A Puntarenas taxi angel appeared to me to direct me to a good hostel near the bus station, which I need at 7:30 am to get to Monteverde in the morning. He gave the instructions in Spanish, which I actually understood. El señor warned me not to go to Hotel Hellen on the way, it is a chortim hotel. He repeated chortim several times, stressing the importance. Then I realized he was saying ¨short time¨; the light came on. I nodded enthusiastically and he let me go.
My room is reasonably clean and four blocks from the station. It is an efficient 5 feet by 8 feet, just enough room for a bed, a table, a tv, and a fan.
Puntarenas could be the love child of Newark and Atlantic City, a summer romance with a daring foreign ending. Like New Jersey, there are no genes for street signs. Smells change with every step — cotton candy, garbage, sea breeze, rotting fish, tanning oil, diesel fumes.
The sounds shift too. Waves crashing, children laughing. Angry beeps of dueling buses. Slushy vendors tempting overheated beach-goers. Boom boxes drowning out a group of chattering teens.
A little eatery across from the beach on one side and opposite the bus station on the other is a magnet for families and young couples before they head home. Small children fall asleep on mama´s shoulder, faces sticky from greasy fries and ice cream.
There´s a mafioso-type vibe at the table next to mine. Two tough guys in matching yellow shirts have a cash box and take care of the waitresses checks. I suspect there is no problem with disappearing silverware here.
Upon arrival in Puntarenas I made a hasty judgment about the town. I was hot, tired, headachey and nauseous from eight hours of travel. I hadn´t eaten since breakfast and not seen a bathroom since then either; a blessing in a way, because I miraculously caught each mode of transport for the day in an impossibly seamless way, boat to shuttle to bus.
By minutes I missed the last bus of the day to Monteverde, a cool oasis in the mountains of the Cloud Forest. Which is okay, because otherwise I would have passed right through this home-away-from-home without discovering its charms.
Born and raised in the state, I never became much of a Jersey girl. I may get to the shore once every year or two. But when there, it´s a fine place. Playing in the ocean, walking along the beach, drinking copious amounts of sea water, what could be better? Ah yes, I know, eating fresh seafood with a noseful of ocean air. Heading home exhausted and happy, filled with shore afterglow.
But I never remember these times when the choice comes between ocean and mountain; the latter wins most times.
Puntarenas succeeded in charming me today, although it is, alas, a short enchantment. Tomorrow I head for the mountains.