This post is reprinted from my August 30, 2011 column in Mount Vernon Patch.
I’m writing this week’s column sitting on the breezy patio of Mango Moon, a charming boutique hotel outside Manuel Antonio National Park on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica. It’s no easy task, as the sweeping view of the Pacific Ocean keep pulling my eyes away from the computer screen. Hard to believe this was Plan B.
It sounded perfect. After a week of hiking, zip-lining and horseback riding with friends at Arenal Volcano, we would travel to the off-the-beaten path Caribbean Coast for surfing and snorkeling. Months ago, I’d booked seven nights at what seemed like the ideal accommodations: a two-bedroom jungle lodge with an outdoor kitchen and hammocks on the porch. I’d been talking up the lodge to my three boys for months.
The website promised a back-to-nature experience with the comforts of home. It may indeed have felt like home if you happen to live up the street from a loud and angry revival church which broadcasts its beliefs nightly through the steamy jungle air. Their yells were only broken by the sounds of our hands smacking our bodies at the constant barrage of bugs which had stealthily found their way through the holes in our mosquito nets. The five a.m. rooster and stray dog concertos ensured we got no more than a few hours of sleep a night.
The dreamy open-air kitchen on which I’d fantasized cooking simple dinners was not only the hottest spot in the place, it was also the buggiest. My sweaty hour-long attempt at cooking spaghetti over the lukewarm hotplate while being devoured by bugs was the first and only time I tried to cook anything beyond cereal and sandwiches.
At least we had the lovely waterfall swimming pool to look forward to. After all, this was what led me to choose this hotel. The murky green water pit was flanked by an old faded sign informing us that the pool would be closed for 24 hours for observation. So much for that.
It wasn’t all bad. We spent our days snorkeling right off a beautiful deserted cove of crystal-clear water and surfing in warm water at Manzanillo. We hiked in Cahuita National Park and saw monkeys, frogs, lizards and colorful crabs. But after three nights of little sleep and a growing collection of unidentifiable insect bites, we faced facts. It was time to get the heck out of this jungle lodge.
Bleary-eyed, I explained to the owner that even though we’d booked a week, we just couldn’t spend another night in the lodge. “I know,” she replied, “I can never sleep here either.” We were packed and ready to go within the hour.
As soon as we pulled out of the driveway, we visibly relaxed. I realized that changing plans mid-vacation isn’t waving a white flag of surrender, it is being smart. With scarce vacation time and money, when the going gets tough, smart travelers get going.
We’re now enjoying breathless views, sleeping through bug-free quiet nights, and swimming in a beautiful pool.
Plan B never felt so good.