[Psst: Hey Dad! I took this picture with that new lens. Cool, huh?]
We tried to go snorkeling our next to last day in Playa Hermosa, but missed the boat by a few minutes. So instead we decided to find Guaitil, an artisans’ village where a native group of people fire pottery in the Chorotega tradition. Knowing this could be our last opportunity to squeeze in a Guanacaste park, we decided to start the morning at Parque Nacional Barra Honda and then drive through Guaitil on our way back.
The main attraction of Barra Honda is a series of caves. We opted to only hike the trails, since we suspected time might be a factor. Perhaps it would not have been if we didn’t park our car at the main gate and hike the 1600 m to the top of the giant hill… but then we wouldn’t have gotten that good, deep burn you get from a vertical climb. The flatter trail to the mirador was peaceful and filled with wildlife.
Early on we heard calls of howler monkeys (which I’ve mentioned before how unnerving those roars are when you’re alone in the forest), and later we walked under a pack of spider monkeys having lunch.
We saw butterflies mating (or in battle… but I like to think butterflies are a loving kind).
We spotted some beautiful birds.
An iguana even jumped out of a tree at us, but we didn’t see that coming and so missed the photo op.
The most rewarding part of the hike was reaching the mirador, which teeters at the edge of a cliff created by some tectonic activity and looks over the Nicoya peninsula.
This is what a view across the earth should be.
And so while we didn’t check out the caves the park is known for, we were still absolutely in love with the park (and the blue morpho butterflies that followed us up and down the giant hill). Of course we took zillions of photos, and you can see more from Barra Honda here.
By the time we found ourselves back at the Kia, we knew we only had a couple of hours to find Guaitil and knock out some shopping before everyone disappeared for siesta. We forwent lunch for the sake of tourismo and followed another unpaved road to make our way to Guaitil. Thankfully, we were on the right road and easily found our destination.
A main square (er, soccer field) was lined with shops, each with its own open-fire kiln to the side. Only about half of the shops were open, but then I knew I had to go into each one. I started at Willy’s Pottery (check out his website for info on the history of the town and the pottery-making process) and made my way around the field, stopping at a table under a tree where a group of students was selling their work. As I waited for change for my purchase, the student explained to me that the toucan on my vase represented liberty, or the freedom of the Chorotega people from enslavement by the Spanish. He also asked if we were on our way to the festival in Santa Cruz, which was on our way to Playa Hermosa. So we decided we would go.
We also met a young Estonian woman who has been hitchhiking the world, having spent the previous 2 months in Guaitil to learn the art. She invited us into the kitchen to see how blue corn is hand ground, and to see what a traditional kitchen looks like (and it looks like a bench that looks out over an open fire). I was happy to pick up several goodies for friends and family from such interesting people. It was incredible to be among artisans that live their art. But I was hungry and there was no restaurant. It was time for the festival.
Festivals are festivals anywhere you go. Streets are closed off, temporary vendors pop up, food is fried and people come from far and wide to see and be seen. In Costa Rica, they build a rodeo ring with bleachers, street vendors push around their carts with open fires and grilled meats, Imperial is sold 3 for 1000 colones, and everyone wears blue jeans. Marimba bands set up in the middle of the streets and bulls stir in the back of a truck. It’s the Fiestas Typicas Nacionales Santa Cruz, and we’re the gringos.
We ate giant plates of food – I had a half of a fried chicken with slaw and fried plantains (on a paper plate with a plastic fork and no table) and wandered around. A club next to the rodeo ring was blaring techno music over the sounds of the announcers. Adding that to a day without food, likely mild dehydration and a beer gave me a headache, but it didn’t wreck the awesomeness of the whole day.
I say it’s the Best Day because that day was as Costa Rica as it gets. We both had a great time, we got to see some real flavor, and then we felt like we were prepared to move on to our next destination.