Do Turtles Shit on the Beach?

3 08 2010

At 7am I was awoken by a “knock” on my tent. Much to my surprise Jenna had remembered my request to wake me up when I’d asked her at the start of the evening. After a mere hour or so’s sleep I checked out: my funds were now looking quite desperate. I got a taxi to the bus stop and then caught a bus to Puerto Limón. Finally I was on the road once more! I dozed on and off but I was super-paranoid about getting my day-pack robbed again so I didn’t sleep that deeply. I also worried about whether

At one point a policeman boarded the bus and spent an absolute age looking through my passport: I thought at first that maybe he was just impressed by my overwhelming array of stamps and was marvelling at all the places I’d been. After 5 minutes perusal he proclaimed (in Spanish), “You don’t have an entry stamp”. Panic gripped me: normally I look at my passport after a border control so that I can see how interesting the new stamp is. I didn’t remember doing it for Costa Rica.

I grabbed the passport off him, looked at it for 2 seconds and said, “Esta!” The Costa Rica stamp was quite clear and practically alone on its own page. Suitably pacified and hopefully feeling a bit stupid, he moved on, casting just a cursory look at everyone else’s ID. At Puerto Limón I hopped in a taxi with two Austrian girls, Sabrina and Martina. I asked the taxi driver if we could stop at an ATM en route and he said “Si”. But he either ignored my request, forgot it, or didn’t really understand me because, before I knew it, we were at the dock (miles from any ATM) ready to head off to the remote town of Tortuguero.

I didn’t even have enough to pay for the boat with so I paid a taxi driver another $16 to take me all the way back into town and bring me back. The first ATM was out-of-order and I had visions of not being able to get any cash at all but fortunately the second bank did work. Much to my relief the boat hadn’t left when I got back so we set off down the river. It was absolutely beautiful and our driver pointed out lots of birds and wild sloths for us as we went along.

Wild sloth on the way to Tortuguero

At Tortuguero we headed to Cabañas Aracari. The girls got a room and then I was shown to mine. The woman wanted to charge me $10 but I said that the girls were only paying $8, so she said that was okay too. It was only later that I realised that the girls had a triple room whilst I’d managed to get a queen-sized bed, en-suite for the same price. I was dead chuffed with my bargain deal.

After we dumped our stuff off we went for a bite to eat in town. Tortuguero wasn’t what I expected. The fact that there were no real roads and the only way to get there was by boat or plane gave the village a unique feel. It didn’t feel particularly dangerous either, although I was a bit wary after dark. After lunch I booked my turtle tour for that evening. The girls wanted to go kayaking too, so they were going to do both activities the next day to save on park fees.

The girls realised that they were also out of cash but there were no banks or ATM’s in this remote outpost so they had to charge their credit card at the supermarket and pay a 10% commission. Whilst they were doing this I went to an Internet cafe. In the afternoon they went to the nearby beach but I was still trying to keep the infected bites on my legs dry (in the hope that they’d perhaps finally heal and stop leaking pus over my bed sheets) so I just hung out at the hostel.

In the evening we went out for some dinner. I had to leave before paying so that I could make it in time for my turtle tour but I left the girls some money and asked them if they could wake me up when they went kayaking the next day so that I could catch the first ferry out of town.

Martina and Sabrina at dinner

We walked for about an hour along dark paths before we arrived at the turtle-nesting beach. I’d brought my head torch so I was able to see quite well at this point but as soon as we got to the beach we had to switch all our torches off and we had to stumble along the rocky beach with just the guide’s red light to guide us. There was no moon that night so it was pitch-black on the beach. After a lengthy bilingual explanation about turtles we wandered quietly along the beach to view the main attraction: a giant green sea turtle laying a clutch of eggs on the beach.

I think I was expecting an emotionally charged, transcendent experience but watching a trunk-like cloaca shitting white eggs into a hole in the sand under the red-tinged hue of the guide’s light didn’t really do it for me. There were lots of other groups around and we kept walking away from the turtle so that the next group could have a look. The whole thing felt very voyeuristic and I don’t really know how ecologically sound it was having a hundred tourists on a beach at night disturbing the turtles as they laid their eggs. We kept going back every so often to get another dose of turtle egg-shitting and then got to watch her burying the eggs too. I was done after the first viewing. We also got to see some new turtles clambering their way up the beach but my night vision was completely shot and I could barely make them out. At one point one of the turtles got wind of the large groups of tourists in its way and headed back to the ocean: I only hope she did make it back up the beach to lay her eggs once our invasive presence was gone.

I chatted to a few of the other people in the group as we wandered back to the village including a couple from Jersey (well he was quite obviously from Liverpool but lived there now) and a French Canadian. Back at the hostel I heard what sounded like someone climbing over the fence and saw a sketchy-looking guy walking past all the rooms towards me. I quickly got into my room and locked the door shut behind me. As I walked away from the door, it was if someone tried to push it open from outside. “Oh my God,” I thought. “He’s trying to get in!” It turned out that my shoelace had come undone and was stuck under the door, pulling it inwards as I walked away. Heart pounding from what I thought was another near-robbery, I went to sleep for the night: star-fishing in the rare luxury of a double bed.

Macho, Macho Man

2 08 2010

I was supposed to check out that day but I had no clear destination, no notion of how to get there, and I was super hung over: quite a disastrous combination for the erstwhile traveller. In the morning I said a final goodbye to Brian but I almost failed to do that properly: I felt so sick. It was a mass exodus in the hostel that day: Michele and Casey left too, as did everyone from the drinking game the previous night. Probably just as well: they had all seen me naked! I spent most of the day just sitting at my computer.

Finally, in an effort to do something vaguely productive, I went across the road to put some laundry in and walked into town to get a beard trim and possibly a haircut. After seeing the inept way the Rastafarian handled my beard there was no way I was letting him near my hair. I also expected him to use a cut-throat razor but he did the whole thing with trimmers!  I was surprised on the way to the barbers to run into Anthony on the main road. He’d left the previous day to Bocas del Toro on our recommendation but hadn’t really felt it so he decided to come back straight away. I also tried to get some cash out in town but it was apparently a national holiday and the only ATM in town hadn’t been filled up. I was running low on both dollars and colones.

In the evening I was having a few beers with Anthony and then I was even more surprised to run into Tara and Aisling from the Lost & Found hostel. I had absolutely no idea that they were even coming to Costa Rica. It turned out that Aisling had been so offended by my “re-tard” comment as I left that she really didn’t like me but I think I finally redeemed myself that night.

I signed up for the Macho Man contest that night. I rather hoped that Jeff was going to be in it too because that would have been hilarious but he backed out at the last minute. It turned out that Tara and Aisling were going to be judges (they got free booze for this service which obviously suited them down to the ground!). I rather hoped this would give me an advantage but think I came pretty low in the running.

The first challenge was drinking a beer bong with two beers and a generous slug of the local spirit. I did okay at this but because I swallow rather than just open my gullet I couldn’t compete with the top guns. Likewise in the chilli eating contest I found myself needing to chew before I could swallow. I also started the proceedings there which is definitely not advantageous. Obviously for the arm wrestling — given biceps which make Peewee Herman look like Popeye — I sucked. We had to move to the bonfire for the dance-off competition after J (for whom Rocking J’s is eponymously known) had an argument with E about the fact that we were keeping everyone awake.

Still, E managed to sort out some beers that we could buy down there so it was all good. Once again I led the proceedings with the dance competition which again put me at a slight disadvantage. And E expressly forbade me from stripping off completely after my antics the previous evening (which, let’s face it, was probably advantageous). In the end I think I was so far behind from the previous rounds that even knowing 2 of the judges failed to put me in contention. At least then I didn’t have to walk across the hot coals to determine the eventual winner.

We stayed around by the fire until 5am but then we struggled to get the girls a taxi back to their hostel. Eventually they cycled back with E into town. I had to be up at 7am in the morning in order to catch a bus but given my lack of alarm clock I didn’t rate my chances too highly…

The Red Baron Reveals All

1 08 2010

It was another day of post-alcohol-induced inertia. I didn’t do a lot all day. In the morning I said goodbye to Anthony and Kelly. Brian and I took our bikes back to the rental place (I obviously had to pay a fine for my buckled tyre) and then went to lunch at Cafe Ivon with Russell. In the afternoon I headed down the beach with Russell and fell asleep reading my book and listening to my iPod. Michele joined us briefly and then we all headed back to the hostel together. At the hostel I ran into Jeff, Bianca and Jenna from the San Blas islands: I hadn’t expected to see them again so it was a pleasant surprise.

Another pleasant surprise that evening was coming out of the shower — the showers are located outside in the middle of the courtyard — and seeing a girl wandering out of the other shower with her towel slung over her shoulder and no knickers on. Quite why she felt the need for such exhibitionism I have no idea but it put a smile on my face for the evening.

In the evening we had the chicken mole special in the bar. It was really good but the vegetables that they served with it weren’t that impressive. Later on we played a new drinking game: 21. The concept was simple to begin with, you just had to count up to 21 as you went around the table. The number 7 was replaced with 14 and 14 with 7. Although the first few rounds should have been easy there were enough non-native English speakers that even this was problematic and it seemed to take an absolute age before we first reached 21 and could create a new rule.

Brian and I were playing the game with Eguardo and Juan (from El Salvador), Chelsea (USA), Karen (Wales), Elina (Latvia), Janina (Costa Rica), Casey (USA), Michele and Russell. Eventually I think the full set of rules was as follows: 3=stand up; 4=fake an orgasm; 5=name a favourite sexual position; 6=swear in any language; 7=14; 8=stand up and stare at someone’s genitalia; 9=lick lips lasciviously;  10=assign person to remove an item of clothing; 11=dance; 12=say “Howdy”; 14=7; 15=say “Cardiff”; 16=say “dieciséis”; 17=ask a question; 18=kiss someone on the forehead; 19=remove an item of clothing.

I think Karen quite liked me but she was drunk as hell and could barely stand up. Even so when I got an 18 I abused the rules slightly and planted a big kiss on her lips: which I think she actually quite enjoyed. By this time I too was quite drunk and I quickly tired of waiting to get a 19 or have someone assign a 10 to me, so I kept stripping off my swimming shorts: much to everyone’s amusement (I’m sure).
Since it was a Sunday we didn’t even bother trying to go into town that day and instead stayed back at the hostel. As I went back to my tent for the night you could hear a woman evidently enjoying herself in one of the single tents…

Another Bike Bites the Dust

31 07 2010

Brian and I decided it was finally time to do something touristy in Puerto Viejo so we cycled down the road to the nearby Jaguar Research Centre. Brian was a bit late getting up (he was in the dorms so he didn’t get woken up so early by the sun beating down on his tent) so we nearly didn’t make it for the 11am start. We saw Jenna, Annie, Cassie and Hannah at the sanctuary too.

Contrary to its name, there weren’t actually any jaguars at the centre at the time: although there was a jaguarundi (a small black cat) who kept pacing frenetically around us. We saw lots of monkeys in their enclosure before they went out for “monkey training” and then got to play with some sloths. They get a lot of badly injured sloths in the centre because they quite often try to use the uninsulated power cables as branches. Luckily, the local power cables finally heeded the centre’s calls for installing insulation on the cables so hopefully this won’t happen so much in the future.

A sloth saying hi

The highlight of the visit for me was seeing the margay: an absolutely beautiful ocelot type cat; I was quite gutted that we couldn’t go up to it and pet it like the owner. After the tour finished we had a look at all the snakes that they had there but I think the owner’s partner knew a lot more about them than she did. She told us that none of them were dangerous to humans and yet there was a fer-de-lance snake there!

For once in the evening we didn’t play any drinking games and it was a welcome respite. After smoking another hookah between us; E, the owner of the bar, convinced us to do some beer bongs. It was actually a lot easier than I expected but then we did only do a single bottle of beer.

Me drinking from the beer bong

After the bar closed (it was very quiet compared to the previous night) we decided to head into town. We couldn’t persuade Anthony to come with us, so in the end  just Brian, Kelly and myself cycled into town. Kelly didn’t have a bike so I carried her on the back of mine: she complained the whole way there that her buttocks were hurting. We went first to a reggae bar across the street from Tex Mex because Kelly said it was very good for people-watching. It was quite good but I didn’t like the bar too much so we then went for a few drinks at Tex Mex itself. Brian also decided to head back at this point so just Kelly and I made it to Johnny’s Place. There were quite a few people there from the hostel and once again it was horrendously hot and sweaty.

We didn’t stay until closing this time and got a hot dog from one of the snack stalls outside. Kelly managed to drop the hot dog out of the bun before we’d barely walked away from the stand so we then walked up to the main road and bought a skewer of chicken to fill it with. Since Kelly had complained the whole way down about her aching buttocks I decided to let her ride the bike on the way back and I went pillion. This was a huge mistake! At one point she swerved the bike (neither of us are quite sure why) and completely buckled the back wheel.

We’d already gone past the rental place so I had to carry the bike back to Rocking J’s rather than just leave it outside the rental place and pay my fine the next day as Brian had done with his bike. The guy was really getting to know our faces! After lugging my bike back to hostel I headed off to bed for the night.

Rocking J’s Really Rocks

30 07 2010

After waking up once more feeling as if I’d drank the bar dry the previous evening, I headed down to the beach on my own to recuperate. Sonia and Milly were going to be leaving late in the afternoon but eventually decided to leave earlier so I missed their departure. I spent the latter part of the afternoon trying in vain to get my blog up-to-date before hitting the bar. I spent most of the time there with Brian, Anthony and Kelly. I also met a Texan girl, Michele, in the bar whilst we were smoking a hookah. Anthony introduced me to two girls he’d met during the day, Jenna and Annie from San Francisco. There was a live band in the bar and the place was absolutely jumping. It was just as well that we had our own booze and could drink that out back because the woefully inefficient bar staff completely failed to stem the tide of waiting drinkers.

After the bar got too busy we headed out back to play some drinking games. This time Russell (Australia) and Justin (USA) were leading the proceedings and after tiring of Ride The Bus (by this point there were way too many people to play a card-based game anyway) we switched to a big game of Slaps. This involved your hands being entwined underneath someone else’s so as to confuse you as to which hand came next in the sequence and then slapping the table. A double-slap changed direction and a triple-slap skipped the next person. We then played Whizz-Bang where an imaginary ball was whizzed around the table and sometimes banged back to the previous person. The hands had to be correct for this and I’m never sure I really got it 100%.

After the drinking games were completed I headed into town with Kelly, Anthony and Brian. Contrary to the previous night, Johnny’s place was heaving and was an absolute sweat-box. It was hard to dance in there for too long without coming out on to the beach to cool off in the mild drizzle. Anthony left early but the rest of stayed until closing time. Brian, Kelly and I stayed up for a bit chatting in the kitchen area (being very quiet obviously) before heading off to bed.

Another version of events from the same evening in Michele’s blog.

One Bike Down, One To Go

29 07 2010

Another morning: another hangover. Perhaps there was something in the mineral water of Costa Rica that gave me a greater proclivity for feeling rough in the morning. Or perhaps it was just the commonplace occurrence of drinking games every night. I guess we’ll never know. Sinead and Liz left that day but hopefully I’d run into them again somewhere else on my travels. I spent the morning just chilling in the common area, updating my blog and chatting to Anthony and Kelly, before Brian finally dragged me off towards town to get some lunch.

Didi, Alice and Maisie had recommended Cafe Ivon to me but for some reason it wasn’t open at lunch that day so we cycled to another cafe. There I had an amazing barbecue chicken sandwich on fresh French bread. Good bread in Latin America is hard to find so I was absolutely stoked with my lunch. Had I been feeling better I’d probably have been even more excited. After lunch I headed down to the beach. I had a good look around for Milly and Sonia but couldn’t see them anywhere so I hung out with Kelly and Anthony. After a while they went back so I just stayed on my own reading my book and listening to my iPod.

When I got back to the hostel there was no power which meant no Internet. Even worse, some of the showers were powered by electric pumps so only of few of them were in operation too. Fortunately the power did eventually come back on again as night fell so I did manage to get a shower and wash the beach off me.

By way of a change, we started off the evening playing drinking games en masse and, after a brief time down by the fire, Brian, Milly, Sonia and I decided to head into the town and see what was going on there. Since the girls didn’t have bikes they rode on the back of ours — as we do all the time back home in Amsterdam. We arrived at Tex Mex bar and ordered a beer whilst the girls went off to get a slice of pizza. They seemed to be gone for ages and when they got back Sonia didn’t seem in quite the same mood as she had before. Anthony and Kelly joined us briefly too but they headed back to the hostel shortly afterwards. We decided to check out the club Johnny’s Place but it was completely dead and after one drink there we headed home. In any case they closed the club since we were the only customers.

At this point Brian took his bike for a spin on the beach with Milly on the back. A few minutes later he came back; sheepishly carrying the bike. He’d swerved somewhere and managed to warp the wheel: they don’t build them like they do in Amsterdam! Sonia and I cycled back slowly so that the others didn’t fall too far behind. Back at the hostel the girls went straight to bed but Brian and I stayed up for a bit longer before finally hitting the hay.

Show Me the Way to Manazillo

28 07 2010

In common with nearly every day of my time at Rocking J’s, I woke up early (the tents get very hot in the morning as the sun starts to beat down on the tin roof above them) feeling a bit hung over. After breakfast at the hostel, Brian and I rented some bikes for a few days: if nothing else they would cut the 15 minute walk into town down to a more comfortable 5 minutes. We tried to bargain with the Rastafarian across the road but he didn’t seem to understand the concept that if we rented the bikes for multiple days we should get a discount on the daily rate so we gave up and rented the bikes further down the road.

In the afternoon we cycled 13kms down the road to Manzanillo with Liz and Sinead. It was a pleasant bike ride although it was difficult when we had to cycle our gear-less bikes uphill. There wasn’t really much to see in Manzanillo so after checking out the beach for a bit we decided to head back towards the hostel and hopefully find a cafe somewhere deeper into the forest where we could watch monkeys and sloths as we had a drink. We couldn’t find anything quite like that so we stopped in a French cafe for a small snack and some drinks. Brian and I had a bizarre pink-coloured drink that tasted of ginger. It was actually very refreshing. We played an informal game of Scrabble: no real scoring and most of my usual 2-letter words were disallowed. The Scrabble set had some bizarre Spanish letters: CH, LL and Ñ but we just played them without accents as if they were English.

Liz, Sinead and Brian at Manzanillo beach

On the way back we got some more booze from the supermarket and then had dinner at the hostel. This time I had the barbecue chicken although I was a bit annoyed when the mashed potato that I’d actually ordered it for wasn’t available and I instead had to have it with rice. After dinner we started on the drinking games with Sinead and Liz and played lots of rounds of F**k the Dealer, Ride the Bus and the Famous Names game. Eventually we joined the large table of Americans and Canadians again for an absolute mammoth drinking game. I’m not sure what the game was called but you only got dealt one card and could pass it once in a certain direction if you wanted. Whoever ended up with the lowest card (Ace was high) lost and had to Ride the Bus. I was glad that I never had to!

After we got kicked out of the common area we all headed over to the camp fire and chewed the fat there. Brian and I met two English sisters there for the first time, Millie and Sonia. Things died down way too early for my liking so I went back to the kitchen area and chatted to my friend, Cat, on Skype chat in Switzerland.

Colombian Prostitute in the Bus

27 07 2010

We got up early and headed down the hill to the main road to catch our respective buses. Lorna, Dayton, Mel and Ivan were all heading towards David. I was off in the opposite direction towards Changuinola and then across the border to Costa Rica. Their bus came almost immediately so I said goodbye to Ivan (we’d probably see each other again in London in October) and the others, and then waited for my bus to arrive. Another bus arrived going the other way (I’m sure it was supposed to be half-an-hour intervals in each direction!) before I finally caught mine.

I chatted to a US surfer quite a bit on the bus and he was saying how we should hook up in Costa Rica and travel together but I really wasn’t planning to stay in Costa Rica that long and wasn’t into the idea of lots of surf spots. Also he seemed like one of those mono-thematic surfers who just go on about surfing. At Changuinola (scene of massive riots a week or so beforehand) I had to walk through some rather sketchy looking stretches of the bus station before I found a “chicken” bus heading to Guabita-Sixola. Chicken buses are old US school buses that are found in practically every country in Central America: they can often have all sorts of strange passengers; including chickens (hence the name).

On the bus I got chatting to the only other gringo, a guy from Slovakia. I never actually asked him his name. He seemed quite a naive traveller and, although he’d already done the Costa Rica-Panama border crossing before, he didn’t seem to have much more clue where to go than I did. I’d heard a few horror stories about the border crossings from other travellers. One person had been turned back for not having a yellow fever certificate (I had mine ready but they never asked for it) and quite often they force you to buy a bus ticket back to the country you just came from to prove that you’re intent on leaving. I wasn’t sure my return e-ticket from Mexico (for which I didn’t even have the email any more!) was going to cut the mustard. For once I was lucky and the guy didn’t even ask.

At the other side of the border, the Slovak had got a local to show us where the bus station was (and then seemed surprised when the guy asked for a tip for walking him there) and I bought a ticket to Puerto Viejo. We’d been travelling for a bit when an attractive woman sat next to me and started chatting. For once my Spanish didn’t completely fail me and I was able to hold my own: although the fact that she spoke reasonable English helped fill in the holes. It turned out that Erica was Colombian and had been living in Costa Rica for 5 years. It’s possible that she was employed in a more innocent vocation but, and perhaps I’m getting too cynical in my dotage, I decided that she was most likely a prostitute. In any case, we had a pleasant enough chat and she got out just before the centre of town.

As I got out of the bus the Slovakian asked me if I was going to Manzanillo and if I was could I tape a message to a tree or lamppost or something. The message, in both English and Spanish, mentioned how he’d lost his mobile phone around there and if anyone found it could they email him. I laughed and said, “You’ll never see that!” From the hurt look on his face you’d have thought that I’d just stabbed him in the guts with a stiletto. So naive and innocent then.

At Puerto Viejo I walked 15 minutes down the road to Rocking J’s. The walk itself was pleasant enough but with the sun glaring and a heavy backpack it was hard-going. Almost immediately I ran into Brian and grabbed some lunch with him before checking into a tent. Rocking J’s is quite a unique hostel: on the top floor there are lots of tents (singles and doubles) that you can rent. It almost looks like a refugee camp in Africa. These are all undercover so you never have to worry about being rained on and it was almost like having your own private room. Downstairs there were backpack sized lockers so that you could keep your stuff safe. Also on the ground floor were lots of hammocks which you could also sleep in and for more conventional people there were dorms and private rooms available too.

Brian and I caught up on what we’d been up to for the last few days. He was telling me about what a blast it was at the hostel and complaining about an annoying German guy who kept hanging around. As if he’d heard his name, Michael (so heißt er) appeared at our table and I was able to experience first-hand how annoying he could be. For dinner we couldn’t be bothered to leave the hostel so we had the sea bass at E’s restaurant. The food there is awesome but the service is often dire. Brian and I decided to get a hookah (tropical fruit flavour) but no matter which way I smoked it or where I sat, the smoke always seemed to billow into the face of a rotund American on the next table. I felt a bit guilty but at least it doesn’t smell that bad. We invited a few Americans: Kelly, Anthony and Eric to join us for the pipe too. They’d all just met on the bus that day coming to Puerto Viejo.

Brian and I had bought a big bottle of rum and some ginger ale so that we could save on the bar prices and drink it out the back of the hostel but we stupidly left our ginger ale in the fridge and forgot that the kitchen closed at 9pm so we had to buy some more mixers from reception. We then joined a large group of Americans for a big game of Ride the Bus (their names are forever lost in the mists of time). There were also two Canadian girls with them, Hannah and Cassie. I lost one of the games and then spent an absolute age riding the bus; I’d keep getting right to the end and then guess wrong and start over again. Lucky that we had bought so much rum!

Eventually we decided to head into town and see what was happening there but we’d only walked halfway when we ran into Sinead (Irish) and Liz (English) coming back. They told us that town was absolutely dead so we walked back with them to the hostel and hung out by the camp fire with most of the people from the card game. (This was far enough away from the accommodation that the noise didn’t carry). Eventually, as things died down, I headed to my tent for the night.