With my time in Puerto Viejo coming to an end, I arranged to spend a night in San Jose before traveling to the Pacific coast of the country. In Costa Rica travel distances can be extremely misleading. Due to poor road conditions in many areas with the rainy season creating further havoc it is necessary to plan your time accordingly. Furthermore, it is not uncommon for local ticos to underestimate travel times by an hour or more leaving tourists with a distorted perspective. There is no harm intended here; it is most likely due to the slower pace of this culture and the ticos’ generally relaxed attitude about time.
My next destination is a small surfing village called Playa Nosara, located in a province called Guanacaste. Travel to this section of the country can be quite challenging in the rainy season due to the horrific driving conditions, where muddy potholes and small rivers leave the roads virtually inaccessible to larger tourist vehicles. I know from prior experience that the public bus system in Costa Rica can be brutal with frequent stops at every corner. I was not prepared to spend the day on a hot bus with live chickens and screaming babies, so I arranged through my hotel in San Jose for a private driver to transport me to Nosara.
Finca Rosa Blanca is an exquisite family run private estate situated in the hills of the central valley on acres of coffee plantations. Located approximately 15 minutes outside of San Jose, the property is stunning, the night air is cool and crisp and the rolling green mountains fade behind silvery gray clouds. The staff is kind, attentive and hospitable. In the evening a roaring fire burned in a stone fireplace in the cozy dining room while the lights of San Jose twinkled against the distant mountain range.
Rosa Blanca has the warm welcoming feeling of a private home .There are horse stables and a large greenhouse where local organic vegetables are grown. Separate buildings house a full service day spa, main guest house, and private bungalows. During the day guests can tour the coffee plantations, relax in the outdoor Jacuzzi, swim in the peaceful lagoon style swimming pool, access free internet and wireless service in the private office center, take a guided horseback ride through the surrounding hills or simply relax, walk the beautiful grounds and enjoy the breathtaking views.
At Rosa Blanca I dined outdoors on the patio with a stunning view of the distant mountain range and the twinkling lights of San Jose. Dinner at Rosa Blanca consists of four courses for a fixed price of $35. The portions are generous and the cuisine is light, healthy and delicious. The kickoff to my four course indulgence was a bowl of silky black bean soup. With a delicate topping of crème fraiche, the soup was light and soothing with a slight kick and a refreshing hint of cilantro. The warm goat cheese salad was superb. The thin slivers of cheese were encrusted in a delicate breading and literally melted in my mouth, complimenting the earthy flavor of the crisp field greens and tangy/sweet vinaigrette dressing.
The main course consisted of four jumbo shrimp topped with sea bass and surrounded by a colorful medley of organic vegetables grown in Rosa’s own gardens. My glass of merlot provided the perfect mellow accompaniment to a wonderfully satisfying meal on a cool night following a long day of travel. Although I was too full to consume the rich chocolate flan dessert that awaited me, I did not have the uncomfortable sensation of a meal loaded with butter, grease or heavy sauces. Nonetheless, I resigned myself to hitting the treadmill and dusting off my yoga mat following my return to Charleston.
After a long day of travel and frustrating logistical challenges to overcome, I was eager to retire to my beautiful room for a hot shower and a decent night sleep. My room at Rosa Blanca was spacious and inviting; the large windows overlooked an outdoor deck with a panoramic view of the surrounding acres of coffee plantations and distant mountain range. The delicate white curtains danced in the cool night breeze. The rooms at Rosa Blanca are designed with artistic flair; each has distinct features and a special theme with a name to match. For example in Los Aves, meaning birds, there is a tropical bird scene hand painted on the bathroom wall. My room had a huge bathtub covered in Spanish tile and a separate relaxation/meditation room with large windows and a long cushioned bench for lounging or reading.
There was plenty of hot water and a generous supply of biodegradable shampoos, conditioners, moisturizers and soaps in my stylish, immaculately clean bathroom. After a rejuvenating shower I felt genuinely clean for the first time since leaving Charleston. This was a welcome change after a week spent covered in Puerto Viejo grime- a combination of thick humidity, perspiration, mud and mosquito repellant. In Puerto Viejo it rained every day, and nothing, I mean nothing, ever dried. When I unzipped my backpack in my room at Rosa Blanca, I swore I detected a wave of the familiar Puerto Viejo scent- something akin to incense burning hippie backpackers. I fell into bed exhausted, smelling of citrus mint soap and talcum powder. The king bed at Rosa Blanca was so plush and luxurious and the high thread count sheets so crisp and inviting, I felt as if I were sleeping on a cloud.
Breakfasts at Rosa Blanca are hearty, delicious and complimentary for hotel guests. Rosa Blanca has all the qualities one would seek in a five star resort; fabulous cuisine, aesthetic detail, beautiful grounds, breathtaking views and a highly attentive staff. Allan at the reception desk and Shirley, the general manager, were extremely patient and reassuring as I struggled through my many travel related questions and challenges. Glenn and Terri Jampol, the owners of the hotel, are originally from California but now maintain Costa Rican citizenship. It is clear that Rosa Blanca is near and dear to both of their hearts, as Glenn’s late mother envisioned and designed the place, and nurtured the hotel through its infancy. Their two daughters grew up at Rosa Blanca, surrounded by their beloved dogs, cats, horses, friends and family. Both Glenn and Terri have traveled extensively and offer a wealth of information on Central America. They clearly enjoy dining and mingling with their guests over fine wine and cuisine, sharing many laughs and candid stories of how two former laid back Berkeley students decided to a build life in Costa Rica.
I was delighted to experience a surprise Cimarrona performance (local music group) during my stay at Rosa Blanca. In the midst of dinner Terri rose from her seat and started dancing, encouraging all the guests and employees in the dining room to join her in a joyful explosion of song and dance. Within minutes every person in the room was dancing; feet were stomping, hands were clapping and the previously quiet dining room was transformed into a celebration of music and life.
If you travel through Costa Rica, it would be shame to pass through San Jose without a stay at Rosa Blanca. It is the perfect home base for resting and rejuvenating, as many popular tourist destinations in Costa Rica require a transfer through San Jose. If you are interested in taking a tour of the coffee plantations, visiting a volcano or scheduling a horseback riding adventure, be sure to contact the Rosa Blanca staff ahead of time. Allan, Barbara or Shirley will be happy to assist you. Should you decide to hire a private guide to transport you around the local area or even on a longer journey, Manolo and Jose are wonderful, reliable guides and both men speak fluent English.
Jose and his beautiful little girl Catalina escorted me from San Jose to Playa Nosara, and I could not have felt more safe or comfortable had I traveled alongside a dear friend. Jose is one of the kindest souls I encountered during my time in Costa Rica. I learned many lessons from Jose through his strong family values and simplistic approach to life. Jose explained that in his small town on the outskirts of San Jose, most people live in close proximity to their extended family members, allowing for a solid network of social/emotional support. Jose’s children have never been left with a babysitter, as their grandparents all live within a five mile radius and participate closely in the childrearing process. According to Jose, this is the norm in Costa Rica.
Jose stated that he does not know any child with a diagnosis of ADHD or a prescription for stimulant medication, and he attributed this striking cultural variation to the highly attentive parenting style common in tico families. Jose shared that one of his siblings experienced a messy divorce, and the negative impact on the children involved was quite notable and disturbing. This is not the case in his family, Jose explained, as his wife is always available to help Catalina with her homework after school and ensure that the work is completed. In the rare event that a babysitter is needed, there is always a grandparent, aunt or uncle in close proximity, readily available to provide childcare. Jose explained that in his town life revolves around the family; close relatives fulfill not only essential roles but social/recreational needs as well.
Jose stated that his birthday is tomorrow, and he is very excited to have the day off from work. “Are you planning anything special?” I inquired. “Yes,” Jose replied. “We are planning a family barbeque”. “Are you expecting many guests”? I inquired. “No”, Jose replied, “it is just my wife and children, and I would not want it any other way.”