Sunday, February 12, 2017

Costa Rican Road Trip

Juan arrived promptly at our hotel 7:30 a.m. eager to escort us to Tortuguero, a national park on Costa Rica's Caribbean coast renown for wildlife, turtles in particular. 

The three hour drive lasted over four hours. Our van crept along two-lane paved roads zig zagging through congested towns and over hilly terrain. I don't believe the country's engineers know how to build a road in a straight line. Skirting trucks unloading goods, stopping for pedestrians scampering across the street everywhere but at traffic lights, slowed by construction and traffic, an hour and a half after starting the van entered the highway.

The Costa Rican highway system does not boast four lane superhighways. It does have lots of BFTs - big *** trucks - and plenty of cars, small trucks, buses and vans, occasional traffic lights, construction and accidents. Hub commented he was not surprised, considering Costa Rica is a second or third tier country, and anyway it was not much different than driving through the Bronx, his hometown. 

The highway meandered through a national park and over a mountain. Great scenery, if we could see it. Approaching the summit it began raining and fog severely limited vision, but cars and trucks streamed by, intent on arriving at their destination without being delayed by anything as mundane as fog and rain. 

Beginning our descent, we suddenly halted behind a long line of vehicles. Inching forward, the reason for the delay appeared. On the opposite side of the road a car's door had been sheared off. Sitting in a ditch alongside the road a BFT lay on its side. Speeding too fast on a wet, windy road, the truck veered too close to a car approaching in the other direction and hit the car sideways. The driver attempted straightening the truck but instead drove into the ditch.

Driving on we found ourselves on a flat stretch of road with produce stands, gas stations and restaurants enticing tired, hungry travelers. We stopped for coffee and found restrooms surprisingly clean and neat. Continuing, construction forced another stop and additional delay.

About ten miles from the end of our ride the road turns from adequate to abominable. Unpaved, full of awesome-sized potholes and stones, dust kicking up, uneven terrain, the van moved along at an agonizingly slow pace.

Our initial destination, Pavona, is a dock where water taxis ferry folks to the island town of Tortuguero. We arrived a half hour after the boat we wanted had departed. Thanking our driver Juan we dragged bags into a pavilion to await the next boat, glad to be temporarily sedentary, no longer flopping up and down, almost carsick. Kids would love the adventure, but our fragile bodies wanted steadiness and stability.

A slow, meandering boat ride took us to Tortuguero. We experienced the jungle, the entire route on calm waters flanked on both sides by thick greenery - tall trees, shorter palms and flowering plants in every shade of green. Sharp eyes detected birds flying overhead, lizards, iguanas, snowy egrets with yellow webbed feet sunning on logs, a crocodile swimming in the dark, murky water, small turtles, and an otter.
Snowy egret
The boat got stuck on a sandbar. 
The captain pushed the boat back into navigable waters.

Our lodging was a short walk from the boat landing. We again dragged bags - we wished we packed lighter - and checked into Casa Marbella, finding accommodations underwhelming but adequate. Small room, dim lighting, tight bathroom quarters, with one window facing the street, ideal for hearing street noises late into the night and at dawn, but equipped with overhead fan and oscillating wall fan.

We discovered a ramshackle town catering to hiking, camping, outdoorsy, active, mostly folks younger than hub and me. We don't exactly fit in, but the landscape is pristine and quiet, as long as workmen hammering and sawing stay far from us, the rooster crowing at 5:30 a.m. stops quickly, dogs do not join in the cacophony, and workers do not collect garbage or deliver goods before dawn-5:45 a.m. Everyday life goes on...even in a remote island village.
Can you see the iguana blending in with his (or her) surroundings?


  1. What? No howler monkey at dusk and dawn? Are you sure you're in Tortuguero? We were told that a male monkey swam across to the island and lived alone, howling for company for a couple of years. Then a female swam across. Not long before our arrival two winters ago, they had their first baby. The howling continues. I loved it!

    1. Maybe the family relocated to be closer to the rest of the family. Probably needed baby sitters. Anyway, the monkeys awake us in Arenal, in the mountains. Miss you!