Black beaches, sloths, cloud forest and.. Tom!
25.08.2013 - 04.09.2013
We catch up with our heroes as they take the local bus from the border with Panama to the surf town of Puerto Viejo….
We locate the bus terminal beyond several tiendas selling large amounts of rubber wellington boots in the drizzling rain. We board the only waiting bus which soon trundles out of the terminal on its way to Puerto Viejo . It costs just 3USD per person as opposed to the 30USD the taxis want to charge. The rains become torrential and we stop periodically to gather more passengers who are cowering under leaky bus shelters. We reach the town in the gloomy Sunday afternoon and make our way to Cabinas Lika passing several locals sitting or slumped on the street corners. A strange vibe. The Jamaica influence is everywhere here as rastas sell curios and bangles in the streets, and the sounds of reggae fill the air. The Cabinas Lika is a great spot, and one of the cheapest in town at 20USD a night. We have a hammock out front and a communal kitchen. We head out for our first Costa Rican meal of fish and chicken with beans and rice, washed down with homemade iced tea and flor de Jamaica. We are sitting across the street from the Caribbean sea, a beach of black sand where a rusting barge is becoming part of the natural landscape as grass and trees sprout from it. Western children expertly surf the small breaks indicating this is a town where many foreigners have settled and started businesses. In the distance the beach line has thick green trees that have a strange mist blowing though them. It is this verdant lush and wet green, exactly what we were expecting from Costa Rica.
The next day has the sunshine pouring into our room and the real Caribbean feeling is abundant. It seems funny that even in paradise if the sun hides behind the grey clouds, then it can lose a little of its sparkle, unless of course it is a tropical storm, which is mesmerising! So with the hot sun on our backs we rent bikes and take off on the 12km ride along the coast south to the small town of Manzanillo. The route takes us through thick forest and it isn´t long before we spy a strange looking animal in the trees, with a head like the shape of Steven Spielberg’s E.T. It is a sloth. Incredible that we can see these apes just from the roadside. Hanging from the branches with a baby clinging to the mother. We shout “Hola!” and they turn their heads towards us! We reach the beach and it is beautiful, where the thick palm trees and jungle reach the golden sands. The waves are big and there are warning signs for rips. We soak up the sun and take a dip on this wild looking beach. We stop at a further beach at Punta Uva on our return to town. In the evening we chat with a couple of German girls who are heading to Panama and exchange tips, always one of the best ways to learn about places to visit and how to get there.
Next day we take the bus north to the tiny town of Cahuita which is again on the coast and has a free national park and excellent snorkeling. We stay at Cabinas Palmer and are greeted by the lady owner with her died red hair. She is charming and sits in a rocking chair, chatting away to her friends with the background noise of soap operas on TV. We visit the national park which is on the edge of town and the path takes us through the jungle and along the unspoiled beach. We see white faced monkeys in the trees above us, so many butterflies and at the beach where we paddle small sharks can be seen playing off shore. A racoon trots along the beach and takes an interest in a backpackers bag, sniffing out food!
We take a trip out to the reef with a guide and within minutes of being in the water we see a deadly lion fish with its spectacular colouring and spikey fins. We also spot a nurse shark! The corals are magnificent, there are these huge brain-like structures, and the schools of fish are huge, numbering several hundred fish. The visibility then deteriorates, and the amounts of jelly fish make it more of a challenge to swim in a straight line!
We leave the Caribbean and head inland by bus on the 4hr journey to the capital San Jose. At the bustling bus station we find an honest taxi driver to take us the short distance to another terminal for our connecting bus to Alajuela - which is close to the airport. The taxi takes us through a notorious neighbourhood in the environs of the bus station known locally as the “Coca Cola district” on account of a now closed factory. It is a rough looking part of town with people passed out in doorways and where a beefy woman with a shaved head, tattoos and a face like she´s swallowed a wasp laughs and berates a couple of toothless men.
We reach the bus station of Alajuela and check in to our hostel Trotamundos. We go out for supplies and find out there is no alcohol for sale today owing to a government rally which is bad news for us as Tom arrives from London tonight for a 2 week holiday and we need to toast his arrival! We hunt around in various shops but all have the alcohol sections covered up with sacking!
We take a taxi to the airport with our homemade welcome sign, and there he is, wandering through the myriad taxi drivers who cannot help but squawk “TAXI!” at every opportunity. It is so good to see him, and we hug and dance on the pavement. There is a small shop at the airport that sells beers, so we fill a bag and hop in a cab back to the hostel for dinner and a welcome beer!
Tepid morning showers and a “local” breakfast which is actually just fruit and cereal and coffee, and we wander out to the bus station through the busy Saturday morning streets that wouldn´t look out of place in Peckham High Road or Bos en Lommerweg, and find the bus to take us the hour or so journey to Poas Volcano. The walk up to the crater is lined with huge fan like leafed plants, mossy undergrowth and ferns. From the lookout the bubbling central pool that is a deep blue in bright sunlight but today is a milky pale blue, with its plume of white smoke, appears now and again from behind the thick cloud. A strong sulpherous smell fills the air. We walk to a nearby lake and return to the visitor´s center just as the heavens open and an enormous deluge hammers down, which is incredibly impressive.
Back in town we grab supplies to make fajitas and cuba libres, and a replacement USB for our photo backups (which involves selecting, going upstairs to pay and show passport, to then collection of our purchase), and over dinner we plan our next steps.
Our bus to the lush area of Monteverde doesn´t leave till 3pm in the afternoon so we spend the morning wandering the streets of Alajuela. In the park kids are miming to songs from Grease on the bandstand in a proper production, all in costumes. The cathedral on the square is packed for Sunday morning mass with standing room only. As we walk to the bus station the sun goes away and the rains begin, but the deluge doesn´t start till we are safely inside the bus station! The ride takes up through beautiful green hills covered in trees, and huge valleys drop away to our left. The sun sets and a short time later we reach the town of Santa Elena, and walk the steep rainy streets to Pension Santa Elena, a very comfortable and atmospheric hostel.
Santa Elena is a small town with many tourist attractions. We visit the Monteverde cloud forest national park and begin a walk through the thick jungle and it is not long before we come across a pack of White Nosed Coati! They sniff and snuffle their way across the path infront and behind us. Butterflies and hummingbirds fill the air, as the distant rumble of thunder grows ever ominously closer. The raindrops slowly fall and in no time at all it is raining so hard even the canopy above can do nothing to shield us. In our rain jackets we walk on visiting a waterfall (Ha!) and return to the gate entrance. We are soaked through as are our feet and walking shoes. The rains stop and the hot sun comes out. The grey mists hang in the trees as we walk back into the forest. It is a beautiful place.
Next morning we decide the best way to shake a hangover is to go zip-lining through the jungle and cloud forest. This activity involves being harnessed to a cable and zooming across ever larger distances through forest and over wide valleys. A real test for C´s fear of heights! The first few are short and we learn how to apply the breaks and pick up speed. They boast the longest zip line in Latin America, and to cross it we are attached on clips on our backs so that we may soar through the air like a bird, or as they say = like Superman. This doesn´t mean we must wear our underwear on the outside. Tom goes first as C doesn´t look too happy about it all. E´s reassurances that all will be well are met with a stern “That doesn't help” response from C! She goes next and then it is E´s turn. We are way above the trees, our shadows are cast below, and hawks soar beneath us. It is a spectacular view and a lot of fun for E and T. The final piece of equipment they have is a bungy tarzan swing some 40m high. It means walking out alone on a suspension bridge where 2 guys attach you to the rope, open the gate and out you fling. All E can hear is a scream from C as she is jettisoned. As E is strapped into the harness he can hear C below being unbuckled saying that that was the most frightening thing ever. Great. A catapult, 2 seconds of freefall and a host of expletives ….it is an incredible rush!
We make plans for our onward travel to Nicaragua which also involves a quick phone call (see Nicaragua chapter for more details!) . Next morning we take the early bus down to the main road, the Panamerican Highway. From here we are lucky to get the TransNica bus almost immediately that goes all the way to the border. Onboard we have failing AC, reclined seats in our faces, a toilet that back blows and a medley of 70s latino crooners dressed in wide collars on the DVD system. We realize we have left our carefully prepared food bag on the side of the Panamerican Highway!
The border crossing is somewhat hectic as we are ushered and shunted into various queues for swift processing. Tourists must pay 13USD to enter Nicaragua. We queue up behind 2 Padres. Outside behind a wire fence money changers shout and bark prices at people crossing over. We are offered a good price by the TransNica bus driver to take us into Nicaragua so we jump back onboard. At the Nicaraguan side we must take all our bags out of the bus where the customs official strokes the bags and Immigration deal with passports and we are not needed. Sellers of hammocks, handbags, watches and deep fried somethings parade by the bus. In a short time we are bundled back onboard and off we go into Nicaragua!
The black beach of Puerto Viejo de Talamanca
A sloth, yoohoo!!
Superb beaches on our bike ride from Puerto Viejo
Cahuita National Park
'Cara Blanca' = White Faced Monkey
C's favourite, the squirrel
We are desperate for a dip after our walk in the heat!
We walk back to Cahuita village along the beach
Our hostel in Cahuita
Volcan Poas National Park
Poor man's umbrella
Tom has joined us!
The Poas volcano
Old crater lake
Monteverde National Park = cloudforest
Canopy adrenaline rush
Oh oh what are we getting in to!
Tom has no fear
C has a lot of fear