Monday, March 26, 2012

Costa Rica - Days 1 & 2

Our first full day in Costa Rica started relatively early as I awoke around 5:00AM and couldn’t get back to sleep.  I had made arrangements to meet up with Ruben at 8:00AM at our hotel.  So I had some time to kill before I woke up Zack and we met up Ruben.  I spent much of the next hour just looking out from the windows of our hotel room as we were perched on the eighth floor of our hotel.

It has been six years since I have been in San Jose and I will admit there is not too much of the cityscape that I can identify from here in the hotel.  After waking Zack and meeting up with Ruben we headed out to begin our trip!

Our plan for the day was to reach the small little town of Puerto Viejo which is located in the far southeastern corner of the country about 40 kilometers from the border with Panama.  Puerto Viejo is a small little beach town along a no-name highway that travels from the Port City of Limon to the Panamanian border.  Though not necessary popular with American’s due to it’s somewhat remote location and belief that there are high crime rates, Puerto Viejo has some excellent surf and most excellent beaches.

We first started with a brief tour around some of the districts of San Jose as Ruben showed us some important buildings in Costa Rican history.  He also showed us the San Jose home of the US musical star Pink.  She has a pretty fantastic home-away from home here in Costa Rica.

To reach Puerto Viejo we would travel by a Costa Rican highway through the high rugged mountains and rain forest that surround San Jose to the east and south of the city.  San Jose – the capital of Costa Rica is located roughly in the center of the country.  Driving from San Jose you can reach either the Atlantic or Pacific coasts within 3 hours.  That is kind of cool if you ask me.

The first part of our drive was absolutely amazing as we journeyed through the rain forest covered mountains.  Most of this part of our drive took us through the Braulio Carrilo National Park.  When this highway was built in the 1980’s to keep costs lower the builder of this highway tended to blast apart the sides of mountains as opposed to tunneling through them.  As a result, the road travels through these many deep cuts in the mountains.  Each one of these cuts is just covered with deep, dark, lush green trees, bushes and other kinds of plants.  To hike through the jungle at this point would be near to impossible as the plants present a solid wall of green resistance to any attempt to move through them. 

We stopped at several points along the way to look at the jungle and some of the rivers that flowed through deep gorges that we crossed on bridges.  The rivers are running low and slow as this part of the country is in the midst of its dry season.  But given the deep gorges and rock strewn channels, it is obvious that these rivers must run high and wild during the middle of the rainy season.

The road was very good with very few holes or other issues.  However road safety in Costa Rica is of a very different sort than in the United States.  In many places the road is not marked in anyway shape or form.  And by that I mean there are no lines, guide marks or indications of the edge of the road.  Our drive through the mountains was very enjoyable but at night I can imagine that it would be a very different experience without any of these guides and marks and the only light coming from your headlights or the headlights of other cars.

The entire drive through the mountains and Braulio Carrilo National Park was absolutely beautifully but eventually we began a dramatic descent out of the mountains to the flat plains below.  As soon as we left the mountains signs of civilization began to crop up almost immediately with road side stands selling food and many other items.

We stopped for breakfast at the first road side restaurant we came upon.  This is a place the Ruben stops frequently and he knew it well.  The entire structure was open air with the kitchen and food line – as it was cafeteria style being on one side of the building and the seating area on the other.  Zack and I let Ruben pick out what we were going to have as it was a traditional Costa Rican breakfast.  He picked out a heart meal of savory meats, rice and beans, cassava cakes and a bunch of things that I don’t know what they were.  Regardless of what they were it was very tasty and I like it.  Zack even asked for seconds!

After that it was back to the car to resume our journey.  Much of the remainder of drive to Limon was made up almost exclusively of banana plantations.  They were everywhere.  What surprised me is how land intensive these plantations are.  To prepare for the plantations a huge patch of jungle would be totally cleared of all vegetation.  Then the soil would be leveled and large canal ways built into the land to provide for irrigation.  Lastly the banana trees would be planted and the land would look nothing like it did before the plantation came into being.

We made one stop along the way to look at a Costa Rican version of an antique store.  It was a very well kept store with all the antique pieces being from the surrounding area and all were in extremely good condition.  Ruben had purchased some pieces there and knew the owner.

From there we made a beeline to Limon.  In Limon we made a brief stop to visit the very old cemetery there and get a snack.  At Limon we turned to the south and followed a route that ran parallel to the ocean.  Shortly after leaving Limon we saw the ocean for the first time.  It was a fantastic view as the surf was breaking hard on the rocks and there was lots of spray in the air.

As we continued south the road became more desolate and barren.  Within a few short miles we were totally on our own travelling south into what seemed to be desolation.  We stopped at a beach about 20 miles south of Limon and we were the only ones there with the exception of another couple.  It was fantastic to basically have this entire beach to ourselves as far as we could see.  It extended to both the north and south with absolutely nothing in sight other than ocean and sand.  It was truly spectacular.

By this time our minds were beginning to become interested in reaching Puerto Viejo and so we were back on the road heading south.  We passed numerous other deserted beaches, bracken estuaries and banana plantations.  The road continued south in an unbroken line.

Finally we reached Puerto Viejo around 12:30PM.  Basically there wasn’t much to reach.  Puerto Viejo is a small town without much there except for a row of cantinas along the beach and a row of hotels, cabanas and bungalow on the side of the row away from the beach.  We had reached our paradise.  It was a remarkable sight as there we about a dozen or two boats pulled up on the shore of the local fisherman and anyone who wanted to make a living with a boat.

We quickly found the place that we were staying which is called the Cabanas Casa Verde.  It is a small non-descript set of bungalow style rooms set back about 50 meters from the beach.  The rooms are clean, simple and low-key.

After we checked in we changed our clothes and were quickly back in the car.  We were headed another 25 miles further south to another small beach town that Ruben used to go to as a child.  The ride was beautiful and we passed many more open and deserted beaches.

I didn’t actually catch the name of this small town but it was actually quite busy.  There were many, many cars backed up to the beach.  There was an obvious combination of both locals and tourists all enjoying the beauty of the vast open beaches.   Getting onto the beach we began a meandering walk to a point we could see off in the far distance.  Ruben promised us that it would be worth the walk.  We walked and played in the surf as we went.  After about 30 minutes of solid walking, we finally reached this point we had seen in the distance.  It was a high point that stood out from all the other landscape.  Scaling this high point was a little difficult as the path was mud and slick but we finally did it.  Atop this point we could see for some distance in either direction.  There was a small island about 100 yards off shore on which stood one tree.  It was amazingly beautiful and had been well worth the walk.

We sat on this high point for a long time looking at the ocean and surf breaking onto the shore.  It was an absolutely fantastic sight.  After enjoying this for a long time we began the walk back during we stopped many times and went into the water and just being on the beach.  We grabbed a late lunch at a cantina near the beach and then spent another hour or so playing in the surf before heading back to Puerto Viejo. 

Once back in Puerto Viejo it was time to slow down and get a small nap and then get cleaned up.  For dinner we were heading to the restaurant owned and operated by two of Ruben’s friends Jorge and Christer.  It is called Kiko Beach and it is a pretty interesting restaurant.  Jorge and Christer have operated this restaurant for the last 3 years and it is anything but a typical cantina.  It is like a five star restaurant that is open to the elements.  On top of being pretty much totally outdoors the majority of the restaurant is made from re-cycled material that the two owners have recovered from the surf and garbage dumps around the area.  One might think that it would make for an ugly restaurant, but instead it is beautify and the food was great.  The most unusual aspect of the restaurant however were the 3 residents of the 2 large trees that grew out of the center of the floor.  These residents were 3 toed tree sloths that make a habit of climbing down from the canopy of the trees above to the lower trunks of the trees to watch the diners eat their dinners.  It was pretty amazing – especially after drinking 4 or 5 mojitos  to watch this sloth slow hang down from above.  It was a highlight of the evening.  On top of that since Ruben personally knows the owners we were definitely given VIP treatment.

After that it was back to our bungalow for some sleep!

Monday morning didn't so much as dawn as it sounded.  As the darkness began to fade we were awoken to the hoots and songs of almost every kind of bird you could imagine.  Our “hotel” has a massive courtyard that supports a very big garden.  The birds like this garden and come to it in droves in the morning.  It was a fantastic symphony to which to wake.

I had to spend the first part of the morning doing things for work and then we were off.  We headed across the street to a cantina playing loud rap-style rasta music.  There were only a few people there but the food they offered up was good and hearty.  From our seats we faced the ocean and saw several boats of fisherman heading out for the days catch.  The breeze was blowing softly and I could have then imagined spending many years in Puerto Viejo.

Our first destination on Monday morning was the Jaguar Animal Rescue Center.  This is an animal rescue center located about 2 miles south of Puerto Viejo.  It was set up by a pair of biologist from Spain who came to the area, fell in love and stayed.  Once people heard that there were a pair of biologists living there they started to bring them sick and wounded animals that they found and before you knew it a new animal rescue center was founded.  Their goal there is to return the animals to the wild so they work for years with some of the animal to get them well and back into the wild.

It was an interesting tour and we spent many hours there.  The highlights of the day were spending an hour or more playing with the howler monkeys that they have.  We actually got to go into the animal enclosure and handle the monkeys.  All of the monkeys who are there are juveniles so they are easy to handle and not aggressive.  Zack especially loved when the monkeys sat on his head. 

We also got to spend a lot of time with the facility’s tree sloths, both 2 and 3 toed.  They are remarkable animals and they are so stinking cute.

Besides the monkeys Zack’s second favorite was an orphaned baby white tailed deer.  But since the deer has gotten so accustomed to people it will probably never be released into the wild.  Zack must have spent at least 20 minutes petting and playing with this deer.

We caught a quick lunch at another cantina in Puerto Viejo and then spent pretty much the rest of the day at the beach.  We went into the water right off of the main area of Puerto Viejo and we still had most of the beach to ourselves.  Costa Rica truly can be a beachgoers paradise.

This evening for dinner we head a little ways off the main strip of cantina and journeyed to a Brazilian steak house that is located about 5 miles outside of the town in the middle of no where.  The food we had was excellent but as I sit here and type this I am stuffed to the gills as I had one of the best tasting steaks I had in a very long time.  Shortly it is going to be time to turn the light off for the night and go to bed.

One thing I wanted to remark upon about Costa Rica is the fact that this country has one of the best infrastructures of cell phone networks and Internet access I have ever seen.  Even in the middle of nowhere there are many cell phone towers.  In the past before privatization of the cellular network was run by a government monopoly.  Therefore cell phone networks were put into the country pretty much everywhere.  So even though we are near in the middle of nowhere we have excellent cell phone and Internet access.

One last point before I sign off for the night.  I am not uploading any pictures to the blog yet simply because I haven’t taken the time to try and download the pictures to my computer.  I may have some time to do that tomorrow afternoon but I am not sure.

Ok – I thought that was the last comment but I do have to add this…  One of the things that I really miss traveling on a trip like this is having a partner with me.  Ruben, Zack and I are good travel buddies but doing a trip like this with a female partner would be unbelievable.  Just wishful thinking at this point – but a point that needs to be made!

Thanks for following along on our journey!

Thanks and peace to all! ~J.

1 comment:

NanaRose said...

Wow, sounds wonderful. Please keep on blogging about it. So enjoy hearing about it. Hope your back and legs are holding up for you.