We spent three days on the island of Tortuguero, on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica. There are no roads in the area, because the land is so flat and watery, so all access to the island is by boat. At some times of the year sea turtles come onto the beach to lay their eggs, but unfortunately this wasn’t one of those times of the year, so we didn’t get to see any turtles. And while we were there it rained rather a lot.
March 5, 2013
Jungle Tom Safaris picked us up outside our hotel in their van promptly at 6:05 am. After collecting the other passengers, our route took us along Ruta 32, up through the rain forest of Braulio Carillo National Park on the slopes of Volcán Irazu, and then back down to Guápiles, in the flat Caribbean plain. From there we travelled through banana plantations, at one time stopping at the side of the road to see how Chiquita transports bananas through their plantations. Before long we were at the transfer point where we would start our boat ride.
Here there were numerous other vans and buses dropping off people. The rain was pouring down so we all huddled in the pavilion waiting for our boat to be ready. This didn’t take very long and soon our launch was on its way down the Rio Suerte. The river was very shallow, so we went slowly, and our tour guide Mario pointed out caimans and Jesus Christ lizards and some howler monkeys as we went along. The main Tortuguero channel was wider, so we travelled faster on it, and soon we were at Casa Marbella, our home for the next three days. We checked in and then went for a walk around the village.
The village is very small, with no cars or motor scooters, and the houses are small and painted pastel colours. But all of the amenities are available here, even including a police station, with the exception of a bank. From the canal side to the Caribbean beach is only about 200 meters, with most of the houses and businesses being by the canal. It was so relaxing to walk around in such a laid-back atmosphere, with nobody scurrying around busily except for the leaf-cutter ants up by the biological centre.
We split a small pizza for lunch at the Budda Café, and then for the rest of the day we sat around reading and watching the boats while it rained heavily outside. For dinner we went to Miss Miriam’s, where we both had spicy chicken with rice and beans in coconut milk. Our waitress was obviously a native English speaker and when we asked, she told us that she was a Garifuna from Nicaragua.
March 6, 2013
This morning it started to pour with rain at 4:30 am, but fortunately it stopped just after 6 am. So we got into the boat with the guide for our early morning tour and set off. We picked up a couple from Uruguay, swung by the National Park office to pay our daily fee ($10 US each) and then we were off. We headed across the Tortuguero canal and then around the shoreline, looking for wildlife. There were a few herons and kingfishers, and in the distance we could hear howler monkeys. Comically, every time a plane lands at the airport they treat its engine sound as a challenge and start whooping again!
There were a few pairs of parrots flying over, but otherwise we didn’t find many birds. But it was an interesting morning excursion nevertheless. On our way back we found that one of the other tours had found a tamandua, a kind of anteater, up in the top of a tree. This was quite an unusual sighting.
Since we had a day pass for the national park, we decided to go there and have a look. We found we had to wear rubber boots on their trails, so we went back to Casa Marbella and borrowed some. Almost as soon as we started on the trail in the park we saw an opossum climb out of a tree and skulk away into the bush. Later we found out that there are eight species of opossum in Costa Rica, and ours was one of the larger ones. We couldn’t tell which, though. From there on the two major life forms which we found on the trail were the leaf-cutter ant and the mosquito. (Yes, we had repellent.) There was quite a variety of lizards and, near the end of the trail, we saw a pair of Pale-billed Woodpeckers and a female Great Curassow. We walked back along the beach, which had a few Whimbrels and other wintering shorebirds on it. It was still cloudy, but fortunately not raining.
For dinner we had decided to go to Wild Ginger, a new restaurant in the village, but when we went there it turned out to not be open. So instead we went to Budda’s and had a large pizza.
March 7, 2013
This morning the rain started pouring down at 4 am. Unlike yesterday it didn’t stop, but continued through most of the day. In the morning we walked up to the Turtle Conservation Centre, where we watched their movie about how the turtles became protected and how the local economy changed from turtle hunting to eco-tourism. Back at the hotel we watched workers unload a barge which contained at least 200 propane canisters and a full-sized refrigerator.
In the afternoon, we put on our rain gear and went for a walk on the path which goes up the island towards the airport. After a while we found ourselves passing through the back of places like Mawanda Lodge and Laguna Lodge, which were fancy places with swimming pools and tennis courts. By continuing along the beach we found ourselves at the end of the airport, but decided to stay off the runway. By now it had stopped raining—finally—and the wind blowing onto the beach dried us off nicely. We noticed a sand bank on the beach which had been eroded by the waves, and protruding from it were two batches of dried-up turtle eggs.
Back in the village we bought coconuts from the vendor who we thought of as “Señor Coco”. With his machete he shaved off the bottom to make a flat surface and then chopped off the top. You drink the coconut water with a straw through the resulting hole. It doesn’t particularly taste of coconut but is very refreshing. Next he cut the coconut in half so we could eat the inside. Unlike the store-bought dried coconut we are used to, the inside of a fresh coconut is rather gelatinous and doesn’t have much of a taste.
Tonight we went to the Wild Ginger restaurant, which was open again. Our meals were really good. Rosemary had apple-stuffed chicken roulades and Paul had Caribbean beef stew. And for dessert we shared a chocolate brownie with caramel sauce. It was good to have something other than rice and beans and chicken for dinner.
Outside we looked up and to our surprise it was mostly clear, and we could see stars in the sky!
March 8, 2013
This morning we woke up to the sound of no rain. We packed up and didn’t do much, just wandered around the village, until Jungle Tom’s boat came to pick us up at 2 pm. This time there were only nine of us on the boat, but as it turned out five of us were from Vancouver! As the boat turned into the Rio Suerte, we were amazed at the volume of water coming down it. We weren’t the only ones who had been having rain, for the last three days it had been raining heavily in the mountains and the river was in full flood. The river was five times as wide as when we had come down it, and the boiling current was bringing down all sorts of wood debris. Some buildings that we passed were surrounded by water, and our driver had to run the motor at high power to get upstream. And when we got out of the boat, the river was almost at the top of the bank at the dock, well over a meter higher than when we had left three days earlier.
The van ride back to San José was just tedious, a long drive up through the dark and rainy mountains and back into the city. Fortunately we were the first to be dropped off, and both of us were very glad to arrive.