Day 1 – 23.7.13
Thought of the day: Failing to prepare is like preparing to fail.
It was 4.57, I woke up with the light breeze of the fan on my face. I beat the alarm by 3 minutes. I blinked and took a look at the unfamiliar surroundings of Andy’s sister’s bedroom and got a little rush of excitement as it finally dawned on me that it was time to go! I felt surprisingly good after just four hours of sleep and quickly realised the adrenaline had given me quite a lift.
phone, wallet, passport…..anything else I may or may not have forgotten had become irrelevant as I gazed at signs to central London that we cruised past in Andy’s dad’s Beema. A relatively quick and painless flight (no pun intended) through security left us with plenty of time to enjoy a breakfast-bap and some fresh orange juice and we were ready to fly!!
Heathrow to Toronto’s Pearson International Airport was swift and didn’t seem like the 7 hours that it actually was. From the airport we could see skyscrapers looming in the distance and the distinct outline of the CN Tower. The airport itself was a weird set up of narrow corridors that lead us out to a small plane that held no more than 70 passengers, at a guess, which would be our transport down to Huston Texas.
As we rose into the air I found my head pressed up against the window staring out into the symmetrical system of roads that stretched into the distance in perfectly straight lines. The land was so flat and highways could be seen stretching miles into the distance. We rose above a motor sports track that went in a circle which I could only assume was a NAS Car stadium. We passed a number of golf courses, baseball fields and, most impressive of all, American football fields that were clearly visible due to the bright coloured markings.
As we approached Huston I watched snaking rivers across the land and wondered how many creatures occupied the waters that could kill a man.
As we came into land you could see properties that backed onto the river with their own personal piers, two people we’re crashing along on their jet ski’s making large waves that could be seen from above.
The airport itself was everything I’d imagined America to be. Fast food restaurants, American diners, a group of stereotypical heavy-set black women rocked past having a laugh together in loud voices. We had an amazing burger and fries from a diner with a milk, or what should have been called a cream, shake that should have had its own diabetes health warning.
We wasted some time in the George Bush Intercontinental airport people watching. There was a short friendly guy who was in front of us at the check in at Heathrow who we decided to call Nick, simply because he was travelling to Nicaragua and a girl we named Nicky, for the same reason, who we overheard was from Reading. With five hours wasted it was finally time to board our third and final flight.
Sleep took over me on the flight and we arrived in San Jose, Costa Rica at about half 8 local time, 7 hours behind UK time, when it was surprisingly dark. Our bags both appeared unscathed and we made our way outside past all of the hustling taxi drivers to find a five foot nothing local named Alex who chivvied us to some seats to wait for our ride. We were joined by Casper (the friendly Dane) and jumped into a large taxi type vehicle. Ahead of us we could see rolling hills of bright lights. Every city looks similar at night-time but there was something a bit more special and exciting about this experience. We bobbed and weaved and beeped our way through traffic, under taking and over taking before pulling up 20 minutes later in time to check in to the Costa Rica Backpackers hostel.
We were very sceptical on arrival at the hostel as they pulled open a metal gate to let us in but our mood quickly brightened as the Bob Marley music playing in reception relaxed our mood and excitement took over. We took a look around the hostel with the little swimming pool, decking area with small hammocks, the bar area that served food and had a pool table.
Once we dumped our bags and had a much-needed wash in the temperamental showers that flicked between hot and cold water we had time to grab a beer and get some advice from some American girls, who barely paused for breath when telling us where to go and where not to go. Their enthusiasm for the country was definitely rubbing off on us.
Day 2 – 24.7.13
Thought of the day: Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift. That is why we call it the present.
We woke up feeling better than we thought we would, at early o’clock. I had no concept of what the time actually was but I knew that it was early. The weather was pretty cloudy but it was a fairly nice temperature. We decided to join a guy from our dorm in a little walk to find a local market he’d heard about.
We walked around San Jose for a while, following our new friends lead, I say a friend, neither of us could actually remember his name but we are still going to class him as a friend as he was a nice guy. I made the decision then and there that we were going to spend the time in Costa Rica following people that are more organised than ourselves.
We walked around in circles (or more accurately squares as the whole place is built up by identical looking blocks) for a while before stopping to try Churros from a local guy who found Andy’s attempt to order in Spanish rather amusing. The thing itself was a stick of what I’d describe as a doughnut covered in enough chocolate and toffee sauce to give me a sugar rush into next week.
We walked on along a high street, dodging traffic at the end of every block and finally found the indoor market. I was half expecting to be bombarded by every stall owner like the Turkish market I visited at Easter but was pleasantly surprised at the ease in which we were able to browse the stalls.
‘no comprendo español’ ( I don’t understand Spanish) got a laugh from a young girl trying to invite us in to a restaurant for lunch and I tried to communicate that we may return later. We took in the sites of local meat stores that seemed to sell every last part of a chicken down to the bone. Nothing wasted.
We sent our new found friend, who we started to refer to as Dave, to haggle us some fresh fruit. He came back with a mixture of apple, papaya and pineapple that came to an amazing £1 each after a moment to work out the exchange rate. Well I let Dave work it out and just took his word for it.
The apple was ok, the papaya; a traditional Costa Rican fruit was a new experience and probably an experience that I would repeat but the pineapple! Wow, the pineapple was something else, so much juice and flavour I would definitely be experiencing more of that over the next few weeks.
We somehow managed to zigzag our way back to our hostel and decided to relax by the pool for a few hours before heading back out to the market for food.
Before food we decided to go and buy our bus ticket for the next step of our trip. We received some directions from the woman at reception but something obviously got lost in translation as we managed to head about 6 blocks to the north when we were actually meant to be heading west. We decided to give up and instead went in search of food.
We found our way back to the market and sat down at a local restaurant type bar type diner or something along those lines. Once we were seated the waitresses kept talking very loudly in all directions, to what we were sure was nobody and we couldn’t work out what on earth was going on.
I ordered a Chorizo, or a pork sausage, with fries if you want the simple version and had a fresh watermelon juice to try and combat the unhealthy eating of the journey over to Costa Rica. The sausage was fairly nice and the drink refreshing but for less than £3 we could have no real complaints.
With full stomachs Andy and me split from Dave (who we found is actually called Lars and lived in Denmark until he was 9 and now speaks with a flawless upper class English accent) to try and find the bus station. We brought a map from a local book shop and armed with the vital information we made it to the bus station and purchased two tickets to Puerto Viejo on the Caribbean coast. We still had another two nights in San Jose but wanted to be sorted so the next day we could just relax and explore the city.
We made the relatively short and extremely simple trip back to the hostel to chill out and have a few drinks.
Day 3 – 25.7.13
Thought of the day: No plan’s a good plan.
We woke on what was our new friends last day with us. We realised that Dave, who we thought was called Lars Svensson was actually Sven Larsson. Easy enough mistake to make. We exchanged email details with the idea to perhaps meet up in Tortuguero.
Sven was to be replaced by a new friend: Chloe, who joined us on our days adventures.
In the morning (still with Sven who had to catch a bus at 11) we walked back to the market to purchase some more fresh fruit. We all thought that we would be able to find our way to the friendly lady that served us the previous day but a few hopeless circles of what was a very intricate and confusing little place we gave up and just went to one of the many fruit sellers.
We said our goodbyes to Dave A.K.A. Lars A.K.A. Sven and made our way towards the Costa Rican national football stadium which we had decided would be a cool thing to do when we saw it on the way to the hostel from the airport. Chloe decided to tag along with us as she had little else to do until her cousin arrived later in the day.
We got to the end of the pedestrian strip that was the town centre and made our way along a main rode with our newly acquired football as we knew that the stadium was surrounded by a huge park. The road was wide and the streets were cleaner than the town centre but every few hundred yards there was some kind of American takeaway. We walked past a KFC, a Pizza Hut, a Wendy’s and about 3 McDonald’s. The town centre and this road leading out were FULL of McDonalds! They were literally everywhere even a small McDonald’s ice cream stand.
After a 20 minute walk along this road we came to the park. The stadium was at the far end of a park that was buzzing with life! there were football matches going on in every direction that you looked. We followed the path along past a lake filled with ducks that were exotic colours and found our way to the stadium.
The stadium itself was surrounded by fencing so we couldn’t get closer than about 50 meters from the impressive structure that had an arc going along the longest side. We looked up and saw some police at the top of the stadium conducting some kind of training where they had to abseil down the side of the top tier and then repel down the rope once they were over the ledge.
We left Chloe reading and found a spot to kick a football around for a while. We drew the stares of a guy wearing a red and black replica football kit of one of the local teams. After a short period he approached us and gestured that he would like to join in. We willingly passed the ball over to him and he showed that he had a little bit of skill about him. After a short while the guys dad came over to join the kick about, not long after this another father and son joined the game both wearing the red and black kit. Some broken English was exchanged in a friendly way and a fifth guy arrived wearing the same red and black kit. The latest father to have arrived called over excitedly and gestured to Andy and me ‘my son! .. . .speak in English’. The guy came over and had a short exchange where we learnt the name of the red and black team (which went in one ear and out of the other). Before we knew it we were involved in a four on four game with these welcoming locals who had found two small sided goals from somewhere.
Hunger started setting in and as four more locals approached to join in, we made our excuses and headed back towards town.
we walked a different route back through the park, one that took us past a softball match being played in a cage, a large picnic with reggae music blaring out, an athletics track full up with people walking, jogging and skating around to get their daily exercise that was around the edge of a roller skating rink. further on their was a small concrete football pitch where some young skilful players danced around each other, opposite a basketball court full of people having fun. The whole park had such a nice vibe with active people everywhere having fun in such a peaceful environment.
To get out of the park we passed a large indoor stadium where through a fire exit we could just make out a volleyball match going on. We came out onto a main road that didn’t look like it was going to be fun to cross so we were very relieved to find a bridge that would allow us to avoid the beeping traffic.
We decided on a different way back to town (only going parallel by a block from the way we came up) and were rewarded by finding a nice little Mexican Restaurant to eat lunch. We tried making out bits and pieces from the Spanish menu but when we were served by yet another friendly waitress I closed my eyes and pointed my finger down at something random. I looked up and she pulled a face that didn’t need words: ‘you probably don’t want that’ I read in her expression, so I pointed at the thing above and got an approving nod at ‘gringos’ which is what I believed to be the word for ‘the white man’ I could only hope that was not what I had ordered. Andy went for nachos that came in a nice tomato sauce that had a little kick to it and Chloe enjoyed a Chimichanga. Chicken, being the only thing that we understood, was to become my filling in what was a delicious lightly toasted thin crusty type of bread. The bravery of tasting something new had really paid off and we headed back to the hostel very content with life.
When we got back we decided to go and get into the hostel’s swimming pool. Almost instantly the clouds started rolling over and it got slightly cold. We got out to relax for a bit and when thunder started rumbling above we thought it would be good fun to get back in the pool for the rain. There was a light drizzle so we got out and dried off and as soon as we were warm and dry for a second time the heavens opened up and the rain that the thunder had been promising flew down. There wasn’t a chance that I wanted to get wet for a third time so up to the bar was the decision.
The evening was dominated by a storm that was quite special to witness. There was no rain for any sustained period but basically all night bolts of lightning lit up the sky. From the hostels terraced roof we could look into the cloudy sky as surreal blue flashes lit up beyond the clouds.
Day 4 – 26.7.13
Thought of the day: If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.
Still adjusting to the time difference, I was awake at 6.30 laid in bed reading and thinking about the journey ahead. The night before we had a few drinks and played some card games with Chloe, her cousin Rae and an American guy called Jonathan. When the bar closed I decided it would be a good idea to do a bomb into the swimming pool. I lost my headband and came out rather cold, but what a good idea it had seemed at the time.
When we rose out of bed we walked into town and picked up a pastry from a local bakery and got a few snacks for our journey to Puerto Viejo. Back at the hostel we packed up, said our goodbyes to Chloe and her cousin and had a final look around the hostel before we started for the bus station. When I looked down at the swimming pool I could just see my headband sat at the bottom of the pool teasing me, but I wasn’t prepared to get wet just before a long bus journey so I had to leave it.
I was sure that my backpack hadn’t been as heavy when I packed it back in England but after the 10 minute uphill walk my shoulders felt twice as big as they had previously been. We had about an hour wait for our bus to leave, as on Tuesday when we purchased the bus ticket, the station had seemed a hell of a lot further from the hostel than it actually was.
We left the bus at the scheduled 12.00, leaving San Jose we got a sense of some of the poverty that is in the capital city as we went past hundreds of small tin shanty houses. We climbed into the hills and saw some very nice properties, a lot of which also had tin on the outside but not the rusted type that lined the properties in the slums.
As we rose into the mountains we were rewarded with some truly spectacular views. The lush greenery rolled out before us before being swallowed up by the clouds near the top of the mountain. We snaked through mountain roads in the middle of the jungle with the coach windows open beside me. There was a very pure fresh smell to the air around us as we pass by stunning views and small waterfalls.
After an hour of travelling through the hills the road flattened out and we passed small villages in the middle of dense forests.
We made the approach to Limon and everything started to look exactly how I remember the Caribbean to be when I visited my grandfathers home island, Nevis. We passed acres of banana trees and an abundance of palm trees complete with bunches of coconuts, big ones, small ones and some as big as your head.
Wild dogs ran around between chickens and roosters in the yards of tin houses. We found ourselves admiring how much labour must be involved in the harvest of the sheer volume of bananas.
We pulled up for a short stop in Limon and we managed to stretch our legs for a bit in the small sweaty bus station where taxi drivers hustled for custom. Limon was a small scruffy looking place that didn’t appear to have too much going on at first sight.
As we left, passed a baseball field in what was supposed to pass as a stadium, we got our first view of the Caribbean Sea. The waves were choppy and the water was a murky brown, not the crystal clear view you’d come to expect from the Caribbean. The further along the coast we travelled, the better the beaches started to look. Tropical trees lining the edges, coconuts everywhere. Our bus dropped a few people off in Playa Cahuita, a little place that we didn’t really see much of. Our excitement was now growing after being on the bus for just over four hours. We spoke to two American girls, Ilene and Mara, who were visiting Puerto Viejo for the weekend before heading back to San Jose to continue a study abroad programme. I’d personally lost track of all time and was ignorant to the fact that it was the weekend. Life with no worries.
When we pulled up to Puerto Viejo I was instantly sold. The place was so small and chilled out I knew straight away that I would enjoy it here. We took a short walk up to hostel Pagalu, a place we’d read about and were relieved to find they had one room available, a woman that arrived on the same bus as us, but was slower on her walk to the hostel, was turned away straight after us.
We checked into the private room, which was a bit more expensive than what we would have wanted, and went for a look around the area. On the first corner I was offered weed for the first time, but which was certainly not going to be the last, but declined and carried on with our exploration. We went down to the beach and along the way we walked past a few bars that sparked our interest.
Later that night, after a bodge job of a dinner from the supermarket, we walked down towards the bar with some crazy Aussy woman and two German guys, the woman was not keen on the area and made her opinion very clear (not that we cared or even took much notice). The Germans were both very friendly but conversation with them kind of fizzled out. When they said, after getting some food, that they were heading back we were happy to remain in a bar playing nonstop reggae, drinking rum.
We were offered weed a number of times and even got talking to one of the drug dealers about football. On the whole the dealers seemed friendly, and got on with their business without fear of police. We had been warned to be very careful around this area but there was no bad vibe amongst these guys who didn’t seem to be interested in any (other) criminal activities.
We moved bar and met three girls that we had seen at the hostel earlier, an English girl, an Irish girl, and an American girl (there’s a good joke in there somewhere). We spent the rest of the night with Helen Rachel and Jo, and a drank more rum and listened to more reggae music. The Caribbean way of life.
Day 5 – 27.7.13
Thought of the day: If you lose, don’t lose the lesson.
The rain was thumping against the roof as we woke up. I was feeling surprisingly good considering how much rum I had been through the previous night.
We weren’t going to allow the rain to stop us from doing something active so we decided on a run. We went about 100m before stopping to stretch. A young girl about 10years old looked at us as if we were crazy. She stuck her arm out from under her shelter, looked to the heavens and began laughing at us.
We followed the road heading south. It was a really exhilarating feeling to be out in a tropical paradise running in the pouring rain. After getting a nice work out we diverted off the road to the beach. The rough waves rolled out under a slight mist, a loan figure was out on his surf board bobbing up and down and enjoying the rough weather.
We carried on running down the beach, we were laughing and joking and were full of adrenaline from the fact that we were in such a beautiful place doing a bit of exercise. Soaked through we decided that we might as well go for a swim. The sea was so warm and refreshing, the powerful current dragged us too and throw even though we were only about 10m into the water and less than waste deep. It is hard to put into words the beauty of being in the sea, with stunning surroundings, whilst it was raining with a light mist hovering over the waves.
In the afternoon we took a walk along the beach. The sand to the north of Puerto Viejo was black which gives the beach a dirty look to it. But the volcanic sand provided an ideal location to take a relaxed walk, passed a group of locals having an intense football match, passed some of the more secluded – and expensive looking – hotels and through streams where rivers met the sea, giving off a strange sensation on your feet as the cold river water mixed with warm Caribbean sea water.
We made a simple tuna pasta for dinner, with a side of rum, before heading out to the bars. The first bar was a small place with a dance floor so you could move to the reggae beats that were being blasted out of the speakers. In all honesty the rest of the night was a blur.
Day 6 – 28.7.13
Thought of the day: Persistence will help you win, consistency will help you keep winning.
We resisted the temptation to stay in our beds feeling sorry for ourselves because we were hung over and decided on a bike ride to Manzanillo.
The road followed the coast directly to Manzanillo, 12 km to the south of Puerto Viejo. It was a straight road that cut through the jungle so we were constantly surrounded by the calls of birds, and the natter of insects.
On the way we stopped at a local football pitch and we had a bit of a kick about. The pitch was waterlogged and we spent our time splashing around in the mud like big kids.
A short while along the road we pulled off to go to a beach. The place had ideal white sand, and the jungle ran along the back giving a natural bit of shelter from the sun. After a swim in the warm water I walked the length of the beach followed by a stray dog that had taken a liking to us. We decided to name the dog Budwiser and he would run after sticks that I threw for him and bring them back. I got to the end of the beach and turned around to find a second dog following. This second dog had no interest in chasing the stick but would wait for Budwiser to fetch it and then steal it from him. Halfway back to Andy and the bikes, the second dog bolted away across the beach and took a swipe at a crab that was scuttling to the safety of the water. The dog, who we decided to call Chris the Crab Killer, cornered the crab and started attacking it, getting pinched on the nose for his troubles.
We left Chris and Bud and carried on down the jungle road where we were rewarded with our first sighting of a monkey. There were three of them all just sat lazily in the tree above the road.
We stopped off, to get a drink, at a little store which Andy almost knocked to the ground. He hadn’t quite got used to the breaking system – where you have to pedal backwards to stop – so when he went down the small slope at the side of the road he rattled into the side of the frail looking building to a chorus of laughter from me and a local.
We arrived in Manzanillo, it was a small relaxed place with a stunning beach that stretched along the front with bars and restaurants across the road.
We locked up the bikes and took a walk down the beach passed friendly people who would all smile or nod as we passed. I took a short swim and then slept off my hangover in the sun.
The journey back to Puerto Viejo was just as stunning as on the way there. There was a constant chatter of wildlife that made me vigilant for wildlife. We spotted a second group of monkeys – these ones were slightly more active – one in particular was hanging upside down by its tail. We saw a variety of colourful birds and a number of large spiders waiting patiently in the centre of huge webs.
The day was the perfect way to ride off a hangover!
Day 7 – 29.7.13
Thought of the day: Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about dancing in the rain.
The sound of torrential rain was what I woke up to, thudding down two feet from my head, through the open window that was covered by just a mosquito net. The storm provided a real soothing sound and I felt compelled to go down into the communal area to be closer to it.
The storm persisted throughout the morning until just before midday when we went to the bakery to grab some food before renting out bicycles again.
Today we rode north with the intention of making it the 17 km to Cahuiti. We got onto the single road that would lead directly through to Cahuiti. The roads in Costa Rica seem to be very long and straight, leading through jungle until you reach the next town.
We were unfortunate enough to witness the death of a small tropical bird on our travel. The small black and yellow bird was stood in the road about 20meters ahead of us, just around a bend from oncoming traffic. As a car came around the corner, followed closely by a second car preventing it from being able to break sharply, Andy and myself willed the bird to fly away, but it was too slow. It was only a foot in the air before it was hit. The poor creature was sent spinning in our direction and Andy only just managed to avoid hitting it himself.
With a slightly sick feeling in the pit of my stomach we continued cycling, I felt a light patter of rain, which was just the prelude for what was to come. We were caught in a real heavy downpour that soaked my vest and shorts through within moments. Concern over our cameras inside our bags caused us to pull over at a place signalled as a museum. We rolled our cameras into towels in the bags and took a little walk towards the reception. To get to the reception we had to walk through a section of jungle, through murky puddles in just our flip flops. With the thought of snakes at the back of my mind I was very glad to exit the area.
As the rain died off ever so slightly we left the dry again and carried on the journey. We rode along, soaked through singing out loud (Bob Marley – three little birds) on the deserted road with just the sound of birds and insects for company. The worse thing about being out in the rain, for me, is feeling cold and miserable. We were at a nice temperature and we were enjoying the ride so had nothing at all to complain about whilst other people remained at the hostel feeling sorry for themselves.
We reached Cahuita and could hear drums booming out so decided to follow the sound. We arrived at a school where a group of children blared out their music loud enough to be heard around the whole town. There was a real carnival feel to the drums and it was exciting to have witnessed such a site.
We went down to the beach that was right on the edge of Cahuiti national park. In just our flip flops we decided not to enter the park itself, home of course to many snakes, spiders and poisonous frogs as well as Camen crocodiles. We would have plenty of time to see this kind of things in other national parks over the weeks.
We chilled out on the beach, teased some of the land crabs and splashed around in the surf for a while before making the journey back completing the 34 km round trip.
Passed many splattered frogs we cycled, saying hello to everybody we passed. Costa Rica really is one of the friendliest places in the world, everybody will acknowledge you with a nod or wave as you pass strangers on your travels. Even cars will give a friendly toot of the horn to show that they will be safely passing you by.
After some BBQ chicken bits in a wrap for dinner, Andy decided to go upstairs for a lie down. Feeling slightly restless I decided to take a walk down to the beach. The gentle but persistent roll of the waves provided a relaxing soundtrack to gaze off into the distance. Every so often a bright flash would light up the sky as a bolt of lightning flickered some miles away to the north. The black sky was lit up by the clearly visible stars and I felt a real calm wash over me.
Day 8 – 30.7.13
Thought of the day: Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
As an afterthought, at the last minute, back in oxford, I had decided to pack my rain jacket and water proof trousers and I was glad I did when we set out to the sloth sanctuary in the pouring rain.
We joked about the weather with the taxi driver who would take us on the 20 minute journey. He said there is no point in wasting the day just because it is raining ‘there are only so many card games you can play’ Andy replied!
‘yea and there is always some gringo at the hostel that wants to play for money’ our driver added. He explained to us that during hurricane season all of the clouds are dragged away and you get completely blue skies. Pray for hurricanes then is the answer to get rid of the rain.
Our driver went on to tell us why there are so many banana plantations around this area of Costa Rica. He explained that when the railway was being built, using no machinery, just human labour there were thousands of workers. The problem with having so many workers was feeding them. So banana trees were planted all the way along where the workers could access them. After the realisation that bananas could be grown year round, more were planted, and when they started to be shipped out to other countries yet more were planted, until we get to today when there are acres upon acres of them.
We arrived at the sanctuary and were left to look around for the half an hour before the tour started. In the corner of the room sat the first sloth that we would see, Buttercup. There was a kind of hanging swing that the sloth sat atop, about 3meters off of the ground. Buttercup was curled up with her head hidden, but every now and then she would take a quick look up at the people pointing cameras in her face. As we were about to go out onto the boats for a short float through the rainforest, Buttercup found a reserve of energy and climbed down to the bottom of her swing to grab a bite to eat.
We went under a branch on the boat and were slightly shocked to see a bat about 30cm above our head. On closer inspection we saw that it was four bats curled up together with a large moth just to the side.
we continued our journey with our sharp eyed guide stopping to point out a common hawk elegantly balancing at the very top of a tree stump, a sloth high in the trees that was so well camouflaged that it looked like a big dead leaf and many other types of bird which he would point out to us on a sheet of card.
Deep in the rainforest – but what sounded like 50 meters away – we could hear the mighty roar of the howler monkeys. I couldn’t quite get my head around the fact that the noise was coming from a monkey, it sounded more like a gigantic tiger!
We got to a point in the river where we had to turn back due to the tangle of reeds allowing us no further. The Americans behind us asked if there were alligators in these rivers ‘si’ replied our boat driver. ‘how big?’ I asked ‘Camen ahhh 1 meter, 1 meter and half…. Cocodrilo – quarto… cinco metros’. Four or five meters? I suddenly started thinking that our three meter boat wasn’t big enough.
We made it back in one piece thankfully, a 5 inch green lizard being the only reptile sighting, and went to look around the sloth hospital.
There were four enclosures in the first room that we visited, with five sloths in all together. These sloths had all either experienced injuries that made them reliant on humans or had lost their parents as infants and again resulting in them not being able to survive on their own in the wild. There were other sloths that we didn’t visit as their injuries were being treated with minimal human contact so that they could be successfully released back into the wild.
The first sloth was one that had been in since it was an infant and was picked up by the tour guide. It moved slowly to climb around his neck and nestled into his shoulder affectionately. We were told that despite their reputation, sloths aren’t lazy creatures and only move slowly during the day in order to remain out of sight of predators.
The other four sloths didn’t seem to enjoy the human contact as much as the first one but they all had sad stories of being electrocuted, or falling out of trees or generally being treated badly.
After we saw the adult sloths we went to the sloth nursery. Again these sloths had many tragic stories, including a gang of youths throwing stones at a sloth and her baby, causing the mother to fall and die. The baby, nicknamed Tarzan, lost the use of its legs but is reportedly still the fastest sloth in the sanctuary.
Later that evening, in the hostel, Andy and myself were joined, by an American guy called peter and a Swiss girl called Manuela, for a few drinks. We discussed the differences in our education systems amongst other things. We then took a few beers to chill down at the beach.
The waves continued to crash in on what was a pretty cloudy night. Like before, lightening would light up the horizon every few minutes and we laughed and joked in the surreal situation. Before we left, a local appeared out of the dark and asked if he could have one of our beers, we gave him one before making our way to a club.
Day 9 – 31.7.13
Thought for the day: You miss 100% of the shots that you don’t take.
We had already decided to make our last day in Puerto Viejo a chilled one, a decision I was very grateful for when I woke up with a banging headache.
Just after midday we made our way down to the black sand beach just off to the side of the town. Our spot afforded us the perfect view of Puerto Viejo, a small corner that curves around, protruding out further than the rest of the shore line. It’s a perfect bay of palm trees that belongs on the front of a postcard.
We used some of our limited energy to take a run along the beach before going to get some lunch. We ate at outback Jack’s, a really funky looking little restaurant that had lots of bright colours and very random things hanging up in all corners for example a whole load of reading glasses around the ceiling and multicoloured musical instruments everywhere.
My buffalo wings were good, and Andy ploughed through his crab cake.
We spent the rest of the afternoon back at the beach, watching the best bit of sun we’d had so far drift away behind the mountains.
As the light was fading we began playing the Coconut Olympics. We drew at 10 pin (Stick) bowling, Andy won coconut cricket but I won the co-co shot put and the coconut bowls making me a very proud Coconut Olympic champion.
We played around with the panoramic camera setting on my phone, trying to appear twice in the same photo, before heading back to the hostel to pack up ready for our 7.30 coach trip to Limon.
I sleepily chilled in the communal area, making the most of what would probably turn out to be the nicest hostel that we’ll stay at. It was a bit early to go to sleep so I decided on another little walk. To my surprise when I walked out I could hear cheering and horns at the end of our street. I went back upstairs and dragged Andy out of bed and excitedly let him know that there was a football match going on. We turned up and stood with the couple hundred ‘Ticas’ (the affectionate nicknames for Costa Rican locals) around the outside of a fenced off football field that was flooded in more places than it was dry, as two top tier teams sprinted and splashed and slid around the pitch.
We were all stood out on the road to watch the game. Level with the halfway line there was a minibus parked up with a bunch of Ticas sat on top cheering on their local side. We found a spot to watch the last 10/15 minutes of the match. Within a few minutes one of the visiting team’s players flew into a challenge, there was a big clatter as he hit the opposing players shin pads and the game carried on to the displeasure of the watching crowd. A few minutes later another clattering challenge by one of the visitors, who were wearing an all white kit that was mostly brown with mud by now. The player was shown a second yellow card and marched off the pitch, only complaining about the decision as an afterthought.
We watched a bit more scrappy play before a hopeful cross was lofted in to the area by the home team the Cahuita goalkeeper fumbled the ball and I flinched a little as he was clattered by one of the big centre forwards wearing yellow. The ball was scrambled home and the horns started blaring out around the roads.
One of the yellows substituted had time to get himself sent off to even up the numbers for the remaining five minutes. The left back had the ball and I would love to say that he was too slow clearing the ball but that’s not really true. He cleared the ball in plenty of time but the 6 ft +, over weight striker came charging in like a steam train and wiped him out anyway. Before the whistle had blown and probably before the left back had come back down to earth the striker was up, and for some unexplainable reason, pleading his innocence to the linesman.
The game ended, after a few more tasty looking challenges, in a very subdued manner so presumably the match ended in a draw but all I can say is that I enjoyed the unexpected experience of being able to watch this match.
Day 10 – 1.8.13
Thought of the day: Quitters never win and winners never quit.
Another early start – which to Andy’s surprise I’m getting good at – allowed us to get down to the bus station in plenty of time. The first bus had San Jose on the front, and after the driver opened the luggage compartment and left us we presumed that it would be stopping off at Limon. We were sadly mistaken. Five minutes later, after we had grabbed a beef Pati, a rickety bus with one of the back door windows missing pulled up. Of course it had to say Limom on the front. We bundled our backpacks off the, luxury San Jose bound, bus and hopped onto the other. I sat near the back of the bus directly opposite the open window, which at times gave off a refreshing breeze, at other times I struggled to breathe. It was an authentic experience and you could feel every bump and turn in the road so I was glad, an hour and a half later, when we pulled up to Limon.
As soon as we stepped off the bus we were all but jumped on by the taxi drivers. Our backpacks and the time of day meant that they all knew that we were going to Moin to catch a boat. Tortuguero has no cars and is therefore only accessible via the rivers.
The taxi driver we got was a very friendly guy who didn’t speak English, but attempted to give us a guided tour all the same. He pointed out schools, banks, hotels and restaurants. As we pulled up to the docks he tried explaining that it was a big port for the exportation of bananas and coffee. We got the gist of what he was saying and appreciated the effort he put in to try and make the 10minute journey that little bit more interesting.
We passed the docks and entered a gate which lead us to the start of the rivers. We waited around for about an hour before boarding one of the two small boats that held about 10 people. Ours had a green canvas roof and I sat at the front next to the driver. I was anticipating a leisurely cruise and was quite surprised after 100 meters when the driver put the boat into full throttle and we sped off. Every now and then we would slow down to look at wildlife.
I was eagerly leaning over the side of the boat, like a dog with its head out of the car window. I was very pleased with myself when I spotted a sloth up in the trees. The driver pulled the boat to a halt so we could take pictures, and gave a little whistle that made the sloth turn its head towards us in curiosity.
We carried on down the river slowing down and speeding up to see the different types of birds that perched at the side of the water. It’s amazing the variety of birds that we saw, it seemed as though we hardly saw the same type of bird twice.
The river started to take on some turns, the first of which was pretty exciting. I was surprised at the speed of the boat, and even more surprised at the mobility when cornering. The whole boat would tilt into the corner leaving the people on the inside of the bend a foot or so away from the water.
Every so often we would see a group of fresh water turtles sat on tree stumps, and they would flop into the water if we got to close. These weren’t the only reptiles we would see though. Our driver pointed out a small green Jesus lizard, the ones that can run on water, this one was about 30cm long but they can apparently become over a meter.
In a wide part of the lake our driver came to a complete stop, he pointed off into the distance and said ‘big crocodile’ I could see where he was pointing but could just see a large grey mass on the bank, as we got closer we could start to distinguish its features, we got to within 15 meters of this awesome creature that had its muscular body and large head out of the water and back half in.
we took a few pictures and we moved on, and after being perfectly still the croc started edging backwards into the murky depths. We sped past some Camen on a beach and then two more medium sized crocs all in the same stretch of water.
Half way we had a little break at a small bar before moving on with the remaining 2 hours of the trip.
The first 15 minutes after our stop were through narrow winding rivers in which our driver, a Costa Rican Theo Walcott, began having some fun, speeding around the corners.
We came out into a really wide river with thick jungle to either side. Walcott stopped the boat and approached the right hand bank to point out some spider monkeys swinging around in the trees.
We approached Tortuguero at a slow pace, and had chance to see the different restaurants, hotels and houses that stood on the river bank.
We found some cheap cabins run by a sweet old lady who walked slowly around the place humming. With no spoken English we managed to work out the price ($8 for the night) of the room and were given the keys.
After some tacos, filled with beef cheese and ham, with a mountain of onions on top and chips and frankfurters to finish the pile off (Andy had plane burger and chips a reported 6 out of 10) we went for a kick about on the field outside our hostel.
We started playing in a corner of the field, about 3 other groups had a ball elsewhere on the pitch. Some small children came over with their own ball yet they wanted to play with us. We had a kick about with these four little kids, one of which looked like a mini Naymar, before heading inside.
When we came back out an hour later and there was a full blown match going on with about 30 or so adults and teenagers. The Costa Ricans really are crazy for football.
We went out at 9.30 for our turtle watching tour. As instructed we were wearing dark clothes and had left our cameras behind.
I’m not sure exactly what it was that I was expecting from the tour but I don’t think there is anything that could have prepared me. We walked 15minutes down a trail and went out onto the beach following our guide’s torch that switched from white to red, so not to disturb the turtles, when we got onto the beach. We had another guide that would scout along the beach and let us know when we should advance to see a turtle.
We saw two in quick succession shuffling on their way down to the sea. Our guide showed us the nest that the first one had been working on but told us that sometimes if there are a lot of roots in the ground the turtle will give up and return to the sea.
The turtles were much bigger than I had imagined them to be, with a shell that was around 5foot long. After we had seen these two turtles struggle back to the waves we were instructed to wait around whilst another turtle was building its nest.
We sat listening to the waves crash. Waves that to begin with we couldn’t even see but as our eyes adjusted to the darkness we could see perfectly the white crests falling over. At the water’s edge we could see a big shadow wallowing up out of the water. At this point I presumed that we would be watching turtles waddle up and down the beach all evening. Up to 500 turtles venture to this beach on any night during July and August and I was really pleased to have been lucky enough to see some but that was just a taster.
We were told that we could be waiting for anything up to an hour, but after 20 minutes of looking at the black cloudy sky, our guide flashed his red torch in an indication that we should follow. He lead us to a nest that had been dug about a meter into the sand, with a huge turtle perched over it, deep in the whole but with a further small hole where the eggs would land. We shuffled around the back of the turtle and our guide held one of the flippers out of our line of view and we watched as hard boiled looking eggs (without the outer shell) dropped from the turtle and into the sand.
The process continued for about 20 minutes and the turtle laid over 100 eggs, sometimes squeezing out four or five at a time amidst deep breaths that would cause the whole shell to rise and fall.
After a supreme effort there was a pause and our guide let go of the turtles flipper. This huge sea creature had finished laying eggs but was about a meter below the sand with no way of climbing out. We sat around fascinated by the way the turtle shuffled around and used her flippers to brush sand underneath itself. It was very slow progress and the turtle looked exhausted but it rose and rose until it was only in a small hole rather than the ditch it had been in 10 minutes before. Our guide indicated that we should leave and so we left the turtle to make its way down the beach without anymore disturbance.
Day 11 – 2.8.13
Thought for the day: whether you think you can, or you think that you can’t you are right.
We packed our rucksacks quickly after just one night in our hostel. We made our way down to the riverside to try and work out where we would be getting our boat from. Tourist info didn’t have much of a clue so we found the ‘Pura Vida Tours’ cabin and the resulting woman was extremely helpful in getting our tickets printed for the local bus boat journey to La Pavona. She was also helpful enough to explain what we would do when we arrived.
We got onto the long narrow boat that had three seats across and a very narrow walkway to get through to seats further back. We settled in the middle of the boat with soma Ticas toward the back and a lot more tourists at the front.
We set off down a river heading east, the journey took an hour and there was a lot less wildlife on show than on the previous days boat ride. A lot more traffic going in this direction might have accounted for the lack of animals, that and a lot of houses and small villages dotted along the banks. The vegetation also changed along this route, it was more reeds and bushes rather than the trees that lined the banks on the way to Tortuguero.
The river, in this direction, snaked all the way to La Pavona and the boat would rock to the side making it feel as though the whole boat might capsize. There would be a shout of ‘aye-yi-yi ‘ from the Ticos behind us when we took particularly sharp corners. When other water buses or tour boats would pass us there would be waves and shouts of ‘whhoo’ as the Ticos seemed to really enjoy the morning cruise.
We arrived at La Pavona just as the heavy rain, that fell for 15 minutes of our trip, began to die down. We quickly found the driver that would take us to: Arenal, La Fortuna in the small area with just a kind of service station.
We had some overpriced food (just like the service stations in the UK) before our four hour journey. We started on rough bumpy dirt tracks before hitting the main road where, like everywhere else in Costa Rica, cars overtake each other whenever there is an opportunity to swerve onto the opposite side of the road.
We arrived in Arenal and couldn’t actually see the volcano, that the town is famous for, through the mist that covered it. We booked into our room at Arenal Backpackers that looks like a hotel more than a hostel with its swimming pool and volleyball court.
We took a walk down the main strip and got a burrito from a very nice Mexican restaurant.
When we returned we found a very excited American, with dread locks, called Morgan. He was a real character and was excited as he had just arrived in Costa Rica from Orlando where he lives. He took our advice and ate at the same place that we ate and came back with lots of information about the area that he found out from the waiter, including a hot spring that is free to enter.
We got a taxi to the springs at about 10.45pm and asked the driver if he could pick us up in an hour, we thought this might even be too long, but we were very much mistaken as the hour flew by so quickly.
We walked down the side of a bridge, using just a flashlight to see the way down steps made out if the natural rocks. At the bottom we stepped into the fast moving water that had steam coming up from it. The river was bath temperature and we walked up stream, under a bridge, found somewhere to hide our belongings and made our way into a pool.
We climbed up a waterfall in the dark and crawled past a couple of locals and into a dark area filled with the sound of crickets and frogs in the jungle around us. Morgan perched his torch up on the rocks, casting a glow out into the trees and illuminating a small corner of the flowing river. We larked about in the warm fast flowing river and practically lost track of time because the setting was so magical. An hour flew by in no time and, (luckily) as promised, the taxi driver was there waiting for us.
On the way back down to the hostel, Morgan spoke in his fluent Spanish to the taxi driver and found out the best places to head out for a night of drinking. We taught Morgan a few card games at our hostel before heading out to El Establo. There was a fairly busy looking bar that we decided to miss out and went straight to the adjoining discotheque. In the club there was a handful of locals, but we bumped into a big group of Germans from our hostel and had a good laugh before heading back for food and bed.
Day 12 – 3.8.13
Thought for the day: You Only Live Once!
We woke up to some really nice weather and decided to go and hang around the pool. We looked up and still the fog covered the volcano, blocking it from view. We sat in the blazing sun for about 20 minutes before it started to rain again. So we went under the cover of the bar area and after a short shower the sun broke through the clouds again making it really hot. We didn’t know at the time but it was just the build up to a huge storm.
We walked into town, as it was drizzling, and went to the bank and supermarket. We tried some local fruit called Rambutan, also known as Mammon Chinos. It’s a weird looking red spiky thing and when you peel it there is a grape type of fruit on the inner layer that you suck. It was a very nice tasting fruit, quite sweet, but slightly picky and hard to eat.
After a bit of lunch we got back to our hostel, it began to rain a little heavier so most sensible people went into their rooms or into the bar area. Not us. Andy and myself thought it would be a perfect opportunity for a swim. It started really coming down heavy and we were jumping around and acting like little kids. We must have looked as though we were having fun because after a while Morgan decided to come and join us. We probably stayed in the pool for about two hours in the end, playing Frisbee and laughing and joking.
A huge rumble of thunder rattled the sky and we remained in the pool through a fierce thunderstorm, slightly nervous as lightning flashed across the sky above our heads but we had a good time all the same.
We chilled out for a few hours before deciding to teach Morgan how to do a centurion. We sat and played cards as we completed the centurion where you drink one shot of beer every minute for 100 minutes.
Finding ourselves in high spirits after the centurion we made our way across the street to Roccopocco where locals were doing some karaoke. We blessed them with a rendition of Bob Marley buffalo soldier and then headed off in search of a new spot.
We made our way along the strip and were drawn in by a place selling pizza, we used our new Spanish translator, Morgan, to find out where the best discotheque is. We found out and made our way to a taxi that took us out to the middle of nowhere to a club.
The large club was full of locals, all on the dance floor, twisting and turning at high speed to the samba music. It was a million miles from clubs at home. People went just to dance and have a good time, few people were drunk and everybody was happy.
We made our way out of the club, where a bus was waiting to take people back into La Fortuna (that’s what we hoped). We got dropped just outside a small bar that had a few locals in. We decided to check the place out and ended up remaining there until 5 in the morning. We spoke to a lot of locals, happily shouting Pura Vida (Pure life, a typical greeting around the whole of Costa Rica) to everybody we met.
Day 13 – 4.8.13
Thought of the day: Winning isn’t everything but wanting to win is.
A very long night meant that it wasn’t surprising that we all stayed in bed until early afternoon. I did a few lengths in the swimming pool to try and shift the throbbing headache that plagued me.
We took a walk down the strip to find some food and recount the previous night. We suddenly remembered that we had been told about a rodeo that was due to happen later that evening, so we ate our food with the excitement of seeing something new.
We arrived at the stadium quite early, because we couldn’t quite remember what time we had been told that it started. We entered through a bar area where there was loud music, drinks and food. We went through this area to an amphitheatre type construction. It was rickety, and many of the floor boards wobbled when you stepped on them.
All of the people entering were wearing cowboy hats and looked excited. There were lots of Ticca families that had come to watch the spectacle.
A single cowboy rode out onto the muddy arena, and made his horse dance around to get the crowd wound up. An introduction was made of all of the competitors and they drew lots to see what order they would ride the bull. When that was done we witnessed a prayer that seemed to go on for a long time and then everybody cleared the arena.
We waited for a long time, camera poised for the bull to come flying out of its pen, there were two cowboys out on the turf with their red rags to distract the bull and one guy who was holding the rope that was attached to the door ready to pull it open and shift out of the way.
The guy holding the rope kept tensing as if he was about to let the beast loose but would then relax as something delayed things.
After a long time, and with my arm aching from holding the camera ready, the bull finally came charging out, kicking and bucking, and spinning desperate to get the unwelcomed load from his back. After a short time the rider dismounted the bull and shifted away to safety as the other two guys ran around the animal with their rag. The bull stood intensely staring people out before the cowboys paraded out on their horses ready to round up the bull. The cowboy would pick up speed and lash his lasso at the bull and once the rope settled around its neck, dragged it back to the pen.
The same thing happened over again throughout the night, some riders dismounting gracefully, others getting thrown unceremoniously to the ground. One guy in particular landed with a loud thud and was visibly winded as he couldn’t even get up to run out of the way. Luckily the two guys with their rags efficiently distracted the bull and the rider made it to safety.
We left the top tier of the stand to go down below where we could literally watch the action from feet away. One bull came right up to the fence that we were stood behind. It was strange having the fearsome creature bucking around just a yard away from us.
After the excitement we decided that we were going to chill out at the hot springs again. As we got to the hostel we looked up and could see the Arenal volcano for the first time. It was a spectacular site in the clear evening. If a child was to draw a volcano, it would look exactly how Arenal volcano looks, with the skinny top getting wider towards the base.
Day 14 – 5.8.13
Thought of the day: Those who mind don’t matter, those who matter don’t mind.
I was up early, unfortunately not early enough to see Morgan leave, as he had to catch an early bus to get to the place where he was doing some activity leading. We had said goodbyes to him the night before and were going to miss him not only for his invaluable Spanish skills but because he was a pretty cool guy.
In the morning we had some very nice weather, the volcano was visible for the first time during the day since we had arrived. I made the most of the sun by lying in a hammock at the side of the pool.
Just after midday we asked the guy at reception how long it would take to walk to the waterfall that we had heard much about. 45 minutes seemed very reasonable so we started walking in our flip flops. An hour and a half later we dragged ourselves to the top of the steep hill where we had to pay to get in to see the waterfall. Not what we had expected but well worth the 10$ in the end.
On the way up the hill, in between watching cutter ants march leaves in a perfect line at the side of the road, we saw a frog hop across our path. We were inches away from witnessing a second animal meet its end on the road but luckily it was missed by the truck and hopped into the bushes.
When we had paid to enter the reserve, we walked in over a hanging metal bridge, around past a souvenir shop and up to a big viewing platform. From atop the platform we were afforded a stunning view of a huge waterfall dropping over the edge of a cliff opposite us.
We then had to make the steep dissent to the bottom of a huge slope so that we could get to the base of the fall. Passing some very tired looking people I remember thinking how glad I was that I am physically fit and didn’t find it such a challenge.
At the bottom we looked up at the water dropping what must have been over 100m creating a splash that sent a spray 5meters into the air. We went a bit further down river where there were lots of other tourists swimming. It took me a while but I eventually picked up the courage to throw myself into the cold flowing water. Swimming upstream was a real challenge with the fast current fighting against my every stroke. After the clear area of water where we were swimming there was a cascade of rocks that the water was flowing over. Andy and I battled our way up to sit on a rock near the base of the waterfall, staring up at the mesmerising site. Trying to watch single bits of water plummet to the bottom of the falls had a real hypnotic quality to it.
We battled back up the steep steps to the entrance to the falls and all the way back down the hill which lead us there. Half way down the hill, the daily shower started up and we made the trek back to our hostel in the pouring rain enjoying every last minute.
When we got back we got into the swimming pool for a little bit as we were already wet. The Frisbee that Andy brought again gave us hours of entertainment before we chilled out at the side of the pool talking to two Brits, one of which looked just like a mate from uni.