Malpais: We board a car ferry from Puntarenas across the gulf to the Nicoya Peninsula. Frigate birds and nazca boobies follow our progress in the cloudless blue sky. The Pacific coast is rainfree and sunny – a big change since we last saw it in Panama City.
An hour’s drive, clattering down potholed and stony roads brings us to the dusty one-street surfers’ village of Malpais, a mangrove-line stretch of beach with a few guesthouses and restaurants. We stay in timber cabins perched on a steep, forested hill, reached via precipitous gravel stairs lined by complex spiders’ webs and ant trails. Morning and evening, the rumble of howler monkeys reverberate through the trees to us in our cosy mosquito mesh curtains.
Hummingbirds and bats flutter around us, competing with giant butterflies and damselflies, their brilliant colours flittering in iridescence between the flower petals. A dinosaur lizard suns itself in the gutter, stilly ignoring the scuttlings and scratchings of possums and squirrels.
Nick finds a big scorpion on a shelf under my sun hat. He dispatches it swiftly. We’re told they usually have a partner and around 10 offspring with fearsome stings, so we nervously hunt our room for them. We don’t find them and that night, we sleep anxiously but uninterrupted. Maybe it was a bachelor scorpion.
We visit the country’s oldest national park, Cabo Blanco, hiking a stiff 4-hour trail up and down hills through secondary forest to the beach. Howler monkeys and capuchins play in the trees, a brightly coloured woodpecker bashes away at a trunk and two caotis emerge from the undergrowth. It’s a hot and humid walk, difficult for my parents who have come from the freezing snows of Europe to the sticky tropics. But the forest is prettily lit with dappled sprinkles of light through the canopy and it’s beautifully peaceful.
We spend the first day of 2011 on the beach with the hermit crabs, swimming in the ocean, watching pelican flybys and eating ceviche. Not a bad start to the year.