Cahuita Raining, Please

Thursday, January 14, 2010

While it had long been the plan to visit the towns on Malpais and Montezuma on the tip of the Nicoya Peninsula, the lack of transportation options had changed my mind. There was no way to go down the peninsula (it’s interesting that in poorer countries the buses, though less scheduled and more packed, would run EVERYwhere and it was much more simple to get around) which thwarted my first plan. So I’d hopped to the mainland. To get there now, not only would I have to double back and spend about $20 and a day in transit (bus to San Ramon, change bus to Puntas Arena, Ferry across, bus to Malpais) but I’d then need two days of travel to cut back to the Caribbean coast and continue my journey south to Panama and finally across the Darien Gap to Colombia and South America. So I skipped them. To be honest, I haven’t been loving Costa Rica anyway, in part because for some reason I can’t seem to shake my stomach bug (maybe my expired antibiotics made it tougher?) but everything costs a lot of money and it really doesn’t feel like the country has much culture left. Or at any rate, everything feels like it was built for tourism which, for a different kind of trip is fine, but not what I’m after and not after seeing the countries I’ve already visited. This is a package holiday spot in the making and it already shows in the people you see and meet on the streets: couples, older folks, even some braver families. So a great place to come for a week or two but not somewhere to backpack, and especially not on your own. It’s hard to find others doing the same.

So it was that I made my way on the scenic drive to Guapiles in a $30 shuttle. It was the only way to get there without doubling back to San Jose and taking the major highway which in the end would still have been slower and probably less scenic. I should emphasize that for all I’ve said about the country’s tourism industry, there is good cause: it’s absolutely stunning. The drive to Guapiles took me over more rivers than I can name, wetlands, jungles, distant volcanoes... the place has a very primeval feel when you get out of the towns that I can’t put into words. From Guapiles, I caught a local bus to Puerto Limon which was en route from San Jose. The bus stopped for 15 minutes and quite a few people got off to use the washrooms or buy some snacks, so when I got on there were quite a few empty seats, or so it appeared. Looking closer, many had bags, jackets, scarves, and other things reserving them. I picked a seat beside one that had two small plastic bags on it and about 10 minutes later, as the bus refilled, a man came on and apologetically told me that he and his son were sitting there. Why they didn’t cover both seats is beyond me. I smiled, got up and found another spot not earmarked. Only to have to stand a minute later as somebody else got on and told me it was taken. Again, put your bags on both seats. Easy!

There were two spots left and I took one of them. The bus was pretty much full and 15 minutes were up and I was willing the bus to just go. The bus engine started and idled and just when I was sure we were gone, a woman and her son came on board and came to my seat, telling me that they, too, needed both seats. It’s not that I mind giving up a seat for them, but really, HOW HARD IS IT TO SAVE SEATS? Three times in one bus ride I had to move because people would only mark one seat as taken. I wanted to get up to the front of the bus and have a small lesson on the subject, demonstrating the ways that a sweater’s sleeves could be extended, for example, to cover a second seat and thereby indicate it was occupied. I definitely grumbled by now and got up yet again. The bus started moving, too late for me, and every seat was full. I alone was stuck standing (where perhaps a luckier choice would have let me sit) the full hour to Puerto Limon. The standing isn’t terrible, but you can’t see a thing out the windows and the guy whose seat I was leaning against suddenly became Mr. Elbows in my leg. Pura Vida, man.

I arrived in Cahuita to mild drizzle and found my way to Cabinas Smith, where a grungy cabina was mine for $6/night. The sheets were clean and the mattress had no sign of bugs but the floor could use a good sweep and/or wash. The communal toilet was likewise clean, but the floor disgusting and, well, let’s just say I didn’t shower in the four nights I stayed there It was simply disgusting. Luckily, I didn’t have to. It rained the whole time, badly. I actually thought I was going to have to move my stuff off the floor at one point, so heavy was the rain. Puerto Limon, which I’d passed through just the day before, was now flooded and impassible, a state of emergency declared. Likewise, my first destination in Panama, Bocas del Toro, was flooded and closed: there was no way to get there or to leave. So I didn’t bother leaving Cahuita because the whole of the Caribbean coast (which was where the next week or two would be spent) was being inundated and I’d fair no better elsewhere. Instead I woke up in the mornings and studied Spanish for a few hours, at a restaurant over breakfast if it wasn’t raining too badly. The restaurants all close around 1, at which point there’s nothing to do in the rain unless you’re a good enough surfer to brave the waves crashing in (and I was not) so I’d go back to the room and watch a movie.

Evenings I went out to dinner hoping to meet people but restaurants are a hard place to do that. One pizza place shows movies at 7:30 which usually fills it up, so I went there and got a table. Sure enough two American girls needed a spot and I invited them to sit with me and even gave them the choice spots as I’d already seen Slumdog Millionaire twice (such a great movie). Still, once they sat down they basically ignored me and talked amongst themselves, and then of course there’s no talking during the movie, and afterwards they said goodnight immediately and left. So that was a bust. I had my first steak since leaving home at an Argentinian restaurant (it was worth the expense: the cut of meat was tough but delicious) but didn’t meet anyone, and I ate at a Quebec chef’s restaurant and met his wife, Candy, having dinner on her own as well (as he was busy in the kitchen). That was it for this place. Again, I’d have left sooner had I had somewhere to go, but I didn’t until the weather cleared, which was supposed to be on Wednesday.

Wednesday came and it was drizzling instead of pouring. Good enough for me. I went for a walk in the national park which is miraculously free in this country but I didn’t manage to spot a sloth or toucan, two animals on my must find list. I did however see a couple spiders that Nicole couldn’t pay me enough to kill for her, a pretty cool heron, some bats, and of course the coastal jungle walk was beautiful for the scenery alone. I couldn’t walk as far as I wanted because all the rain had swelled the stream to an impassable river so it was only a 3km return walk. Back to the room to continue my Star Wars marathon, I finished watching A New Hope and went to the washroom when I heard “Uper”, the Costa Ricans’ way of saying “Hello? Anybody there?” What could it be? I opened the door and there was Phil and his brother Perry in their shining white 4x4 (El Nubio) to rescue me from my borderline boredom. They had got tired of no waves on the Pacific coast and headed here hoping for something better on this side.

I said before I couldn’t seem to shake this bug. It didn’t really affect me too much, day to day, but it was annoying. That morning, I’d bought some pineapple and yogurt from the store and had that as a snack and I’m not sure if that’s what did it, but that day I had a total relapse into the first day of my sickness. We went for pizza again figuring it’d be cheap to share but I not only had no appetite but was getting a fever again and nauseous. I don’t know why it won’t go away, I’m usually pretty healthy and get over things quickly but it may be time to visit a doctor down here. I actually had to leave early, ostensibly to get something a sweater from my room as I was shivering but really I was going to be sick. I walked back to my room and lay there shivering and feverish at the same time for about 30 minutes before finally getting the energy to get up and go tell the boys I couldn’t watch a movie tonight. I walked back but they were gone and walked back towards my hostel. I was almost there when I finally did get sick and left the pizza all over the empty lot next to the hostel. With the morning’s pineapple, my ham and green pepper pizza had become Hawaiian on the way back. I wonder how many foods have been discovered this way?

Perry is a pharmacist and had a fresh supply of antibiotics (though he figures that if it’s been two weeks I have a parasite even if I don’t have any of the classic symptoms) so I went again to find him and found him and Phil walking the streets looking for me. I got my antibiotics and took some ibuprofen for the headache, drank as much water as I could, and laid in bed chatting with Phil and Perry while they used the internet. I had a weird and restless night of talking to multiple versions of myself but woke up feeling a lot better than the night before though not as good as two days ago. Perry and Phil came by and picked me up in their jeep and we drove down to Puerto Viejo which turned out to be a pretty cool place. Had I known, I might have moved earlier had I known, but I was expecting another Tamarindo. It helped that finally, FINALLY, the rain was done and the sun was even shining through in pockets. My appetite, which had not been big in Cahuita anyway (luckily, because food there is expensive) had returned. That morning, while I showered in Phil and Perry’s much nicer shower (actually the best shower so far in Central American, high pressure and hot water) they made me some instant noodles that I couldn’t eat much of. But by lunch I finished a burrito and was pretty hungry both before and after we made some spaghetti that night. Hopefully these antibiotics are doing the job. The shining sun and some new scenery is definitely helping.

Cahuita Photos

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