Monday, September 12, 2011

Costa Rica - Part 4, Puerto Viejo


After 4 days in Tres Equis I was more than ready to head for the beach.  It took about four and a half hours, but I'm convinced we could have made it in three if it were not for the stopping because someone needs to go to the bathroom, stopping at the liquor store along the way to stock up, stopping at the little stand to get some tropical fruits, and stopping again at a little shop to load up on snacks.   It was very much like being on a family vacation.  I wouldn't have minded so much if our guides hadn't stopped to chat with whichever old or new friends they'd run into while the rest of us were stuck in the van - thinking they'd only be gone for a minute or two.  We'd been warned about Tico-time, that in Latin American culture people are not as time oriented as in the US.  But at each occasion it was our American guides, not the locals who seemed to be running late, or needing to stop to do one more thing before we left.

But once again, our guides proved their worth when, half way to the coast, we were stopped at a police road block.  While the two of them had their passports handy, the rest of us didn't - they were all packed deep in our luggage piled in the back of the van.  We could have gotten them, if the police had insisted, but it would have been a pain.  The tour guide managed to explain, in Spanish of course, that he was leading a tour, his sister was a teacher and we were all her students.  It was quickly determined that we were not drug runners, and allowed to proceed on our way.  I shudder to think though, what might have happened if they'd discovered the Suave Professionals 2 in 1 Plus Shampoo that I'd smuggled into their fine country.

Our hotel, (The Black Pearl) was really nice - especially compared to some of the places I stayed in Thailand. The bathroom (always my litmus test for a hotel) was clean and had working toilets & a non-suicide shower. Actually, I was pretty impressed with the bathroom situation here - there were flushing toilets everywhere we went - including the place where we had lunch half way down the river while rafting.  The only difference is that Costa Rican plumbing is not designed to handle toilet paper, so there's a garbage can next to the toilet for disposing of it.  Kinda gross, but something you get used to.

My room (which I shared with Misty), had a little deck that looked right out onto the Caribbean Sea.

While Costa Rica isn't necessarily what one thinks of when discussing the Caribbean... there was a bit of a Jamaican / island vibe to Puerto Viejo.  The population was an interesting African / Hispanic mix, and there were some linguistic effects of this mix as well.  I'm not sure if you call it a creole, or a pidgen or what... but it was kinda cool to hear people talk.  Not that we had much of an opportunity to mix with the locals here.  Again, we were on a tour and the next two days were quite tightly scheduled.

The first item on my itinerary, anyway, was a swim.  So I dumped my bags in the room, changed clothes and ran across the street to the beach.

The water was amazing.  Super calm and very warm.

A few minutes later, Misty joined me.  It was funny, she's from Oregon so hasn't spent a lot of time actually IN an ocean.  Despite the fact that the water was practically flat calm, she was nervous to go in deeper than knee-level.  Which was actually the worst place to be, because the waves (small though they were) were crashing almost immediately on the shore.  As soon as I got to waist deep, I was past the breakers and having a great time jumping up with the swells.  OH MAN I LOVE THE OCEAN!

Soon enough, the rest of our group joined us. And gradually Misty got up the nerve to come in deeper.  It was low season, late afternoon, and we were the only people on the beach as far as the eye could see.  That's my idea of paradise right there.  Except that it got better.  As the sun went down (at straight up 6 o'clock) the teacher pointed out to us that there was some kind of bioluminescent algae or amoebas or something in the water and that if you moved your hands in just the right way to stir them up, you could see a little spark.  Well we all started waving our hands and kicking up our feet and every once in a while someone would squeal "Oh - I see it!"  And the rest of us would wave and kick some more.  I was the last one to see it happen.... and I probably squealed the loudest.  It was just amazing - you move your hand and a spark just flies out from your finger tip.  Wave it back the other way, and another spark would burst out underwater.

While watching all of the sparks and chatting about our home stay experiences the teacher brought up her exciting story - she very nearly DID have a suicide shower.  She's in her host family's shower when suddenly there's a huge pop and sparks start flying right over her!  Obviously she hopped out of the shower as quickly as she could and was fortunately not hurt.  When she notified the host dad - he just said "oh, yeah, that happens sometimes" and kinda fiddled with the exposed wires for a bit.  

As it got darker we saw more and more, and developed our own unique moves to make them spark more "move your hands in a figure eight, more of them will light up", "push the water up towards you - you can see them better".  It was tremendously fun, and proof yet again, that Mother Nature wins.  Every single time.  You want power - Mother Nature, you want beauty - Mother Nature, you want CGI-like effects of fireworks underwater - Mother Nature.  Only once it was genuinely dark, we were cold and pruney, and beginning to get hungry for dinner that we finally all dragged ourselves out of the water and back to the hotel.

Dinner was at a higher-end restaurant, and the food was amazing.  The restaurant was owned by friends of the tour guide (surprise surprise) - a couple from Portland and Oakland respectively.  Mr. Owner sat down with us for a bit and we discussed the relative merits of Oakland and Portland... he was from Oakland and had an unkind word or two about my fair city.  Naturally the topic of bike culture arose and when he confessed to riding a fixie - things started to get heated.  It was Jack who restored calm to the table by reminding everyone that we really shouldn't discuss Religion over dinner.

The rest of the group decided to stay out and go dancing, but having already spent 10 hours (and a lengthy car ride) with them, I was ready to go home.  The next morning would be our first trip into the rain forest, and I figured I'd enjoy the hike a bit more without a hangover.


Lark said...

I'm loving your blog but I'm a little confused. Is that a typo that you're from Oakland at the bottom? What's a fixie and what do bikes have to do with religion?

Rebel said...

No, he was from Oakland and had unkind things to say about Portland. A fixie is a fixed-gear bicycle (no shifting gears, no coasting, when the back wheel moves - the pedals move, oh and no brakes), in my not so humble opinion it's the least practical bike known to man) And I think it's fair to say that Bike-worship is Portland's official religion.