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Archive for March, 2010

As we get ready to leave Costa Rica, there is so much to synthesize, savor, remember. And as we try to pull it all together, there are also the Great Imponderables, the messy moral questions.  Such as, should one, really, eat the bananas (or the pineapples, or the cocoa, or drink the coffee). The list goes on, I’m sure, depending on one’s eco, to say nothing of human rights, sensibilities.

Fruit Market in Cahuita

“Hey Mister Talley Man, Talley Me Banana…” the refrain from the decades-old Calypso song ran through my head as we entered Limon Province, true banana country. (more…)

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The National Park at our feet like so many thousands of acres of Costa Rica is full of animals.  Every day we walked along the shaded sandy path in the woods and swamps — sometimes to the end of the point and the beginning of the reef — and every day we swam along the beaches. And without trying, this is what we found.

So I’m sitting on the beach minding my own business and this sand crab, about the size of a baseball, pops out of his hole and starts eyeing me, then does this weird thing where one eye on its long stalk starts to bend backwards. (more…)

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Cahuita

We chose, more or less at random, one of the little towns south of Limon that offer lovely beaches and planned to spend a couple of days. And once we checked in, rather like the Hotel California, we could never leave.  The view from our hotel room, right at the entrance to the long curve of beach and jungle that is the Cahuita National Park, told the whole story — waves and coco palms and a sweep of tropical beach.

Cahuita, View from Our Balcony

Well, not the whole story, but most of it. The rest of the attractions were right there, too — the park, and the street.  We were at the end of the paved street in town, and a lively place it was.  Hip young Rasta men set up their shops, sold trinkets, or hustled tourists. Vegetable and fruit sellers hawked their wares; self-appointed guides (any native of the town) offered their expertise for tracking animals,  swimming/snorkeling on the reef, fishing, anything.  And sales of other favors went down, too. Nor were the ganja-men in short supply. Just breathing on the balcony above where the local surfers gathered could be a mind-altering experience.  And just for balance, the howler monkeys would often join in with their incredible howls, as would a green parrot who laughed hysterically, no doubt a commentary on human folly. (more…)

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Puerto Limon

While reviews of going to Limon, the province that encompasses the Caribbean side of Costa Rica were generally enthusiastic, few people had much good to say about Puerto Limon, the main city. Full of thieves and scoundrels, we were told, a wicked place full of drug lords and gangs, and even the trying-to-be-positive guide books gave it such adjectives as “edgy” and “gritty.”  What really sold me though was a description by Paul Theroux in his book of riding the rails through Latin America in the ’80s, The Old Patagonian Express. His description of Limon was one of such brawling color and irresistible decrepitude, that as the throbbing heart of Caribbean Costa Rican culture,  it seemed a place not to be missed. (more…)

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Reuben

He is a tall, sinewy man with eyes that have seen everything in their 60-some years, and with a smile that charms you into his world, his stories, an probably charms the fish into his net. He is missing several front teeth. His name is Reuben (unless it is something else), and when we stepped into the open-sided boat that is like a bus running up and down the Tortuguera and Parisima Rivers, he declared “Welcome to my boat,” and proceeded to pass out business cards with an Internet address. “You need to make any trips, any trips in this country, you call Reuben.”

Reuben's Boat Business in Tortuguero

As time progressed — six hours more or less on that boat — Reuben’s stories shifted like the current.  As Doug and I sat toward the back of the boat, for long stetches Reuben would come join us and spin his yarns. Wonderful tales they were, too.  Just before taking the waterway that led to our lodge,  there was a huge intersection of rivers and canals referred to as Four Corners. We had been up many of them during our stay there. But one river leads into Nicaragua (where we truly would like to go) and his stories of the smuggling trade were riveting. According to him, he had done plenty of it, but only with people who wanted to reunite with their families, and dodging the security boats was dicey. He said he wouldn’t touch arms smuggling, and anybody in the (thriving) narco trade was a fool.

He also told us about life in Limon, the city, where we were heading — of fights, stabbings, robberies. He had only recently been robbed there, he said, which is why he had no shoes. (Note: the boat captain and many others working the boats also wore no shoes).  The boss man didn’t pay enough and he would go hungry until he had honest money. Unless he caught a good fish, like he had landed a red snapper the night before, and then he would cook it, with yucca and coconut.  Some men are fools and waste their money on women. But not he. Anyway, he met a guy from Texas that was going to do some business up there on the rivers, and was going to buy him, Rueben, his own boat.

Among his other talents, Reuben was a master mechanic — happily.  The boat came to a grinding halt three times during the trip, and frankly the options didn’t look great if he hadn’t been able to coax it into starting again. We were in the middle of a rainy, rushing river full of crocodiles and nothing inviting in the thick jungle along the embankments.

Reuben's Boat

But Reuben got it going every time, even when we were running parallel to the sea and huge logs and pieces of wood seemed to threaten the engine. When we reached the port of Moin, there was a battered van ready to take us to Limon.  Over-priced and arranged by Reuben of course. We tipped him handsomely.

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Perhaps because of the seamless quality of endless rain, watery highways, and circular canals that seemed to the hapless passenger to have no beginning or end, no destination, days in Tortuguera seemed to run into each other, as if it had been one long, wet, boat ride.

River and Jungle in the Rain

On our first trip out with Yuri, who was our skilled guide if not our boatman, I saw other loads of passengers and noted how, in the open boats they were all issued plastic rain covers, usually of the same color, making them look like overgrown kindergarteners out on an excursion. How quickly we became them!

But in that strange, primeval world of jungle, waterways, and sea, with its array of creatures, nothing I suppose, was really out of place. Even plastic-covered tourists. The park, created to preserve the nesting ground for turtles, including leatherbacks, along the beach, is also a kind of Eden. The closest thing to the Amazon outside the Amazon. In addition to turtles, it also is a preserve for manatees, who live and swim in some of the channels — supposedly those closed to boats.

River and Jungle in the Rain

But of course saving the habitat for some saves the ecosystem for all. It is a dense green world overhanging the rivers, canals, and lagoons that harbor hundreds of species, amazing birds, enormous fish, strange mammals, and that perennial of the jungles, reptiles. We saw some of everything. For me, the highlights were huge spider monkeys swinging and chattering in the trees overhead, toucans, which were the first I’d seen in the wild, and the sudden, electrifying charge of the luminescent blue wings of the morpho butterfly.

Bird Whose Name I Forget

Yes, we saw several cayman, too. But no crocodiles, though they are plentiful — and big– all through the region. So where were they? My guess is they were hanging out together in some secret sauna, trying to warm up.

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Crossing Over

Everybody told us, oh, you should go over to the Limon side, the food is great (all kind of coconuts), the music is great (all kind of calypso/reggae) the people is great, all kind of relaxed…in a really laid-back country, that is some kind of recommendation.  They also told us the weather is “backwards” over there, meaning it’s the dry season on the Pacific coast but it could be rainin’ some on the other side. But they didn’t say monsoon. (more…)

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