washing over our feet.

With heavy hearts we boarded our shuttle to the ferry. This ferry ride was no less remarkable than our first one but for entirely different reasons. Spectacles abounded at every turn.

A group of flamboyant fashionistas sat to our left. A seemingly cracked-out, dreadlocked partnership sat to our right. We spotted TWO killer rattails (for more on my interest in rattails I refer you to one of my Movember posts). The sunset was extraordinary.

Most importantly, a skinny dipping exhibitionist felt it was his duty to swim as near to the boat as he could. Mind you, he started swimming about one-quarter mile away from the ship, if not further. This nude dude swam all the way out to us.  He flaunted all of his pieces, floated sunny-side up in the water for minutes at a time, and dove down like a dolphin. Finally, as the ship cast off, our entertainer began his stroke toward shore.


We landed without event, found our shuttle, and made our way to Hostel Maleku in Alajuela. Our shuttle driver was unbelievably gregarious at a time when most of us wanted silence. For some reason, he insisted on telling us where the best whores are in San Jose. Weird.

We got to our hostel, ordered pizzas, and had girls’ night. Since the first night of the trip we’d planned on having a girls night and just hadn’t gotten around to it. So, with aplomb, I applied the avocado and something-or-other face mask, ate chocolate, and listened to gossip about lord knows what. It was a definitively enjoyable end to the trip.

The next morning, we got to the airport very early. While Kim and I were checking in, the information board above our ticket counter flashed, “Overbooked; Offering $800 Travel Voucher.” We looked at each other and said, “Yes, please!”

So, with a little patience, we were bumped to a flight that left further in the day, had all of our meals comped, a night (really more like five hours) in a hotel in Dallas, and $800 each in travel vouchers.

Not bad for a week’s work. Not bad at all.

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