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.