Water and wetness at the town of the Turtles
Trip Start Jan 23, 2007
120Trip End Dec 24, 2007
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Left San Jose at the reasonable hour of 9.30am (thankfully we didn't follow the guide book's advice of a 6.30am start!) and upon arriving in Cariari, caught another local bus to a river-landing, bam-smack in the middle of nowhere. In the last half hour of our bus trip, the scenery either side of the bus was solely banana plantations - a taste of what is to come further down the coast apparently.
Our water taxi downstream was really nice, although with the river running high and fast, it was heart-in-mouth at times as we dodged logs and snags, and wound our way through tight bends in the river. After about an hour we emerged from the secondary river onto the river that lead the rest of the way to Tortuguero
Tortuguero's billing as a 'mini Amazon' was becoming more apparent as the river broadened to about 100 metres with tall and dense jungle spilling over the banks. Or was it the river spilling its banks into the jungle? It was hard to argue definitively either way, as the partially submerged trees and root systems looked like they were always like that.
The increasing number of signs for hidden jungle lodges betrayed our eminent arrival at Tortuguero village, and we rounded a bend, and there it was - a number of ramshackle dwellings partially built over the water. In fact, the little town looked very much like the human-home equivalent of the jungle/river co-existence - we weren't sure whether the river or the town was creeping over the banks, or where the banks even where!
We were escorted to some nice rooms on the other side of town by a Dutch lady at the boat landing - we were kind of sweet talked into staying there, and by the time we got there it was pouring down with rain, so we just stayed put!
That afternoon we snoozed and ate, and got an early night in anticipation of a 6am jungle tour
So at 6am we found ourselves at our tour operators office, looking forlornly at the threatening sky, and humming and ha-ing over whether to canoe around looking at the wildlife, or take a motor-boat (with a silent four-stroke motor). In the end, the motor won out - thoughts of spilling out of the flimsy canoe into the swollen crocodile filled waters just weren't that appealing!
The tour itself was, in a word, incredible. Purring along the banks, we saw toucans, monkeys and other birds all over the show, with our guide knowledgably explaining something interesting about each animal. This included a little speil about what looked like a shag from home as it dried its wings on a fallen tree - in fact it was a close relative, the most interesting difference being it doesn't catch the fish with its bill - it spears them with it!
At one point we saw a couple of Spider monkeys indulging in the such stereotypical monkey-like behaviour, it seemed like they had been trained and put there just for us - a mother and baby swinging underneath a long bough for about 10 metres like a child would on the monkey bars in a playground.
A bit later on, the rain started coming down in torrents. As we pulled under the shelter of a tree, there was a baby sloth hidden in the foliage only about 2 metres away from us. Upon seeing us peering at it, it sleepily made it's way up it to higher branches. Which made us think - how do tell whether a sloth is a morning or an afternoon sloth when they act half-dead all the time? You can trust your Costa Rican correspondents to ask the tough questions folks.....thank goodness for our brand of investigative journalism ah!
Well anyhoo, to finish our tour we went searching (while at least our bare-footed guide did)for some tiny, red, poisonous frogs. After a fair bit of squinting and a change of location, he found a few - so tiny in fact that the camera had trouble focusing on them without blurring - they were about the size of a fingernail.
That concluded our tour - even though we tootled around for about an hour less than we were supposed to, we were happy for hot showers and a bit of desayuno.
Later on in the afternoon, with a bit of intrepidness still flowing in the veins, we went for a brief walk in the nearby national park. Brief because the mosquitos were systematically attacking in huge squadrons - paying no heed to insect repellant or furious swatting. So intense was their prolonged attacks, it spoiled the walk - it seemed some of them would distract us (and sacrifice themselves) by flying around our faces, while their cousins feasted our our pasty-white leg flesh. For the better part of half an hour, we looked like a has-been actor in a Disney movie who is acting like a swarm of bees is attacking them - legs and arms flailing while we waded through the mud in our gumboots
The one positive we got from this walk was seeing a big troop of spider monkeys crashing about playfully in the trees immediately above us, although the mosquitoes saw to it we didn't linger too long!
Finally, we rounded out our day of natural beauty with a night-time visit to watch sea turtles laying their eggs. Thankfully, the park service and guides are organised enough to have spotters walking up and down the beach (preventing people stealing the eggs too) watching the turtles come ashore and reporting on their nesting sites, so after a brief wait, we headed out to a spot about 2 kms away. By the time we arrived both of us were pretty uncomfortable - Sam only wearing a thermal top as protection for the inevitable rain as his jacket was still sopping wet from the morning (he got soaked) and Francie inadvertently standing on an ants nest in the dark. Unsurprisingly they took expection to this; poor Francie spending the next couple of minutes in agony until she squashed the last of them.
Seeing the giant turtle laying her huge clutch of eggs (about 125 ping pong ball sized eggs usually) and then swiftly cover them up was one of the most amazing things either of us have ever seen
At first we felt that we might be disturbing the process, but as we were only allowed to use red torch light on the beach (they can't see this apparently) and they can't really distinguish between human sound and any other on land, our movements wouldn't have been any distraction, and our furtive whispering drowned out by the crash of the surf anyway.
The poor old girl must have been exhausted after that effort - her amazingly deft efforts to cover the eggs become slower and slower as she flicked her flippers back and forth, and although we didn't get to see her return to the sea, we could imagine the immense relief her familiar surroundings would be to her. It was somewhat sad to think she was probably the only one of her siblings to survive to this age to reproduce, and that the vast majority of the brood she had just laid wouldn't make it to participate in this part of the circle of life. Sob!
After seeing the deep hole she had dug in the sand, and knowing a slight depression would be left even after she covered up her eggs, it was amazing to know the same process had gone on directly in front of our hotel on a recent night, as we had seen the tell-tale signs for a nest earlier that day without recognising what they were
The next morning we woke up pretty late, but in plenty of time to make our boat to Puerto Limon. The water had risen around our tour guides office by at least a foot, and another night of rain would probably see it flooded, although no-one in the village seemed to be particularly worried about the impending wetness.
A quick breakfast of banana bread, we were zooming off on the broad river south toward Limon, the incessant roar of the motor and splash of the wake becoming almost hypnotic by the end of the 3 hours!
Most of the way, the broad rivers were lined with dense jungle, but after we passed about the two hour mark, this gave way to isolated fincas set on narrow canals the banana companies had dug to facilitate the transport of their huge crops for export.
Near the end we saw a number of crocodiles sunning themselves on floating logs or on the banks. For the most part they dove into the water when the driver turned the boat around for us to get a closer a look, with the exception of one big fella who didn't even flinch when we nudged the boat in about 3 metres away from where he was sunning himself on the bank
Arriving at Puerto Limon (or at least the nearby satellite port of Moin) was really strange. Suddenly we came out at a sizable village, 2 minutes later we were motoring past huge oil storage tanks. We pulled up at a little dock within spitting distance of the main wharf with 5 container ships pulled up alongside (Sam's geeky freight brain amazed to note that the big fruit companies Del Monte and Chiquiti actually had entire ships to load bananas on - that is a gigantic number of bananas - some of you back home must be half gorilla!!).
And so our return to the modern world, and civilisation as most of us know it, was a little rude, but it was nice to know there is still a wild frontier of sorts, even if it may not be there for long.
Love, and bunches of bananas.