Monday, 22 February 2016

Pura Vida!

We awake before dawn as usual and get ready as quietly as people with booming voices who cannot whisper are able to. Nancy and her cooking smells are like a snake charmer hypnotising a doped snake and we follow our noses into the kitchen-diner for one last desayuno courtesy of De Host Mama. Nancy is immaculate as always, slim and trim with a naturally tanned complexion and long glossy black mane that would make a thoroughbred horse jealous.
She glides effortlessly about : frying omelettes, prepping Gallo Pinto and assembling a fruit platter, along with a selection of fruit teas and juice.  If only we could take her home with us.

 At 7am Leo the taxi driver pulls up and we bid a fond farewell to Nancy, return Chiky the Chihuahua's filthy glares one last time, and head off to the bank to give our bank accounts a thorough thrashing. We are heading to Tortuguero, made famous by the hoardes of green turtles which go there every year to lay their eggs in the black sand....

It is a small village surrounded by jungle and water, only accessible by boat or plane and which has no cars, ATMs or PDQ machines, so you have to take plenty of cash with you. Everyone knows taking money out in a foreign country can be a nail-biting experience, as you never know for certain if the furious jabbing of keys will result in the machine spewing cash at you...or greedily swallowing your card forever. As the daily withdrawal limits are low here, we have to repeat this experience a number of times across several cards each, whilst Leo sits outside wondering if we've disappeared off the face of the earth. The local currency here is called Colones (we call them Colons) and there's 500 Colones to a dollar, so we finally emerge from the bank Colon millionaires.

We've struck a deal with Leo to drive us around the country for the duration of our stay, so we hand him his cut and kick off our road trip with Andy kissing his tiny lucky avocado as Leo tackles the treacherously scary driving conditions with gusto. 

As De Mama settles back in her seat, she casually reveals that she has some 'evidence' I may find interesting. "Oh yeah?" I enquire, my interest piqued. Smiling she presses play on the video of her phone, and to my horror the rumbling grunts of a stuck pig fill the car. I instantly know she's got me. She's only gone and caught me snoring. Smugly, she chuckles as she looks out the window and I make a mental note to ease off on the De Mama jibes. 

The Costa Rican countryside flashes past and we heave a sigh of relief at having left the frantic pace of the city behind us. I pull out the Costa Rica guidebook and start reading....

Costa Rica is a small country the size of Wales twice over, with a population of only around 4.6m. I think we brushed past about 4.5m of them walking in the opposite direction to us in San Jose. The country borders Nicaragua above and Panama below, with the Caribbean Sea to the right and Pacific to the left. It's possible to drive from top to bottom and across to each ocean in about 6 hours, and it has the most diverse habitats squeezed into such a small country - from volcanoes to coral reefs, wetlands to cities, rainforests to beaches. Costa Rica has it all, a virtual cornucopia of wildlife, which is one of the main reasons for our visit. 

Andy is like an inquisitive child,  grilling Leo for information on everything we pass, starting with the coffee plants, as this is the first time in his 15 year coffee-shipping career that Andy has actually seen a real-life plantation. He's springing about the front seat like a cricket with ADHD. Coffee and bananas are Costa Rica's main exports, so there's plenty for him to see now. 

We drive on through the mountains, ears popping, along the Salping to Limon road, past the Rio Sucio, "dirty river" full of volcanic debris, Leo pointing out the fork where it meets the clean river carrying spring water down from the mountains. Andy is snapping away happily with his iPhone like a Japanese tourist after one too many cans of Red Bull. 

Finally we come to La Pavona, where we leave Leo to take a narrow boat along winding riverways to Tortuguero village. We arrange to meet him again in 4 days' time and the heavens open as we slip and slide in flip-flops down the river bank and onto our boat. The journey to Tortuguero is exhilarating: our boat powers through the murky wetlands surrounded by dense jungle and we can literally feel the buzz of the wildlife lurking beyond the bright green foliage and under the deep waters as our hair whips in the wind.

After an hour of pointing and craning our necks at various exotic-looking birds, our boat putters up to the tiny docking point of Tortuguero. It's a world away from the pollution and stress of the city and we are instantly enthralled by the surroundings - men playing dominoes in the main square, children and dogs bounding around on dusty paths, round-bottomed women in shorts chatting casually with a Jamaican lilt or passing by on antiquated pushbikes, all against a backdrop of brightly-coloured huts with corrugated rooves and the gentle aroma of weed carrying on the breeze.

We struggle with our cases in the fine rain along muddy tracks until we come to our cabinas, which are small bungalows right on the beach surrounded by rows of hammocks in primary colours and the faint beat of reggae pulsing from one the local's homes nearby. We are welcomed with cries of "Pura Vida, which is a favourite expression in Costa Rica and directly translates as "pure life," but means, well, whatever the hell you want it to, depending on the context.

Oh. Yes.  I think we're going to like it here....

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