Putting Down Roots in Costa Rica

Trip Start Jan 12, 2007
Trip End Nov 19, 2007

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Flag of Costa Rica  ,
Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Given the perfect Spring-like climate and the cinnamon buns at the market, it was hard to say goodbye to Boquete (Panama), but after 3 days we managed to pull ourselves away and crossed back into Costa Rica (on August 13), via the main border on the Interamerican Highway.

In short order, we then made it through the highlands of southern Costa Rica and onto the Pacific Coast, where we sampled the beach towns of Dominical (3 nights), Manuel Antonio (1 night) and Jaco (1 night).

Dominical, a town with one dirt street down the middle that is popular with the surfers, was our favourite of the 3, and because of the "gnarly" waves we opted to spend one morning taking another surf lesson. Manuel Antonio - really just a bunch of upmarket hotels, restaurants, bars and stores along a steep 7 km stretch of road that leads to a national park of the same name - had some of the best beaches and wildlife (sloths, monkeys, etc.) we have seen on the trip, but because the area is super developed we found it to be a bit too overrun with tourists (we like to think of ourselves as "travelers" now, not tourists). Jaco - basically Costa Ricaīs version of Mazatlan in that it has a main strip running parallel to the (average) beach that is overrun with tacky souvenir stores - was our least favourite. The lowmarks for Jaco are also due to the grungy campsite we stayed in which was next to a karaoke bar and which had us listening to an ESL version of "Bette Davis Eyes" late into the night.

We had actually planned to spend more time leisurely making our way north along the coast, but the combination of missing our "niece" Lluvia and the torrential rains that came every afternoon, lasted through the night and kept us prisoners in the van, forcing us to reconsider. We quickly decided that the best course of action was to head back to the comfort of a cabin and covered pathways at the Chilamate Rainforest Eco Retreat. And itīs at Chilamate where we spent the next month (August 19 to September 19) putting roots down in Costa Rica.

Itīs perhaps fitting that one of the main events during our month in Chilamate was the rescue of a sloth (see below) because we werenīt exactly busy there. We did, however, establish a daily routine that started with getting up around 6.30 a.m so that I could do my self-assigned chores - the most onerous of which was making the coffee - and so Ades could run around the property, chasing toucans. After the coffee was made and the toucans photographed, we filled the days by playing with Lluvia, charting the progress on the construction of the retreat, reading and filling Meghan in on the recently held Windsor 1996 10-year grad reunion. We also tried to earn our keep a little: I spent a few days hauling rocks from the river (which they are using for the restaurant walls and bar) and Ades took over Meghanīs English teaching duties at the Chilamate public school, a two-room schoolhouse.

We broke up the stay in Chilamate by returning to Puerto Viejo de Talamanca on the Caribbean coast (5 hours away) for 5 nights, a place we had loved when we first passed through in late July enroute to Panama. PVT continued to work for us, if for no other reason than because the self-named "Cuban Mechanic" (track pants, no shirt, only a few front teeth, bed head, cigarette always dangling from his mouth while he worked) came to our motel, diagnosed our broken water pump, ordered the part, and had it fixed the next day, all at a price that didnīt blow the budget.

Alas, though, all good things must come to an end, and we pulled up anchor at Chilamate on September 19, hoping that the worst of rainy season was now behind us.


- Having friends (at least we still hope it`s the case) like Meghan and Davis who allowed us to set up camp (in a cabin) for a month.

- Costa Rica Independence Day celebrations (September 15): The culmination of months of practice, it consists of all the primary and secondary students from the area marching down the main street (actually one lane of the highway), some in bands, some just playing the drums, others carrying banners or flags. Pretty much the biggest event of the year in the Chilamate area.


- Missing Bre and Markīs wedding on September 8.

Not too sure what to make of it:

-Tsunami evacuation, Dominical: Just as we were closing up the van for the night on August 16, the owner of our campsite (which was just across the street from the beach) knocked on our window and told us something in Spanish that we didnīt at all understand but assumed was serious given his tone and body language. Eventually, we interpreted what he was saying to be: "There has been an earthquake and a tsunami is coming and you need to move immediately to higher ground."

Not having any clue of where higher ground was, and up until now avoiding driving at night in Central America at any cost, we packed up the van in under 2 minutes (one team member thought for sure this was the end) and drove out through the town - which was already deserted but for a few cops - to the highway. The highway was on only slightly higher ground than the campsite and facing a ticking clock (we thought) we decided to drive up the only road on our map that headed inland and see where it took us. In about 20 minutes time, we came to a corner store, the parking lot of which was already full of fellow gringo evacuees, all equally clueless as to the current situation. After about an hour, the general consensus among the parking lot chatter was that the alert had been lifted and so we headed back towards town, spending a sleepless night in a restaurant parking lot next to the highway. The next day we learned that there had been a huge (7.9) earthquake in Peru, which led to the entire pacific coast of Costa Rica being put under a full tsunami alert for a few hours.

-Sloth rescue, Chilamate: Although already in bed (it was after 8:30 afterall) we rose to the occassion and answered Meghan and Davisī calls for assistance in the rescue of a rarely-sighted, nocturnal, two-toed sloth that was being attacked by their 3 dogs. (Fact: A slothīs maximum ground speed is 1.5 metres per minute and it descends to the ground only once a week so that it can defecate.) We held the dogs back while Davis got the lumbering furball back up a tree. Steve Irwin would have been proud.

-Lightning strikes, Chilamate: Rainy season continued in Chilamate, bringing heavy thunder and lightning storms most afternoons (Fact: an average of 1,100 lightning strikes hit Costa Rica per day). The lightning strikes were so close one day that 6 of the next-door-neighbour`s cows were struck and killed.
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