58. Puerto Viejo de Talamanca
Getting out of Tortuguero was just as arduous as getting in. After catching the same boat and bus back towards Cariari, we were stopped about two kilometres from the bus station due to half the country turning out for a school marching band competition. From there we had to walk the rest of the way, as no cars could drive through. Marching bands weren't in existence at our high schools, so this was our first experience in seeing a performance live. Once we had passed over 30 schools, each with flashy uniforms and deafening drum beats, we were well and truly over marching bands. Admittedly they did sound great, but smaller doses would be preferable.
Two more bus rides transported us to Puerto Limon, where we had a 90 minute wait for the final bus. We hit the supermarket and some street food to pass the time, filling up on plantain empanadas (which for some illogical reason reminded me of apple berry crumble). Just as I was about the board the bus I realised I had lost my ticket. I looked everywhere but to no avail. I explained my situation to the ticket office, who knew I had bought two tickets. Of course they insisted we buy another ticket. No amount of intense glaring was going to change their mind.
We arrived in Puerto Viejo as it was becoming dark, to find a laid back, ramshackle, hippy town. We located a cheap hostel with a gigantic lounge area (it would have made a great bar), yet with tiny, wood-panel rooms that reminded me of a treehouse. We had to climb up a ladder to reach our wooden shoebox - not easy with 15kg of backpack on.
Back to basics. This was our entire room.
Wandering around the streets looking for dinner wasn't simple, as almost all street stalls sold meat and the restaurants were touristy and expensive. We settled on a gringo hangout, where they served coconut gallopinto (to mix things up a bit) and a decent Caribbean salad (full of nuts and seeds - I missed nuts and seeds). Another stroll around town revealed not much going on, so it was back to our mansion-sized hostel lounge to hang out with fellow travellers.
Being such an easygoing town, we thought we would do what the locals did and hire bicycles. For only US$5 per day, it was a bargain. We rode out to the Jaguar Rescue Centre, about five kilometres away. This doesn't sound far but it wasn't easy on the archaic bikes we were given. No jaguars were at the centre today (the name was only slightly misleading) but on our guided tour we saw the cutest baby howler monkeys, even cuter baby sloths, adorable baby margays, a delightful baby puma, red eye frogs, anteaters, several snakes, a pelican, owls, caimans - all being rehabilitated so they could be released into the wild again (you can see that the adjectives ceased after the animals stopped being babies). Foreign volunteers were playing with the animals in every enclosure and I was about ready to sign up and jump in there with them. Watching the tiny monkeys learning to climb, swing and balance was enthralling and oftentimes hilarious. The sloths didn't do a whole lot but who could go past those dopey faces? Although I would always prefer to see animals out in their natural environment, this place was sensational.
From the no-Jaguar Rescue Centre we continued riding out to Manzanillo, down a paved road with rainforest on both sides. Manzanillo was even more laid back than Puerto Viejo. We hired snorkeling equipment, locked up the bikes and swam straight out to the reef only a few metres from the shore. The benefits of shallow water meant that everything was close to us, no diving required. Fish were plentiful, often swimming in large schools. Disco fish were a highlight for me; I think Danny became sick of me squealing like a schoolgirl every time I spotted one. Urchins were also abundant, which meant we quickly learned to be cautious every time we set our feet down. The coral was fantastic, sporting a wide range of colours and shapes. Due to the proximity to the water's surface, the vibrancy of the marine life was outstanding. It was almost as good as diving, although none of the big animals made an appearance. The beach itself was also incredible, being quiet and secluded. It was the definition of idyllic. I could have stayed for a week.
After our lousy rafting experience in Honduras we were eager to give it another go, so we signed up for a tour the next day. A two hour drive saw us out at the Pacuare River, where the first thing we were given was a huge breakfast (i.e. gallopinto with a couple of sides). Once that had semi-digested, we geared up and jumped in a raft with four fun-loving Americans, who were as entertaining as the tour itself.
This time, the rafting was superb. Over three hours on the water, with rapids between class I and class IV, bordered by a rainforest. Steep cliffs rose vertically out of the river and waterfalls sprung out at various locations. Our guide was fantastic, making sure we were as wet as humanly possible by steering the raft underneath the cascades. I couldn't believe we didn't fall out of the raft at any point - other rafts completely flipped over. The anticipation that we might capsize as we bounded through each rapid was enough to bring on an adrenaline rush though. This was what rafting should be.
At the halfway point we stopped for lunch, which was make your own sandwiches and wraps, perfect for fussy eaters like me. I also managed to pair a few ingredients together to make a loose version of nachos, which I'm sure were healthier than the typical dish. For dessert our guide pulled out water apples, a fruit I had never seen before. It looked like a rose apple and it tasted creamier and sweeter than a regular apple. I loved trying new ingredients in the countries we had visited - I wish we had all of these exotic fruits back home.
With a successful day of rafting under our belt, we were content to chill for the rest of the day. We hit the supermarket for dinner then unwound at the hostel, drinking white wine while making plans for the next stage of our holiday. Only one more country to go to complete Central America.