I’m nearing the end of my first month here in Costa Rica (my how the time flies), and, I have already visited quite a few amazing places! Part of me feels bad because I am going somewhere every single weekend that I have been here and I am not here in Heredia to spend time with my host family, but I have been trying to make up for that by being ultra-present when I’m here at the house! It doesn’t always work, but today after dinner I had a 2 hour conversation with my host mom ranging from cockfights, how the cruelty in society reflects the cruelty that people experience, how females always tend to be the more resilient members of a species (we got on that topic because she was telling me about how sometimes people will put a pregnant female chicken into a cockfight and how it can really change the dynamic of a fight because of the survival instincts), and a bunch of other random, strange, but enjoyable topics. Anyways, I only have 4 more months or so here, which equates to 16 weekends for excursions, 4 of which are taken up by class field trips, a few more of which are taken up by program field trips, and 2 that will be spent with my mom when she comes to visit me. All in all, I have to make the most of the time I have here!
Last weekend (now two weekends ago I suppose, it’s taken me a while to get this written) I packed my bag and hopped on my bike at 5:15 in the morning on Friday to pedal into San Jose and catch a bus to Puerto Viejo. It was about a 4 or 5 hour bus journey, and as we got closer to the coast, it got hotter, and hotter, and more humid as well. I was pretty much drenched in sweat the whole weekend, especially after I got severely sunburnt the first day. But boy was it worth it!
The Carribean coast of Costa Rica is most definitely rica (rich), and has been heavily influenced by the Jamaicans and Afro-Carribeans that have immigrated to the area over the years. They speak a wonderful Creole of Spanish and Jamaican English, and for those of you who don’t listen to reggae music, it can be quite difficult to understand at some points. But as an avid reggae listener, it was music to my ears, especially with the Spanish thrown into the Jamaican accent. The food is also heavily influenced by the Afro-Carribean culture, with lots of coconut infusions and seafood. I had shrimp with rice and beans (which is actually rice and beans with coconut sauce) at a restuarant owned by a Rastafari with a fake leg, and it was pretty much one of the best meals I’ve had here in Costa Rica so far.
I went down on Friday with 4 girls, Abbi, Renee, McKenzie and Kirsten, and since we got there so early in the day we immediately went for the beach after getting settled in and having a meal. I rented a surf board and Abbi a skimboard, and together we had a blast! Additionally, I set about picking some coconuts from the innumerable amount of palm trees that were on the beach, laden with coconuts. What an endeavor!! The first tree I climbed was leaning way out over the beach, and I was able to shimmy up it on my stomach with a length of bamboo in my hand to knock coconuts out. I tried once, headed down because my feet started to cramp up from dehydration, took a breather, and headed up once again, more determined than ever. I crept out on the trunk of the tree and was maybe 20-30 feet off the ground when I was finally in reach of those tantalizing coconuts. I leaned closer to take aim with my bamboo, and all of a sudden I was surprised by the company of a swarm of bees! I got stung twice on the face, and had to do everything I could to block out the pain so as to not fall off the palm tree onto the sand below. I scooted down the tree as a concerned looking mother watched me, and assured her I was okay when I got to the ground. Still determined, I found another tree that was closer to the ground, and had a neighboring tree that I could climb with ease. I eventually got two large coconuts, but not without the help of a local who instructed me on which coconuts to get, and who also spent a good 5 minutes cutting open my first coconut so I could taste the fresh coconut water inside. I tried to offer him the first sip for his labors, but he laughed and assured me he had an ample supply of them at his house. The water had a slight fizz to it, and it was more delicious than I can describe with words. With the two bee stings on my face still reminding me of what I went through to pick them, I drank my fill of that coconut and shared the rest with my friends. Later I ate the meat of the coconut as well, which is not quite as delicious, but surprisingly filling and extremely healthy!
The rest of the group filtered in throughout the day (this isn’t actually my group of exchange students, it is another group of Americans that go to the same University here in Costa Rica that invited me and McKenzie if we wanted to come with) but they didn’t have it in them to go to the beach that day, so we all settled in, wandered off to find a restaurant, and had a semi-early night.
The next day though, I woke up moderately early and, with some stops along the way, rode my bike to Manzanillo, about 12 kilometers down the road from the hostel, and absolutely precious! I went past the normal beach in Manzanillo and found a trail that wound itself into the jungle and went along for a little while. I only ran into two people along the trail, and it was nice to decompress in nature after living in Heredia for a couple weeks. The decompression stopped for a minute when I heard a ghastly sound coming from above, and thought I was about to die. Someone later told me that film makers have recorded these specific monkeys to use as monster sounds in movies, and I initially did think that I was going to die at the claws of some animal, likely a jaguar. It would have been great to see a wild jaguar right before I died, however I was mildly relieved to find out that it was just howler monkeys trying to scare me from their turf. I disregarded them, and eventually I found a beach that was literally empty, and had a nice walk along it, the water swallowing my footprints as I went, and my thoughts drifting lazily out to sea. I headed back to Puerto Viejo after having the aforementioned lunch at the Rastafari restaurant, and couldn’t help but smile the whole way! The road is clearly populated by touristy areas, hotels, restaurants, butterfly reserves, and the like, but it was very low key compared to San Jose, and very low key compared to Jaco where most of the people from my program ended up that weekend.
I found my friends still on the beach where they had been all day, and set about swimming, skimboarding, and I eventually put up my slackline right as it was getting dark. I managed to attract a German guy (slacklines are usually magnets for people who want to know just what the hell you are doing) and we had a nice slacklining session as the sun set and the light faded. I wandered back to the hostel through the forest, enjoying the murmur of the bugs and the soft crash of the waves, and ventured out with my friends for a night on the town.
On Sunday, most people left at 11 in the morning to catch the bus back to San Jose, but I felt that it wasn’t enough time and so I caught the 4 o’clock bus in the afternoon. It was a decision I don’t regret. I wandered around with a couple guys I met at the hostel named Mercer and Grayson, and we explored this awesome cliff structure that had over 10 monkeys in the trees above our heads the whole time we were there. The cliffs were also right on the water and every now and then the spray would lash up at us, reminding us of our surroundings, and calming our elevated body temperatures in the midday sun.
On the way to the cliffs, someone had pointed out a sloth that was climbing around in the trees, and when we went back, a couple hours later, he had maybe gotten two trees over. Such progress! Yet, when I think about it, that pace of life is what we strive to achieve when we’re at the beach most of the time. We want to relax and take things slow like a sloth does. That’s what Grayson and Mercer were doing, along with a crazy German guy who had ridden his bike all the way from Cancun, Mexico to Puerto Viejo, braving the traffic, the weather and somehow smoking a pack of cigarettes a day.
Along with telling me that cigarettes and alcohol keep him young, which I didn’t believe, he told me, in regard to his plans to go to Chile, that he didn’t know how long it would take him because he doesn’t set a goal each day. He lets it unfold as it may, and it seems to be working well for him. Of course it seems that he has the money to just let things unfold, which many of us don’t, but there are many people with more money than he who are caught in the mindset that they always need more. His mindset was more experiences, more adventures, and less worrying. His only plans were to make it to South America, by bicycle of course, and he was looking to hire a guide to help him get through the thick jungle of the Darien Gap, which has only been crossed by a handful of people, is not mapped, and is controlled by various guerilla militias and drug cartels. I wish him luck and admire the example he is setting!!! Pedal power!!!
Puerto Viejo proved to be one of my favorite places here in Costa Rica that I have been to so far, but I am looking forward to my next excursion, probably to Dominical, and will write more when that happens!
Good Vibes to all of you out there reading this! Thanks for taking interest in my travels!!