July 2018, I traveled to the Nicoya Peninsula, the West Coast Costa Rican peninsula, via Puntarenas. People I spoke to before my journeys and along the way, were encouraging me to not plan on stopping there, “it’s the armpit of CR”, “it doesn’t have lively culture”, “is only for fishing and cruise tourists quick stop at beaches” and “is just a poor, dangerous place”, etc. So of course, being the global citizen I am, my aim was to gain my own perspective, so that is exactly where I wanted to go, to investigate my own experience. What a beautiful place, with energized people, unique challenges, and something to be discovered firsthand.
Puntarenas is a commercial fishing port that played a key part in the development of Costa Rica. The variety of vessels can be seen out on the many waterfront horizons. A popular type of boat I found for local fisherman and residents were like this one below:
I got the opportunity to stay at a UN Heritage Site, and much like many places in Costa Rica, there are often no walls between the outside space and the inside living space. Puntarenas, by where it is located, gets a lot of wind off the ocean, so it is not uncommon to see the open concept. This was one of my favorite parts about this region of the country.
For those new to CR, this can be mind blowing, especially for Alaskas, as we make sure that every space that touches outside has either a screen or an arctic entry (a space to be before going all the way inside). I see CR as being almost opposite (as with other tropical locations). Its fascinating to be able to be “inside” and step “outside” without going through actual doors.
This picture here shows it even better where it seems, by Alaskan standards, there should be a wall between in the inside and outside.
In the kitchen of this particular place I resided, there were mostly shutters and what appeared to be open windows (but with no way to close them…so, just window frames on the bottom row to the right). See straight ahead, all of that is open to the outside. This is mostly to allow for ventilation because it is a very humid place and most places (except tourist spots) do not have air conditioning. The wind IS your air conditioning.
The same open air concept can be seen here in the bedroom at the ceiling. I was told that it isn’t often the shutters or doors are closed. In heavy rainfall, which I experienced here more than any other location (could be a fluke chance), I could feel the mist while laying in bed, and the sounds of the rain and thunder are deafening–which is an amazing experience I suggest everyone having at least once.
So what do the people of Puntarenas find enjoyment in, outside of sitting on the porch listening to thunder and watching lightening, you might ask? Beach soccer (and tournaments) are a major popular feature and wow, is it impressive to watch players bearfoot in the sand, scrambling for the ball. Naturally I inquire about the nature of being bearfoot, and was met with “why would they even consider wearing shoes…this makes them tough and better players.” I tried placing my feet in sand, to see how it felt, and last 5 seconds before I felt like they were on fire. This makes beach soccer even more incredibly impressive.
Fans would support soccer for full days, with vibrant and energetic cheering. I felt honored to be a part of it and engaged in several lively conversations with soccer fans.
Those hot days in the sun, watching soccer or exploring the beaches, were met with many vendors offering refreshing drinks, like this popular one with flavor syrup and crushed ice. Notice how it slants down? That is so the vendor can pick it up and wheel it anywhere. Cool, huh?
The Paquera ferry to cross the Gulf Of Nicoya was such an interesting experience. If I were to have guessed what the ferry ride was going to be like, based on my several previous experiences of ferry rides over my lifetime, I would have not been ready for the experience. But knowing not to ever judge a new experience based on previous happenings, I was ready for anything and boy did I get it! The decks and seating/dining areas were lively with people, many watching the World Cup Brazil soccer match, as though at a pub or party. There were a variety of specialty beverages available for adults and children, at a number of swanky locations, and the inside/outside deck boisted fantastically loud dancing/party music to energize the passengers. The music was so upbeat and catchy that I found myself hitting Shazam on my phone often, and even audio recording on my phone when I couldn’t figure out who it was (to investigate more later). There were even people dancing and laying out in the sun, much like I would expect on a cruise (which I haven’t been on). From the outside, the ferry looked much different as well: functional and simple. Just goes to show you can’t judge a book by the cover.
Overall, there were experiences and explorations I found in Puntarenas that I didn’t expect to have, which goes to show that it’s important to explore at every opportunity, regardless of what other people say. Make your own perspective.
I went to the Nicoya Peninsula many years ago with friend and our young kids kids and our experience was the highlight of or Costa Rican trip, although we went to more “on the beaten track” destinations. The people were fun and authentic. Because we were traveling with a friend who is fluent in Spanish from his Peace Corps days, we connected with locals who took us to swim with dolphins in the wild using a tow behind the boat contraption that allowed one to dive down and see the dolphins playing in the boat’s wake and looking at you. My kids played beach soccer with local kids remarking that “they didn’t need to talk much because all kids speak hand language”!
I love it! You are living showcase of how amazing it is to be global citizens. I bet your kids will always remember that trip
Too often we do “judge the book by its cover” and it is hard not too. If I come to a fork in the road with one way open and sunny and the other dark and ominous I more than likely will take the open and sunny path not knowing what is at the end; a choice that might not always be the safest. This reflection also makes me wonder how many great experiences I have missed out on because I listened to people telling me not to go visit or see a certain place because it too was the ‘armpit’ of that area.
I love the indoor/outdoor concept of living in Puntarenas. This makes me think this is an open culture that is very connected, unlike Alaskans where we isolate ourselves (mostly due to the harsh elements) to the point that most don’t have that connection to their community or even their neighbors.
I had done that so many times myself. Now, when people “give friendly advice”, I listen openly, and then follow my heart. I have taken risks, but got many rewards as a result!
I enjoyed reading your post, and I feel that it helped me have a more open perspective for going to places that might not have a great reputation. You shared a lot of beauty, and your positive mindset was evident from your time in Puntarenas–it looked like a terrific trip!
I like the idea of going some place where you do not completely know what to expect. I also like to judge a book by what you find inside and not just by the cover or a review you have read. First hand experiences in a place are the best way to truly get to know a place. You may find you do not like it, but then again you will never know if you do not go and experience it first hand.