Monday, 3 November 2008

Costa Rica, land of liability waivers...and turtles

Pura Vida!

So it was onwards and downwards to Costa Rica. Was originally planning to go straight to South America but had to change planes in Costa Rica or Panama, so with flawless logic, I decided to stop in Costa Rica for a couple of weeks. By the way why do we call Costa Rica Costa Rica and not translate it to Rich Coast yet we translate Cote D´Ivoire to Ivory Coast? The mind boggles.

Anyway, after a few nights where I probably overdid the Mojitos, Crystals and Bocaneros in Cuba, I needed some R&R, so what better place to do it than San Jose...well actually lots of better places because San Jose isn´t that nice. Its mostly just ugly modern concrete buildings on narrow streets choked with traffic and pedestrians. Very claustrophobic and not a great deal in the way of tourist attractions either. The link below probably doesn´t describe San Jose but is quite funny. Had a wander round nonetheless but mostly chilled in the hostel.
Next day got the bus to La Fortuna. It took four and a half hours and the leg room was less than generous, in fact it was actually quite painful, as buses here aren´t designed for those of us who are 6´6". But got there in tact and checked into the hostel, where I bumped into someone I know from home - small world!

Volcan Arenal is the main attraction in La Fortuna, and on a clear night you can see the lava coming down it, so booked myself onto a tour to go see it. Booked it at 2.30pm in glorious sunshine, but by 3.30 the clouds had rolled in and by 4 it was pouring with rain. Did a walk through some forest first to see some wildlife but most of it had the good sense to stay dry so all we saw was an eyelash viper. Very poisonous apparently.

The rain hadn´t abated by the time we got to the volcano, and we sat staring at a gap between two trees hoping we might catch a glimpse of some lava. Having seen nothing for half an hour, for all we knew the tour guide could have been stringing us on and the volcano could have been behind us and we were looking at nothing, but eventually we did see some specs of orange. Disappointing but apparently lots of people don´t see it. Its not the first time I´ve turned up a spectacular view and seen nothing - Blue Mountains springs to mind.

After the volcano went to the hot springs with Emily from Canada and Emilie from Sweden, two girls from the hostel who were also on the bus from San Jose. The springs were really good. They were kind of set in a river which is naturally warmed by the volcano.

Next day having had a rare moment of bravery/stupidity the previous day when I booked it, I went canyoning, which basically involved rapelling (lowering yourself down a rope) down five waterfalls and one cliff. Was fun and got pretty wet but was slightly underwhelmed as I (surprisingly) wasn´t scared standing at the top looking down, nor was I any good at it, so I didn´t get the rush of whizzing down really fast. But glad I did it.

Did some zip lining in the afternoon, which is sliding down ropes between trees. I think the longest was about 600m, although there are some in Costa Rica that are over 1km. The best bit was the tarzan swing where you are attached to a rope and you step off a platform and just swing. Cool. So that was two liability waiver forms signed in one day!

In the spirit of continuing with dangerous activities, went white water rafting the next day (and another disclaimer form). It was grade 3/4 and I had only done grade 2´s before. Was really good fun. As it had been raining most of the night, the river was much quicker and it was rough enough not to be boring but not so rough as to be scary, so it suited me fine. I know Kris once had a near death experience on some rapids and I wasn´t planning on doing the same.

Not sure I´m the right shape for rafting though, because I never ever really felt balanced. I started at the front of the raft, but over balanced into the boat on the first rapid almost! Oops. I was (somewhat harshly I think) relegated towards the back of the boat but this suited me fine. Was a good ride from there. I had to take all instructions in Spanish though - there were 4 Americans, 2 Spaniards and me in the group so I was in the boat with the Spaniards. Got the hang of the calls for paddle forward, paddle backwards, and stop, but never got the hang of "we´re in trouble, everyone get in the boat and get down" but by copying the Spaniards I got by ok!

Went out for some food that evening with Martin from Preston who was also staying in the hostel. When we got back to the hostel it was dark and it felt like it was time for bed, but it was only we had some Imperials - la cerveza de Costa Rica - with some English girls who were travelling through Central America. Costa Rica is more or less directly below Cuba but is two hours different and it gets light at 4.30am and dark at 5pm. Maybe its to take advantage of the sun before the afternoon rain rolls in, but despite being on holiday, you do find yourself getting up and going to bed really early.

Some of the girls in the hostel had spent a month or so volunteering at a Turtle conservation place and some other people had been and said it was good, so I managed to organise a trip out to Tortuguero on the Caribbean coast to see the Green Sea Turtles nesting as it was still nesting season just. Up at 5am and it took two buses and two boats to get there. Had a Spanish lesson from Ivan, the driver of the first bus on the way! Saw plenty of wildlife en route - numerous birds, monkeys, iguanas and a crocodile, although the fact that the croc was just sitting on the bank in plain view almost posing for tourist photos did lead me to suspect it may have been plastic.
That evening at dinner there was almost a major diplomatic incident when an American stole my pudding. I don't care whether the UK and the US have a special relationship or not, you don't mess with my pudding. The ever diplomatic Scandinavians came to the rescue though as Mette, a Danish girl, didn't want her pudding so let me have it.

The main event though was going onto the beach late at night and watching the turtles lay their eggs. These turtles are huge and weigh between 200 and 400 pounds, and in the pitch dark lit only by a tiny light the ranger had we watched one lay its eggs, fill the hole in to protect them, then drag itself back down the beach to the sea. This is all done with its flippers which are designed for nothing more than swimming so its a massive effort for the turtles. They lay 120ish eggs in one go and only 2-3 will survive because of predators. Watching this was really amazing.

Walking to the beach almost in complete darkness I casually remarked to an American girl who was walking at the back that "in horror films, its usually the person at the back who gets it first." She wasn´t impressed - this sort of thing is clearly taken quite seriously stateside!

Next day was further wildlife spotting around the natural canals of Tortuguero, followed by a jungle walk. We saw Caymans, poisonous frogs and toads, leaf cutter ants, and spider and white faced monkeys. The jungle walk culminated on the beach, and our guide spotted a turtles next that had been dug up by dogs, and there were some turtles only a few hours old having probably hatched that morning in distress, so we all had to carry a turtle to the water. They were only little, about the size of the palm of my hand. Mine kept kicking its back flipper - I was scared I was going to break it! Someone suggested seeing how far we could skim them, but decided it was best just to put them down near the water. They took a few tentative steps and waves came and they swam away. Hopefully we gave them a slightly better chance of survival.

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