It was a wet November afternoon in Arenal, Costa Rica, and we were driving from the lush, dense jungle of the Northern Lowlands to our next stop: Villas Kalimba in Playa Samara, a beach town on the northwest coast of the Pacific.
I loved the rain, but our trip to the country’s Guanacaste region wouldn’t have been complete if I didn’t see the sun, or at least a hammock. The last time I had treated myself to a proper tropical vacation was in 2004 when I stayed on peaceful Hat Salat Beach on Ko Phangan, an island in the Gulf of Thailand. For a week, I alternated between reading Jeffrey Eugenides’ Middlesex on the hammock of my wooden bungalow’s porch and wading in Hat Salat’s shallow, gentle shores among squishy sea cucumbers. I’d met my brother and sister-in-law there, but spent much of my time alone. Those days were pleasurably protracted, meditative, and now compose a fond memory of one the most idyllic landscapes I’ve ever visited.
I kept recalling that vacation as we sped down the highway to the Nicoya Peninsula. I wasn’t expecting Samara to be like Hat Salat, as Costa Rica was nothing like Thailand. All I knew was that the sky had poured buckets of rain the entire time, and I began to yearn for that sensation of pure relaxation somewhere hot and tropical. We had spent the first several days in La Fortuna to view the region’s awesome, lava-flowing landmark, Arenal Volcano. Unfortunately, the overcast sky prevented us from seeing the peak of the volcano, but the storms made the jungles wet and misty, making our muddy treks through the forest adventurous and exciting.
Still, after our stay in Arenal, I longed for the sun, and I wanted to take my hiking shoes off and let my toes breathe in flip-flops. As we zoomed toward the Pacific, the clouds began to thin. The cobalt blue of the sky became visible, and through the windshield of our tiny rented Yaris, I started to feel the heat on my shoulders. I had not needed sunscreen so far on our trip, but as we got closer to Samara, I slathered lotion on my skin, and the scent of sunblock prompted my remembrance of those uninterrupted, chilled-out days on Hat Salat Beach.
The terrain near the northwest coast of Costa Rica was different from the thick, verdant jungles of Arenal: cattle grazed on flat and exposed fields that extended to the horizon. After hitting traffic and weaving around pedestrians in the town of Nicoya, it didn’t take long to reach Samara. The highway transformed into the town’s main drag, which was dotted with souvenir shops, outdoor restaurants, an eccentric art gallery, the Internet café, an office of SkyNet Tours, and even a Century 21 real estate branch.
The main road led to the beach, and at a small police station we turned left and passed a school, a few hotels, a Shake Joe’s restaurant, a spot called Guanafrut that sold fruits and vegetables, and a surf school. I grew excited, however, when we reached the gated entrance of our home for the remainder of our trip: Villas Kalimba.