Mud, Mosquitos and More Fun in Tortuguero

In Tortuguero National Park in Costa Rica, the new day is ushered in not by the dawn but by the roars of the howler monkeys who begin issuing their distinctive and deafening hollers well before the sun comes up.  I can’t say they woke me up the last two days because I don’t think I ever really slept — the first night I was too fascinated by all the strange night noises that resound through a rainforest and last night my shut-eye was thwarted when two wooden slats of our bedframe suddenly broke and caused the lower half of our mattress to sag to the floor and list to one side.  William, who learned to sleep anywhere at any time during his years in the Peace Corps. had no problem peacefully snoring through the night even with the contortions, but I actually require a flat surface to catch some zees.

But sleep deprivation was a small price to pay for what we experienced yesterday.  We took a 6 a.m. dugout canoe boat tour through the narrow inlets of the Rio Suerte, pushing giant leaves and tree limbs out of our faces to catch sight of the region’s fauna.  In two hours we spotted howler monkeys, spider monkeys, white-faced capuchin monkeys, a sloth, a caiman and many different species of birds.  As wonderful as it was to see the animals, what was more mesmerizing was the waterway itself and the way that our guide, Abel, was able to navigate through the smallest spaces.  The whole experience was dreamlike — the muddy brown water, the massive green walls of trees, the white of egrets’ wings slicing through a rain-stained sky — and at every turn I was reminded of just how different this world was from the one I customarily inhabit back in LA.  In some ways, this one seemed more civilized…

The rain finally cleared and the sky turned a brilliant blue.  When the tour ended we headed back to our lodge for breakfast and a shower and then returned to Tortuguero Village by water taxi in order to take a walk through the forest to the Caribbean Sea.  This is not the placid, turquoise-blue water that surrounds islands in the West Indies but rather a rough and brownish ocean that snarls menacingly as it hurls itself against the sand in unruly waves that break in several different directions at once.  We sat on a piece of driftwood to watch a fisherman who was wearing long pants and a dress shirt stand waist deep in the surf and toss his piece of line out and then pull it back in by hand.  Engrossed in his activities, we failed to note that a set of waves had grown bigger.  By the time we reacted it was too late — the surf rushed up and drenched the three of us from the waist down.  We had to walk around the village afterwards looking like we’d peed on ourselves!

The rest of the afternoon was taken up with two great TWB scores, which you can read about in Starr’s blog…

Because our morning tour with Abel had gone so well, we decided to take a night jungle walk with him so that we could see the red tree frog and perhaps catch sight of a boa constrictor.  Abel couldn’t guarantee that we’d see the snake but he assured us that we were 1,000 percent guaranteed to see the famous frog — a miniscule creature with green skin, blue legs, yellow sides, orange feet and red eyes.  We donned knee-high rubber boots, doused ourselves in repellent, clicked on our flashlights and followed our guide and two Czech tourists into the forest.  For two hours we traipsed through mud that threatened to suck our boots off with every step.  In spite of the repellent, clouds of mosquitos hounded us mercilessly, seeming to find the one inch of skin we had failed to cover.  Every couple of yards Abel stopped to issue a strange clicking sound and peer under the leaves of heliconia plants; it was a bizarre sight — a grown man making weird noises and looking under leaves while a group of black-booted tourists stood around calf-deep in mud striving to look interested.  We saw some big spiders and colorful insects, got inches from a beautiful yellow bird that was sleeping in the low limb of a tree, admired two species of pencil-thin snakes and even discovered two kinds of frogs hopping around on the ground but for all of Abel’s heroic efforts we failed to spot either the boa constrictor or the red tree frog.  I have to admit that about thirty minutes before the end, I couldn’t wait to get the hell out of the place — a red tree frog could have been dangled in front of me and I would have turned my back on it by then.  At long last we said a hasty goodbye to Abel and the other tourists and high-tailed it back into the village for some tasty Caribbean food at a place called The Coconut House.  Then it was time for a water taxi back to the lodge and a sleepless night.

This morning the public launch picked us up on the dock of our lodge and we made the 45 minute ride back downriver.  I savored every bend as we buzzed back toward the ordinary world.  I grabbed every last glance I could of egrets and herons standing on the banks.  I could ride on rivers forever!

When we arrived back at the dock where our car was parked, William was dreading the drive back over the pot-holed road from hell that we had taken two days ago, but miracle upon miracles, in the intervening 48 hours a road crew had come, filled in all the pot-holes with packed dirt and smoothed out the track.  What had taken us about an hour and a half on the way in took us a mere twenty-two minutes on the way out.  It took another couple of hours to drive back to Alajuela, where we checked into the same hotel, the very same room, we had occupied on our first night in Costa Rica.  So we’re ending where we started.  Our flight back to LA isn’t until late tomorrow afternoon, and we still have one more soccer ball to give out, so TWB still has some exploring and some work to do!

Peace & Blessings,