Day 6 came with a mellow start. With breakfast at Hacienda Guachipelin, stealing more sweet bread for the road, we were on our way to Monteverde. The drive south was not as terrible as everyone had warned about. Feel secure in having four wheel drive and hit those dirt roads. There really is no other way to see it. Stopping to take as many photos as we pleased, we fell in love even more. The rolling green hillsides dotted with cattle or horses, the small houses with laundry drying out on the lines, the clear blue skies... all was perfect in our world. As you get closer to Monteverde and head up the winding dirt roads, have patience. You will encounter many shuttles full of tourists going wherever their days are taking them. We were able to get around them, but the roads do get slim in some places and for whatever reason their expansion of roads did not include any of the bridges. All are narrow, one way at a time, and usually on a curve where you can't see the other side, so take caution.
Arriving in Monteverde at the Hotel Belmar I immediately knew we would be coming back here. I was suddenly very sad we were only stopping through for one night. Ah well, that leaves a future trip in the making! Hotel Belmar will leave you breathless! This hotel in the mountaintops of the cloud forest is a feast for the senses. With it's wooden lobby's and spectacular views, the staff here are by far the most attentive, warm, and personable staff I have ever come across. Our room had a view of the Nicoya Peninsula and a private terrace. The bathroom had an open feel and the shower a window to take in the view. I was in love.
After check-in we left for a few hours to take a tour at the Don Juan Coffee Plantations. A short drive from our hotel and we were greeted by our friendly guide. The tour, booked via Anywhere Costa Rica, took us through the plantation and taught us about coffee picking, using the de-pulping machine, the drying room, and finally the coffee roaster. This specific plantation happened to be Don Juan's private one that he has opened to the public. How surprised were we when Don Juan himself walked in! He came to greet us during the tour and I regretfully didn't take a picture with him, just of him. After the coffee tour we were shown how to make sugarcane juice, a process we had already seen at an organic farm in Arenal, but this time mixed with Don Juan's personal hybrid mandarin-limes. Oh my gosh. Can I tell you how good those are!? They're that good!! I wanted to check out the trees and see what they looked like, but those weren't on the tour and a well kept "secret."
Continuing on we moved to the chocolate making room. Learning about the history of chocolate and submersed in the aroma, we were taught to grind and mix it and, oh yes, we were to taste it all. Coffee cocoa beans, chocolate sticks, ground chocolate.. natural chocolate is good for you right? After the deliciousness we headed to the cafe area to sample the different coffees and... I was PERSONALLY taken to the hybrid mandarin-lime trees!!! Woo hoo! One point for the guide! Finally, we ended the tour with an oxcart ride. Why? Why not! We were told the background and tradition of the brightly painted carts prior to hopping in and taken down a ways by the giant oxen. A great few hours spent, we headed back to our sanctuary for the night.
Back at the hotel we decided on appetizers for dinner. We would order a little bit of everything. The hotel surprised us with a tasteful pairing they do with their local beers. We indulged ourselves on the balcony in the foggy evening. Full and content, we went to hit the jacuzzi. We had the little hut all to ourselves, towels lined the shelves, and windows all around let us feel like we were outdoors without the mosquitos. We let ourselves relax and unwind from the day, enjoying the calm and again wishing we had more time here. We went up to our room and decided once again to head back dowstairs to the bar. The bartender was a sweet girl from Canada and we really took delight in her company. After a last nightcap we headed off to sleep the sleep of the dead.
Upon waking we got everything together to head out. We shared a last sumptuous breakfast at the hotel, walked the grounds down to their little pond, and said goodbye to Monteverde. Destination Manuel Antonio had begun! This time we would stay at Costa Verde... the claim to be "still more monkeys than people." I've never seen a hotel laid out quite like this. Along the winding road through Manuel Antonio the hotel came in pieces, for lack of a better way to describe it. It definitely had character. While we enjoyed our stay we didn't spend too much time here for it was yet again another stop in passing to our destination down south. Our room was small, but clean and we could see the ocean from our own patio.
We headed off to lunch at one of the many restaurants and then waited for our pick up. We were going on a sunset snorkel dinner cruise, (That's a mouthful!) this one led by Iguana Tours. We stopped to pick up a large group of people. There, within the group, was a girl we had met on our cliff jumping tour! A fun loving, easy going Aussie and we knew we were in good company with her. The boat was not what we expected. It had a slide and a platform in which to jump off of. We were stoked!! We set off into the ocean and were told we would spend the first part of the cruise searching for dolphins and turtles and seeing Manuel Antonio National Park from the inlets.
After sitting in the hot sun we were beginning to wonder if we would ever be snorkeling. How long can you look for dolphins? That's when our Aussie friend informed us it was a booze cruise!! FREE alcohol and we never even knew. (No, the people dancing and singing didn't clue us in... oblivious much?) Nowhere in the booking had it stated anything about that. Now we knew... grabbed a drink... and continued to wait for snorkeling. (Again the lack of restriction is really a breath of fresh air! We did have to wear a life vest during snorkeling, but not sliding or jumping.) As we pulled up to where we would be allowed to jump in they started up the grill. They would make us dinner while we swam and played. The fish were colorful and all around us. We even saw a giant sea turtle. We went off the slide upside down and backwards and jumped from the upper deck. Now the fun had started. They played music and got us singing and dancing on the way back in. We watched the sunset and headed back to the hotel.
Our friend had invited us out to a club they were hitting that night, Republika. Not the club type, but thinking it would be a cool experience, we called a taxi (nope, don't care where you are... driving under the influence is a big NO for me. I have too many adventures I want to live for.) We asked him to drop us off at his favorite place to eat and turned out that was the right thing to do. In the humid heat we sat outside to local food in downtown Manuel Antonio. Conveniently our friend showed up across the street as we finished, we met up with them and all walked to the club together. Let's just say the rest of the night will remain unwritten, but really if you have a chance and are up for an odd mix of ages, check it, and a chili lime shot or two, out. Just make sure you remain coherent enough to get in that taxi back "home." Please, be smart in your traveling.
The next morning we awoke to a scream... no... a howl? What was that!? (A hangover? Ha...) Trucks on the highway? No, too repetitive. Then it hit us... monkeys!! They were howler monkeys waking us up!! How cool was that? We grabbed breakfast and headed out on one of the many trails of the hotel in search of the little guys. Not finding any on the trail, but catching a glimpse of the future of Costa Verde's newest addition, we headed back to the room to pack up. But wait... there it was again! Heading out our room and following the sound there they were!! Right outside our door the whole time! Everywhere! Little white faced monkeys playing in the trees and on the grounds and howlers staying up high. We were in monkeyland. Getting our fill in, taking tons of photos of the mischievous little guys, stopping for pastries, (um... is there anything better to cure a slight headache?) we were on the road again. This time heading down south to our "goal" of the trip.