We’re Not In Kansas Anymore

I’ve been ambivalent about blogging today — I don’t want to break the spell of this surreal place so far from the familiar, but on the other hand how often does one get to blog from an outpost deep in the heart of a rainforest miles from civilization?

We’re here in Costa Rica’s Tortuguero National Park, an area so remote that it’s only accessible by a 45-minute boat ride up the Rio Suerte.

Just making it to the boat yesterday was an adventure in itself.  Our Lonely Planet guidebook had indicated that the last launch left the dock at 2 p.m.  William figured that it would take 3 ½ hours max to make the drive from Arenal, so we left the Observatory Lodge before 10 a.m. after being presented with two final gifts — the ominous, grumbling voice of Arenal Volcano and the sight of two magnificent green and yellow parrots perched in a nearby tree.

William’s estimation of driving time was off — waaaaay off!  It was almost 2 p.m. by the time we reached Cariyari, the small Caribbean coast town where the paved road leaves off and the axle-breaking, pot-hole-filled dirt road to the boat dock begins.  It seemed all hope for catching a boat to Tortuguero was lost until Starr consulted his more recent guidebook and announced that there was a 3 p.m. departure.

Our rekindled hope petered out when 3 p.m. arrived and we still found ourselves only 2/3 of the way down the deserted, rutted dirt track that carried us for mile after mile through the middle of a vast banana plantation.  The road was so atrocious that, rather than risk blowing out a tire or breaking an axle by trying to return to Cariyari, we resolved to spend the night in the car once we reached the dock — we would catch the first boat heading upriver in the morning.  None of us relished the choices we faced —  sleeping in a suffocatingly hot car with the windows rolled up to avoid being chewed to death by mosquitoes or rolling down the windows to avoid suffocation but risking dozens of bites from the possibly malaria-bearing bloodsuckers.

Luckily, the choice never had to be made.  When we finally arrived at the boat ramp around 3:15 we learned that the last public launch didn’t leave until 4:00.  And by the time the 34-passenger, flat-bottomed boat filled up with locals returning upriver to Tortuguero Village with their giant sacks of purchases (EVERYTHING has to be brought to the village by boat…) it was almost 5 p.m.

We buzzed up a cocoa-colored river hedged in on both sides by a massive, 100-foot-tall wall of impenetrable green rainforest.  To the west the sky was aflame with the reds and oranges of a spectacular sunset.    Starr murmured that he felt like he was in a scene straight out of Heart of Darkness.T

It was dark by the time the boat deposited us at the dock of the Rana Roja Lodge.  There are no words to describe how strange it felt to be shown to our cabin in the middle of a thick jungle.    When we entered our screened-in room, a giant spider was crawling over a curtain.   William quickly booted him out to ease my mind, but elected to let the millipede and the giant ant remain.

For $2.00 we took a water taxi to Tortuguero Village, which is about a mile upriver from our lodge and has 1,300 residents dwelling on a coconut-palm-tree-thick, thin strip of land sandwiched between the tranquil river and the roaring waves of the Caribbean Sea.   We enjoyed a savagely spicy Caribbean meal at Miss Junie’s and then strolled under a sky so thick with stars it seemed it would collapse in on itself and fall into the river.  Dogs, cats and children filled the single path through town.  Teens lounged around on walls and men sat drinking rum at a dingy outdoor bar while reggae and soca music blasted from people’s worn homes.  Tortuguero is a hardscrabble village that survives in the summer months on sea-turtle tourism and fishing and struggles to eke out a living the rest of the year.

When we decided it was time to return to our lodge, around 9:00 I asked a man outside a small shop how to get a water taxi since the ramp was deserted.  He took  out a cell phone and placed a call to summon one for us — another example of the countless small acts of kindness that we’ve encountered on our journey.

The surrealism of our first night in Tortuguero still wasn’t quite over — we decided to have a drink at the lodge’s thatched-roof outdoor bar.  As we sat around quaffing our mai tais, the bartender danced around to fast-paced soca versions of “Deck the Halls” and “Silent Night.”  A TV positioned next to the bar flashed pictures of a Mexican game/variety show that featured soccer-jersey clad dogs, clowns and buxom women in skimpy tops.  Insects screamed, frogs croaked and birds issued bizarre shrieks and warbles.  It was, we all agreed, a most weird and wonderful night.

Peace & Blessings,