Day 4: Boat Trip to Tortuguero

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

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Flag of Costa Rica  ,
Tuesday, March 8, 2005

A very early start, as we caught the 5:30am bus from Puerto Viejo to Limon. I remember very little about the bus ride because I slept through most of it, but I assume it was the same as the ride from Limon two days earlier, but in reverse. We stopped in Limon for a couple of hours to eat breakfast, pick up some snacks and necessities, and walk around a bit. Julie advised us to buy tall socks to wear under rubber boots at Rara Avis, and also a few snacks for times when we were tired of rice and beans. We discovered plaintain chips at the supermarket, which rapidly became a favourite munchie of the tour.

After breakfast we took taxis to Limon's port, to our motorized guided boat that would take us up the river to Tortuguero. There we met Willis, who would be our tour guide for the day on the water.

The riverboat ride was filled with beautiful scenery and wildlife. We frequently stopped the boat every time Willis's eagle eye would spot a cool bird, lizard, mammal or amphibian. The weather was hot but speeding along in the boat with the wind in our faces, we hardly noticed.

Though we only entered Tortuguero National Park near the end of the ride, the entire way was abundant with wildlife. We saw a sloth, some howler monkeys, iguanas, many amazing birds including a Great Blue Heron, the "Jesus Christ Lizard" (named that way because it can walk on water), and even several crocodiles in the water.

Lunch was at a stop along the river where we ate fried chicken, salad, tropical drinks, and the ever-present staple rice and beans. After lunch, we stretched our legs a bit by playing an impromptu game of frisbee, and playing with the little dogs there. Dogs are literally everywhere in Costa Rica, but strays are rare; most belong to owners of hotels, restaurants, shops, and pretty much anyone else.

We arrived in Tortuguero mid-afternoon. The tiny coastal town in the National Park is very interesting. With a river on one side and the Caribbean on the other, it is almost completely surrounded by water. Local children were returning from school when we arrived, carrying backpacks and wearing uniforms. Most of them seem to have been arriving by boat, which I suppose is the main way to get out and about in Tortuguero.

Tortuguero itself is a reserve for giant sea turtles to nest. That's the main attraction of the area. Unfortunately, we were there out of season for turtle nesting; the leatherback turtles would not begin their nesting season until several weeks later, and the green and other species were several months out. So we didn't get to see any turtles. We did, however, go to the turtle museum, where we got to see a video clip and exhibits to learn all about these fascinating creatures that have been around longer than dinosaurs.

After exiting the museum, we saw a tour group being shown how to get a "pipa" to drink. That's what they call the juice that you can drink from a straw from an un-ripened coconut. The guide climbed up to a coconut tree, knocked down a growing fruit, cut a hole in the top and added a straw. Voila: refreshment!

The beach at Tortuguero is beautiful, though swimming is not advised due to strong riptides and the presence of sharks in the water. We took a walk along the beach to return to the hotel.

We ventured into town to browse souvenirs. Not surprisingly, most items for sale had something or other to do with turtles. We found an excellent bakery, however, serving cakes and coffee, and opted to partake. Afterwards, I went through some adventures in obtaining and figuring out how to use an international phone card. It was so frustrating I nearly broke the pay phone, but I finally managed to get through after about 45 minutes, explaining hurriedly to my parents that they shouldn't expect many more calls.

Another excellent dinner, this time cooked by the owner of our hotel, Miss Junnie, who is supposed to be known as "the best cook in Tortuguero". I have no basis for comparison, but the coconut-marinated fish, fried bananas, salad and rice were all wonderful.

After dinner, we scrambled to rearrange our packing in preparation for Rara Avis. We were to leave our large packs at the base lodge and bring only necessities for two days with us, which we packed in small garbage bags provided by Julie.

Outside the hotel, we saw an iguana lounging on a tree, and Cathy saw some sort of snake in the grass by the riverbank.

Our hotel room had its share of wildlife as well. There were some funky-looking bugs and cockroaches crawling around, which at home would have made me very wary but there was this feeling we had of somehow being on their turf.

At one point, a small lizard ran into our room and proceeded to hide behind the toilet. Knowing that lizards eat bugs and don't harm humans, we decided to make friends with the little guy. We nicknamed him Bob Ziggy (after the Marleys, which seemed rather appropriate) and tried to coax him out into the open so we could take a picture. No such luck. But from that day on, all small lizards became known as "Bob Ziggys".

We settled in to get some sleep in preparation to leave the Caribbean coast behind.

Next: Tortuguero to Rara Avis.
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