October 2009 Road Trip: Part 2

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Flag of Costa Rica  , Province of Limon,
Wednesday, October 7, 2009

I had decided to take the less traveled northern route from La Carolina Lodge towards the Caribbean Coast and the secluded town of Tortuguero.  I figured it would be one of the few times I would be in that area and have the time to take the road less traveled.  My main concern was that the road would not be paved as indicated on my map, but it should have been the lack of signage!  I had no idea if I was on the actual route I needed to be, which town I was passing through or why I kept running into intersections that forced me to turn left or right even though it showed just a straight line on the map.  Being the only driver challenged my very questionable navigational skills (I usually just go the opposite way I think I should be going) but I really only made one wrong turn that led to an hour tour of the winding mountain road through the towns of Quesada, Venecia, where all roads seemed to lead back to Aguas Zarcas.  

From Guapiles, the directions provided by our hotel, Casa Marbella, were excellent.  You could feel the change in the air as the humid Caribbean winds blew and were were surrounded by banana plantations along the way.  We were even lucky enough to see a banana crossing; its where tons of banana bunches are attached to a conveyor belt and then "cross" the street.  I have to admit this was the highlight of our 8 hour drive - watching those Chiquita bananas stop us in our tracks as they sweetly walked along.

We finally pulled into the parking area at the farm in Pavona and waited for the bus to take us the last kilometer to the boat taxi. For those of you who read part 1 of our road trip you know I had completed a very tough climb(and descent) the day before in Tenorio National Park and had now spent almost 8 hours sitting in a car.  Needless to say, when the bus arrived I was physically unable to lift my leg high enough to reach the bottom step to board the bus.  Luckily, the driver''s assistant was nice enough to give me a BIG push and I tumbled up into the crowded aisle of the bus.  The ride was thankfully short, but I soon discovered my stiff legs had just as much trouble going down stairs as going up.  I basically flung myself down the three large steps and landed upright.

We boarded the boat (again with substantial assistance) and set off for our twisty ride through the small river mouth.  The water level was really low this afternoon and we could feel the sand scrape along the bottom of the boat a few times during the 90 minute ride.  The cost was approximately $2.50 per person and it included stops at docks for many local families along the way.  When we arrived it was already dark, but we easily found our hotel which was less than a minute walk from the main dock in town.  The room was large and clean and the beds comfortable.  It was the least private of any of the rooms we had during this trip, but it was also just in front of the river.  As we ended up spending a lot of our time in the room because it down poured the entire day, I realized I did not enjoy the roar of motor boats that seemed to pass by every 10 minutes (or less) and the subsequent sound of the water smacking the shore in response to these same boats.  Tortuguero is only accessible by boat or small plane, so it is understandable that there would be boats transporting people and supplies throughout the day.  I guess I realized that I enjoyed the view of the river more than the sounds.

The first night we had a great meal at a mainly Italian restaurant, Budda Cafe.  The portions were huge and the spacious seating area was right on the river's edge.  This was the best meal of the trip, and they had the best bread & olive oil.  The next morning we ate our complimentary breakfast of eggs, toast, fresh fruit, juice and tea on the dock-like platform.  They had these really cool plastic shades that rolled down and secured to the floor that allowed us to enjoy the view but avoid the torrential rains that lasted all day.  We had planned a canal tour at 2pm, but it was canceled due to the weather.  We were able to explore the small strip of land that makes up the town in between showers.  It took 1 minute to walk the width of town, from the river to beach.  The beach is a long gray sand beach that looked very New England meets the tropics with the overcast skies and drizzle.  We walked the length of town in about 5 minute;, from the colorful boat dock to the entrance of the National Park.  There were lots of cute little restaurants scattered along the main road, but most were closed due to the season.  We grabbed a quick lunch in the small soda next to our hotel and headed back to the room to see if the rains would pass before our evening turtle watch tour.  Unfortunately, the rain continued so I decided to go out to dinner and just plan a return trip to have a chance to see Tortuguero without the rain.  We ate at Miss Junie's, which is a famous bed and breakfast with a great story.  If you ever get the chance to eat here, take time to read the menu as it chronicles the history of Tortuguero's first restaurant.  The offerings were mostly typical dishes with great presentation and friendly service.  The portions were huge and much more than we needed after a day of doing nothing.  We walked back to the hotel to settle in early for a 6am departure.  I was afraid if we left on the 11:30 boat we would not make it to Poas (our next destination) before dark.

We awoke to sunny skies early the next morning and made the quick walk to the main dock where the boat was filling up fast.  The return trip took less than an hour with the water levels high and fewer stops along the way.  We decided to walk towards the parking area as the bus was no where in sight and I was anxious to get going.  We were picked up almost immediately by a guy who works for the parking lot where we had our car.  He usually shuttles clients between the parking area and the boat, but was not around the afternoon we arrived.  He was also nice enough to give my car a jump when the battery was (not surprisingly) dead after two days of being parked.

We will definitely return to Tortuguero.  I feel like we just got a small taste of what this charming village has to offer.
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