Early morning in Santa Teresa, Costa Rica. My wife, son, and I eat breakfast and plan our day in the open air kitchen Hoping on ATV’s from our rental house, we head south taking local dirt roads to our destination in Montezuma. The ride should take an hour but ends up taking a bit longer with stops.
Santa Teresa, Costa Rica is a small surfing town teeming with tourists. While this was likely once an off the beaten path location, it’s certainly turned into a tourist hot-spot. Mixed in between the slight poverty of locals (what we might consider) lies multi-million dollar homes, people driving Porsche on dirt roads, sushi, western food, girls in thongs, and everything in between. I can see how this location is so desired with its white sand beaches and great surf with beach breaks that backs up to tropical jungle. From our rental house we can hear the call of howler monkeys in the morning, see 3 foot lizards that come right up to our pool, and walk by spiders that are as large as my hand.
As we head out in the morning on ATV’s we head through town moving on to Mal Pais. This place is seriously beautiful with a much more bohemian vibe. Too bad it has a rocky beach which is why it’s likely less traveled. From there the road becomes much rougher and void of other people as we head over the mountain and into the jungle. Away from the ocean we take a thin dirt rocky road surrounded by a towering canopy of green is all that remains. The sounds of the jungle and our ATV’s are all that is left.
As we head over the hills we reach a small town called Cabuya. The main attraction here seems to be a small island a couple hundred meters off the coast that acted as the town cemetery. During low tide you can literally walk to it; and it seems to be encouraged to try. The interesting thing about this town was there was a pretty legit restaurant, something you might see in a bigger town with 20 plus tables, a full lunch and dinner menu, outdoor settings, and a variety of menu items. We ended up eating there for lunch. I think it was called “Restaurante Cabuya”. Super nice owner and had great wifi if that’s your thing.
Anyways, our destination was Montezuma, specifically a waterfall there that many locals had mentioned. It felt like it was a tourist trap but hey…we were tourists. As we arrived there were at least 30 other people on the side of the road trying to figure out where to go. It was more of an unofficial trail that led up the side of a river with no official signs. So we parked our ATV’s and headed up the trail. A little ways up, a local man was standing next to the trail soliciting money. He said there was a fee to proceed. I can only assume this was more of a “local tax” or way of earning money off unassuming tourists which to be honest I’m fine with. I don’t recall what the fee was but maybe a dollar or two…all good. Hopefully it helped it out. The trail was rough, muddy and filled with large slippery roots. It took about 45 min to get to the falls which were flowing quite high due to it being the rainy season. People were swimming, climbing up and jumping, and of course taking selfies for Insta.
As we made our way back to the road we noticed a trail on the other side of the river. Being in no hurry we decided to follow it. It was a steep trail up the side of a hill, where there had clearly in the past been zip lines. As we approached the top of the hill we reached a metal gate that was open. Having climbed so high we wandered in and were unsure where we were. Was it a large home, a hotel, or what was this place? We did find a pool with a family relaxing at it but something was off. The people didn’t even wave. It almost felt like the twilight zone as there was almost no one there. Eventually we ran into a man and explained how we had gotten there. He told us this was a lifestyle retreat and offered us smoothies. I don’t know what about this situation or if it was our western programming but for a minute it felt like a cult…”hey man, want some kool aid” haha. While we didn’t have any smoothies I don’t think this was the case. Just nice, good intending folks. But it made me wonder.
Why is it that simple, good intending folks can be thought to be suspicious? From an outsider's perspective, what separates people that are so nice vs those who are only nice to serve a purpose? Is it our perception or something that is really there. While this man was genuinely nice, I can’t help but question my own thought process. Why not trust someone who is so nice; aren’t those the type of people we should trust the most? This experience highlighted that we are the ones who choose to assign certain meaning to things/situations, not the other way around. Read that again. It’s time that we all experience life in the moment and don’t carry our preconceived notions with us. Embrace the current, live in the moment, trust in the universe.