Friday, April 1, 2011

Trip Down Tortuguero

Tortuguero (Region of the Turtles) on the Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica is a jewel.  Not only is it a nesting ground for four types of marine turtle, it is home to many animals of the rain forest including jaguars, ocelots, monkeys and three-toed sloths.  For the bird watcher, you might see the toucan, macaw or blue heron, just a few of the 375 species to be found there.  And there's always the hope that you'll spy the gentle manatee.  Who wouldn't want to visit if the opportunity should come along? Well, it came for us.  Read about our adventure on the Tortuguero Canal:


    
It sounded like a really good idea, this trip down the Tortuguero Canal.  One of the things we had especially enjoyed as a family since moving to Costa Rica were the monthly "paseos" for the students, allowing us to visit and experience firsthand some wonderful vistas in this beautiful country.  We never missed one, wanting to take advantage of every opportunity that came our way.  So when we heard about the two-day excursion down Tortuguero and back, we couldn't pass it up.  It had actually been arranged by the teachers at the language institute we were attending, but they had invited any students to go along that were interested.  Yes, we were definitely interested. 

The date was March 1, 1985.  Our maid Maria had agreed to stay at the house with our two girls, Angela and Fawn.  But we thought Joel, who was six at the time, would really enjoy the trip up the river.  We left the house at 2:30 that morning to catch the bus leaving for Limon.  We were to stop around 5:00 to have breakfast in Puerto Moin and then continue on to our destination.

The trip did not start out well.   We boarded one of the two microbuses waiting at the school and started out of the mountains. It didn't take long to realize that the first stretch of this trip was not going to be a good one thanks to a broken window directly in front of us.  For the next hour and a half I wrapped my arms as tightly as I could around my body trying to keep warm.  I was relieved when we arrived in Puerto Moin, anxious to get off the bus for awhile and get something to eat.  But as we entered the town, the bus suddenly pulled to the side of the road.  Turns out we had a flat, and since nothing ever gets done quickly in Central America,  I knew we'd be sitting there for awhile.

Perhaps breakfast at this particular restaurant would have been better if we'd actually arrived on time.  It was a major disappointment:  rice and beans that were barely edible, eggs, bread without butter, orange juice and very strong coffee, which I assumed had been sitting for a long, long time.  Limon couldn't come soon enough.   I was sure the boat ride down the canal would make getting up at an ungodly hour, the uncomfortable bus ride and the horrible breakfast all worth it.  The rest of the bus trip to Limon was pretty uneventful.  I was glad that Joel slept.  We arrived about an hour late.

Then I saw the boat.  It was made of wood, probably 10 to 12 feet wide and about 50 feet long.  It had a  "canopy" with benches underneath with about a two and a half foot wide walkway around it.  And it was obviously very old. On top of that, there were already approximately 35 to 40 people on board.  I remember thinking that this couldn't possibly be the right place or the right boat.  After all, this was supposed to be an exlusive tour for us and us alone.  But we were obviously the "first class" passengers, because those already on board left their benches for us as we walked up the gang plank and made our way to our seats.  I don't remember where all those people stood or sat, but I do know that some went down into the hold where curiously there was a large stack of  mattresses and pillows piled high.

The boat was full, really full.  There were probably about 80 of us now.  We would later find out, not surprisingly, that the boat was packed with a lot more than what was allowed.  There was supposed to be another boat, but since it was out of commision, they put everyone on ours.  I was not happy.

We finally set out.  About every 20 minutes or so, someone would throw just as many buckets of water off the side of the boat.  Hmmm.  That was about a bucket a minute I figured.  It seemed that we might be taking on some water from the heavy load.  Larry wanted some sun, so he and Joel climbed onto the roof.  Every once in awhile we'd have to stop and let people off,  not a bad thing except that it slowed the trip down considerably. The problems seemed to escalate as the boat suddenly refused to move any further.  About half the passengers got off and waited on shore while several of the guys, including Larry, spent an hour trying to get our craft off a sandbar. Finally it broke free, the passengers reloaded and we started back down the canal once again.  That is until we hit another sandbar, then another and another.  Each time Larry and several of the other guys got out and pushed.  Did I mention that I had seen crocodiles on this trip?

After the third or fourth sandbar Joel told me he had to go number two.   I thought I should probably help him being that the bathroom was a toilet seat with water swirling rapidly below, a bit disconcerting for a six-year old.  He had just finished up when I noticed a large tree branch hitting the bottom of the boat  I heard a loud scrape.  A few moments later people started shouting and running towards the back.  Some  were screaming and crying as we began tipping to the side.  We now had a hole at the front and were obviously in danger of sinking if we didn't do something quickly.  This time everyone unloaded onto the shore, and I had visions of camping that night in the jungle.  But much to my relief the hole was repaired fairly quickly.  Well, sort of.   A guy cut a piece of wood with a machete then plugged  it with gunnysacks, boards and nails while others began rapidly bailing out the water.  Amazingly, a half hour later we were once again aboard and on our way.  Of course everything in the hold was soaking wet by now.  I felt sorry for whoever was waiting on those mattresses.

We arrived at our hotel around 4:30 that afternoon.  Not only had we missed lunch by four hours, we had also missed our afternoon trip to the Tortuguero National Park. The crew immediately began to empty the boat of its extra cargo.  It was then I saw the wet mattresses and pillows being hauled out of the hold and carried into the hotel.  Our hotel.  It suddenly dawned on me.  They were intended for us!

We entered a big gloomy restaurant with a tiny kitchen, a bar and a juke box.  And the bathrooms were the pits, literally.  We ate around 5:00, a full 12 hours after breakfast.  That was lunch.  I don't know what ever happened to supper.

Larry and I lucked out after the meal.  We found the rooms and managed to obtain the only one with both a john and  cold-water shower.  Hey, they were in the same stall but what did that matter?  They both worked.  The others in our group were going to be sharing the other bathroom.  Yep, bathroom.  Singular.  One.

After settling in, we walked down to the beach for a swim. But by now the sun was sinking and I decided to head back to the room..  Larry and a couple other students stayed, determined to end the day on a positive note.   I arrived back at my room to find a couple of teacher friends there using our shower.  No problem except that I was so tired and more than anxious to crawl into bed.  Not only had I been up since 2 a.m., I was totally bummed about the trip so far.  It had been a huge disappointment up to this point, not only for me but for my Tico friends as well.  Tomorrow simply had to be better.  The bed felt so good.  We had hit the jackpot with a dry mattress, possibly the only one on the premises.  I was dozing off as Larry came into the room.  The walk back had been a bit precarious.  His flashlight had died.  Ah yes, tomorrow had to be better.  How could it possibly be any worse?

TO BE CONTINUED
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