Bocas del Toro, the mouth of the bull

Well, those roosters do start early. 3AM, and the only light in the sky is probably from the excessive number of security lights around this place. At 4AM, the roosters were drowned out by a car alarm that would not stop. After 40 minutes, the cops showed up with their horn. A couple blasts of sound and the alarm ceased. I dont know if the owners finally came and dealt with the car, or a tow truck took it away…but the sound was gone. The roosters returned to their morning calls…and the sun was still a couple hours from rising.

We crawled out of bed at 7:30. A new bed, so neither of us slept all that well. Breakfast was instant oatmeal…plain, apparently with flax…no sugar. We are now looking at minimizing our sugar intake because everything seems to be overloaded with the sweet white stuff. Coffee, instant and lightened with a little overpriced milk.

I again had a little homework to do. It was a grey start to the day, so perfect for doing a little necessary editing to a training manual. By 11 we had some blue sky and needed some sun…also some lunch since the gruel we started the day with was quickly consumed.

 

With changing locations, even in the same town, some research is required. We walked back up to the north end of town to do some recon on the neighbourhood and water again. We then headed all the way south to check that neighbourhood. Neither really catching our eye. As we passed from north to south, we inquired about availability and price of those oceanfront rooms in the center of town. Most of the places have less than stellar ratings, and they can get away with a little smaller size rooms…dated furniture and higher prices because of their location. We might need to find a quieter island for that private hammock and patio.

We stopped for lunch at another place with almost nobody in it. A deck all to ourselves to enjoy a meal and couple beverages while watching the boats go by. Peaceful, relaxing…now if we could only wake up to this. After an hour of sitting there, finally we paid the bill and headed back to the room to start more searching for accommodation. This is turning into a full time job, but we do enjoy it.

A nap was in order, partly because we ate too much for lunch and watching the boats go by can make one a little sleepy. After that, we figured that since we were here…we might as well walk up to a few of these on the water hotels and check out their availability and rooms. Pictures tell you one thing, walking into the room tells you if it is a good or bad idea. Although it was now dark, we checked out Bocas Inn. A smaller place just to the north of here. Breakfast included, on a common area deck overlooking the water. We waited for the lady at the front desk to return by hanging out on that deck watching the fish chase each other around in the glow of a security light pointed directly down. A stingray floated by under those fish as well. The lady returned, we had a look at a couple rooms…and quickly departed. An OK looking place from the outside, the rooms seemed like they were from a nursing home more than a sexy island. More to discuss.

We still were not hungry, but headed in search of food. That big lunch seemed to not want to break down. We headed for a busy little art cafe down at the south end of town. A large sushi roll was probably going to be sufficient…and one each more than enough. Maybe it is the heat, maybe just a little tired of eating out all the time. We could buy some groceries and eat in, but our currently place is not exciting enough to warrant eating here as well as sleeping.

The rolls came. It must have taken 45 minutes, but the staff appeased us with beer and a basil daiquiri as well as appetizer composed of a couple shot glasses full of some salty soup. What looked like a small ashtray full of some scrambled egg and veggie concoction also arrived along with root veggie chips to facilitate transfer of the egg from ashtray to mouth. Melanie got 2 pieces in when suddenly she encounter a hard white chunk in one of the pieces. A bone? It kind of looked like a tooth. A human tooth. Thoroughly grossed out, she restrained from eating anything further. One of the serving staff came over and asked if all was OK and she pointed out the hard chunk now placed on the serving plate. He tried to explain it away as garlic, but no, this was hard…duro. He took it and disappeared to the kitchen.

Melanie then asked the question…could it have been one of hers? Sure enough, that crown that was put on about 5 years ago seems to have weakened and biting into the tempura roll was enough to shake it loose. A $5000 tooth now split in two with one half of that now somewhere in the kitchen of this restaurant. Immediately, we were asking for it back. Hopefully not buried in the trash…that would be bad. We are in a country of inexpensive dental, so this might be the place to get that tooth fixed. No pain now, just an inconvenience. Now a new challenge awaits us.

We returned to the room. No dessert for us. Now to find a dentist on this little island. Luckily tomorrow is Monday, so maybe someone will be working that can fix her up, just like new.

Off to Panama

No construction on Saturdays, which did not explain us rising before the alarm clock went off this morning. There were numerous momentary power outages throughout the night, which the microwave would alert us to with beeps to inform us that powers had happily been restored. We were up and eager to see what was in store for the day, even if it was only 6AM.

We consumed the last of our sugary cereal with half the milk necessary. To cut the dryness, bottled water was necessary. A bit of instant coffee and our breakfast of champions was completed with a banana. Ready and packed by 8. When asking our host where to leave the keys, she insisted she would come over for a walk through. Odd, but she must have had trouble with guests in the past and now a walk through is necessary.

Monika, from Poland, popped over and told us that she too hadn’t had a great night. She figures is was was warm bad cheese that did her in with her regurgitating her stomach contents for most of the usual sleeping hours. She is a chatty lady, and what should have been a 30 second process turned into 30 minutes. It seemed we almost had to pry ourselves away to stand on the curb for our shuttle pickup. 8:35 hit and our van arrived. We were off to Bocas.

We were the last pickup for the shuttle. 6 other young Germans in the van, 5 gals and a guy. Of all the travellers we have encountered on this trip, young Germans seem to be the least sociable. Sure there was that one teacher we shared a cab with from Tamarindo to Samara that was chatty, but in general…not a very friendly group. Beautiful scenery outside with miles and miles of banana trees growing alongside the highway and these people just wanted to nap. We rode in silence to the border.

At the border, the van pulled over. The driver got out and we all exchanged some confused looks. What was next? The driver opened the sliding door and started pulling some of the backpacks out. Obviously he wanted us out of the van…so this must be our stop. A guy with short skinny dreadlocks and super positive attitude introduced himself to us all as our guide through the border. This was Julio Cesar, known to his friends as Sugar. He rounded us up and pointed us in the direction of the nearby pharmacy to pay our exit fee. 8 bucks a person for this, or 4950 colones. Some quick math told us that paying in USD was a better deal. It also made me want to ask our guide if he might have got the numbers mixed up during conversion. No matter, we paid our fees and gathered outside for the next stage.

Stamps out of the country were next. At the Sixaola crossing, the same office handles both in and out travellers. Considering we were heading out, all we needed was a stamp and we could quickly pass through. We had to stand in the same line as a minibus sized group in front of us was entering Costa Rica…so 20 minutes of seeking a little shade outside the customs office was necessary. With passports freshly inked, we started across the bridge to Panama. This was a temporary single lane bridge that seems to have become a bit more permanent over the years. The old train and foot bridge that connected the two sides of the river seems to have fallen apart over the years.

Next, some paperwork to fill out on the Panamanian side. An entry form asking for the usual…how did you arrive, are you Panamanian, do you have 10000 in cash on you. Walking across any of these borders and declaring that you have that much cash on you probably is not advisable. I wonder how often they get someone checking off that box. One of the German girls did check the box saying she was Panamanian…by accident. No matter, scribble it out and mark the form again. The papers all went into an office and were handed over. No serious checks. Also no entry sticker that I was expecting to pay $3USD for. So far so good.

Next in our weaving border adventure was immigration. No line. Really just a 2 minute process which included most of that time trying to read fingerprints. The multiple steps that lead us through the border make me glad we did this with a guide. This whole process could be simpler if offices were co located instead of having to cross streets and find little offices tucked away in the back. Of course, just following the crowd and asking questions probably would have worked fine if we didn’t have a guide. We were stamped into Panama and ready for our ride.

We seem to have picked up a few new bodies crossing the border. Now our group of 8 was closer to 15 piled into a van. Julio Cesar sat next to Melanie for a few minutes, then popped out at the duty free store for a couple flats of beer. Maybe the rest of us should have looked at doing the same, but every night is Saturday night to us right now. With our guide and his beer safely in the van we were on the road to Alicante, to meet our boat ride.

We made it to the waters edge, and up the road to our dock. Registering our passport numbers seemed necessary as the guy behind the counter was looking for us to pay again. Everyone wants to be paid again. A point in the direction of Sugar and we were free. A few minutes later another shuttle arrived with many of the stray bodies left at the border and we all piled into the boat.

We were informed it was a 25 minute ride on the water and we should be putting on our life jackets. We all put them on, maybe reluctantly, and enjoyed the start to the boat ride on the calm water leading into these docks. This seemed downright relaxing, a nice afternoon on the water. We rounded the corner and you could see beautiful blue hues and white sand bars deep below us. The captain then opened up the throttle. The bow of the boat rose into the air and we were off! A few little waves chopping at the bottom of the boat made for a noisy, windy and bumpy ride. Then the bigger waves…it might have been about 15 minutes of this hard riding that had us all wishing there was some kind of seat cushion on these benches. We bounced and jostled around like one might in a car with no suspension on a Honduran roadway. Sorry, no pics during this part of the journey as I certainly would have lost my phone in the ocean.

We finally pulled into Bocas Town. Off the boat and on our way to our condo rental. Immediately you could feel that this place was very different from Costa Rica. Less traffic. Sidewalks. Melanie was happy. We just had to find our place now. A few blocks down an unpaved road and we were there. A friendly lady opened the security gate and after a few formalities showed us our room. This place is only $45USD a night…clean…but not fancy. Now that we are approaching the end of our trip, we might need to start looking at something a bit higher in the fancy scale.

We really needed a lunch at this point. We headed into town and stopped at the first cheesy restaurant on the water we could find. El Pirata. Almost nobody in the restaurant, but they had dining tables on their pier. We headed straight out to water for a cozy afternoon meal. Menus arrived, and surprisingly we could get a 5 dollar lunch and beer for 1.50! Melanie wasn’t into the cheap beer, so went for an iced tea. We had some really great hibiscus iced tea in Guatemala and Nicaragua…why not here? The beverage she ordered came out black. A single sip…resulted in some serious mouth pucker. They must have filled the glass half full of Lipton iced tea crystals and the other half with water. We spent the duration of the meal just adding water to dilute the concoction to the point of drinkability. No more sugar for us today!

We headed out for a stroll after that tasty chicken and coconut rice lunch. The sugar might have been responsible for that sudden need to go for a walk. We walked to the south end of town, the north end, and all the way westward to the end of the airstrip. We now have a good idea of what is here, and can plan accordingly as to where our fancier next place might be. The north is nice, but quiet. The west is a bit more shacky, but the people seem really nice. Little kids would wave and say Hola as we walked by. One friendly little guy ran up to Melanie and hugged her leg while a lady in the distance started yelling something probably to keep him from approaching strangers so easily. Now Melanie will have to be careful of who she smiles at. On our walk back, we encountered a barber shop.

I had been wanting a trim for a week now. We haven’t had a whole lot of luck finding any barber shops around and Melanie is a bit reluctant to just shave my entire head down to a No. 1. When asking the guy inside, how much…all he wanted was 4 dollars. Done…Melanie wanted to sit for a bit and the boy in the chair was almost complete. As the finishing touches were put to the boy, the place started to fill up. A big guy with dreads, two older boys. This was not a big, or clean place…but it was busy. With the amount of hair on the floor, this guy must have been working hard all day. You could smell the warm hair grease in the air. 10 minutes in the chair, clippers only and a few different guides were finished off with a dusting of talcum powder. Next stop for us was home as I needed to get the powder and other peoples hair debris off me ASAP…especially before dinner.

We showered. No pool, so the fresh water rinse was necessary. Melanie reminds me that fancier places have pools…yes dear…we can look at options. Dinner was down at the south end of town at a place recommended by a Californian lady that had a little clothing shop under the tasty Azul restaurant. Fixed tasting menu for the whopping price of $20 per person. Four dinner courses and two desserts. Our first fancy meal in a long time…tasty, and probably wont be repeated for a few days. We enjoyed it and have now retreated to our budget abode for the night. Bellies very full and ready for a decent sleep.

There was something in the reviews about this place where people were unhappy with the roosters in the morning. I guess we will see!

Blue Sky in Puerto Viejo

We still have the wind here, but this morning we woke to blue sky. Excellent start to the day and a great opportunity for more pictures. At this point though we have already grabbed all the photos we need from this place, so a few more with blue sky might be overkill. We had our breakfast and while checking email i ran across a note suggesting I had some work to do.

A couple hours of document editing in the darkness of our room, with occasional internet connectivity, and we both needed to get out and see some of that blue sky. We still had some details to figure out, like confirming travel to Panama and how to pay for it. Lucky for us, next to the stand that sells bus tickets was one of the many vendors in town selling return tickets to Bocas del Toro via their discounted shuttle service.

This one was a tough call. We could do the bus, border, bus, ferry our way over. The price of handing over the reins to someone else that will ease the process both to and from Bocas del Toro seemed worth it at this point. It has been a whole lot of travel coordination and setting up the two and from reduces the planning exercise to almost zero. We need that now.

We headed to the Megasuper in town and pulled out USD from the Scotiabank machine, then gave the guy cash in exchange for a ticket and couple of neon orange wristbands. When we are on the other end of this route, we can inquire as to what we should do with the wristbands. With that complete, we crossed the street for a couple smoothies and empanadas. Not near as tasty as yesterday, but an inexpensive and greasy lunch that will probably be digesting in our guts for days to come.

More window shopping in the afternoon. A dip in the ocean with me getting into some pretty big waves. Waves frisky enough to nearly strip my shorts off, which Melanie found to be quite amusing. I was 50 feet away and I could see she was nearly doubled over with laughter at seeing my white butt in broad daylight…with another big wave headed towards me.

It did seem like there were more people around than normal. It is only Friday, so maybe a few more bodies are in town for the weekend. Those cars all seem to park in a tiny lot at the tip of town. The occupants of those vehicles spilled out on onto the narrow strip of sheltered sand. One lady was laying in the sandy parking lot trying to get some browning underway. Why were these people not heading down to the black beach just a 5 minute stroll westward? Almost nobody over there, nicer sand…no trees for shelter, but there is a beach. Many things that we will never understand in these parts.

After some intense sun exposure while watching the pelicans dive for fish in the afternoon daylight, we headed back. Fine black sand will likely be travelling home with us now as it seems to be stuck to everything. With the sky almost clear today, it also gave us the opportunity potentially for a sunset. We dried off, changed and headed back out to a windy spot to wait out the end of the daylight…watching the pelicans continue to dive and feed on small fish brave enough to hang around the surface.

Dinner was again at the Bikini Restaurant. The staff now recognizes us and smile when we walk in the door. Another blended mojito and green curry for Melanie. A passion fruit daiquiri and what they considered to be chicken fajitas in some mango cream sauce. Interesting, sweet and tart…very nice with the rice. After that…a walk back through town and some window shopping before calling it a night.

Not much more to report. Should be an early start tomorrow and by noon we will be in hopefully a very new place. A place without a faint hint of sewer in the windy air.

The grey side of Puerto Viejo

Construction starts early in these parts, shortly after daybreak. Melanie sleeps with earplugs, so it wasn’t until 7 that she rose. Breakfast was a simpler offering of sugary cereal cut with rolled oats and a dash of milk. Now that we are in the final 2 week stretch of this trip, we are starting to crave simpler foods. Dining out every day does get exhausting.

We had a few accommodation planning details to work out, and in short order we found what we were looking for. We now know where we are staying in Bocas…for the first 3 nights. We can figure additional days out after being there and learning the lay of the land. With that minor success for the day, we headed out for a dip in the ocean. No pool, and nothing better to do…so why not swim?

Another grey, overcast day here. Great for us whities looking to avoid the evil sun. Not so great for pictures, but maybe some blue sky to poke through in the afternoon. The wind was warm, water even warmer and whipped up into a nice froth with choppy waves…perfect for some bobbing. I spent a good 20 minutes out there before feeling guilty about leaving Melanie on the shore. This was also a bit of a test to see how rough the water might be for the more proper of us two to brave. It is a nice beach, with barely a soul on it…so more swimming is in our near future.

Rejoining Melanie on shore, we wandered along the black and tan sand to the point here in Puerto Viejo. A quaint little stand was offering up smoothies and empanadas which we happily ordered. Watermelon smoothie with chicken empanada for all of $4 Canadian dollars. When asking about what she had for empanada options…she mentioned a platano version. I had to get one of those…just to try it out. A baked crust, a little sweet, with some sweet red doughy concoction inside. A third world pop tart…but likely much more nutritious. This was the completion of our second breakfast…so lunch wouldn’t be for a while.

We headed back to the room for a change out of my damp clothes, although that spot right on the water was really tempting to hang out at all afternoon. A lack of beverage options and sunshine had us explore other things to do in town. We had a look at other things to do in town, like walk down different residential streets, check out which restaurants might be closed on Thursdays, and excite shop clerks by window shopping during the off season.

We found the lunch place from yesterday and sat down again in an empty restaurant for a couple all day happy hour mai tais. A couple like snacks of ceviche and chicken satay skewers turned out to be more food than we were used to and we left there over stuffed. We must have attracted a few tables of people too, because by the time we left the place seemed almost half full. Maybe we could find jobs down here just sitting in empty restaurants.

An afternoon ocean dip was in store. We suited up and took the shorter route to the black sand beach. This took us to the edge of town where we were immediately propositioned for some cheap coconut water, and drugs. Tomorrow I will come back for the coconut water, but now we know where the sketchy characters hang out. We skirted those guys again with our perfected “No Gracias!” and made our way too the beach. Again, very few people other than some kids fishing from the rusted out barge washed up on the old reef. We splashed in the waved for a bit, then sat on a big log and let the water wash over our toes. The fine black sand looking like both a dark pudding when wet and a freshly cleaned blackboard when the water seeped away. A perfect spot to wait out the remaining hours of sunlight…then a couple bloated fishies bounced off Melanie’s toes and we were packing up. Nature is both beautiful and gross.

A costume change into something drier, then we headed out to the same place for dinner again. It seems that in our search for variety on a day to day basis…that enthusiasm seems to have reduced a little. We now seek food that is tasty and agrees with our intestines. Tonight, another curry and different tempura roll. Bocas del Toro will be our destination in a few days and we will be forced into finding new sources for dinner. In the meantime, we will continue with the options we are happy with here.

The night is now winding down and it is time to start outlining how the rest of this trip wraps up. Two weeks will go fast. We really need to start browning up in time for those Christmas photos. Maybe I could check with the coconut water guys if they also have some coconut oil.

Puerto Viejo, the Caribbean side of Costa Rica

We slept through the night and in the morning Melanie bumped up the AC from 28 degrees to 29. Maybe she was cold. This side is a bit chillier than the Pacific side, so some adjustment might be necessary.

We readied ourselves and headed out for breakfast, and to complete the return on that rental car. When dropping the car off 5 minutes before close, the staff wasn’t too interested in completing the paperwork…especially if it could all be done in the morning. We popped into the Alamo drop point and quickly signed a couple papers to complete the rental. Just as we were about to leave, the guy looking over the car comes in to say the hood is broken. He can’t open it. I couldn’t open it, the guy in Samara where we picked up the car also said he couldn’t open it. Best for this gal to call the office at the pickup point to clarify. 5 minutes later we got the OK and departed. Extra insurance not needed, but should have kicked in for something like this if it were an issue.

Breakfast was at a little place across the street called Bread and Chocolate. It seems that almost every place in this town has at least a 4 out of 5 rating for eats. This place had a couple extra dollar signs, so the hope was the breakfast they offered would be darn good. Sure enough, tasty but it seemed like they needed a little more variety. Pancakes, waffles and French toast all seem like cake-like sweet offerings. Eggs on a plate with toast, or rearranged into a breakfast sandwich…also kind of the same. A lack of added meat options, but we filled up on eggs, hashbrowns, fruit and a baking powder biscuit before departing for a walk.

The town is not all that big. 4 decent sized grocery stores, but no barber. I mentioned yesterday no gas station. A couple bakeries though and lots of restaurants. We discussed over breakfast if we needed more time here or not. One more day might be sufficient but we need to know where, when and how we are making our way to that next spot. We have a semi-quiet room here and it is clean…which are two key needs on our end. We weighed a few options and opted for adding two nights. This will allow us to more fully research Bocas del Toro and how to easily navigate the border.

We spent a bit more time wandering the beaches. Tomorrow will be a swim day, today the clouds just seemed a bit menacing, ready to unleash a torrent of water with only a moments notice. Lucky for us, none fell. We checked out the black sand at Playa Negra and the smaller sections just off the main part of town. What is neat about this place is that it sits on a reef. All up and down this coast there are sandy beaches. Between the beaches are rocky outcroppings, but they aren’t rocks, they are pushed up chunks of reef. Gorgeous brain coral textures in what we would normally consider to be just rock. Mix in vast swaths of light sand and you have some pretty scenery. We just need some blue sky and sunlight to brighten up our photos.

We found a fusion place for lunch and split a jerk chicken burrito over a pair of mai tais. The afternoon slowed and we could have easily sat there people watching for hours as pedestrians, cyclists and vehicles of all types dodged and weaved each other on the newly paved strip. We opted for the more proactive grocery shopping and some research on our next destination.

After sunset, dinner back at the same spot as last night. The cocktails were good and we didn’t want to chance a meal tonight. It was a lot of eating out today, and tomorrow we will start the day eating in the comfort of our place. Nothing exciting to report, just another day in Puerto Viejo. More exciting stuff seems to happen when we are regularly on the move…that will need to wait a few days.

Maybe tomorrow we can make some new friends and learn a little more about where we are. Life is better with friendly conversation.

And On to Puerto Viejo

Not sure if it was the excessive rain pounding on the roof all night or the excitement of a new day. I didn’t sleep past 5:30 this morning, which was likely going to make this a very long day. I tossed, turned, read a couple news articles just to stay up to date on what might be going on in the world…and when 7:00 hit it was time to tap and tug at Melanie like a cat that needs to be fed. I was hungry and the buffet style breakfast was starting to be served.

She sleepily agreed, and started preparing herself for the day. I opened the curtains to the central courtyard and people were all milling around out there with phones pointed in one direction. I knew there were sloths around, could they be out this early? I slipped on some shorts and a shirt, then slid open the patio door to exit the room. Outside was not wildlife, but a clear view of the elusive Arenal. Melanie opted to get ready first before leaving the room, something about only being a few minutes and needing to get her hair under control. In a few minutes…the volcano was shrouded in clouds once again. At least I got one picture of it while in La Fortuna.

We were ready to sample the buffet breakfast our host Alejandro, from Puerto Vallarta, had hyped the evening before. We arrived to many of the tables already filled with German and Dutch travellers. I grabbed a couple of plates and headed over to the table of food to find…everything picked over. Scraps left and it was only 8:00. Tired watermelon chunks mixed with papaya that nobody wanted. Fried sausage-like chunks that didn’t belong on anyone’s plate. A few scraps of egg left stuck to the sides of the chafing dish. This might be a lean morning meal for both of us. The coffee and juice was plentiful though and we did load up on that. We sat and enjoyed the cloudy volcano, then packed ourselves up and into the car.

On checkout we did get to see a sloth perched high in the tree outside reception. Poor lighting conditions, and the fact the animal blends in so well to the tree eliminated any chance of a decent photo, so we just stared at its butt for a few minutes. Eventually there was some activity as the treed creature looked over its shoulder and down at us with what I figure had to be a bit of a disgusted look. Daytime is for sleeping. The chatter we were making below was not helping with any snooze.

We hopped in the car and started out on our way to the east coast. 9AM on the road. A missed turn at Tanque was quickly corrected and we found our way down the 4 to Guapiles…and then on to Limon. This is a fairly busy corridor as everything in this country seems to be shipped into Limon, then transported by truck to San Jose. We have not seen a train or set of tracks anywhere on this Central American trip yet. That is probably also why so many goods end up being expensive here. We got to Limon and thought we might have lunch, however the traffic was crazy and venturing into just the suburbs of the city was enough to turn us off of heading in further. We opted to just head south to Puerto Viejo.

Lunch was in the little town of Cahuita. We grabbed a couple photos, then sat down at a restaurant that had a couple TVs showing the Hungary vs. Costa Rica friendly football match. People were glued to the play. We sat and chowed down on a very large plate of chicken nachos…with no interest in the game. The waitresses also didn’t seem to have much interest what was on TV…or their jobs…because the nachos showed up quicker than the beer, and much quicker than the watermelon smoothie which almost arrived in time for dessert. We asked for the bill and quickly departed the restaurant and town. A cute spot, good for lunch, but we had to move on.

We arrived in Puerto Viejo at 3PM. We checked in painlessly, no need to show passports or fill in useless registration information. We got the keys and wifi password, then were off. Being as we still had the car until tomorrow morning, but no where to park it, we thought we might just as well try to check out some of the recommended neighboring towns suggested to us by others we had met along the way.

We headed down the road towards Manzanillo. Punta Uva and Cocles were first and we found lots of little restaurants and cabinas for rent all spread out down the road along the coast. So many tourists on bicycles though, and mixing these casual riders with the vehicle traffic was a bit of an obstacle course. I understand the need for bikes as all these businesses are so spread out, they would be difficult to visit on foot. The lack of lanes for the bikes, or even lines on the road, meant extra attention had to be paid by both myself and other drivers to keep everyone alive. No bikes for us.

We made it to Manzanillo. We expected more, but other than a few desolate restaurants and beach, this really didn’t look like a place we would want to stay. This was the end of the road, so we turned around and decided to check out Punta Uva. Again, a pretty little beach set up against palms blowing in the steady breeze off the Caribbean… but the dead coin sized fishes all washed up on shore were starting to make the place smell a bit like a fish market. Add some midday sun to those little corpses tomorrow and we probably wont be back there. In Cocles, we found three horses just hanging out on the beach. A nice stretch…but Puerto Viejo has easy access to a couple decent beaches which we will have to check out tomorrow.

With no place to park, I still had the option to return the car to National before 5. I just needed a little gasoline. The closest station around here is in Hone Creek, a good 6km away, so we booted it up the road to get fuel and return. We found the drop point for the car, stashed it in their gated yard and headed out for a beverage.

Right next to our accommodation is a funky looking place called Outback Jack’s. Tuesdays mean tequila is on two for one, so margaritas it was. We sat down at a table and within a minute our feet started burning. Tiny little ants were very unhappy with our location and began biting. We opted for the bar, which was a better viewing spot anyways. Jack was our bartender and it gave us a chance to find out a little about his story. Here was a grizzled old character that has collected a lot of junk over the years. That array, or disarray, of signs, old projectors, lab equipment, dead espresso machines, and painted horn instruments was strung up everywhere. Jack washed up a couple mugs for us in a greasy sink of water, then handed over a tiny pitcher of margaritas. Sitting at the bar demonstrated the less than stellar cleanliness practices. We crossed our fingers there was enough tequila in that pitcher to sterilize any bugs, and drank those limey beverages. No salt rim though. Either he had forgotten, or couldn’t find a scuzzy sponge to wet the rim. We paid and left. We didn’t want to chance food.

We wandered in the dark to try and find something to eat. Many places are closed on Tuesdays, so we ended up at the Bikini Restaurant. Sorry, no bikinis in the place. The waitresses did have skin tight dresses on though. We ordered a deep fried sushi roll and Thai curry that was so spicy we instantly broke out in the sweats. Maybe not the best of meal choices, but it has been a long day and we were not interested in more rice and beans. Melanie had a blended mojito which was fantastic, and I a reasonably priced caipirinha. Bellies full, we headed back for the night. We can explore more tomorrow in the daylight.

We covered a lot of ground today. We should sleep well tonight, especially if the neighbors stop screaming at each other. Earplugs will solve that. Tomorrow, we will see more of this little town…unless those dodgy margaritas come back to haunt us. So far so good.

The Road to Fortuna

Up at 7 and when checking my phone for the time, there was a message asking if we were OK. I unlocked my phone and there were additional notifications from friends and family sharing a story of a 6.5 earthquake in Costa Rica. I had to do a little googling to see what the story was and where exactly. It turns out the main quake and aftershocks hit around 8:30 while we were in our room last night. Epicentre was about 100kms away. Probably while I was writing yesterday’s post. We didn’t feel or hear a thing from our second floor room. No creaking, no rattling…nothing. I know the power went out for a while last night starting at around 12:30, but that was 4 hours later.

As if everything was the same, Melanie got ready and I did a little research to understand the bigger picture. Negligible damage. Many people felt it. Nothing to be really worried about since this entire part of the world is regularly hit with earthquakes. Tonight we are staying in the town at the base of a recently active volcano. It seems that the news can focus on a few details at times, and leave it up to the public to envision the worst. I was only curious to know if any of the roads were affected for our drive today. All roads were fine, so our day was to go ahead as planned…which was good because we now have 3 non-refundable nights booked.

 

Breakfast was quick, then I was off to pick up the rental car. This was a 10 minute walk across town which gave me a chance for one last look at Samara and the daily specials across the street. Happy hour at Lo Que Hay has been one of the better experiences on this trip, especially every day. Let’s hope we can find a few spots on the Caribbean to match that fun. I grabbed the car after adding a little extra insurance…just in case…and returned to pick up Melanie and the bags. We were on the road by 10.

Google maps outlined a couple options for us to skirt the nearby town of Nicoya and shave a good 20 minutes off our drive. We enjoyed the scenic greenery of the hills taking us inland and found our turnoff point. Nicely paved road lead to potholes, then no pavement…and a minor river crossing. Hmm…where was that highway? We didn’t go for the compact 4×4, mainly because it didnt seem as comfortable as the Yaris, and we were sticking to only main roads. The Yaris probably would have done fine with the 6-8 inches of water. We didn’t chance it though and backtracked to the other shortcut. This second shortcut took us down to what appeared to be an illegal garbage dump and shallow river crossing that only a real 4×4 should be doing, especially on the other side where the exit was a bit steep for any vehicle leaving the river. Two shortcuts shot down, we made our way through the city and the long way around.

We drove through Nicoya, then on to Pueblo Viejo de Nicoya, Quebrada Honda, and to the Pan American Highway. These are all 2 lane roads with no shoulder. Traffic was very light, so it was hard to keep to the 80km maximum and watch for the 60, 40 and 25km per hours zones. We got off the PanAm highway at Canas and followed a road that took us to Lake Arenal. All of these roads have numbers on Google Maps. The roads are not signed in the way that we might be used to though. At intersections you need to know what town is in the direction you want to go, then just point your car that way and drive. Keep your eyes on the road because people drive fast and there are no guardrails to keep errant vehicles from plunging down the hillside into either a house or the lake. Good roads, but not wide like what we might be used to.

We twisted and turned our way to a spot close to the lake and stopped for lunch. A microbrewery that claims to be the first in Costa Rica, therefore the most experienced. I am not sure if they think that makes them the best, or just the oldest. Regardless, I did have an IPA to test out their claims. It is the first microbrew beer I have had down here and I can say it is better than the macro brew options usually offered at happy hour. We washed that beer down with a bowl of chicken chili and another rice and beans Casado dish while taking in the lake view. A pricey bill for some OK food, but they likely need to pay a few staff that keep this place open. We wrapped things up and hit the road.

A couple hours later we arrived in La Fortuna. We stopped a few times to get some pictures from the side of the road. We detoured up an access road that leads you to the base of Arenal Volcano, but the number of potholes made driving the 2km in a bit tough on the suspension. Considering this is the biggest draw for people in the area, a few dollars can probably be diverted from replacing the arterial road (which seems to be in decent condition) to fixing up that mess leading to a national park. We arrived in town in one piece, 5.5 hours after departure, and checked into Hotel Secreto for the night. After dropping our stuff in the room, we made our way into town to see what makes this place great.

La Fortuna literally translates to The Fortune. Now I dont know if that means that someone at one time discovered buried treasure here, or if the tourist agencies realized all the money they could make by jacking up the prices on any kind of excursion by calling it eco. There is not much to this town, and all touristic restaurants seem to encase the Central Park. Prices are higher, food is the same, and not one place is advertising Happy Hour. Traffic is split between touristic buses, rental cars, and vehicles in serious need of emissions controls. I guess this is what city life is like, and is something we will have to adjust to for a few days.

On the plus side, we were able to find a Japanese place for dinner that wasn’t too expensive. A bowl of ramen with salmon and soba with shrimp was just different enough to satisfy our bellies. Ice cream from a shop tucked away down a street next to our hotel was also a nice treat. Walking back we could see lightning flashes in the distance, with a downpour of rain a few minutes after we got back. We will breakfast here and head to the east coast in search of a little solitude…and maybe that beachside happy hour.