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"Easy" Living in Costa Rica

"Easy" Living in Costa Rica: Harmony Hotel

Martin Marks

Between the heat, the yoga, and the surfing, Nosara seems to be a magnetic vortex of calories, and I’ve often told friends visiting down here, “Today is the day you will eat the most food you’ve ever eaten in your entire life.”

This presupposes that you’re going to be eating a whole lot of food today, and even more food tomorrow. After several months of this cycle, my 4:30 a.m. breakfast generally consists of two to three bowls of granola, a hearty meal in and of itself—made even heartier in that I’ve started cutting my almond milk with coconut milk, and because there are 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. breakfasts to follow, and also because I’ve only just finished “deakfast,” the meal I’ve inserted between dinner and breakfast to tide me over.

Alas, procuring food is another adventure unto itself. On my side of town, you buy most of your groceries from one of two mini-markets, or the liquor store, each of which is vaguely interchangeable (there seems to be a greater selection of produce at the liquor store) and rather small—which isn’t all that bad, considering the terminal at Nosara’s airstrip is about the size of your average 7-Eleven. On one of my brisk afternoon walks, I’ll purchase red wine and mopping-up liquid at one store, a loaf of bread, a stick of butter, and a bag of rice at the other, and a few carrots at the liquor store. And somehow—somehow—this shall become dinner.

When without an ATV (or a friend with an ATV) to zip along Nosara’s dusty dirt roads, I tend toward doing most of my shopping at Organico, not just because its refrigerator case has the one commodity most prized among New Yorkers—prepared foods—but also because the owner, Fritz, has been down here for a good long while. He’s a former executive-type from D.C.—Nosarians tend to ask few questions about peoples’ pasts—though you wouldn’t know it from the looks of him, as he now seems to live the life often idealized in a Jimmy Buffett song, and dispenses wisdom about the goings-on around town, how to take care of your allergies, or where to find items not readily available in his store.

Fresh produce comes from the aptly named Fruit Truck, which sounds a whole lot more exotic and colorful than it is. The Fruit Truck is, quite literally, a flatbed truck that comes to town several times a week, dark and hot, into which you climb, finding a central aisle flanked by two rows of crates filled with mangoes, cabbages, beets, and plantains. Though utilitarian in its layout, to be sure, the Fruit Truck is essential to daily living around here. It is not to be confused with the specialty Mango Truck, Pineapple Truck, Hammock Truck, Wicker Rocking-Chair Truck, or especially the Fish Truck, from whence, as the name would suggest, we get our fish.

On Tuesday mornings, an organic market takes place on an abandoned lot near the beach. Those who haven’t placed an order have to get there early. Under the shade of a thatched roof of browning palm leaves, the scene is like the Royal Enclosure at Ascot (sans racehorses) for surfers and yogis, each seeking some fresh honey, organic coffee, or that Holy Grail of vegetables—kale.

Those lucky enough to hitch a ride on the back of an ATV, and can manage unscathed against the potholes and dust, often submit to the temptation of the Super Nosara, located just near the airstrip. Perhaps the largest store this side of Nicoya, the Super Nosara seems to be constructed from the remnants of an old cargo hangar. Before I’d ever been, based on word of mouth alone, I had wild fantasies of this place. The Super Nosara, I thought, where all my hopes and dreams would come true.

In retrospect, however, a more apt motto might be, The Super Nosara: More of the usual, in bigger containers, for a dollar or two less. The store does have its benefits, namely, that you can buy housewares there, which, in their communal uniformity, still lend an element of surprise when placed in a home. A resident might have repainted, refurbished, added another wing, or installed a helicopter landing pad to their home, and guests will tend toward the kitchen, take a startled look beside the sink, and, between sips of chilled red wine from coffee mugs and mayonnaise jars, excitedly ask, “Is that a new dish rack??”

There is, of course, a solution that the very dear friend who introduced me to Nosara once proposed: to eat each and every meal at a restaurant. The ur-restaurants of Nosara’s dining are the Gilded Iguana and Café de Paris, in that they were, for a good long while, the only two restaurants down here. A long-term resident fondly recalls how, back in the day, the Gilded Iguana had a very high bar-top, so that travelers on horseback wouldn’t have to dismount in order to get a drink.

My friend, however, was specifically referring to the dining room at the Harmony Hotel (pictured). They (frequently) have Wi-Fi! And (sometimes) fish tacos! And (invariably) their own dish-racks! And their own supply of kale! Though the food is excellent, the costs of this can soon add up.

After morning yoga practice, I enjoy having my (second) breakfast at the Beach Dog Café. They like to play Bob Marley, and I usually get the banana pancakes. (They’ll add chocolate chips if you ask them very nicely.) These days, I try to pick a table closer to the center of the restaurant, because, apparently, there have been reports of a nine-foot boa constrictor loose somewhere in the vicinity, and it’s all fun and games till you lose a leg (or a pet) to a boa constrictor.

For lunch, I tend toward Robin's Café and Ice Cream. They serve breakfast all day, in case your first three breakfasts weren’t enough, and their wraps and sandwiches make for a wonderful post-breakfast lunch, and all of the food is made from scratch. Robin is, in fact, an actual person—and, in fact, an ordained Zen Buddhist nun—who makes the homemade ice cream, which, having been sampled, would prove a decadent temptation to even a Trappist monk. Standing guard at the front of the café’s patio is Robin’s very adorable dog, Betty. You may pet Betty, but only if she seems willing, and only if you ask Robin first.

The Harbor Reef has its Taco Tuesdays; Marlin Bill’s has burgers on the menu and American football on the television; and Kaya Sol and Pacifico Azul offer up good Costa Rican fare. A well-timed late-afternoon walk on the beach lets you catch the spectacular sunsets at La Luna, where you can eat tuna that was caught sometime before you started your stroll.

If I’m out for dinner, you’ll usually find me at a tin-roofed structure just off the main road. This is Il Basilico, perhaps my favorite restaurant in Nosara. With its gravel floor, tables made from the cross sections of insanely large trees, and a proper brick pizza-oven, it’s a congregating point on Saturdays for a large swath of the surf-yoga population. I’m fairly convinced that the Focaccia Chandy, named after the proprietor and constructed of mozzarella, olives, and avocado, is addictive, it’s that good. And what’s more, they’re open late (read: past 8:30 p.m.).

But eating at one of Nosara’s restaurants can prove prohibitive in time, and doesn’t guarantee anything. There is no magical third-party supplier to the town’s dining establishments. For the most part, they get their food where we get our food, and they, too, will sometimes run out of ingredients—sometimes bafflingly random ones, like avocados, when there might be any number of trees containing ripe and harvestable multiples of the aforementioned fruit within your direct line of vision. The thought begins to cross your mind that you could have cooked some variation of this meal in your one pot and/or pan, without having to schlep back, after dark, to the comfort of your own home.

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