Our latest excursion in Costa Rica was Tortuguero (tor-too-GEH-roh), a popular tourist destination on the northeastern coast. It was our first trip to the Caribbean side of Costa Rica. It was also our first group trip; there were 30+ other embassy folks along for this one.
The bus took the winding mountain roads out of the central valley because the highway (also winding, but less so) was inaccessible due to heavy rains (not surprising). Two passengers puked (not surprising). The boys managed the bus ride like champs; it was Sara and I who were both feeling ill most of the ride. Once out of the mountains, we traded winding and paved for straight and unpaved. It’s hard to say which is worse.
We made two interesting stops along the unpaved road. The first was at a banana “processing” facility. “Processing” because it involves a total of two steps, repeated several times: cutting and washing. Everything was open to observe; we watched the heavy branches rolling in like clothes on a clothesline, and the flashing blades of practiced cutters as they crafted familiar-looking store-shelf bunches.
Our second stop was a small bakery operated by some local ladies. They came on the bus and sold (for $1 apiece) empanadas, quesadillas, and various fruit, nut, cheese, and dulce de leche pastries. Through the efforts of the tour company (making regular stops at the bakery), the ladies have been able to improve their facility and expand their business. Also the stuff they make tastes fantastic. We were all happy to stop again on the way home.
The bus ride behind us, we all boarded a long, narrow boat and headed off into the costal canals. Our hotel was not accessible by road. Malachi especially liked the boat ride (so did I). We saw two crocodiles and a turtle (and lots of birds) on two-hour ride.
We arrived at the hotel just in time for lunch. From our room, we could see the canal out one window, and the ocean out the other. The grounds were beautiful, with a host of wildlife and wide variety of fruit trees. Malachi’s favorite part of the hotel was probably the swimming pool; which was large, free-form, and always full of his friends. Simon’s favorite part was all the attention he got for being so cute (and serious). His least favorite part was not having a bed. The first night he shared with mommy; the second night we built a
cage bed on the floor for him.
We participated in a number of scheduled activities: a nature hike through the jungle (LOTS of spiders), a tour of the nature park at the hotel (butterflies and poison dart frogs), and, of course, mealtime. The food was not bad; definitely a notch above resort food, and it was included in the price of the hotel, so no complaints here. In lieu of one planned activity, I napped for three hours in a hammock. We weren’t allowed to swim in the water because of riptides and sharks; but Malachi and I had a nice walk on the beach one morning where we saw some sea turtle eggs.
Sara and I separately went on night excursions to watch the sea turtles nesting. For me, the experience was quite impressive, although the turtles were only a small part of that. I did get to see a turtle laying her eggs, covering the next, and returning to the water.
The more magical part was the atmosphere. We walked out onto the beach around 10:00 p.m., so the sun had set five hours earlier. But there was so much light from the stars, more stars than I’ve ever seen before: planets, shooting stars, the hazy course of the Milky Way. While waiting for the turtle to prepare her nest, I lay on the beach for nearly an hour, watching the surf in the starlight. I could make out the dark line topping each wave as it rose toward the shore, followed by its violent change to light as the wave broke. It was like a horizontal lightning strike arcing along the waterfront. Beautiful and primal.
The ride back to San José was better because the highway was open, though our boat ride was rainy. This is definitely a trip that I would recommend for visitors to Costa Rica, but I’m not sure we’ll repeat it next year (just because we like doing new things). Below are some photos. Enjoy!