Day 5: Tortuguero to Rara Avis

Trip Start Mar 05, 2005
Trip End Mar 20, 2005

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Wednesday, March 9, 2005

Today was going to be a tough day, we were warned. Julie wasn't kidding. It was tough but definitely unforgettable.

The day started extremely early, as we boarded another boat to take us along the river from Tortuguero to Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui. Unlike the day before, our boat ride was mainly for transportation as opposed to for sightseeing, though we did get to spot some wildlife along the river.

On the way, we crossed into Nicaragua briefly. It was hardly noticeable, except for the signs at several checkpoints along the river. We were required to stop at a border crossing to pay the $9 exit tax, which is about as blatant a racket as I've ever seen. But on the plus side, it meant another stamp in my passport, which is always cool.

We arrived in the small town of Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui at around noon, and stopped at a small restaurant for a lunch of - what else? - rice and beans. The restaurant had a TV and the news was on. Though it was in Spanish, we could follow somewhat. The top story was truly horrific: a bank holdup in Santa Elena de Monteverde had devolved into an ongoing hostage situation. At the time the story was ongoing. By the time it was over, nine people would be killed in the holdup and ensuing police shootout, sending shockwaves through the country.

After lunch, we traveled by taxicab to the base lodge for Rara Avis. There, we left our bags behind and we were supplied with rubber boots. Designed for neither style nor comfort, the ill-fitting boots would be our footwear for the next two days as we headed into the deep jungle.

Rara Avis is a remote outpost and bird sanctuary located in primary rainforest bordering on Braulio Carrillo National Park. There are no roads that reach it, so our transportation up to the lodge was to be by tractor ride. Though the trip was only 15km, we expected it to take at least four hours.

The tractor ride was certainly... an experience. To call it a bit bumpy or rocky would be like claiming that the Pope is a bit Catholic. The ride was muddy, hot, and on a makeshift trail that was full of rocks and washed out areas. We sat on our benches and hung on for dear life with hands and feet as the tractor negotiated terrain that seemed impassable. At times, it was impassable, and we all climbed down and hiked for a few minutes so the tractor could make it over particularly slippery or steep rocks.

About three quarters of the way up, we had the option of hiking the rest of the way, but it was close to dark and I was exhausted so I opted to stay on the tractor as we drove through a trail that was bordered by mud on both sides. I don't know who was more amazed when we made it to the lodge: me or the tractor driver.

The lodge at Rara Avis is actually several buildings. The sleeping quarters are like camp-style wooden bunks, multi-share with no electricity but with running water (cold and hot). There is a short path to the kitchen area, which does have electricity and other essentials. Rubber boots were required absolutely everywhere, because of muddy rocks and especially because of snakes. There was nothing quite like being up there in the middle of absolutely nowhere, miles from a road or a streetlight or any real sign of civilization.

There were a few groups up in Rara Avis at the same time as us, including a group from France who we chatted with a bit, and a group of high schoolers who we tried to avoid. We also met a couple of serious bird-watchers who seemed to be in paradise, and some other students running various scientific experiments and observations.

Dinner was cafeteria-style, and of course consisted of the house specialty: rice and beans. And beans and rice. And rice and beans. And beans and rice. (Did I mention we ate a lot of rice and beans?)

Amazingly, it wasn't raining when we arrived. Supposedly the area gets over 300 days of rain a year, but we were lucky and that day wasn't one of them. It was actually somewhat dry. The temperature was also much cooler than it had been on the coast, so we dressed in sweatshirts and long pants.

Once it got dark in Rara Avis, there wasn't much to do besides go to sleep, or else read by flashlight. We had an additional source of light that night: a glow bug that made itself at home on the wall near Kirsten's bed. With no other lights in the area, the bug's green glow was quite bright and it had a nightlight effect. We went to sleep listening to the sounds of the birds and other species of wildlife that created an almost symphonic effect.

Next: Exploring Rara Avis.
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