¡Aye, Caribe!

Three days since I’ve posted when we were in Cahuita. We’ve been in Puerto Viejo for 3 nights now. Our routine has been disturbed. Not that that’s negative or to be unexpected when traveling. Today, I felt a strong urge to change the routine that had displaced our usual one. So, here I am, on my own, having cafe con leche in Soda Francia. The boys went to breakfast earlier, before I was ready. The boys are Charlie, his old friend Jerry who happened to be here at the same time and Jerry’s friend, John. We New Mexicans have been tripping around Puerto Viejo for the past few days and it’s been a treat to hang with them – thoughtful, well-traveled, good coversationalists, and easy going. They’ve showed us some of their favorite places to eat and beaches to hang. Today, though, I felt a strong desire to be on my own. It’s a safe place, Charlie won’t be too nervous about leaving me, and the boys may well play poker on the beach.

There are many, many women traveling solo, and of all ages. It’s heartening to see. I sometimes wonder at their audacity. Then remember that I did the same thing for a bit after leaving Rhode Island.

Since arriving here we have seen a number of sloths that eluded us in other places. Well, we saw them, but only as small, round balls resting high up in the trees. Here we have come upon three in action. One climbing up after the weeky poo, another climbing down for his weekly, and the third just hanging from a vine, suspended between trees. They are darling creatures to watch as they make their s l o w progress.

I’ve been swimming in three beaches: Playa Negra on the day of arrival. Not the prettiest, but good waves for riding and easy walking distance.

Play Negra at sunset with washed up boat.
Another black beach, this one in Manzanillo. The sand is so very fine.
From Playa Cocles or maybe Punta de Uva – small shells wash up in various parts of these beaches so the sand is courser.
Can’t take them with me as they are a part of the biodiversity protected by national law.

A great thing about the beaches here is the availablity of shade. Trees grow right up to ocean’s edge and hang over. There’s also plenty of space – no overcrowding here. The beaches are long; I wander off taking a dip at will. I guess when I consider it, no where in the world have I been to beaches that are crowded like they are in Rhode Island with blankets and bodies lying hem to hem, music from a hundred tinny speakers adding to the cacaphony of gulls, waves, children’s shrieks, adult shouts and murmurs. It has its own charm, really and I always loved it. Even now, the images in my mind of those days are sharp and clear and beloved. I hear the sounds, I see the sparkling blue waves, feel the cold of the Atlantic and the smell of tanning lotion. Which I guess is now replaced with the smell of sunscreen.

There are also plenty of rip currents. I don’t think I’ve been to a beach here that hasn’t had a warning sign. At Playa Cocles yesterday, the waves were irregular. Coming in horizontally, as well as diagonally from left and right. Sometimes a wave rolling out hit one rolling in. They crash into each other with a great burst of spray. The undertow is strong; the pull of it a reminder of the mighty force of water. I was called out of the ocean by a lifeguard. Only surers are allowed out. I am seriously considering going somewhere for a month to learn how to surf next winter. Further down the beach wasn’t much different, but the few lifeguards kept an eye of us.

Blue herons abound here on the east coast from Tortuguero on. Ed snapped this beauty.
The view from our patio. Rooms are offset so that each patio is not visible to the one next door, making for a private space. Each also has a hammock, ideal for reading, napping, dreaming.

There are plenty of tourists, but the only time it feels crowded here is walking or biking the main road and a few of the more popular dining establishments. Otherwise there is a quiet peacefulness to this little town that one can walk the length and breadth of in about a half hour. Still, there are plenty of sodas, upscale restaurants, tiendas, and even two supermercados. I’d return.

Collect call!

Too late to travel?

This is the third place we have stayed that provides hot water using electric shower heads. It’s a pretty simple design. There is a 220 volt heating coil inside the head, that is activated by a pressure switch. You turn on the water and when the pressure is high enough the contacts close and electricity flows through the coil. You know when the pressure is high enough because that’s when the ceiling light dims.

This is probably not allow by the authority having jurisdiction for your home

You adjust the water temperature by adjusting the water flow rate. You can not adjust the head position. I found that out when I tried. When water flows through an electric field it is likely to pick up a charge, or at least the water provides a low impedence path to the service entrance that might include the user’s wet body. In other words, I got quite a zap.

Learning that failure effect by direct experience is chilling I might say. The sole safety to prevent an electrocution is a grounding wire that passes through a couple chambers in the shower head. Apparently this is an attempt to dissipate any electrical charge in the water. I would classify that solution as “sub-optimal.”

I learned about the design and construction of this device by watching a Youube video wherein a Scandinavian man disassembled one of these units and described his observations in a very interesting combination of English and Scandinavian tongues.

This is one of the many observations that lead me to think it may be becoming too late in history to travel to foreign lands. Lands are not quite as foreign as they used to be.

Twenty years ago you would not expect hot water in many accomodations in Costa Rica. You also would not have internet access for instructional videos.

We have mosquito nets poised above our bed, but we do not need them since the windows are all well screened. And we don’t need to worry about currency exchanges because credit cards are accepted almost everywhere. It is very easy and convenient to travel here, and it will become somewhat more so when the highway expansion project is complete.

Puerto Viejo has been here since before there were roads to this region. Now there are paved roads between San Jose and Puerto Viejo. The principal route is slower than usual since a massive construction effort to expand the highway is underway. It is very convenient to travel her and will be somewhat more so when the project is complete.

Of course the place is filled with tourists from around the world. Many from Europe, Argentina, Canada, and the US. Prices have increased considerably over the years as the area has become a playground for rich people like us. And hippies.

Land values near the beach areas are very high and much of the land has been absorbed by the tourist industry. Hotels, restaurants, and various stores take up nearly the whole of the Centro. We see abandoned buildings under renovation, and it is clear the economy is humming along famously for now.

Today Paula and I rented bicycles for the day. As we rode in town before dark I saw three local men walking up a hill leaving town. I imagined they were heading home following a day’s work and I considered what if must be like to be relocated from your village while the investors and entrepreneurs took it over. Where capital moves in people move out, it seems.

I do not get any sense of resentment from the local people we have encountered. Has here been a sufficient improvement in standard of living to make the loss of one’s home acceptable? The salutation is well earned by the people here. Pura Vida.

I figure if you have read this far you may have expected a photo or two. I’ll leave you with one, an a promise to post more in the next day or two.

You don’t need to see the Sun set to see a great Sunset.

Memorable Moments

Back to the rain. I really love it. I love the sound of it. I live the smell of it. I love the feel of it. I live being in it, yet protected from it. Always have. Yesterday afternoon we stopped into a small bar on the river. Perched upon our stools, overlooking the water, we were served the ice coldest beers ever. In moments the place was packed with others. Maybe the sky looked ominous and we hadn’t noticed, because within moments, rain visited again. It never seems to out stay its welcome.

The boat ride to Tortuguero that took 1.5 hours, was considerably shortened on the return trip this morning. Smaller boat, fewer people, and Ed is convinced, a younger, more testosterone driven pilot. We really leaned into river bends.

Capuchin white faced monkey in Cahuita National Park as I walked along the beach. It feverishly ate some unripe fruit, biting and scraping with its paws and throwing it to the ground after a few unsatisfying bites. Yet it seemed to think that each new one would yield something different. The beach was littered with discarded, rejected fruit.

Alban. We took our Rebel IPAs to the wall overlooking the beach. A flashlight kept illuminating the water. Alban appeared. “Qué busca? I asked. And he was off in a torrent of Spanish anecdotes about people and experiences he’d had as an employee of the national park system and pura vida of his respect for everyone because pura vida we all bleed red and of the mirador La Merced, which we really must visit y, y, y. I understood a lot and I missed a lot. Oh, he was looking for shrimp. Sometimes good size ones wash up on shore. Alban. What a great guy.

Finding Magic Flowers B and B. The need for wifi brings business to many restaurants. Dr Google brought us to the park entrance not to Magic Flowers. What a name. The magic is in the low cost. It’s a one night stand, all right? It took some sleuthing and asking around and walking around to find this place. The employees are all very sweet and pura vida kind. And there are two of the most beautiful children- a boy of about 3 and a girl of about 1, Antoine and Sai, respectively.

Best spot in a rainstorm
Mid day soak
I love the cup. Great coffee at Thirema in Tortuguero. Excellent brownie, too.
Early morning canoe trip.
Caiman (just the head)
Cahuita – aaaahhh

¿Pura Lluvia?

Pure rain? Not really, but truly some grand downpours. First one of the day around 5 am – just when we were getting up to go for our canoe trip. But then it stopped before we left the cabina. Then once out on the river it started again. Then just as suddenly ended. And so it went throughout the day. Rain comes and goes so quickly here!

Sometimes you can hear its approach. Other times you can see it. The sky darkens in the distance, foreboding and challenging in its incontrovertible menace. Nah! It’s just rain, and warm rain at that. It came down so hard while we walked the beach that I stopped to catch it on my tongue. Way better than snowflakes.

Speaking of the beach, I said yesterday that I would go in the ocean today. That was before I read that it’s teeming with sharks and razor toothed barracuda. As I didn’t see any locals (or anyone) trying to ride the waves, I decided to trust in their knowledge and experience. It’s a bit haunting to see a large expanse of beach and rolling waves in a tropical locale that are virtually empty. It’s also quite peaceful.

Castor our guide for the canoe tour was brilliant, taking the boat in to challenging places and stopping to ensure we could see what he saw. And if you didn’t, you better look again and attune your eyeballs or he’d call you blind. “There! There! There!” he’d shout and point with finger or green light. His eyes could pick out an iguana’s leafy looking tail on a leafy tree limb high above. Or the brown furry ball that was a sloth. Spider and howler monkeys cavorting. Green backed, blue, and other herons, ahingas, caimans.

And he made sure we saw them too. 31 years of experience, learned from dad.

A wonderful day in another paradise.

One of the benefits of being a budget traveler is that recovery from a mistake may not be very costly. Before coming to Tortuguero we questioned whether we should stay two or three nights, and being the happy go lucky people we are, we paid three nights in advance.  That was a mistake (just as far as we are concerned).  Two nights will be enough for us so we will forgo one nights rent and catch the early shuttle to La Pavona in the morning.

We have no complaints, except maybe we should have spent more on the hotel.   It’ been great to be here.  The weather has been nice, even though we’ve sampled a lot of rain.   We are leaving early because we have the choice to do more of what we did today or head off to a new location.  Which is what we will do.

Tortuguero is an interesting town. The national park (since 1995) is the focal point of tourism for the area, and many resorts and eco-resorts in the area, and a number of hotels and hostels in the town. The town is maybe 200 meters in length, and fills most of the space between the main canal and the Caribbean Sea (200 meters or so). Calle Principal runs between the national park entrance on one end and a resort hotel on the other. Along the street are shops, sodas (casual eating, generally family owned), tour operators, travel agents, restaurants and curio stores. The main tourist attractions involve being on the water, unless you are walking on the beach or around town, eating drinking or drinking, eating. We have six more nights to be on the coast and will be spending them elsewhere.

This morning we went for a canoe tour of the park by an independent guide who has been giving tours for 31 years. He is at least second generation guide in this area.  Our hotel and many internet sites warn that you should book through a tour company rather than going with an independent, but that would have been a mistake. Castor was a fabulous guide. He was knowledgeable and observant and had a very cheerful disposition.

Our tour started at early o-dark thirty (545 AM in real time). This is both before the park’s ticket office opens and before the sun rises. That didn’t matter, though since the clouds never lifted and we could not see the sun. We were first in a very long line, and were able to be the first canoe in the water, getting into a number of areas before the larger tour groups, particularly the ones from the nearby resorts.  Castor pointed out a large number of creatures we would not have seen with a lesser guide.  He also chided us in a good natured way for being blind and unable to see what was right before us. He took us into channels where he had to chop through branches with a machete.

For two and a half hours he pointed out spider monkeys, howler monkeys, foosinter monkeys, Macaws, toucans, lizards, caiman, and sloth and many variety of heron. It was a fire hose of sensory experience.

After a long walk on the beach, which ended well after the rain began, we came to feel that we have done what we wanted to do here and rather than hang out for a day we’d head on to Cahuita, a village on the coast at the entry to another nature preserve.

A second benefit of being a budget traveler is that we have more opportunity to at least sample the life of the folks who live here. Starting about four o’clock the shuttle boats from the resorts start showing up, filling up, and draining the town of tourists. There are those like us that stay, wandering on the Calle Principal for a while, and who drift off to restaurants, bars and hotels. That is when the families take over the park and plaza. Children play with the kind of enthusiasm I recall from the time we still had neighborhoods in the US.

Although Tortuguera is a destination location for tourists, I get no sense that the merchants and businesses take advantage of the isolation. You cannot get here except by boat and most things they have to sell are imported. Yet the prices at restaurants and shops are in line with what we would expect to pay in San Jose or Heredia. Except wine — that cost way too damn much. Paula reminds me: “we haven’t been to Heredia.” I say, “of course, but I can still have expectations of what I would pay there.”

Paula wants me to start a new blog. she thinks I should call it Sabelotodo.

The internet is really slow in this hotel, so no photos tonight. We’ll see how it goes in Cahuita. Perhaps we can catch up then.

Pura vida, amigos.

Pura Vida

Often when you ask someone how it’s going here in Costa Rica, the response is “Pura Vida!” Or if you thank someone for letting you in traffic. Or if you do something for someone. It’s good to keep in mind.

Our hostel room here in Tortuguero is a bit grim. It’s clean and has the basic, albeit very minimal, amenities, but the overhead bare bulb casts a pall over the room. On the pura vida other hand it’s quiet, away from Calle Principal and thumping disco beats. It also looks a lot like many of the homes on the island. And truly pura vida – the ocean surf can be heard just 60 yards away! The three beaches I’ve been to in Costa Rica all post signs warning of danger – strong currents and rip tides. The waves here seem to roll in non-stop. I’ll give it a go tomorrow after our canoe tour.

Stopped in a tiny (2 tables) Soda on the way here today and had one of the most delicious chicken empanadas and fresh piña liquados ever. Empanada made with corn. We already plan to stop again on the way back.

I should mention that the only way to Tortuguero is by boat. We left the car in a paid secure parking lot at the embarcadero. Then took a long, low slung boat down river. It was peaceful – yes, even with the roar of the engine. I saw an iguana, a caiman, a few herons, and white egrets. They have bright yellow feet, long and slender like their necks.

So, no cars here! All the locals wear flip flops (chanclas) or go barefoot. Ate a savory pork, cheese, and bean pupusa in a park by the river and watched kids playing. There was quite an age range and they all were having a riot of a time, the shrieks and giggles and guffaws a delight to hear.

For high season, it’s not all that crowded here. Though it could be that high season for Tortuguero is when the turtles are active.

Another great day in another part of another paradise – ¡pura vida!

And so we are

Years ago when I was a lowly compliance officer for OSHA o was scheduled to inspect s construction site in the mountains of northern New Mexico. After a bit of wandering I found the project superintendents trailer, presented my credentials, and described the process of inspection, citations, fines, and speaks.

The super told me I would likely not going the actual construction site on my own, and should ride with him in his 4wd pickup. After a half hour crossing streams and climbing hills we reached a meadow where he stopped the truck, shut off the engine, turned to me and said, “you and I are the only people who know where you are right now, and I bet you’re not to sure yourself.”

The feeling I had them was a lot like how I felt this afternoon on the boat from La Pavona to Tortuguero. The trip took over an hour and I lost track of the number of twists and turns cruising past mangroves and crocodiles. The sky was overcast and it rained during most of the journey.

It was an invigorating experience that was a fitting end for the drive from the central valley. We had been told the Caribbean coast is lusher than anywhere else in Costa Rica: I was skeptical of that claim until I saw for myself. The jungle is impenetratingly dense to the point that it is frightening. It is a wonder that humans could carve out enough of the jungle to make settlements.

But carve they did, to the point that we drive for a considerable time past enormous fields of trees: piña, coco, banana, papaya. The farms had good old family names, like Del Monte and Dole. In that area the air was dense with smoke from where the grocers were being cleared.

We have settled into a small hotel that has internet so slow we cannot upload photos. For the next few days will just send narratives and catch up with photos from Puerto Viejo next week.

I am a bit disappointed that we missed the spectacular eruption of Volcan Rincon Vieja today. I’ll probably think about that tonight and dream about earthquakes and tsunamis and wonder how to find the evacuation route.

More later. “Pura vida,” as they say in these parts.