Saturday, January 16, 2010

Costa Rica Part I: Tortuguero

Our flight left DC slightly after 6 AM on Elizabeth's birthday (aka New Year's Eve), in freezing rain. We arrived in San Jose, Costa Rica around 3 in the afternoon to a warm, sunny day. From San Jose, we hopped a bus and headed northeast through mountains and rainforest to Guapiles, home of...well, not much that we could tell, except a decent bed and a hot shower for $14 at Hotel Wilson. Elizabeth managed to sleep right through the New Year's Eve festivities, which included the town's emergency siren. Matt got up and watched the fireworks that people were setting off all over town.

In the morning, we caught a bus to Cariari, which was an even smaller town, then another bus to La Pavona, which didn't even seem to be a town, and then a boat to the town of Tortuguero. Other than a few bikes on dirt paths in this little village, this area has no land transportation -- people get around on a network of canals, rivers, and lagoons -- and many of these waterways go through land that is protected as part of Tortuguero National Park. And that is why we came. We spent a total of about 16 hours in canoes (4 with a guide) and saw many spider and howler monkeys, a sloth, a coati, beautiful butterflies, a bazillion humminbirds, and lots and lots of other birds.

Since we've got so many pictures, we're consolidating them into slideshows. Here's one with highlights from the canals of Tortuguero National Park:

When we weren't in a canoe, we were out on the beach. It's not a great swimming beach (apparently it's so much of a shark hot spot that no one goes out more than a couple feet into the water). But 22 miles of beach are protected as part of Tortugero National Park, because leatherback, loggerhead, hawksbill, and green sea turtles (in Spanish, tortugas) all nest on the beach. We were there in the off-season, when not a lot of turtles were expected. And yet, one morning when we were walking along the beach, we found a baby turtle, trapped in a big pile of driftwood. We gave her a lift over to the water's edge. The other thrill of our beach walks was following a set of large cat tracks for a couple of miles along the beach -- possibly jaguar.

Several people have asked us to keep track of where we stayed. Our home in Tortuguero was Miss Miriam's 2 ($20/night in the off-season). The bed was ok (not great), and the hot water didn't work, but there was a shared balcony from which you could see the ocean, free laundry and internet, and lots of hummingbird-attracting plants in a little courtyard.