Costa Rica (12 August)– We left our underwhelming San Jose hostel for the bus station at 5:30 in the morning. There was supposed to be a cab ready to take us, but I guess it was too early for our driver. No worries, we were just one block off a main artery and grabbed a cab to the bus terminal easily after hoofing it a bit.
To The Beach!
Feeling good physically and mentally, we began the 4 1/2 hour bus ride to Puerto Viejo, a beach town on the east coast- the Caribbean side -of Costa Rica. Truthfully, we only stayed a day in San Jose, CR’s capital and home to the international airport, because we arrived so incredibly late on our first travel day. Now that we were headed for the beach, the feeling was that the real trip was just now beginning.
It simply is not possible for any 4 1/2 hour bus ride to be wholly enjoyable, but this one was pretty good. We got our first look at the lush tropical mountainous regions of CR. Vegetation of an immense scale lined both sides of the highway. We saw single plant leaves larger than a table for four and flowers not even Dr Seuss could have imagined. Roadside waterfalls and soaring bridges likewise kept us entertained. Once descended from the mountains, we got our first glimpse of sand and surf. The highway then bent south as we followed the coastline for another hour or so.
Our second hostel (Walaba Hostel in Puna Uva) was a welcome improvement over the first. It was Swiss Family Robinson accommodations, sans the cool Disney touches. (Although, we were impressed by their habit of daisy-chaining household extension cords throughout the compound.) There were two main multi-decked structures (coconuts within reach) and a couple more single-level buildings scattered about. Our room had hinged window coverings that swung open to the wild. Who needs glass on windows anyway, (or even screens), right? The tropical air was free to come and go… and so were the mosquitos. Fortunately for us, the pests were less aggressive and somewhat more dim-witted than their Texas cousins we are accustomed to, so they weren’t really a problem. We did use the mosquito netting over the bed at night which was kind of fun.
The closest beach to our hostel was just a 3 minute walk away. Backpacks dropped into the room and swimsuits on, it was our first sight to see. We took along our mask and snorkels just in case the water was clear enough to glimpse some life underwater. Turns out the first area we swam in was better for waves than snorkeling. In fact, these waves did not like snorkels and masks at all. One particularly large wave tackled Jessica to the sea floor and stripped her mask straight off her head. We looked and looked for them, but the sea was giving nothing back. It was quite a bummer to lose that (somewhat pricey) mask on the first day, but not so bad that I couldn’t get a pretty pic of Jessica after a swim.
Life in Punta Uva
Back at the hostel we were informed that the wifi had not worked since a storm disrupted it 5 days prior. The hostel’s staff was apologetic and made every effort to get it back up, but for our entire stay there…no wifi. And no more rain fell either. We were told it had been raining pools up until two days before we arrived. But when the seasons change from wet to dry it must happen at once. Even the ants know this. We heard a local rancher saying that when a certain type of ant can be seen traipsing about, the rainy season is over. These weather-savvy gardeners must have been the leaf-cutter ants for we saw their tiny parades everywhere; large chunks of leaves waving on their backs like sails.
Much of the next day was spent by me lazying around in the hammock with a book (A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson). I also tried my best to snag a photo of a certain species of iridescent green fly that zoomed and hovered near by. They flew like hummingbirds in the way that they would park themselves in a spot of air for a few moments (to look you over) before darting off. But darn them for never posing for a picture. Below is the best I could do.
The most notable wildlife in the area was there to be heard, not seen. Howler monkeys abound. Jessica and I were hearing these well-named creatures for the first time and it was downright unnerving. (For a moment, I thought we’d landed on Pandora.) I won’t even attempt to describe their incredible roar. Listen here for a sampling.
The morning of our last day in Punta Uva I decided to go for a jog. From the hostel I ran down the road to the right exactly 21 minutes, then turned around and slogged it back at a slightly faster 20-minute clip. Sounds like a normal Gary-thing to do….but OMG, running in the tropical environment was tougher than I was ready for. I ran it strong, but upon finishing I was thoroughly wiped out. My face was brave, but I was weak sauce for the rest of the day. Plans after my run had us renting bikes and riding 7 km to the next town down the highway, Manzanillas. We were eager to go their because of the good snorkeling to be had right along the beach. Afterwards, we planned to visit the world’s only sloth sanctuary, located not far from where we were staying.
We did bike ride to Manzanillas and enjoyed the beach very much. It was Saturday and the sands were alive with local families… with their kids subbing underwear for a swimsuit. Down to one mask and snorkel, Jessica and I had to take turns seeing some colorful fish in the small reefs scarcely 40 feet from the sand’s edge. The beach was unique in how close the palm and coconut trees came down to the mellow surf…providing natural shade for picnicking or just hanging out as we did. A couple of European women set up near us and one of them thought nothing of going topless. This was NOT the norm in Manzanillas and seemed to cause quite a stir of giggles among the locals that happened by.
I was still feeling worn out from that silly morning run as we peddled back to the hostel from Manzanillas, but something else was going on….my intestines were sending me a few strange signals too. Uh oh! Nah, it wasn’t much, but I do know that once we were back at the hostel I collapsed onto the bed and wafted in and out of sleep for the next four hours! While I never felt really bad (like being sick), it was clear that something had hit me.
Our plans to travel the world for a year certainly included an expectation that we might get sick from time to time. But it’s been less than a week! Fortunately, I was not truly sick-sick, probably mostly dehydrated. We were told very directly not to drink the tap water at our hostel…and then told we’d have to pay for filling up our canisters with their bottled water. I am sure knowing this kept me from chugging water like I would have otherwise. Though true, Jessica says I was running a slight fever for a time which would indicate something more going on than just a lack of water. Regardless, whatever bug my system was processing, it was relatively minor.
Jessica went through it, too… the following day. It was our travel day from Punta Uva to Monteverde. Her sleep-craving came mercifully on the bus ride (rides) to Monteverde– a 9 hour, 2-part trip that included a 2 1/2 hour stopover at the sketchy San Jose bus terminal.
We had no significant rain in Punta Uva, which I found slightly disappointing. As we looked at the forecast before coming to CR, chances of rain were 100%. Once I saw our open-air treehouse of a hostel room, I craved that a dose of fresh rain would delight us for a while. Yet, we scarcely saw a drop. Those ants of Punta Uva were right.
Perhaps in Monteverde, located in the middle of CR’s main rainforest, the rains would be found.