The Trip to Tortuguero

Trip Start Jul 18, 2009
Trip End Aug 03, 2009

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Flag of Costa Rica  , Limón,
Sunday, July 19, 2009

Finally the holiday was to begin, we were due to be picked up at 6.30 from the hotel but the heavy rains had caused a landslip on a road through the Braulio Carrillo National Park, so the coach was an hour and a half late getting to us. We had to leave much of our luggage behind at the hotel as there was a weight limit on the boats that would take us to Tortuguero and as we checked them in we wondered whether we would ever see them again. Visions of having to wear the same four outfits over the whole holiday suddenly came to mind.

Eventually the coach arrived, full of people and we were introduced to Allan who would be our guide for our stay in Tortuguero. He was very knowledgeable and pointed out the many sights that we passed on our way to Siquirres where we would pick up the motorboats. With our original route blocked by the landslide we were forced to take a longer route but it did enable us to see more of the area. Allan told us that Costa Rica meant 'rich coast' in Spanish and was named by Christopher Columbus who expected to find gold here although his hopes were misplaced. We passed some incredible scenery and huge banana plantations a principal crop in Costa Rica. I was surprised to see that each bunch of bananas was wrapped in a blue bag to protect the skins from getting damaged; they also had a different coloured ribbon to show where they were destined for. If they were to be exported to the USA they could be picked later than if they were to go to Europe. We also passed many coffee plantations with the bushes growing on the steep hillsides. Coffee is still an important part of the Costa Rican economy like bananas but now relies heavily on Nicaraguan immigrants to do the picking, as does the banana industry. The wages are small and modern Costa Ricans are no longer willing to work in these industries preferring to take the better jobs. Many of the houses we passed on the plantations seemed very poor, just small corrugated iron shacks.

We travelled through small villages each with a very obvious graveyard filled with large white tombs. Apparently, the dead are buried above the ground as the many earthquakes experienced in the country meant that bodies could move about if buried below the ground. I suppose it was to make sure the bodies were in the right grave and didn't suddenly appear on the surface after any seismic activity. In the villages the houses were much nicer and their gardens absolutely beautiful and full of colour. The plants that can be grown here I had only previously seen as house plants at home. They even have a plant called labios ardientes or "hookers lips" whose bright red bracts do indeed look like a pair of lips as well as beautiful <i>Heliconias</i> and exotic <i>Cannas.</i>

We stopped for breakfast at a restaurant near Guapiles in the mountains and waited patiently in line to be served, the place was packed with tourists. The rain was falling quite heavily now and the mountains about us were shrouded in clouds but the views from our table were amazing. Breakfast was better than it looked consisting of scrambled egg and the ubiquitous rice that would form the basis for most of the meals we would eat here.

Back on the road we were lucky enough to see our first wildlife a very wet sloth hanging to a tree, we stopped for a photograph opportunity but it was difficult to distinguish the wet fur of the sloth from the leaves of the trees, luckily there would be better opportunities later in the holiday.

Finally we arrived at Siquirres, by now the weather had improved and it was beginning to feel quite hot. Our luggage was taken from the coach and put aboard the motor boat and we had just time to get some drinks and snacks from the restaurant before we were on our way. Tortuguero National Park can only be reached by boat or plane if you're rich enough and it is located on the Caribbean coast of north-eastern Costa Rica.  The name Tortuguero means 'turtle region’ as it is famous for the nesting of turtles on its beaches.
We all piled into the waiting motor boats making sure that we had put out luggage on board first. The boat trip was about an hour and a half but there were plentiful wildlife stops on the way.  We saw bright pink spoonbills, colourful kingfishers  and our first howler monkey although only distinguished as a black blob in the trees. Howlers are notably slow moving creatures mainly because of their diet of toxic canopy leafs that leave them most of the time in a kind of drug filled stupor.  We also glimpsed our first cayman sliding effortlessly through the water, its snout and head the only giveaway.

<a href="" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">Mawamba Lodge</a> has a great location bounded by the Caribbean one side and the Tortuguero Canals  on the other. The rooms were reasonably basic but this was made up for by the great location. The gardens were filled with beautiful flowers and lizards lurking in bushes or sunbathing on the beach. There is even an area where they protect the Gaudy leaf frog, collecting the spawn and then raising the tadpoles in tanks.  Eric was in charge of the project and was able to show us these beautiful frogs up close. They hardly look real with their bright red eyes, orange suckered feet and blue underside. In fact they must be the most beautiful frog in the world. When at rest these colourful frogs blend in with the tree leaves and are surprisingly difficult to see, in fact although we walked through the frog area quite a few times during our stay I never saw another one.

Allan took us for a walk around the extensive gardens showing us green lizards hidden in pineapple plants, iguanas up trees, hands of bananas, avocados, star fruits  and beautiful butterflies. The most amazing is the beautiful Blue Morpho, a large butterfly with metallic wings shimmering green and turquoise the effect of iridescent scales on its wings. Taking a photo of these magnificent creatures was impossible because as soon as they settled they closed their wings hiding that incredible colouring. We were also able to see the Blue Jeans dart Frog and the incredible Black and Green Dart Frog neither of which looked real, more like the plastic figures you see in toy shops.

Dinner was in a large restaurant and you sat in groups with your guide. The food was good and we sat next to a Spanish family whose English was as good as our Spanish so there were a lot of hand signals going on. Then all of a sudden the staff came out with a large cake for Andy, my husband’s birthday. I don’t know who was most surprised particularly as it was two days early but a really nice touch.

We didn’t stay up too late as we were still coming to terms with the jet lag. The sea seemed incredibly loud in the night so much so that I got up to check that it wasn’t sweeping up to our room. Thankfully it was still some yards away.
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