Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Costa Rica Part 1: San Jose to Tortuguero (and Back Again)

I don't even know how to begin writing about my grand solo adventure to Costa Rica...Every experience floats around in my memory so beautifully, but putting them into words is a feat almost impossible. Finding that common ground between my point-form trip journal and my full-bodied thoughts is going to be difficult, but for me, it's a little process I have to go through in order to capture those days before they become dim and disappear. I've decided to write about my trip in three parts, divided by city, so I only have to wrap my brain around one place at a time. I had been thinking about this trip for over five years, sometimes in the forefront (but held back by fear) and often pushed to the back of my mind, hiding there waiting for the right time to jump out and surprise me. When it finally did, it was one of the best experiences of my life, more magical than I ever could have imagined. I'm only now beginning to get over that feeling of heartache born from leaving that amazing country (though, make no mistake, I'm happy to be home with Shayne again)

After a couple flight delays, I arrived in San Jose just before midnight and bee-lined for the proper airport taxi stand, waving off all the ride-hawkers plaguing me from all sides. I didn't see much of the city at that hour, but my taxi driver chatted my ear off about all the wonderful things (and the not so wonderful things) about it. Up and down the hilly, cobbled roads flanked by both male and female prostitutes, I was dropped at my B&B, the Hemingway Inn (which offered "writting classes") and crashed into bed in my bare bones room after fumbling with local currency (which is in the thousands...) and heeding the warnings of not going out after dark on my own.

Next morning, 6am, the front door gate-unlocking buzzer sounded (I'll never forget that buzzer as it went off at all hours) and there was Modesto, new friend-to-be, smiling beside his Chevy astro van telling me to hop up in front, and that I was to be his navigator for the next four hours, as the main road was closed due to protesters, so we'd be taking the unfamiliar back-roads instead, through Cariari, Pavona and onto Tortuguero. We stopped off first and picked up Jen and Anthony, a couple from Calgary who would be my travel companions and friends for the next three days.

Driving those back-roads was like driving on the surface of the moon, crater sized pot-holes, roads that were (in Modesto's words) "holy vs. righteous" and punctuated with "sleeping policemen" (aka: speedbumps) Hours of driving through banana plantations, armies of vine-bushes, hibiscus walls and poor-man's umbrellas, we made it to the shore and transferred to Modesto's red and white boat, spending the next hour speeding through rivers and canals to Tortuguero. The sound of cicadas overwhelmed even the boat motor. Howlers and toucans up in the trees...

After traveling all morning, we pulled into the docks at Laguna Lodge, home for the next three days, and scorched under the hot Caribbean sun as we spotted tree-frogs, hedgehogs and basilisk lizards. By that time all I could think of was pool! pool! pool! (so glad I booked a place with a pool...what a luxury, as the sea was too rip-tidey for swimming) Giant four-foot long iguanas lumbered by on the pool deck, dinosaurs they are! I spent the rest of the day walking/lounging all alone on Tortuguero beach, not a single soul for miles and miles, only me and sand too hot for bare feet, then a little swing in a hammock (best invention really).  

That night, Jen, Anthony, Modesto and I sat by the river under the moon and talked about life for many hours. Modesto, a Nicaraguan/Mosquito Coast Indian told us all about his days a revolutionary, rallying against Cuban military until the corruption got too intense, so he left it all behind for a simpler life as a riverboat guide. We spoke about the beauty of just "being" and living life for love, and that night I was unable to process anything except pure joy.

Photo by Jen

The next morning, we were back on board the tiny riverboat and floated silently down Palm River after Modesto killed the motor so we could experience the peace of the jungle surrounding us. Spider monkeys played in the treetops above, and howlers croaked all around, toucans, turtles and giant birds of all kinds... We spent a few hours in the 'bustling metropolis' of Tortuguero Village...population: 700. A completely pedestrian town, no vehicles beyond the boats on the river. Main Street was merely a sidewalk, and the walk from one end of town to the other took about ten minutes.

That night, after the sun had set, we motored off to the national park to see the giant Green Turtles nesting on the beach, which ended up being a crazy amazing experience I wasn't even expecting. We tromped through the dark jungle, flashlights in hand, careful not to step on bullfrogs along the way. The rain started falling, all three of us sticky and sweating under our rain coats. Once we emerged out of the woods, and onto the beach, we were told "lights off" and continued our walk in complete darkness, only hearing the waves of the Caribbean Sea crashing on the shore. The moon offered no light in the overcast sky, so we tripped along the beach, willing our eyes to adjust enough to see our guide in front of us with his small, red laser light. The rain began to fall even harder around us, and then we spotted the turtles. One crawling back to the sea, one digging her nest in the sand and one in the process of laying her eggs; hundreds of ping-pong ball sized eggs plopping into the nest she had just created. I could reach out and touch her giant shell...

We ended that night sitting at the bar over-hanging the river until long after it was closed with many bottles of Imperial lined up in front of us. It was our last night in Tortuguero and we wanted to enjoy it as late as we could. Our bar tender was happy to let us hang out there as long as we liked. I found this often in my travels, how relaxed the locals were; always willing to sit with you and let you kick back and enjoy everything.  When we were returning to our rooms, we noticed how many huge frogs had jumped into the swimming pool (cheeky cheeky) ...but these little guys remained under the shelter of giant trees.

The next morning we were back in the boat, sadly heading back to the astro van for the drive back to San Jose. We dropped off Jen and Anthony in Cariari (which was my first sad goodbye), and Modesto and I continued on together, just the two of us, to the city. He and I had a wonderful talk about life. He told me I beam positivity and goodness, and that this trip will be all I've ever hoped it would be. He said "every meeting is a sacred one" and that ours was no exception. Saying goodbye to Modesto was my second sad goodbye. I can become attached to people quickly, and nostalgia gets me every time. It's perhaps a character flaw, or perhaps it's not.

We reached San Jose around lunch time, and I checked back into the Hemingway Inn, same room as three days before, number 16, the Pamplona room. This time, it felt different, I had found my travel groove by this point, so I loved my little bare bones room with an appreciation I didn't have the last time.

Since I had hours before the sun went down, I decided to go out and explore the city, which was crazy after the lazy rivers of Tortuguero! I was on my own completely here, no more travel friends, but I found that I was an excellent travel companion. I got lost immediately, but I liked walking around with myself, quickly needing to figure out how the streetlights worked there, and needing to get comfy jay-walking in insane traffic.  I had been told that it's best not to identify yourself as a tourist too much (by pulling out a map every five minutes) as then you'd label yourself as a target for petty theft.  So, a little trick of mine: instead of pulling out a map constantly, and looking like the lost tourist I was, I took photos of my map with my iphone, so every time I had to refer to it, I just looked like a gal texting on her cel phone. Worked like a charm.

At one point mid afternoon, I could feel my sandal start to loosen and fall apart (gah! I was only three days into my trip) so shopping became necessary (and I don't much like shopping) I wracked my brain, and pulled up the few Spanish words I knew and went shopping for shoes (successfully) and found I love speaking Spanish. By this time, I was so hungry and desperate to find somewhere to eat that was not Quiznos or Pizza Hut...what is with the American invasion? I was disappointed with that, but I found a neat spot and finally had a beer in my hand.

As the sky began to grow dim, and I began noticing two guys trailing me in a city park, I realized that I was about to turn into a pumpkin, and my day was up. I headed back to the Hemingway, was buzzed in through the front-door gate, wrote in the back courtyard with a cat, and battled the chugging internet on the lobby computer until I fell into bed, blissful and full to brimming with joy, ready to get out of San Jose and continue my journey the next morning....

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

I have returned from beautiful Costa Rica!
I have so many words bouncing around in my head about this wonderful place, but so little time. 
I'll find those words soon enough...