Trip Start Dec 22, 2006
97Trip End Feb 10, 2008
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As we neared 'Nilla, we noticed that the Belize sticker had fallen off of her rear window. This could go no further! A solution was necessary! Thankfully, we had more stickers! Rummaging through the van we produced several more stickers that we had accumulated along the way. Geraldine got to work cleaning the rear window to allow for better adhesion, while Michael sifted through the stickers to choose the best ones. Freshly applied flare, we stepped back to admire our handwork. Slowly but surely, 'Nilla's rear window was filling up nicely. Feeling a few raindrops, we decided it was time to duck inside for breakfast. Alas! The door was locked! The keys were inside! We had no spares hidden anywhere! Looking at each other in a moment of doubt and disbelief, it soon sunk in that we had in fact locked ourselves out of the van. Neither one of us recalled pushing the door lock down, so we did not know who was to blame. Fortunately, we both agreed that it would be trivial and a waste of time trying figure that part out. Instead, we got to work on a plan. We had left the window on the second side door open, so the first thought was....let us see if we can fit Geraldine's scrawny arm in the open window, bend it in ways it was not meant to bent, and somehow hope she has enough strength in the one finger that reaches the lock to push it up and save us from this unpleasant situation. The first attempt looked promising as her arm slid in, contorted itself, and one finger reached the door lock. This is where the plan goes awry. There was not enough strength in that index finger. Back to the drawing board! We know that Geraldine's arm fits in the window. We know that her finger can reach the lock. Therefore we need to extend her finger and allow her to use the remainder of her hand as leverage. Look for a stick! After briefly scouring the beach, Michael triumphantly appeared with the perfect stick. It had a short nub at the end which could be used as a hook around the lock and would therefore be stronger than a finger. In went the stick through the window, followed by Geraldine's arm. With Michael calmly guiding her with words, Geraldine hooked the nub around the lock, pulled tightly and lifted up. Pop! What a glorious sound! The door was now unlocked! We quickly swung the door open to prove that all was not an illusion. Before hopping in the van to get cover from the now steady rain drops that were falling on us, we gave each other a big hug. Congratulations were definitely in order for the amount of composure and clear thinking we both possessed during our first, and hopefully last, lock out.
Having worked up quite an appetite, we consumed our breakfast at a rapid rate and then simply sat back to enjoy the inside of our van. The rain was now steadily falling so we made ourselves comfortable, worked on our journal and did a little mid-day cleaning. The rain let up right after lunch and we jumped at the opportunity to once again go outside. Earlier in the day we had spotted a sign at Maxi's that stated they had public showers for the low, low price of ˘200 (approximately $0.30). It had been several days since our last indoor shower, so we were both excited for a complete fresh water washing. The shower did not disappoint and we both emerged smelling a million dollars richer than when we had entered.
The town of Manzanillo is situated within the Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge and is home to some of the best snorkelling and most beautiful beaches on the Caribbean. It also boasts a 5.5 kilometre hiking trail through a rain forest to Punta Mona on the other side. It was this hiking trail that intrigued us. Unfortunately, as we enquired around town, we informed that with all of the heavy rain in the past week, the trail would be extremely muddy and at points no doubt unrecognizable. Such is the luck when travelling during the rainy season, so we hopped back into 'Nilla and decided instead that the three of us would drive to Gandoca on the other side.
The landscape on the drive was filled with banana plantations nestled within the valleys of jungle covered mountains while the roads, as usual, wound around, down and up the sides of the densely vegetated hills. As we drove, we noticed several other tourists pulled off the road to take snapshots of the unending fields of banana plants. It was definitely a sight to see and we were happy not to have been the only ones that noticed the beauty of the area. The most impressive sight we saw came later though, as we neared the Wildlife Refuge. The final 10 kilometre stretch to the town of Gandoca was along a very poor and narrow dirt road filled with massive potholes that snaked through the middle of a Dole banana farm. As we bounced our way down the track, we spotted a gentleman running amongst the banana plants to our left. Initially, we thought that perhaps it was quitting time and he was in a rush to get home, but then we noticed that as he ran, many bundles of bananas followed him. The bundles were attached to a wire conveyor belt hanging roughly five feet off the ground. From the end of the line of bananas, a band had been wrapped around the waist of the gentleman to allow him to pull the bananas behind him as he ran. This was too curious a situation to let pass by without snapping a photograph. Michael brought 'Nilla to a stop so Geraldine could jump out and quickly run into the banana field to ask the man's permission for a photo. The gentleman was kind and quickly agreed. The photo was taken in short order as the man was still on the clock and barely slowed his pace after giving his consent. We pressed on down the road and commented on how that would most likely be the most interesting thing to happen to us today. No sooner had these words been spoken, we rounded the corner and once again brought 'Nilla to a halt. Crossing the road directly in front of us was another conveyor belt. Again, the contraption only hangs roughly five feet off the ground, so there was no way we were going to get 'Nilla underneath. The road continued on the other side, so we knew there had to be a way to move the conveyor belt out of our way. We both jumped out and tried our best to lift the entirely metal railing up in the air. It was not budging. We tried again, to no avail. Standing around and scratching our heads, we contemplated on how to continue. It was then that we spotted a passenger van headed in our direction. The van was nearly as tall as 'Nilla so we knew it would also not be able to pass underneath the conveyor. We simply stepped back, let the van come to a stop at the metal rail and watched, dumbfounded, as the driver swung the entire railing off to the side. So that was the trick...to the side, not up in the air. Good to know for the drive back out.
After the conveyor belt, the road got decidedly worse and we were forced to cross three rather sketchy looking bridges. It was not so much the construction of the bridges that worried us, it was more the width of them. Michael had to do some straight driving in order to keep all four tires on the bridge. Thankfully, each bridge was no more than forty feet long. Since it had been raining on this side of the Wildlife Refuge as well, the many potholes were all filled with water and Michael enjoyed driving through each puddle to watch the water splash in the air. During one such puddle splashing, a little street dog happened to be too close to the road and got drenched as we drove by. We also passed several small cabinas along the way and could not help but be amazed at how many tourists were here during the rainy season. As usual, we drove directly by all of the paid lodging options and parked on the beach at the end of the road. Immediately after alighting from our vehicle, we met Carolina. Originally from Costa Rica, Carolina now lives in Toronto however returns to home often to work with the ANAI Volunteer and Research Centre. ANAI is a turtle conservation program that works alongside the community to research and build awareness about the sea turtles that land on the beaches of Gandoca every year. They have taught many ex-poachers that more money can be made by being a guide to tourists than can be made from selling turtle eggs. ANAI also educates the people of the community how to make souvenirs and crafts out of other natural objects rather than using the shell of a turtle. Every year many volunteers head down to Gandoca to do their part in conserving the turtle species, so the local cabinas and restaurants also profit from ANAI's presence in their community. The best part of the program that we heard, was that ANAI puts a percentage of their profits directly back into the community. We were impressed and enquired with Carolina if she could hook us up with a tour guide. It was nearing the end of the Leatherback mating season and we were both curious to see one of these large creatures first hand. A guide was arranged to show up at 7:00 pm in order to discuss a time and fee for our tour.
During our wait, we strolled along the beach and happened upon an area called "Sector B Hatchery". On occasion, a mother turtle will dig her nest too close to the waters edge, so the volunteers will carefully dig up each and every egg and relocate it further up the beach. This way there is no risk of the eggs being washed out to sea prior to hatching. Every nest is tagged and monitored so that when the eggs start hatching, the baby turtles can be released closer to the water to avoid the possibility of them wandering the other way into the trees or falling prey to birds or land crabs. We had hoped to see a baby turtle, but it was not meant to be. So we strolled back to the van and on the way ran into two volunteers who educated us on the nesting seasons of sea turtles. Leatherbacks nest from April to May, Green Turtles lay July through October and Hawksbills sporadically from March to October. Being at the tail end of the Leatherback season, we knew there was only a slim chance that we would see one, but we could not leave the area without at least trying. Leatherbacks are on average 1.6 metres long and can grow as big as 2 metres. We were told that if we happened to spot one that night, we would be allowed to touch it, however no flash cameras were permitted and no flashlights with the exception of the infrared flashlights carried by all the guides.
More excited than ever, we waited until our guide, and Gilbert showed up at 7:00 pm. Gilbert told us what his fee would be for a four hours walk along the beach, and we were sad to say that it was out of our budget range. Not wanting to lose a sale, Gilbert offered to take us out for a two hour tour at half the price. It was still a tad more than what we had hoped to pay, but agreed to go through with this once in a lifetime opportunity. The turtles can come to shore anytime between 7:00 pm and 1:00 am, however Gilbert's two hour tour would start at 9:00 pm. We were dressed and ready when the punctual Gilbert returned. Aside from being further educated, our two hour walk up and down the beach did nothing more than tire us out completely. No Leatherbacks were coming to shore today. We spent most of our time watching out that the tide did not wash up and over our feet. There were a few instances that we actually had to jump into the forest on top of fallen logs to avoid soaking our shoes. It was explained to us that part of the reason for this was how stormy the weather was as well as how unruly the waters were being that night. Both a little disappointed, we returned to the van at 11:15 pm and promptly fell asleep. We had stayed up well past our bedtime and all of the fresh air had made us all the more drowsy.
Check out the photo album: http://www.kodakgallery.com/ShareLandingSignin.jsp?Uc=16xvaj2z.a1nktxkv&Uy=rg2kno&Upost_signin=Slideshow.jsp%3Fmode%3Dfromshare&Ux=0