Costa Rica 2011
Day 2 Monday 11th April
We left the hotel at about 6.00am in a minibus that stopped at other hotels where other passengers joined us. Then it became our turn to join other passengers on a bigger bus.
There followed a long drive through the cloud forest and central volcanic mountain range. At one point the tour guide got the driver to stop while we marveled at the peaks of two volcanoes in the far distance. Apparently views such as this were extraordinarily rare, though we nonchalantly refrained from taking photos as our itinerary would later be taking us right to the shadow of Mount Arenal, the meanest, most active volcano in Central America. These volcanoes were but the breasts of a young girl in comparison, albeit lumpy, unevenly sized and with one of them belching wisps of smoke.
We enjoyed a breakfast of rice and beans and fried eggs in a delicious tomato sauce, then climbed back on the bus to continue our drive towards the small, staging post-like town where we would swap our air-conditioned coach for a windowless and rather more enjoyable river boat.
The journey to Pachira Lodge in the Tortuguero National Park took another one and a half hours, but it was along a beautiful green-banked river that lazily wound its way in a general easterly direction towards the Caribbean coast.
We got to the lodge at about lunchtime. We were right on the edge of the national park and were surrounded by howler monkeys, a huge variety of weird birds and ‘soft porcupines’. What, like wimpish? We never found out. The pool was warm. The dining was regimented. The cuisine, as it would be for almost every meal in every location and at every time of day, was rice-and-beans based.
Our rooms had an unusual construction resulting in us being able to hear almost every breath of our neighbours. Luckily we weren’t in the room for long as, would you believe it, we had to be up at 4.45am the next morning in order to meet Barbara, our guide for a canoe trip through the canals.
Day 3 Tuesday 12th April
Honestly, why all the fuss? It’s just an ant.
Definitely worth the early rise. The sun was hot by 7.00am and rowing could have been hard work had we been putting our backs into it, but as Barbara explained it was all about enjoyment ‘not velocity’. The scenery was indeed fantastic, and we saw loads of birds and monkeys and even a cayman. Rowing was definitely the best way to witness all this, and we looked disdainfully at the noisy motorboats with their hapless passengers being driven about.
We finished at 8am then raced back to the lodge, changed into shoes and socks, then took a water taxi straight back across the rive to eat a huge and expensive breakfast. The reason we were back was because we’d also booked a guided walk with Barbara through the national park.
You needed a guide. Not just because you could get lost or injured but because it was the law. The risks were very real. Rest your hand in the wrong place and a bullet ant could sting you, leading to 24 hours of unimaginable pain.
We saw howler monkeys, spiders and whiteface monkeys, quite a few snakes and a sad, rather baggy-skinned iguana that we gingerly edged past despite it looking decidedly knackered. Every so often we caught a glimpse of the Caribbean through the foliage. The noise was the best thing; a constant soundtrack of chirruping, grunting, clicking and howling. And that was just us.
We got very hot by the time we finished and took the water taxi back to the lodge for lunch. A quick dip in the pool and a doze until 7.30pm when we had dinner of rice, beans, plantains and fish, or variations thereof. Then it was our fifth water taxi of the day for our final meeting with Barbara, this time to see green turtles emerging from the sea to lay their eggs.
For an hour from 10pm we walked south along the beach, our way illuminated by the stars and by the curiously inverted half-moon. Conversation was kept to a minimum but it was far from quiet, with the constant background noise of waves crashing onto the dark volcanic sands of the beach and the occasional screech of some unidentified bird or animal.
At around 11pm we stopped for a rest for a bit, then turned around and for another hour we walked north, back to where we’d started. We came across some day-old turtle tracks, but nothing more than that. A bit disappointing in that respect, but still an experience we’ll never forget. The beach at night, with the black jungle on one side and the churning waves of the Caribbean on the other, was a mysterious and wondrous place.
By the time we got back to the lodge the bar had closed, which was probably just as well.
Next time: Hammocks, hummingbirds and ho-hum service