Monday, November 29, 2010

This is the way the Journey ends...

So Team,

It has come time to end the Costa Rica / Panama adventure "How Wet can You Get?".

I'm in San Jose (okay, I'm actually in St. Louis, Mo), but I'm in San Jose, just came in on the bus from Monte Verde and have about 3 hours max to find my bag and get back to the airport.
I turn off the iPod as we roll in, since that can be distracting (as we learned in losing the bag in the first place), and notice the bus terminal to Allejula (aka: The airport), and that it costs about a buck.
We drive another 5 plus minutes and reach the terminal that our buses stop at. I hop off, a cab driver says "taxi?", I say "yep", and in the always fun half spanish half english we some how communicate that I need to goto the Tracopa terminal to get my little bag and then back to the Allejula bus terminal. He says 10 bucks. He'll charge 25 to goto the airport. But I won't need that unless the bag isn't there...

so we race through the twisty, nonsenical streets of San Jose, and end up at Tracopa. I take my big backpack and snazzy platic-shopping-bag-day-bag-substitute with me (never leave anything unnattended in a cab), and my driver and I go inside. I have my cheet sheet with the names "Gustavo" and "Marvin Campos' on them. My driver seems to know Gustavo...but we can't seem to find him. He's not in his office. Finally, he sees Marivn, and I attempt to explain that I am "Craig Ouellette. Boletto negro poquito. (small black bag). Sombrero Beige (beige hat). Thursday, bus Quarento Uno from Frontiera Panama" (are you starting to see how hard this is to do when you are trying to do anything that isn't standard travel needs like hotels or bus times?)

He has no idea what I'm talking about. Probably because I made no sense. So they find the one guy who works there who is bilingual, and he listens as I explain the situation, how it was a bus on thursday, and stuff. No one seemed to know anything about the bag... until I said "Indiana Jones hat". Then Marvin goes "oooooohhhh! Si! Si!"

He led me to a back storage room, and.... drum roll...THERE IT IS!!! Yahooo!!! My bag is back!

I checked it out, as the raincoat was attached a different way. I looked inside: Book, Lonely Planet, Journal.

Oh no, did I leave it sitting on the bus floor or something. then I though I might have put it inside the raincoat (it folds up on itself), and in fact it was there. I don't remember putting it there, but I guess I did.)

I shook everyones hands, thanked them heartily, and into the cab, racing off to the Allejula station. I repacked in the backseat, and came to realize that my waterproof headlamp and pocket knife were missing...hmm... looks like someone did go through the bag. They took the two things of actual value to them...But who cares, I got most of it back! I'll count my blessings. Yahoo.
In the miscelanious papers I have in the journal, which I tape in as mementos, I found a note that said "You left your bag on the bus. We took your journal and will mail it to you so no one else can read it. The French Girls."

So, the two french girls I met at the hot springs, who happened to accidentally have gone to the border station I went to instead of the way they wanted to go, are most likely the reason my bag came back to me. They'd seen me with it, and the hat tied to it, and realized I'd left it. They probably looked for a way to contact me, and were the ones who turned it in to lost and found. They didn't keep the journal, they put it in the raincoat as a joke, and I'm sure they didn't take the headlamp or the knife. But the random connection I made with them, led to them doing something kind for me, and my bag coming back. That, and the awesome folks at the terminal who didn't take it, even though they could have.

Which goes to show that really, people can be kind. I know of people who have had negative experiences in Central America (hell, I've had some too), but in the end, it seems like the world takes care of you if that's the kind of thing you expect from it. If you figure the world is out to get you, it probably will be. But if you keep thinking of the good, you'll end up with good.

Now that I'm in St. Louis, visiting relatives, and having a few more great adventures (scuba diving a flooded mine, going to the greatest. playground. ever.... (there will be one more entry telling about these)), it's only with positive thoughts I look back at Costa Rica and Panama. Sure, there are some things I wanted to do that didn't happen, but I got more than I was expecting, and in fact got what I was looking for even though I didn't know it. (Thanks Laura).

So with that I'll give some random CraigO observations on the trip. These are not facts, and might not match with any experience you might have, but they were true for me, so I figure I'll share them now.

1. Americans, Americans everywhere (and the Dutch too):
I seem to have mostly run into American's and Dutch. (oh yeah, and Panamanians and Costa Ricans!). But if everyone wanted to know where American's go for international travel, apparently it's Costa Rica and Panama.

2. It rains... A LOT.
so love it. Enjoy the rain, fee the rain. Rain kicks ass, and really, when it's not pouring for days straight it's magical and makes things cool.

3. Justin Bieber is big... EVERYWHERE
Hearing him on a bus in Panama, and coming out of a store made me laugh. He's so cheesy, but he must have international appeal. "Baby, baby baby ooohhH!"

4. It's affordable... save for the tours.
You can spend very little money and travel to CR and Panama. Now, if you add tours, you're going to spend more...maybe a lot more. But the infastructure is very solid, and you can do many things solo. You don't need to spend 100 bucks for a guide to climb volcan Baru, it's a trail that's marked. But you can't raft a river without a guide (unless you are an expert kayaker...), so get one. Choose your adventures and what you like to spend money on. For me, I don't need to spend a ton on my lodging... I like to pay 10 bucks, have a simple room (often with views here), and spend my money elsewhere.

My budget for the trip was 60 bucks a day. I came in at 57.50 or so. I didn't harp on the budget. I didn't stress to match it. I had fun with all I did. Somedays cost 100 bucks, some cost 21...yep, that's for food, lodging and activities.

Some folks ask how I can afford to do all this traveling, and for me it's just choosing where I spend the money. Some people go drink 2 or 3 times a week, spending 30 or 40 bucks a night (this is LA don't forget), well, that's 150-200 a month, and in a year, that's WAY more money than this trip cost. Now, I'm a person who doesn't need to drink to have fun, but if that makes you happier, you can choose something else to trim a little bit off of to make the money work (maybe don't get that starbucks everyday... just once a week). Anyway, that's a few thoughts on that...

5. The people are generally nice...
It's true. Sure, there are always some folks that aren't helpful or want to be confrontational, but really, Costa Rican's and Panamanian's are awesome folks. They seem to embrace the "Pura Vida" aspect and make the most of it.

6. CR and Panama are savvy to tourists.
Now, as much as I got around the country, I wasn't really off the beaten path too much. I was in places where tourists go because the nature is beautiful, the places well supported. So they know you are a tourist. You can't hide it. No real reason to try. It's okay. Be a tourist. Some people will take advantage of this, and you are best to keep your wits about you as to not spend 20 bucks on a 4 dollar cab ride, but really, can you blame them? Even when we're traveling cheaply, like I did, I'm still dropping 2-4 times the daily wage each day I travel. So tip an extra buck if you can... but don't overspend or give to begging folks. This makes things drift out of balance quickly.

7. CHoose local first.
There were so many great Soda's and Cafe's to eat at that were mostly for locals, and you could eat real, good, local food for 3-5 bucks instead of spending 10-25 at a tourist place. (For all my friends on this email that aren't from the US, a "Buck" is "1 USD"... I realized I should make that clear :) The food is better... and you can meet local folks who won't treat you like a tourist, and whom you can get to know if you take the time.

I realize my observations have become a "tip list", which wasn't the intention of this. Oh well... a few more tips.

8. Take the Bus.
"What? You are crazy Craig! The Bus!"
Absolutely. You get to see the country a bit better, meet some folks, see scenery you wouldn't get to see, and really have a richer experience than jumping on a plane. Trust me. Try it.

Sometimes I would see people who were rushing, and freaked out about a bus or mini-bus not leaving right away. They'd freak at someone who wasn't doing what they, the tourist, thought was right. And really, you are visiting their home... don't think you're rules should apply.
Now, there are some things, like throwing trash into the bay, or poaching turtle eggs, or something like that, that probably should be addressed. Don't support that.
But use common sense... they might not run a bus at exactly 10:30am, it might leave at 10:40 or later, and that's how it's done. Don't complain about the rough roads... that's how they are. I've kinda lost my train of thought here, but really, suck in the experience, that's part of why you're traveling. If you're just going someplace to experience the comforts of home... stay home.

10. Which brings me to the final tip/observation...
Do it.
Book that trip. Buy that ticket. Hop in the car and drive for a day and see where you end up.
It's one of the most wonderful things we can do in this world.
It opens up what is out there. It connects us to the people of the world, who we think are different from us, and we'll likely find out that they really aren't that different at all.
It is a blessing that we live in a world where we can travel so easily. Sure, you can make it as hard or easy as you'd like... and that is also great.
I'm who I am because I get out of my comfort zone and put myself out there. In fact, if I don't, I lose track of who I am and who I want to be.
It's scary sometimes, and it's bizarre, it's can be lonely and it can be rough...
but it's amazing, fulfilling, and has given me gifts I never could have found any other way. I've met people who are so interesting, and fascinating, and am glad our paths have crossed. If I'd have just stayed home, I'd still be in my little bubble, in my little world, wondering why the world wasn't the way I think it should be.
The world is the way it is... and it's amazing... and the only way to open ourselves up to it, is to go out and grab it, seek it, see it, dream it, do it.

This is Craig Ouellette,
last surviving member of the Nostromo,
Signing off.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Let Your Spirit Fly

Well Team...

My birthday night was a great meal with some fun folks from the Hostel. We ate at the awesome Soda Alejandro accross the street, and everyone but Hedvig got burritos (she got desert...twice). Super awesome burritos. Amazingly good for 5 bucks. Maybe it was 4 bucks. When you're in Costa Rica, and most places, you're best not to eat at the tourist places that are 3 times as much, just eat at the local spots... the food is usually better, more authentic, and a heck of a lot cheaper. The crew got me an awesome fried banana desert with ice cream that we all shared. It also had only 3 candles on it... that feels about right. :)

We finished up by playing some card games. Burro, or Donkey, or Jackass was the most fun. I can't remember the dutch name.

Monday was all about traveling... and a cold. Turns out I'm going to finish my trip with a bit of a cold, but I don't think I'll let that stop me. 11 hours to get from Quepos to Monteverde. 8 on buses. 3 sitting in Puntarenas waiting for the bus. Puntarenas is a strange place. It feels like a beach town after the apocalypse has cleared out most of the people. There are a lot of empty buildings. The beach is covered in tons of deadfall trees. The souvenier shacks are mostly empty. There are a few people around... but not a lot. And the bus station has a lot of burned out bus carcasses sitting next to it. I wonder if this is the other side of Costa Rica... or if it's just still off season and the people will come in hordes soon enough.

The ride to Monteverde is not paved. The folks in this cloud forest region don't want all the development to come, so they have decidedly NOT paved the road up the mountains to the place. It makes it take probably 2 hours longer than it would with paved roads. The scenery is incredible. naturally it rained for part of the drive up there, but at times the sunset came through the clouds and you could see all the way to the gulf of Nicoya and the Pacific Ocean. It was pretty spectacular with the sun parting the clouds, the green green GREEN mountains, and "Halcyon + on + on" playing on the Ipod.

In the rain in Santa Elena (the town you actually stay at when you goto Monteverde), it was raining, and my new umbrella treated me well. I checked into Pension Santa Elena,... aka Mondo Taito lite. It wasn't the raginig party, but it was loud., lots of people, and music playing. I wanted to sleep cause I was sick, and ended up in 3 different rooms before I had one I could just crash out in.

Tuesday, the last real day o fun, was ZIPLINE time!

They call these Canopy Tours, because you cruise over the trees and valleys on Ziplines. The ads act like you'll really experience the nature, see the trees up close, and see the canopy animals... um, yeah right. This is about FLYING! Flying fast and free (ish) over valleys and trees on ziplines and pulleys. This is one of the things YOU DO, when you goto Costa rica. Other places have it, but this is the place it was invented over a hundred years ago when it was actually used for study, and has turned into this crazy fun adventure. They call it some sort of extreme sport: It isn't. It's super safe and controlled, and lots of fun.

Our group consisted of 3 austrian girls (who had been on the bus on the way up...OH! On the bus ride up a pickup truck hit the side of our bus on the narrow dirt road. It wasn't a big deal, we were stopped about 20 minutes as they sorted it out, but I just sorta shrugged at the austrian gal next to me and said "welcome to Costa rica" with a smile). Anyway, they were on the tour, along with a couple from... you guessed it... Holland! And a big group of solo travelers who were all cruising together for a few weeks. We suited up with harnesses, helmets, and gloves. They give you a quick demo and you are off.

First line is like 150 feet long. You hook on, and slide away. Supposedly stopping yourself with your leather Never really figured out how to make that work, so we were sliding into the end pretty fast. But there were brake systems on the fast one... that consisted of a guide and a rope and a rubber stopper that you slam into and swing to a stop. It was fun. Well, it wasn't long till we hit the long ones: 450 meters...that's 1600 feet for us Americans. Woooooooo! Flying out over a valley that was 400 feet deep. It does feel like flying.

It was windy and a bit misty, but you could still see a long distance. Dirt splatters on the face. It's good. There was 14 lines in all, and the last and longest is 1200 meters long... that's almost a mile. Yep, flying, superman style, face down over a valley for a mile... pretty darn cool. yahooo! There's also a Tarzan swing, which is a long long rope attached to a tree limb, and you jump off a ledge and swing waaaayyyyyy out over the trees. Awesome.

The couple from Holland, Babette and Tomek, were super cool. We took pics of each other and they invited me to goto the cloud forest preserve with them, so after switching to a quieter hotel for tonight, which only cost 8 bucks, I ate at the "typical food" kiosk, and we headed out. They'd rented a little Suzuki 4wd, so we rolled on the roads and paid our 17 USD to go to the preserve. It earned it's name of cloud forest. Rainy a bit, windy, misty and cool. Beautiful thick trees and dense forest. There's a viewpoint that looked out at misty and windy slopes, but didn't see far. On a clear day you could almost see across the country from here. The suspension bridge is awesome. This is also a typical Costa Rican thing. They put up these bridges so you can walk at the top of the trees and see them for real. It was great to hang out there and look at all the different types of trees, some of which support 70 different kinds of plants that grow on them. Cool.

I had to take a nap, as my cold was kicking in. But at least I had my bright orange umbrella to stay mostly dry in the cloud forest!

A last "typical" meal was had with Babette, Tomek and a french couple they'd randomly run into in town (whom they had givn a ride to Tortugero 2 weeks before and just happen to see again here... ahhh traveling!). We spoke of our next trips... India perhaps? Maybe the legendary Argentina / Antarctica adventure? Who can say? The french couple had been to India for 3 months. They say it is CRAZY... I think I'm ready for CRAZY. Costa Rica and Panama have been awesome, but there was definitly very little, if any, culture shock. I feel Argentina will be similar... so I might hit India or Egypt next. I'm ready to get off the bus and say "holy crap! What's going on????".

But that is the future...

for now I say goodnight, goto bed early. Wake up at 5:45am... suns up, and ready to go. Only took me 2 1/2 weeks to get on the Costa Rican time clock... and now I'm leaving. :(
5 hours on a bus, with beautiful views and music rocking on the iPod...

... and time for the final Costa Rican adventure... getting the bag back... will I find it? Did they really have it in the station?

Stay tuned,
Craig O

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Happy Birthday: Costa Rican Style

Thank you all who sent Birthday wishes on Facebook or email. It´s really wonderful to hear from all of you and feel the long distance hugs while here in Costa Rica. I can´t wait to see all of you when I get home and sing some songs and have a partay!

Hope your November has been as great as mine. :)

As for birthday´s here...

Last night I went dancing with some folks from the hostel. A brother and sister from Holland (what? You´re kidding! People from Holland in Costa Rica! Never!) And a gal from Germany.
We rolled by taxi to Liquid, hopped out and danced for a few hours. Within about 20 seconds it was clear that there were not going to be a lot of ladies at the bar this night, and I´m 100 percent sure the fellas there were not upset about this fact. :) The music was good, and the tank tops and mustaches (think 70´s porn) were fun as well. It was a good night.

Today, it was off on a Canyoning trip. We call it Canyoneering in the states. Not really sure why it´s different back home... probably because we like to name things differently for the heck of it. I went with a gal named Petra, who stayed at the hostel before and lives here. Good thing she wanted to go, since they wouldn´t do a tour for just one person.

At first i was dissapointed because I thought we were doing this crazy 7 waterfall rappel trip, but was informed they don´t do that anymore and we´re doing one with 4 or 5 rappels and a natural slide and stuff. It´s an 80 buck tour, so I felt like I´d returned to Bolivia where they pretty much just tell you whatever you want to hear and then do whatever they were going to do in the first place... but then I thought that I´ve never rappeled down a waterfall anyway, so lets go!

The ride there was rough and wild, 4x4 to the max. Muddy. Jungle. Rainforest. Up and down, hills rivers green green. Bamboo 50 feet tall. Took an hour and a half to get there. My hypoglycemia was being all weird, so I downed 2 balance bars and then a bunch of peanuts I bought from this little roadside shack. That got me back to normal and fun was to be had.

2 rappels down a cliff. A natural waterslide that was pretty rough and wild. And then the gonzo, 120 foot waterfall rappel, right along the side of this raging waterfall. Was really wild and fun. Swim in the pool at the bottom and hike up a narrow trail to this suspension bridge that´s 140 feet off the pool below...

And this was made of metal ladders, aircraft cable, and netting. It bounced and shook and was pretty surreal to walk along. It stretched 400 feet accross the gorge. It seemed pretty unstable. So naturally we had to rappel off the sucker!

So hanging off the side, we swing into space and descend to the water below. It was pretty wild. I tried to video it, but I don´t think it shows how cool it really was.

I wanted to go again, and again, and again... but for some reason it doesn´t work like that. Still, they did let us do the waterfall one more time since it was my birthday! Yahoo, birthday cupcakes come for free in the states, here you get to rappel a fricking waterfall.


Tonight... who knows? Dance party at the hostel? Chill and chat?
It´s been a great birthday so far. And all the wishes have made it all the better.
I was even able to call my dad and Devin (who´s birthday is tomorrow, that scrappy youngster... he´s 1 day younger than me), thanks to the magic of free internet phone calls. (ahhh, the future).

I want to write an email about the observations of costa rica and panama and such, but I guess that´ll wait until the final adventure that awaits...

stay tuned!

And thanks again!
Hugs to all of you.


Saturday, November 20, 2010

Three ¨Bitches¨ and an old Bag

First off, I gotta say thanks to everyone and your well wishes about the bag.
And second...


No shit! I spent some time over at a neighboring hostel that night, and Cheri, the desk gal from Kentucky who is bilingual helped me make the hours worth of phone calls to the Tracopa bus company. We´d explain the situation, and they´d say to call back in 10 or 20 minutes and finally a guy named Jose yelled across the garage and said ¨We got it¨.

Sweet! So, there is no way to ship it back to Quepos as they don´t have a Quepos stop. Tracopa would actually not come anywhere near Quepos except the main highway is missing a few sections due to mudslides. But I can pick it up at the office on Wednesday on my way out of CR. So assuming all things go well, I´ll have my old bag back. Yahoo!

It´s been interesting not having the day bag, I´ve used sexy plastic bags tied to my belt. Kinda fun to simplify actually. Missed the hat though, so had to get a CR hat. But otherwise, I´m just winging it. Who needs a tour book?

So that´s the bag, what´s up with the ¨Bitches¨ Craig? That´s rude...

Nope. I´m making a reference to the book ¨The Beach¨, which the main character Richard meets a Scottish guy in the first chapter, and due to his thick accent, Richard thinks the guy is saying ¨You gotta find the Bitch¨, instead of ¨Beach¨...

Well, here in Manuel Antonio, I´ve found 3 beaches... really, they are all right next to each other, but saying 1 beach isn´t accurate. Yesterday I went to the public beach, paid a guy named Pedro, who supposedly surfed in a some music videos, to teach me to surf. He did a good job, I stood up many times, and really had a good time. Then enjoyed the fact that the sun was shining, and it started raining, and I was in the ocean. I took some amusing pics that I´ll post when I get home since there´s no way to access the computers where I am.

Today I headed to Manuel Antonio National Park. It´s only opened limited hours, I guess because of the crazy rains the last few weeks. But in 4 hours I hike the cool trail that goes around the Catedral Point. If you google the park online you´ll see a pic of the point. And behind it are 2 beaches that are separated by maybe 30 feet of palm trees. So I enjoyed both sides, swam a bit, climbed on rocks, saw some 2 foot iguanas... and the Monkeys.

Ahhhh, the white face monkeys. They know exactly what food looks like. Food bags. Plastic bags. They are not interested in water bottles or sandles. But they race out of the trees the SECOND you walk away and raid your stuff. It´s pretty amusing once you realize it´s going on, as you watch people wrestle with Monkeys to get their bags back. I had to bring my stuff into the ocean with me or it would have been gone.

This inspired me to find a day bag that is also a dry bag, so you could swim and keep it with you in places where monkeys, or people, might go for your stuff. It might already exist, if not, I´ll see what I can do.

Tomorrow, I´m going on a crazy Canyoning trip for my Bday! Woooooooooo!
Hopefully we can find some Karaoke or Dancing too, but given how things are here, we will see.
It´s going to be interesting to celebrate with a bunch of strangers I won´t see again...

... but fear not, we´ll have a belated bday bash when I get back to LA. After all, Mic´s need be rocked.

Thanks again for the well wishes on the missing bag,

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Welcome To Amateur Hour with Craig O

So folks...

After a great day at the hotsprings in Panama yesterday, I felt the need to Ramble on back to Costa Rica for my final week. Hit the beach at Dominical, make it to Quepos. Maybe more.

So I got up early, packed, grabbed breakfast, paid the 24 bucks for the 4 nights I spent at Pension Merilos... yep, thats for all 4 nights. And hoped on the 1 hour chicken bus to David. From there it was right onto the 1 and a half hour mid size bus to the border. There I got stamped, walked through the crowds of semi trucks idling and people all over to the costa rican side. Had to wait 2 hours plus for the next bus after getting my passport stamped.

So i chilled, wrote in my journal, watched people, saw a tvshow called ¨"Cycling the Americas" roll through, and got on my bus. Well, its a bus to San Jose, but I´m only going 4 hours to Dominical. There was much confusion about the ticket, and how to get it, and ended up just paying the driver 8 bucks to take me.

So I had a great seat, with window control (always important on buses to keep the temp comfy), and away we go. Rain rain rain and more rain comes. A washed out road that we skirted around. All good.

Then they load more folks on the bus, and fill it up, and for some reason I was forced to give up my seat for the last 1 and a half hours to someone going all the way to San Jose. Don´t know why. I stood in the stairwell at the back, and listend to music. Not a big deal.
After the food stop, I put my dayback up in the luggage rack above the seats so it wasn´t on the now muddy floor. We drove another hour. It rained a lot.

THen the driver pulled over at an intersection in the middle of nowhere. He pointed at me, said "domincal", and we hopped out. He was in a hurry to get my big bag from under the bus. I was trying to figure out where the hell I was supposed to go, since there was no town there. He kept telling me to get on another bus to San Isidro, but I don´t want to go there. But that is where I would have gone to get to Domincal if the main highway was open, which it isn´t because of all the rain. So he hands me my backpack, jumps on the bus and it drives away.

I look around for a minute, trying to get my barings. Theres someone on the curb. Theres some tourists feeding monkeys at a roadside stand. I think "I best look in the lonely planet to get my bearings", reach for my dayback which is normally on my chest when I carry my big bag... and you can see where this is going...


" FUck1 Fuck!" I run after it, but it´s long gone.

So I try to wave down a car to take me after it. THen the tourists walk toward their van and I run up and ask if they speak english: they do, they ARE english. ANd tell them whats up. The tourists were cool, the guide at first was like " we don´t take other travelers"

"But all my shits in that bag" I say.

"Okay, lets go".

SO I hop in and for some reason the bus is like lighting and gone. We chase it for 40km, trying to find it, and never see a sign of it. At first I was hopeful, then I realized the tour driver isn´t a maniac on rainy roads like the bus driver, so fuck me... bags gone.

So the tour drops me off on the side of the road outside Quepos in the rain. Tell me I can grab a bus into town and catch a 6pm express to San Jose (and it´s now 5:15).

I stand at the bus stop... pissed at my amateur hour travel. I NEVER put shit in the top rack, only amateur travelers do that. But with no seat and all I made a dumb choice. A car pulls up and will take me to town for 3 bucks. I do it. Hoping hes not a serial killer. Hes not.

He drops me at the Quepos bus station in the rain. There is no bus tonight to san Jose. And no one speaks English to help out. So I duck into a convenience store, the clerk doesn´t speak English, but her friend Christopher does. He offers to call TRACOPA bus lines. Fortunately I´d taken a picture of the bus at the bus stop because a doggy was standing by it in the rain. Since I had no ticket, this is the only way we got the bus number. Lizbeth at the other end was helpful. We described the bag, where it would be, etc. The bus gets in at 9:30 pm, so she´ll meet the driver and hopefully get it...

...I´ll manifest that it´s just fine and we will.

So I took the bus to Manuel Antonio, about 3km from QUepos, checked into a backpacker place with a view... but it´s dark, so we´ll see tomorrow. And we´re supposed to call at Noon tomorrow about the bag.

So I´m either gonig to San Jose to pick it up tomorrow, or not... I don´t know.

I was just thinking to myself that travel in Costa Rica and Panama has been so easy ,that it´s so familiar and safe and that the next trip should be something with big time culture shock like India.


I can just make the trip hard and lose my dayback like an amateur and get stuck in the rain.

Oh boy!


PS: I should note whats in the bag. Not the money or cards or passports. Not even the ipod, since it was in my pocket, or the camera. Which is lucky. It´s my hat, the bag itself, my rain coat, my LonelyPlanet book, my RUINS book that I´m reading, my headlamp, pocket knife, toilet paper (yep Olga and Tom, gotta have it), and the worst thing to lose, the Journal... yikes. Fortunately I have all these updates, but you don´t think I put everything in these do you?

PPS: Wish me luck!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Chiriqui, Marching On The Trail Of Tears

So here we go...

I´m hanging out in Boquete Panama. And I´ve got to say it feels a lot like a mountain town in Colorado. It´s sorta bizarre. In fact Panama overall is much nicer and more modern than I was expecting. I guess everyone moves forward with the times, and it´s fun to see kids dressed like they could be in LA, with cell phones and baseball hats, next to indiginous folks in traditional garb on buses racing on twisty roads through the mountains. It also feels like Colorado because of the fact the roads are painted like the Usa. A lot of the signs are like the US. And the guard rails are the same too. So there´s this weird collision of USA and someplace else. Oh, and the money, the Balboa, aka: US Dollar seems familiar. However, their coins are diferent. They are the same size as a dime or quarter, but they have strange Conquistador men on them... perhaps Balboa himself.

So yesterday I was going to rent a scooter. But all the scooters in town are broken. One place says they´ll be fixed in January or February. The other keeps saying "maybe tomorrow". I think I might be out of luck on that one. So, i decided to head to the trails and do the Quetzalas trail. It´s considered one of the best in Panama. It´s either 8km, or 12, or maybe 15, or is it 6?. Every sign and map is different. But reguarless, it´s in the mountains and jungles and sounds like fun.

So I got the info, paid 8 bucks or a cab to take me to the top of the road, which is about 1000 meters higher than town. Took 15 minutes, twisting through huge canyons, high walls of trees, and even some rock climbing areas. Past a waterfall and some fields on impossibly steep slopes.

There was no one at the ranger station, so I just headed down the now rutted dirt road which was the path. It went down and up and down and then finally reached the actual trail. Every sign had different distances to the points at either end, so I never really was sure how far I had to go. And most of the signs were pretty badly damaged by people and the almost endless moisture.

Once on the trail I had to cross the river a few times. Balancing on rocks, using my walking stick that I got from the Hostel I´m at. There was a hut on the trail and a dog rushed out barking at me. He seemed to be saying hi... or maybe "get the hell off my property".

Then the cloud and rainforest began in earnest. It was thick. The trail was a bit muddy, but not to bad. I stopped for a picnic on a rock by the river. The trees towering up above. I heard birds, but never saw them.

Then it began to rain. I found a tree that was a perfect umbrella and it slowed down and finally stopped. I headed further up, and found the STAIRS OF DOOM. Possibly hundreds of stairs, some mangled by mud, some okay, that climbed up the slope. It took about 45 minutes of climbing, scrambling, and pulling to get up the muddy path and into the cloud forest.
I chilled at a picnic table, and then decided to head a little further on, where I eventually ran into a huge deadfall that pretty much blocked the entire trail.

At this point I had to decide to hike back he 3 to 3 1-2 hours or try to push through to Cerro Punto, and then take a couple of buses back to Boquete. Thing is, i had no idea how far I had really gone and wheter or not I was coser to Cerro Punto or Boquete... so it being about 3pm, and darkness coming at 6:30 it seemed best to head back the way I´d come.

And so down the stairs of doom I begin... and so does the rain. A lot of rain. Hard, constant rain or the next 2 to 3 hours. Let´s just say the stairs were exciting in a downpoor that was quickly turning the muddy trail into a stream. I made it past those and then walked along a mini river that was once the path. By this point I was so wet I just splashed along the streamtrail and it was pretty fun.

But it was taking longer than planned. I got to the first stream... and it was pretty swollen. I made it accross, thank goodness for the walking stick. But at the next crossing it was a no go on the boulders... so I had to straddle this fallen tree that was about 3 feet above the river and scootch the 20 feet across using my hands and nads...yikes.
past the dog, ruff ruff, and to the final crossing.
No boulders.
No tree.
Tried to find a way over, as it was flowing pretty heavily. Then found a shallow looking area and just marched across using my walking stick and now soaked shoes.

The last part was the rutted road, and going up those steep hills kinda sucked. My legs were sore. I was tired, and it was getting late. But I decided to manifest a car at the ranger station to pick me up...

now this isn´t like a Colorado trail or anything. This is far out and there´s no public transport, no other hikers with cars, so the odds were slim. But I figured I´d go for it.
So at 6pm, as I hiked the final hill near the station I HEARD A CAR!!!

holy shit. I hustled up the hill past a guy carrying a big bag of stuf, and just missed the car!!! It was gone as I came over the rise.

Well... shit. It´s at least a 3 hour walk back to town. It gets dark in 20 minutes. I´m soaking wet and mostly out of food and water. Hmmm....

then the door to the ranger station opens and the ranger, in very broken but smiling English, says i should just stay there. I mentioned I had no foo and no dry clothes. He has an extra shirt and some food. There´s a sleeping bag in the bunk rooms upstairs. So I thought of my backpacking guidelines to ¨"never refuse and invitation", and took him up on it.

Tshirt felt great. His name is Danny. He thought I was from Vegas when I said Los Angeles, so we talked about casinos and gambling. I had a little food left, and he gave me some banana´s to fry up. There was no power. It was dark. A part of me thought Imight have just walked into a serial killers home... that this would be a perfect set up. That no one really knows I´m gone or where I am. There is another guy there who doesn´t say much and just sits and eats. Danny seems so friendly. What if they poisoned the tea? What if they come into the room at night and stab me?

... those thoughts lasted a few minutes, but not really, and not very strongly. This is the ranger station. It even says in the Lonely Planet you can sleep here, but it was an amusing train of thought.

We eat, chat a bit in broken languages, (ugh, I wish I knew Spanish), and hit the bed by 7 or so. I lay awake for a bit, just thinking then sleep came to the noises of the jungle.

I woke up in the middle of the night. A bad headache. Sorta nautious. It wasn´t altitude, since I was only at 6000 feet, it was the mattress being lumpy and my head lyaing on a spring, and it was cold. Probably in the 40s. The sleeping bag was good, but made for a 5 foot tall person i think. I figured it was almost dawn when I went to the bathroom... but it was only 1:30 am.

Anyway, it was a long night. I tried to sleep siting up to make the headache go away. Strangely i didn´t have any ibuprofin which i usually carry withme just in case. Somehow I made it till dawn, got dressed, and chatted with Danny a bit. he´s such a fun guy. Took some pics and with the sun up hiked down the road.

About 30 minutes later, a gas company worker drove past... Ihave no idea where he came from... and I hitched a ride. Thank goodness. It was a 20 minute drive back. My legs were so sore, but Jose got me down safe and sound. Ate some breakfast with the gringos at Central Park coffee and breakfast shop, and then shower, and sleep for 5 hours.

Today my friends, is a "day off" from traveling... journal. Laundry. Nap. Relax as the rain falls. Listening to EUROPE on my iPod. Man, I forgot how much I love that band. (And their song CHEROKEE).

I have no idea how the next week of the trip will go. It´s weird to not be sure where to go or what to do, but it´s nice too. Rumor has it there is karaoke in town, so I´m gonig to rock a mic tonight if possible.

And yes, I know Cherokee is not spelled Chiriqui. But here in Panama, that´s the name of the tribe and the region that I´m in right now. :)

Rock on

Next issue, I´ve got some notes on food... Dave and Rachel, get ready!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Indiana Jones would be proud

"Some guy named Oscar knows where the secret cave is."

That´s how it started. The quest. The adventure.

Jason, this guy I´ve bumped into in Punta Viejo and now Bocas said that there is a hidden cave on Bastimentos Island in the Bocas Del Toro. You have to hire a boat, that´ll take you across the bay, and then up a snake infested river lined with mangroves, drop you on a dock and there is a cave that you swim into that has a waterfall and a swimming hole underground.

Ummm... sign me up!

Thing is, no one´s heard of it. No one in Bocas town, where I`´m staying. Bastimentos is two islands over, and half of it is a national park of some sort. It has a small town, and apparently, a SECRET FRIGGIN CAVE!

So on my last day in Bocas Del Toro, I decide I´m going to find it or die trying... okay, I´m kidding about the die trying part. It would be a symbolic death.

The day dawned...wet. Very wet. Rainy wet. Lots of rain. Now, naturally this might deter a sane person from questing for a cave filled with an underground river, but they might have more than one more day to find it. I figured if worse came to worse, I would at least find the darn mysterious cave.

So I ran into Mandee, Crystal, Laura and Jason at breakfast on the moored boat restraunt and asked if they knew anything other than the fact that Oscar knows of it. Nope. I asked the folks running the restraunt... no idea what I was talking about it. Mandee said I shouldn´t ask people, it´ll give it away. I figured if no one knows, very few people are going to suddenly spread rumors of something they don´t believe exists in the first place.

So I went to good old Mondo Taitu and asked. Nope.
I suited up with swimsuit, water, waterproof headlamp and waterproof camera, sandals and some balance bars (gotta have the snacks!), and headed to Hostel Heike. The folks there had been helpful on day 1 getting oriented, so I figured it was a good next stop.

"Have you guys heard of the hidden cave on Bastimentos? Do You know Oliver?"
Nope. and Nope.

they were trying to figure out where I might go ask when a guy named Pete from england with lots of arm hair said... "I think i know a guy I could ask".
So he gets on his cell (yes they have them here, in fact, it seems everyone has them here), and calls Cristo over in Bastimentos town. After a minute or two he hangs up and says "Cristo says he can take you there".


I get the directions to find Cristo, write them on an already wet map of the area, and head out. But not before Pete gives me a tshirt he bought in Nicaragua for Cristo.

I head over to the water taxis. Now it´s realy raining hard. But they are glad to take me to Bastimentos town for 3 bucks. Me and a woman from San Francisco who is down here for some indeterminate amount of time for unclear reasons. The crossing is rough and wild, rain splashing on top of water splashing. My rain coat is pretty useless when it gets this wet, so I´m already soaked, but I´m planning on swimming in a cave, so I´m not to concerned.

I hop off at "the dock next to the Reef restraunt", and walk to the path that runs through town. No cars here. I walk along till I find "Hair by Cristo". He´s a barber. I go to his front door. Knock on the yellow door next to the pink walls with fish on them, and... he comes up from downstairs. He says its raining, and will usually be 25 bucks a person, but they would charge 50 for one person. Yikes.... but this is a quest, so pay I will.

He talks to his brother Alberto, and Alberto is to be my guide. Though he doesnt seem to excited to go out in the rain. But cash is cash. Chat with Cristo a bit about living in town his whole life, 32 years. Meet his 84 year old dad. And get our picture taken.

Then Alberto, complete with trashbag poncho, head to the boat. Its a rear stearing deal with a canopy, like all the water taxis around here. We get in, I help bail water out with cut up milk jugs. Alberto wisely grabs an old wooden oar from a junk pile by the dock, and weér off... the the gasolnaria. We get 4 gallons. It costs 18 bucks. that´s why they have to charge so much, since almost half goes to the gas cost. Yikes.

And we´re off. Rain pouring. Mist over the hills and jungle of the mountains. I´m taking too many pictures, but that´s what I do sometimes.

After 20 minutes or more of waves and splashing we reach a cove surrounded by Mangroves. It seems Alberto is lost a bit, searching for the way into the hidden river. After a couple minutes he finds the opening and we glide into a narrow channel with overhanging tree limbs and mangroves everywhere. They looked like they could walk out on spiderly legs, marching into the river and grab us (yep, I´ll put that in a movie someday). The river snaked for a good 20 to 30 minutes, getting smaller and smaller. We would scrape under tree limbs and they would drip and reach to grab the canopy... and eventually they did. We hit one that decided it would bend the front of the canopy back. Alberto saved the roof by jamming us into reverse, but the poles were bent. Yikes.

Eventually the channel was only a couple feet wider than the boat, which is about 6 feet wide, and maybe 18 to 20 feet long. Alberto decided we should take the canopy down, so we lifted out the supports and layed it down. Not an easy task and one of the poles broke because it had rusted through. Alberto sorta shrugged about it, but I could tell he was bummed. He´ll fix it he says. Hope it isn´t expensive.

A lone wooden canoe sat on a river bank.
The trees now reached to grab at us.
The rain still fell...

... and we reached a little wooden dock. Alberto did a 3 point turn in the boat. We moored up, and hopped out onto muddy land.

After about 5 minutes of squishing through the mud we reached a slightly elevated hut with a family living in it. Naturally they spoke only spanish, but here was to be my cave guide... Juan. He was a smiling fellow of about 5 foot. He led the way, along with his maybe 8 year old son Alberto (yep, same name as the boat captain). We squashed through more mud... a lot more mud. Saw a sloth. And reached the entrance to NI VIDA cave.

Aparantely it was discovered 8 years ago by an American who was traipsing through the jungle of the island exploring for days. No one has found the end of it. No one knows how deep it goes.

With two headlamps, and an energetic Nino in tow, we head into the the river flowed out of it.

And it was awesome! We move along, snapping a few pictures. Bats sweeping down from above. A couple missed my head by inches. They are white nectar bats that fly out to feed on the fruit nearby. Rare to have white bats apparently.

The cave split in two brances. We head left first, and the roar of the waterfall could be heard long before it was seen. Occasionally we had to swim in the river, other times it was knee deep. Little alberto would straddle the sides and cruise along with us just fine. The waterfall was powerful, if only 4 feet tall. And was more like Spouting Rock than a falls. But tehre was a 5 foot formation we could climb up and jump off of into the pool below. It was surreal to climb up there, leap off, and go completely under the pitchblack water. There was enough current to push me forward into the rocks. I naturally had to jump off 5 or 6 times.

Then we head back and goto the right (as the waterfall is the end of that passage). Juan would say ¨"Watch your head" a lot. First in spanish, then english. Even if it was my leg or my hand or knee that needed to be watched. Like me with spanish, i guess that´s the english phrase he knew. It was clear what to watch and am glad a number of times for him pointin things out that i nearly hit with my head.

Happy Hat´s younger brother was along for the ride, and saved my head once too. and got nice and muddy.

We reached a spot where Alberto stopped and waited, and Juan and Imoved forward.... to a passage with MAYBE 4 inches of headroom over the water.

Juan went first. You had to duck under the water and pop up in a tiny chamber, then slide under another low section, and so forth for about 6 feet or more and 4 or 5 chambers. Now, if you tilted your head right you could keep your eyes out of the water and see where you were going. But not on the last one... that one you had to go all the way under and slide through. Creepy! It took a few tries for me to control my mind so I could do it. I passed the hat and camera and light ahead, and then did it slowly and carefully. the rock walls sliding by right next to my temples. My feet not touching the ground, but having to press on the sides of the rock. The first chamber was big enough to get my head up in. The second too. The third Ihad to tilt to fit, and the final opening wasn´´t wide enough for my head at its widest part. So I felt below, made sure it was wider underwater and I could get through, and ducked down... and came back up. This is scary. I remember in Guatemala, a cave thing you had to slide through underwater and how terrifying it was to come up and hit rock instead of air. So I focused, knew I could hold my breath for 30 seconds or more, and then ducked under...

... and I´m writing this to you from heaven because I couldn´t get out...

... kidding! I made it through! Juan and I continued a bit further, through some more swimming channels and more places, and eventually stopped whre there was another low part. And we were both thinking of the fact that if the water even went up an inch or two from the rain outside we´d be fucked. So, following wise advice, we took a picture, and headed back to the low part to get out. It was easier to go out, as I´d done it before now. But still, took some concentration. It really is weird to have only a half inch of space between your mouth and the water, and rock pushing in from above.

I made it through, Juan handed his light through, and then SWAM the whole ducking part. It´s wider down below, and he swam through, coming up right next to me. Sweet.

We grabbed ALberto and headed out. Juan would hum some song as he went, and it sounded sorta like Indiana Jones. So I started humming that. Hoping that it would be known here in Panama as well, and that we would have an Indiana Jones theme hum along as we went. Turns out, given that they live in the jungle with no TV, I guess they´d never heard it. But that´s okay, because they get to LIVE IT every day as they lead people into the cave.

On the boat ride out I felt really good. It was great to have found the cave. To have seen it. To have gone alone, and not had any travel buddies. It made me realized that I´m ready to really go off on my own on this rip. Even though I said I have my "see legs" back on day one, I really didn´t. I´d been talking almost exclisively to other travelers, most of whom are American´s down here, and been able to rely on others Spanish abilities to make things happen. I´m excited to head to the mountains of Panama (where I just arrived today in Boquete, it´s rainy, cool, and awesome)... and other than running into the German guy, everyone else I´d been seeing has turned back to goto Costa Rica or stay in Bocas.

Things like this really make me happy. Traveling like that. Not knowing how it´ll turn out. Meeting people who live different lives from mine. It was wonderful. And scary. It´s scary to not have language to communicate with someone. To be in a situation where we had to rely on each other, but had to do it with instincts and not words. It´s scary to head off and have no idea where I´ll land. But it inevitably feels great to have done it.

This quote was painted on the wall of Mondo Taitu (along with the one written on the back of the toilet that said "Feed Me Your Poo. I´m Hungry"). But this quote fits a bit better:
"It´s only by going into the abyss that we recover the treasures of life. Where you stumble, there lies your treasure. That´s why the very cave you were afraid to enter turns out to be the source of what you were looking for."

So, will you enter the cave?

Friday, November 12, 2010

River Rafting... and a few observations on Costa Rica


I realized I didn´t tell you about the awesome white water rafting on the Rio Pacuare. Even though it cost 99 bucks and the rafting part was only 3 1-2 hours it was still totally worth it. The canyon is amazing! Jungle lined slopes and cliffs towering above. Waterfalls pouring down the sides. One that even fell right into the river and you float right next to it. I´ve got a great video of it that I´ll try to post.

The rapids are 3´s and 4´s, and I think everyone of them is fun. The water was big, so big in fact that 2 days before they had to cancel the trip. But fun big. It was wild, but not to rocky. One of our guys fell out on this crazy big wave rapid, and I had to reach over the edge to pull him in as we were crashing through this huge standing wave. It was awesome. He actually rode the wave outside the boat, and I just hung on. Then reached over and pulled him in.

Apparently, this is the river they used when filming that cinematic masterpiece CONGO. Since that is a regular renter for everyone on this list, be sure to watch the white water rafting part and check out the scenery.

Actually, I´m out of time at the internet cafe here, so the observations will wait till another email...

... but I´ll give you a hint. It has to do with Americans.

Rock on

Panama!!! Panama ha!!! (cue Van Halen now!)

Hot Damn team I´m in Panama!

There are places in the world that I always figured I´d go to. Like England, or Thailand, or India. But I´m not sure I ever thought I´d cross a rickety one lane bridge over a flooded river, with semi trucks and people in the same lane of traffic, and step foot into Panama! (Cue Van Halen song now!) Throw up the horns and rock the f out. I did as I sat in a sweaty ass tourist van because for some reason we all lost our travel skills that day and ended up doing the 10 buck per person route from the border to the ferry stop, instead of the 5 buck per person route by teaming up on a taxi. But you know what? Who cares! I´m in Panama!!!!

Took a speedy ferry boat from this town of stilt houses on a canal. But not before I took a piss in the toilet at the ferry boat station. And if I could upload a picture I would and you could laugh, but I´ll just tell you that it was a hole that dropped the shit straight into the canal... which likely makes it not safe for drinking. I´m no expert though. ;)

The boat ride was wild, and right now I´m traveling with Mandee from Chicago. No team, again, no RBR, so stop getting so darn excited. But still, a cool gal and we checked out a few places in Bocas Town before we ended up at Mando Taitu.

Let´s talk about hostels for a second. There are mellow hostels, where you might have a bunk or your own room. Maybe your own bathroom or it´s shared. A nice common area with a kitchen perhaps. Maybe a bar. Internet. A place to meet other travelers, get info on the place you´re at, or maybe sleep...
and then there´s MONDO TAITU!!!!!!!!!

Holy shit. This place is a big ass party 24-7. Now I´m not sure why we ended up getting a room here instead of walking back to Hostel Heike down the street. I think because it was hot and humid and we were sick of carrying our bags. But we got a room, and at night this place was loud. Like raging party loud. Drinking beer everywhere loud. Dope smoking loud. Music bumping, loud talking, wild party loud. And the night before apparently it was coke snorting off the bar loud. Didn´t see any of that this night, but doesn´t mean it didn´t happen.

It was fun for a night, but the next day I moved to Hostel Brisais down the street, with my own bed, own room, own bath, private dock on the water and...holy shit...a-c!

Bocas Del Toro is a series of islands in North west Panama. You might think it´s northeast, but Panama goes east west, not north south. There are some beaches, but it´s mostly mangroves. there are tons of neat houses and restraunts on stilts hanging out over the water. It´s sorta like Venice, at least on the waterfronts of the islands. Mandee and I got a water taxi for 2 bucks and went to the 2 buck beach, and hit the water.... yahoo! Felt so good. We were in front of this big ass resort... that turned out to be a persons house! Hot tub, beach, dock, beautiful blue water, islands all around. Not a bad life Mr. English retired guy.

Yesterday.... Paradise take 2. Me, Mandee (Nurse from Chicago), Crystal (Tour Leader from ATL), Hilary (from Tahoe), and Laura (Yacht worker from Perth, Australia), hire a boat and head to an island beach about 45 minutes away. The water was clear. The beach and trees were beautiful. We hiked around it, looking for pirate gold, and swam, and sang bad hip hop songs. I even read a little of my book on the beach. It was really awesome.

Today I did some scuba, which as always is great. The Lionfish have come here and are destroying the reefs, as they are doing in the Bahama´s as well. So if you want to eat Lionfish, do it. Make it so the locals will hunt and kill them. See, Lionfish are not native to the Atlantic and it´s offshoots. They eat 10 times, or was it 100 times, their body weight daily. And they have up to 2000 offspring in every litter. They have no natural enemies here, and spread like a plague, eating everything and eventually killing off the reefs. Yikes. They are pretty, but it sucks that they are here. The theory is that when Hurricaine Andrew hit Florida, it destroyed the Aquarium and let them into the sea... and like a plague they are taking over.

Besides the fish we saw some Jellyfish! yahoo! same kind as from Australia Tom and Olga! And some stingrays. It was cool.

I´m hoping to find some Karaoke tonight. Ready to rock a song for my Panamanian friends.

Rock on

Monday, November 8, 2010

Paradise Found!

Yep, it's true... I found paradise.

I've found it many times before, and am always thrilled and blessed when I do. And today I found it on a point of rock overlooking the Carribbean Sea. It's called Miss May point and its near the town of Manzanilla in the very far southeast of Costa Rica. It juts out from the rainforest, and looms over the massive waves that come crashing in below. The palm lined coast goes for miles and miles in each direction, and the mountains loom green in the distance.

And the waves crash. Loud. And HUGE. And shoot spray 30 feet or more up in the air. Every single wave. It's like I took a shower in the sea.

Naturally I stood near the edge to take pictures and feel the blast of the surf. The waves would curl in and depending on how they hit the cliff would either shoot a little, say, 15 feet up in the air. Or a lot... one of them rocketed a wall of water onto me that was probably 40 feet high. It was awesome! The caribbean blue stretched to the horizon, as this was the first sunny day of the trip. And on top of that, it wasn't that hot. It was a perfect temperature, with a perfect breeze, and a perfect partly cloudly sky, with perfect rainstorms on the horizon, and perfect waves and a perfect place at a perfect late afternoon time.


I got there by renting a bike for $5 in Porta Viejo and riding 15 km down the jungle lined coast. There are a lot of palm lined beaches. And a lot, I mean a LOT of tourist lodges and cabinas. Now most, if not all, blend in pretty well, and are also empty. I'm here in the low, low season for the southern Carib coast, but there are a few more folks than normal since the pacific and central regions are still rainy and flooding. I rode alone the paved street, and also took a detour into the dirt roads that led to the nature conservatory. Muddy trails on a 1 gear bike with a basket. Sweet.

The point is beyond the town of Manzanilla. On a trail that leads for 2 hours till you reach another town that has no roads. The good old Lonely Planet says that it's like what the Caribbean coast looked like before the tourists came. And if that's true... no wonder they did. The trail in the jungle, withing 20 feet of a beach and waves and coconuts washing ashore is amazing. And then of course there is paradise.

A few days ago, I left Tortugero in the north, and took a 3 hour water taxi through national forest, along a canel parallel to the caribbean, surrounded by thick walls of jungle green. The boat sat about 10 people and was fast. Damn fast. It was great to slide along. Hear the howler monkeys (which is a surreal sound and not the shrieking monkey noises you might imagine. They are more like a creepy grunt of an orc in the Mines of Moria... yep, I just did an Lord Of The Rings reference.) The boat ride was wonderful. Again, a perfect temperature and breeze. Occasionally our driver would slam on the brakes and show us an alligator or sloth or racoon that he somehow saw while we raced past at 20kph.

Then we ran out of gas... and he had to row us to a little town where the street was flooded and we boated into town and up to the gas pump. The lady brought us the pumper, knee deep in water, and we filled up and were on our way. There was a tourist bus parked in water half up it's wheels that was collecting folks from another boat. It was pretty surreal.

I stayed a night in Cahuita. Its a pretty mellow town with a black sand beach that I found after trapsing across the rocky headlands and through woods. I could have just taken the road, but this seemed like a more exciting way to get there. It rained a lot at night, but then again, it pretty much always does. :) The next day I hiked approx 11 km round trip through the national park. Along the coast, palm trees, river crossings, monkeys walking right next to the trail, (and also pissing on the trail from above. Missed that shower by about 10 feet!). Saw these awesome neon blue butterflies, and an Eyelash Viper: a snake thats about 10 inches long, and if it bites you you'll be dead in 15 minutes. So naturally I grabbed it and played with it like a pet... kidding.
The point was beautiful, the beaches serene. It's all pretty magnificent.

Tomorrow I'm heading off to raft the Rio Pacuare... the premiere river in central america. I'm looking forward to it, though my butt hurts from my big old bike ride today... and sitting on these wood chairs. Every chair is wood here it seems like. Who needs cushions!

Pura Vida baby, Pura Vida.
Rock on

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Turtles, Turtles Eveywhere...

or not.

Fear not Team, I am alive and well and trying to figure out where the punctuation marks are on these central american keyboards. So if the punctuation is whack for you when you read it, thatçs why... it is not because I got high at Tortagaro or anything, even though I was offered The Spliff once. Though only once, which is kinda surprising since its got a rasta vibe.

But I digress... I have not been swept up in a mudslide and sent down a mountain. Though as many of you have heard, the rains here have been pretty intense. Not "Rains of God" intense, like in Uganda, but still very heavy and very continuous. And I donçt pretend to be everywhere in the country... like the Pacific coast. I was trying to decide which way to go, either to the Pacific or Caribbean coast first and then loop around the country, and Mother Nature gave a very clear message to head east to the Caribbean, as the west coast of Costa Rica was declared a disaster area with mudslides and tragic deaths. All the children were off school two days ago in mourning for the 60 plus folks who were buried when a hillside gave way. Hopefully the rains will abate a bit soon, so as to give the country a break.

And due to the rains, I wonçt likely be going to Corcaverda or Quepos, since they are flooded. Sorry Nikki and Tom, I wonçt be able to share memories from other times...

But letçs get to the thousands of turles... I didnçt see.

Now, I didnçt really know that the east coast of Costa Rica was all about turtles. As in, during the high season, from July to the start of October, there are literally 10,000 tourists a week in a town that has 700 residents.... I cançt find the exclamation point to make that last sentence as dramatic as it should be. We had our choices of rooms, because of the slower time that has come. The town of Tortugaro, where the main turtles crawl up on the beach, thousands of them, and lay their eggs, is a cool place. Muddy streets, no cars, chill nice people and tasty food. The only way there is by boat, or you could fly if you were lame. :)

So my first day was landing in San Jose and meeting some other travelers. Getting me "see legs" back, which happened very quickly. Usually it takes 3 days or so to get back into the swing of backpacking. But because I was soooooooo ready for this trip, I felt like I was back at it quickly. Though Ive been cheating a bit... more on that later.

San Jose is a green mountainous town. One friend of mine would say it sucks ass since he was mugged there, and well, if Id been mugged there Id say it sucks ass too. Fortunately I wasnt... but when I was wandering around, trying to locate my hostel as darkness was falling fast, rain was falling hard, and the map I had not only didnçt have all the streets labeled... it didnçt have the hostel in the correct location! So I had to decode where I might be in a town where very few streets have signs or labels, and I was carrying around a lot of money cause I had just stopped off at the bank. Yikes. Eventually I saw a roofline from the side that I imagined to be what the rooftop bar from the hostel would look like if I were outside it, and I was able to find the gate and the very small sign. whew.

I met a few fellow travelers. We all played OMNI SCORE, which is known as Yahtzee in places other than Holland, where Marleen, the games owner, is from.

The next day I cruised to the bus station, got my 2 dollar ticket and rode out of town... into an AMAZING landscape of mountains, valleys, rivers, clouds, rain, sun. Wow. It was spectacular. I looked down to set an Ipod playlist, rocking songs like Ramble On, Touched, Kyrie, St. Elmoçs fire, Africa and more... and looked up as we emerged from a tunnel onto an amazing, uber green landscape. It was great. Music rocking. Street rolling beneath us.

Oddly, I couldn,t help but think of Viet Nam. I just finished reading MATTERHORN, written by my good friend Laurel-s dad, Karl Marlantes, before I left on the trip. And the book is an incredible story of soldiers in Nam. And the terrain and mountains and super thick jungled slopes made me imagine even more the hell the soldiers went through.

After a bus, we transfer to another bus. The first was like a greyhound in the states. The second was like a school bus. No wait, it WAS a school bus!. Replete with seats built for 8 year olds. I love it! sure, my 6 foot frame barely fit, but its traveling like this that makes you really see a place. The bus dropped us at a water taxi, which took us for an hour or more into the Mini Amazon of the northeast of Costa Rica. Awesome.

In Torugaro I ran into Marleen and Ulrike from San Jose, and also made friends with Ina. We saw a baby turtle, about 4 inches long, crawling ot the ocean, but no mass influx of turtles. Again, that was over months ago, and now that I know it exists I will have to come back and check it out sometime. There was a festival for the end of turtle season that consided of 4 of the LOUDEST OUTDOOR BARS IN THE HISTORY OF THE PLANET. Holy crap, the reggaeton was SOOOO LOUD everyone was standing on the paths outside the bars.

The next day we did a canoe trip into the national park... in the rain. Our guide, Mr. Bill, is 84 years old and used to hunt Jaguars and other animals before it was outlawed, and now hes a guide. He had great stories and even though it was raining, we had a great adventure down the sampy canals and into the hidden jungle world. I loved the rain. It made it really cool and feel like quite an adventure. The rest of the day was about eating, yep its me, gotta eat!, and a hike through the jungle and on the beach. I got to know my travel buddies and they are all cool. Ulrike especially was inspiring, as she has MS, but isnçt letting that stop her from living life. She might have an attack at anytime, but sheçs going on an around the world trip, following her dreams, and saying kiss off to the physical issue that might stop other folks. I was humbled and impressed.

And we capped the night off with an Imperial beer, really LOUD raggaeton again, and some Omni Score.

Today was one of the coolest boat rides Içve ever taken in my life. 3 plus hours zipping along a canal and rivers surrounded by jungle and green and occasionally seeing the caribbean beyond. We stopped at stilted restraunts, we got gas from gas pumped in a town that was flooded, and the boats were on the streets and the cars were no where near. There was even a bus parked in the water, collectging travelers.

But it was the jungle, smoothe water, overcast sky, wind in my face, occasional splashes or huge ass splashes that kept it lively and wet that were the best. It was really wonderful.

Now Içm in Cahuita, on the south Caribbean cost. Ina and I are still on the same path today, so weçre hanging. Nope, no RBR here team, donçt get to excited. :) Just travel buddies. Though tomorrow I think I will head off on my own. Sheçs fluent in spanish... and english, and dutch, and french. So itçs sorta cheating to have someone who makes it so easy that I donçt have to make the connections in a language that I long ago should have learned. So tomorrow, even though were still heading the same direction, Içm going to branch on my own a bit and get out of the comfort zone. After all, thats a big part of what doing these trips is for.

Things to look forward to: rafting, rain, surfing, rain, hiking, rain, Panama, rain, Mountains, rain, Ziplines, rain, and more fun that you can throw a mudball at.

Rock on

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


which is sorta like Los Angeles, except the Spanish is on top of the signs.

Okay, only the airport was like LA, but it was sorta funny to get off the plane and see a really nice airport with a BK, Schlotzsky´s and signs that look like LA signs.

I´m super excited to be here, checked into a hostel in San Jose (the capital city where a friend got mugged a few years ago, so we´ll just take care after dark), and am going to go see some sights.

More excited emails to come, this is just to let you know that I´m alive and kicking at Hostel Pangea... they even have a pool, a bar, and a stripper pole on the dance floor. Might be a wild night.

Rock on