Tortuguero National Park

Trip Start Sep 30, 2011
Trip End Ongoing

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Where I stayed
Cabinas Miss Miriam
What I did

Flag of Costa Rica  , Province of Limon,
Monday, November 21, 2011

Friday we got up early to start the trip towards the Tortuguero. We got the 7.30am bus to Puerto Limón, as we got off the bus there was a taxi driver just standing by the door of the bus. They of course know when the buses arrive and know most people need to go to Moín. Well, he offered to take us for 2usd each, a total of 8usd since we were with Paula and Franco. That seemed fair since we had been told it could cost 10usd, turns out he got the last 2usd as a commission from the boat owner for brining us. So he still made his 10usd. During the taxi ride which only lasted around 15 mins he told us about how his ancestors had come from Jamaica to work building the railways, and how they maintain the Jamaican way of speaking even though most of them speak Spanish as well. He said he still speaks Jamaican English with his mother or she just ignores him. He brought us to the dock in Moín and on the way we saw the massive cargo ships for shipping the Chiquita and Fyffes bananas. Once at the dock we had to sign a paper with our names and passport numbers because they make a quick stop to show the coastguard the list of all the passengers. We had expected a straight forward transfer, it was a nice surprise to see that the boat driver slowed down to show us animals on the way. We saw a fair amount of different types of birds and a big caiman. What we hadn't counted on was to hit one part of the river so shallow that some needed to get out and help push the boat off. This was not long after seeing the caiman. I thought the driver was joking when he turned around and said he needed help to push the boat of the shallow bit, I nearly started laughing along to his "joke" until I realised that his face was still serious and he was putting his feet over the edge of the boat. In the end all the guys got into the water to push and us girls felt like princesses. We made a quick stop where you could have lunch if you wanted, however as we arrived at the same time as a big group which obviously had lunch included, they didn’t even look at us when asking for a menu. We decided to just wait and eat when we arrived. We had checked out a few hostels and thought Cabinas Miss Miriam looked nice. We headed straight there and even though the price was a bit higher than we expected they included a huge selection of options for breakfast in the price. That convinced us, after all they were private cabins with bathroom. A luxury!! At the hostel there was a man saying he is in the Lonely Planet, I thought he meant the hostel but turned out he was a guide doing canoe tours to show the wildlife. We already knew we wanted to do this as this is the best way to see the animals. We had a chat to him and he offered to take us the next morning at 5.30am in his canoe for 3 hours for 15usd plus the 10usd park entrance fee. We wanted to go for lunch before deciding so told him we would ask for him to the girls in the hostel if we decided to go ahead. His name was Castor Hunter Thomas and he was mentioned as one of the recommended guides in the Lonely Planet. As we have learned to be a little careful, we thought anybody could say he was called this knowing that the Lonely Planet had written about him, so we were a little sceptic. We checked out the lunch options and settled for lunch at Soda Doña María. The sodas are typical food places that mainly serve breakfast and lunch. The typical lunch is a “casado”, a plate with rice, black beans, a small salad, some fried banana and your choice of meat. We all ordered the casado with chicken and an orange juice. As we entered the soda we saw our new found friend claiming to be Castor Hunter Thomas sitting on the porch of the house we thought was next door. We said hi and laughed at the coincidence. Ramón thought it a good idea to ask the sweet girl in the soda if she knew Castor and if he was a good guide. She promised us he is one of the best and highly recommendable since he has been working as a guide for 21 years at the Tortuguero. Ramón was happy with this so he popped out to arrange for the tour with Castor for the next morning. It was only as we left that we realised that the porch didn’t really belong to the house next door, it was part of the same house as the soda. That’s when we realised that Doña María was probably Castors wife and the sweet waitress his own daughter!! How we laughed when we realised that we had asked the daughter if her father was any good as a guide!! She must have thought we were nuts!!

As Paula and Franco were really tired they decided to have a siesta and Ramón and I chilled out for a little while waiting for the time to get closer to sunset. Even though it is not egg laying season for the turtles, it is hatching season for the eggs that they have laid. So we were hoping to see some baby turtles coming out of their eggs and nests to get down to the waves for the first time in their lives. This is supposed to happen just around sunset when it is no longer so hot and during the night until sunrise the next day. During the night they don’t want people on the beach for the risk of stepping on the newly hatched baby turtles and since we had the tour the next morning we decided to try our luck at seeing the baby turtles at sunset. I don’t think either of us had expected to really come across any turtles so it was with great excitement we saw another couple taking some photos right ahead of us right down by the waters edge a little time later. Ramón was saying that it was probably a crab or something so we were very pleased to catch up with them and see this tiny baby turtle making it’s way into the water and swimming for his life as the waves caught him. It was so cute. He was about the size of a normal sized cookie. As we turned around it was baby turtle race to the water! We managed to see about 30 baby turtles going from the back of the beach where the nest was and making it into the water. They all seemed to have made it. We felt so lucky but at the same time sad that Paula and Franco had slept through it all. As we started heading back a family with dogs caught up with us, that’s when we saw that not all the baby turtles had been so lucky. We found and empty shell without head and little feet, it was probably from another nest and another day, one of the dogs picked it up in his mouth and I felt really sad. But thinking about it, it is just Mother Nature after all. Not all of them can make it and are not supposed to, even though it seemed cruel just at that moment. That evening we went to be early since we had a very early date with Castor.

Saturday morning we got up at 5.10am and headed to Castors house to pick him up, since he lives just by the canal and that’s where his canoe is. The Tortuguero village is really just a strip of land between the Tortuguero canals which are like a swamp on one side and the Caribbean sea on the other side. The turtles obviously lay their eggs on the beach of the Caribbean Sea and in the canals you can see plentiful of other types of wildlife. They have a short airstrip and you can only reach the village by boat through the canals or flying in. The journey takes around 3.5 hours by canal from Moín where we came from or a little over an hour by canal to La Pavona which is the way we left to head to San José. If there is an emergency in the village they have an emergency plane which can take you to San José in 25 mins and to a hospital. But I guess it has to be life threatening. Little did we know that Paula would soon be needing a doctor!! We found Castor as he promised by his house and he was taking another 4 people from Lithuania in the same canoe. So off we went. We spent 3 hours going around the canals and I think it was really worth going in a canoe instead of a motor boat like many people did. The noise of the engines even though they went slow was scaring away the animals and they were not able to just suddenly stop if they saw something. Castor clearly knows the type of animals and plants very well. He claims his father was one of the first people to come and live in the Tortuguero village. We saw plenty of birds, some more caimans, plenty of monkeys, the howler monkey, the spiderman monkey and the white faced capuchin monkey. Some butterflies and some macaws flying above us. It was very peaceful and interesting. Since we could not have breakfast before leaving we headed back to the hostel for a beautiful breakfast after the tour, a huge plate of papaya, pineapple and watermelon to share between the four. Then scrambled eggs and toast, a fresh juice and coffee. Just what we needed. We were paying 30usd per room per night. Since we had paid the fee for the National Park for the day and there is a short trek you can do on your own, we decided to it was a good time with a full stomach and it was still early and not too hot. This was a great idea, only when we got to the park entrance it started pouring down and we were told we had to hire wellington boots to be able to do the trek. Partly because of the rain and partly because of dangerous snakes. Of course one of the neighbours of the park rented wellingtons for 1usd each. Sorted! We sat down on his porch for a while to see if the rain would stop and then got our boots on and headed into the park. Only to get absolutely nuts about the mosquitoes!! They were everywhere. We covered ourselves in mosquito repellent, which didn’t work. So we got our rain jackets out and covered everything apart from our faces, they were still going for us. Trying to bite our foreheads, chins, anything they could find not covered. We tried to do the whole trek and saw some monkeys but we just got fed up and since the trek was right parallel with the beach we escaped out to the beach after a while. Happily rid of mosquitoes we took off jackets, boots and rolled up our trousers and walked along the beach back to down, first dropping off the rented wellington and claiming back our own shoes. By now it was nearly time for lunch and we had seen a place that looked good as we headed back to the hostel. So we all got changed and showered and went for lunch a Johnny’s Coffee. That was probably the best casado so far, the chicken was yummy and instead of being chicken legs we got chicken breasts marinated in some lovely spices. As soon as it was time for sunset, which is early, around 4.30 – 5.00pm, we headed down to the beach to try our luck on baby turtle spotting together with Paula and Franco. This evening we were twice lucky as we managed to see two different nests with probably at least 50 turtles in each. As all of them had gotten into the water and we started walking away we saw two deep holes with one turtle in one and two in the other. The holes had 90 degree walls around it so it was impossible for them to come out. Even though it says not to help them get to the water, we thought that it could not hurt helping them out of the hole and then let them find their way to the water themselves. We didn’t have the heart to just leave them there struggling to get out of a hole that they could never come out of. We tried to get them up with a flop flip to avoid touching them. Franco managed to get one out. Still there were two together in the same hole. As I pushed the flip flop underneath one I saw how he was probably going to get crushed against the wall of sand. Knowing that they are not actually dependent on getting their mother to come and feed them and her smelling human scent, I thought I could probably pick him up carefully. So putting one careful finger underneath him and my thumb on top I lifted each one out of the hole and saw them quickly regaining control of which direction to the water, and we all felt such relief as the three made it into the water on their own. I hope we did the right thing. One thing is sure, stuck in the hole they would had died or gotten eaten by a bird or something.

That evening we went for a beer at Johnny’s Coffee to decide which boat to take the next day. The choice was 06.00am and 11.30am. Before we left to go, Paula had noticed how her chins were itching and getting a bit irritated, she thought it was probably a reaction to something she had eaten but didn’t think much more of it right then. Sitting enjoying our beer at Johnny’s they told us there would be live music in the town in a while. We decided to go and have a look, as we were finishing the beer the live music was actually brought to us and the musicians stopped to play at a little plot of grass right next to Johnny’s, suited us fine, we ordered another beer and enjoyed! It was very similar to the Jamaican style music with one guy playing drums and another a guitar. The locals were dancing and smoking marihuana around us. Again we felt like we were in Jamaica. We decided to take the 11.30am boat so went to bed with the agreement that we would meet for breakfast at 9.30am the next day. Around 2.30 -3.00 am I wake up hearing strange noises from Paula’s and Franco’s room next door and them talking. Turns out a bat had made it into their room, however this was not the worst. Paula was having a really bad allergic reaction to something. She had taken anti histamine tablets but they didn’t work. They got up and went asking around for a doctor. Being a night between Saturday and Sunday there was no doctor on the island at all. They came back and packed up having decided to take the 6.00am ferry to try to find a doctor earlier. By now, Paula’s face was all swollen up and she was burning hot on her cheeks and getting little red marks on her neck and back. Very worrying. As we had time and were packed we got up and joined them on the morning boat. When we changed for a bus in La Pavona to take us to Cariari where we had to change for another bus to San José, we asked the driver if he knew is there was a doctor in Cariari. He said not to worry and that he would help us. And he did, as we got to Cariari he told us four to stay on the bus, he then drove us straight to the door of a local doctor, having called him already so he knew we were coming. As Ramón and I waited outside with all the backpacks Paula and Franco went in to see him. The boys were sent to the pharmacy to buy some anti allergy treatment for an injection, anti allergy tablets and antibiotics in case it was a sting and not an allergic reaction. We could not see any bite or sting but it seems like the reaction can be fairly similar. In the end it is an allergic reaction, either to food or a bite or sting. Paula got her shot and then we went to get some breakfast in the café across the road. After this we got the bus to San José.

Ramón and I spent the afternoon exploring San José city centre as Paula and Franco went to the local hospital just to get a second opinion since she was not getting better. The hospital said the doctor had given her a good anti allergy shot but that she shouldn’t take the antibiotics. She was happy with this since she didn’t want to take them in the first place. That evening we got some roasted chicken and fries take away that we eat in the hostel. We had gotten a dorm just for the four of us which was nice. We stayed at the Costa Rica backpackers just 5-10 minutes walk from the city centre. The next morning we took the bus to Quepos on the Pacific coast to visit the Manuel Antonio National Park. Paula and Franco stayed behind as their next stop will be Nicaragua but they wanted to rest for a few days for Paula to recover from the allergic reaction first. We hope to catch up with them in Nicaragua.
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