A Birthday Adventure

For Matt’s birthday we decided to take a break from nesting and making furniture. We wanted to explore a part of the coast we had never seen before: the southern tip of the Nicoya Peninsula, specifically the area around Montezuma. While this was a three hour drive over rough roads from our former home in Samara, coming from the Central Valley we’d need to take a ferry across the Gulf of Nicoya to get to where we were going. I was stoked. Desert rat that I am, boats always hold an excitement for me.

It’s amazing how quickly one forgets the heat after just a few weeks in a more temperate climate. Arriving in Puntarenas for the ferry we were immediately stupefied.


We had to wait about an hour in a hot line for the ferry to come in. I felt edgy and American the whole time. The line looked long. Would there be room for us on the boat?? We just had to wait and see. I don’t know what I was expecting but I seriously think I imagined the ferry would be a tiny thing with room for just a few cars. How wrong I was. As our ship, The Tambor II, pulled into port I saw that this was a boat more akin to the ferries we have used in British Columbia.


This was a large ship with several levels, indoor seating areas and outdoor decks and patios. There was a restaurant with a full bar and ice cream. We were super happy.


Matt and I decided to celebrate our successful arrival on the ship with a beer from the cooler in the car. Tailgating at its finest. During the hour and half ride we bought the kids an ice cream and just generally enjoyed the ride. The weekend was getting off to a good start.

Once we arrived on the Nicoya Peninsula we had another hour or so to drive. We enjoyed being back in the jungle and seeing all the vines and enormous trees.


Our hotel was located a few miles south of Montezuma. As Matt turned the wheel to enter the hotel Janet, our car, suddenly died. Completely. Without warning our car was now blocking the road in front of the hotel and also the hotel entrance. Sigh. We were grateful to have arrived at our destination, but seriously? Fortunately, there were plenty of people around and we soon had her pushed into the parking lot of the hotel. Matt explained to the owner what had happened with our car and he offered us a jump. I left the birthday boy to deal with the car in the afternoon sun and took our sticky kids to the pool. Matt soon joined us with word that our car was still dead. We’d have to call a mechanic in the morning. Grrrr. This was not how I had hoped we would spend our one full day at the beach.

Putting our car troubles aside for the moment, we set about enjoying ourselves. It had been many weeks since we’d gone swimming and it was nearly impossible to get the kids out of the pool.


I don’t know if you can tell from the picture above, but the beach is just beyond the pool. We had a very relaxing afternoon of swimming and then walked along the beach into town for dinner. The beach was quite different from further north on the peninsula. Here the shore was rocky and the waves rough. Dramatic for walking along, but tough for swimming.

When we could drag the kids from the pool, they spent a lot of their time in the hammock. It was relaxing and hot and delightful.


The next morning the mechanic the owner had called arrived bright and early with a high-powered battery charger. No dice. Somehow our battery had died on the drive down to the beach. I didn’t know such a thing was possible! I’m learning, though, that when talking about cars in Costa Rica the inconceivable quickly becomes commonplace.

The closest place to buy a new battery was the town an hour drive up the road. Since this was supposed to be Matt’s celebratory weekend, he obviously needed to stay at the beach and pool with the kids. Even though it was far from clear that a new battery would fix the problem, the hope was that he could still relax and enjoy the day a little.

A Belgian couple was checking out that morning and offered to give me a lift to town. They were lovely. We passed an enjoyable hour, stopping briefly at one point to pick up some Spanish hitchhikers heading into Montezuma for the farmer’s market. As we chatted with these energetic freespirits, the weekend started taking on a decidedly surreal edge.

We were not exactly sure where the car part store was but vague directions from locals led us outside of town along a lonely stretch of road. We eventually found the store and the couple let me off with some concern. Now that I was at least a mile from town I wasn’t sure how well my original plan to buy a battery and catch a bus back to the hotel would work. Still, there was no other option so I got my battery and hung around looking for likely people with whom I could catch a ride. Eventually, an empty turismo minibus pulled up to the store. The driver seemed to have stopped just to say hi to the store clerks. I asked the man helping me if I could catch a ride back to town with turismo driver and he asked on my behalf. I was swept back to town and found out the bus to Montezuma was leaving in just a few moments. When we arrived in Montezuma the driver pointed me to a minibus that was leaving and would drop me in front of the hotel. With much less difficulty than I could have hoped to expect, we had procured a new car battery from miles away without having to pay the hefty fee of a taxi. Score!

The new battery fixed our problem and we were saved from having to tow Janet to a shop. We were very relieved. We planned to spend our last morning taking a short hike to a waterfall in Montezuma where one could apparently swim. We arrived around eight in the morning and only a couple of people were there.


It was awesome. The kids swam all over this pool, loving the feeling of adventure from getting so close to an actual waterfall. Matt did some heartstopping (for me) leaps from the rocks. We even got Pepe to come swimming with us, a rare treat. As we swam and splashed the stress of our car troubles melted away.

The morning progressed and more and more visitors came to the waterfall. We headed out, knowing we needed to get to the ferry early if we hoped to get on. We had heard from some ticos at the hotel that Sunday ferries were often sold out. When we arrived at the ferry terminal the parking gods smiled on us as we were directed to park in the only shady spot in the line. How different this wait for the ferry was compared to the one only a few days before! All the stress and uncertainty the car trouble had created, followed by its fairly miraculous resolution, provided some perspective or at least gratitude. So we have to wait three hours for a ferry? No problem. This weekend had been an exercise in letting go. I remember a time when such a long wait would have stressed me to no end as I worried how we would possibly keep the kids entertained. But they were perfectly fine, happily crawling all over the car, having snacks and exploring the area around the dock. It was definitely not the birthday weekend I had envisioned for Matt. But the weekend was a metaphor for our time here thus far. An overarching feeling of pura vida punctuated by acute stress.

3 thoughts on “A Birthday Adventure

  1. Another lovely tale of being positive, adventurous and happy ever after 🙂
    The attitude of “Don’t worry, be happy” is growing on you!
    Much lovexxxx marianne


  2. Happy Birthday, nephew. What a way to spend it. Happy for you and green with envy of the adventures. I had my own when younger and can appreciate all of stresses and joys. Felicidades e pura vida. Saludos a los ninos.

    Too Ramon


  3. Vanessa,
    Thanks for sharing your adventure. You had me on the edge of my seat when you went off by yourself to get the car battery. Nothing to say of Tarzan’ s heartstopping dives. I would like to know how everyone’s Spanish is these days.
    Fred Garcia


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