Thursday, March 5, 2009
Bienvenidos a Costa Rrrrrica!
As always, so much has happened since the last post. Since then I've passed through the entire country and entered panama and back. Costa Rica is different than all of the other countries, it was immediately apparent that I was in Costa Rica the very first night after crossing the border. We went straight to Roca Bruja after crossing the frontier, the drive to witches rock is horrendous really. There is a reason that many people don't go there even though it's a magestic jungle/national park and is a world class surf break. Access is just difficult almost impassable and is impassable during the wet season. The drive there is terrible and here we are doing it at night, it's super slow technical driving that should be on a commercial for Chevrolet 'like a rock.' The reason it's apparent you are in Costa Rica besides the road conditions is the wildlife. Immediately there are night animals out running as we drive into the park. Camping there and you wake up to the sounds of unfamiliar birds and howler monkeys. If you've never heard howler monkeys before, this is a sound like no other. Seriously, the sound they bellow makes you think you are being stalked by a dinosaur or some massive wild beast. I can remember the first time I heard this noise on my first trip to Costa Rica while hiking with Camille, we were freaked out wondering what in the world was coming to get us from the jungle. Waking up to this sound made me realize I had finally made it to costa rica and here I am waking up at Roca Bruja, a place I've always dreamed of surfing. I had no idea this surf spot came with an amazing jungle atmosphere with constant noises, movements and sightings of animals. There wasn't much swell at Roca Bruja but you can get an idea of how perfect the surf could be. The winds were too strong offshore and the swell wasn't big enough to make more than waist to chest high perfect little waves. The second morning we walked to the surf spot at 530am, which is a pretty long walk, and halfway there, along with seeing puma prints in the sand, we stumbled across a giant sea turtle climbing up the sand, dig a perfect hole with her back flippers, lay about 60 eggs, fill the hole and drag herself back to the ocean. What a cool sight that was to witness. So with no waves for 2 days and Fish having zero dollars more, we were faced with decisions of what to do again. I wanted to stay at Roca Bruja and hike and just hang out in the jungle but fish couldn't afford more and since there were no waves he wanted to bail. We had plans to drive the entire northern peninsula but the surf forecast was small and Fish's lack of money situation was putting a cramp on my plans so we opted to bypass a big part of Costa and drive straight to Playa Hermosa to drop him off and for me to go to Ricardo's pad in Jaco. This was a good regrouping point for me and I was ready to travel alone again though it seems I never make that happen. For the next few days I surfed hermosa, esterillos and jaco with Ricardo and at times all of the girls that are taking lessons in the school of the world. I figured I'd be nice and "help out" :) A couple of days meeting the students, hanging around Jaco with Ricardo and his family and I started to feel like I hadn't done anything. I guess the feeling of constant adrenaline of traveling by car had been so much that 3 days of somewhat routine like familiarity started to make me feel like I needed to do something again. Sunday morning Ricardo and I had plans to surf at about 530 am but when I woke up he said this guy that we had seen surfing the other day just walked by and is taking the bus to Panama bocas del toro and he's going with photographers and the waves are supposed to be good. A minute of discussing and we hop in the car and go track him down at the bus station to ask him a few more questions like can a car make it on the island, does he want to split gas, etc. He's amped on me wanting to go and drive and within 10 minutes I decide to go and start packing. Ricardo can't come, he has to work and the family and all. So before you know it I'm in the car with this kid from Costa Rica and his 2 Argentinian photographers. JosyMar, from Costa, is apparently ranked 3rd in the open surf division and is trying to make the most out of his surf career. He's a funny character, thinks every girl loves him and talks to everyone with beach slang spanish which later I'm told that's the kind of spanish I talk. So anyway we're off in the car, seems like it's going to be a fun trip and the first thing that happens is he falls right to sleep. I have no idea where we're going and I keep trying to wake him up but first problem is he can't keep himself awake, apparently he was out all night the night before and hadn't slept yet and the other problem is he didn't know how to get anywhere. I guess he's always on the bus so again, like always, we are lost and asking people for directions which spins us in circles a few times because somehow nobody knows where the ONE road to the Caribbean is. I don't know why I thought this trip wouldn't be long but traversing across this small country is no easy feat. It's a beautiful countryside with ever changing climates; we crossed through mountains, jungles, cloud forests, rain forests, sun, rain, dry, humid, & paved roads and unpaved ones. On the drive there I nearly ran over a sloth, it was in the road and on a paved road which meant I was moving along pretty fast. Sloths are the strangest alien looking things to me, more sloth encounters later. Over to the Caribbean which is a first for me and the first noticeable difference is that it's totally different, as far as the people around. It's now more black dready guys and you don't see the Tico looking people much anymore. We went to look at the infamous Salsa Brava surf spot in Puerto Viejo which is know as a really heavy wave sending a lot of people home with injuries. That wave wasn't really working though the town of Puerto Viejo looks like a cool spot that I would like to spend more time in but not this day, only about 20 minutes and then I'm convinced that even though it's 4pm the border is close and we'll be surfing in no time. I try to tell these guys that passing a border with a foreign vehicle is usually a long dreadful task but they respond with "tranquilo maje, pura vida" so we head for the border. We arrive at the border at 5pm and costa rica frontier closes at 5pm, Panamas frontier closes at 6pm BUT there is a time zone change for one hour so 5pm in costa is 6pm in panama. A "helper" guy starts saying he can get us through, we have to run quickly though he's missing a leg so I'm running and he's crutching super fast. We get the car exported from costa rica, and head across the craziest bridge ever to get to panama side. More on the bridge on the return. We show up at panama right when the guy that does the temporary importation of the vehicles is leaving so he's not happy about having to work on this plus his wife is there waiting. So as usual he keeps me in the room, the other guys all waiting outside, and begins to lecture me about coming on time and him having to work late now. At least now my spanish is much better but I don't want to understand what he's saying because he's asking me for 20 dollars since he has to work late. In the end he won't approve my car until we give him some money so I get the guys to chip in and we come up with enough to make him happy and we're in. The legless guy at the border says the ferry for bocas del torro leaves at 8 and it's an hour away plus it's just about dark. Back to the car and there are kids at about age 7 to adults all saying they watched my car for me and want to be paid. So brush that aside and we're in the car heading somewhere and none of us know how to get there. Now mind you my lonely planet book says plain out not to drive your own car in panama, it's too dangerous. So we drive, ask for directions at least 10 times and it gets dark which I'm not happy about but we arrive to the Ferry before 8pm. We speak to some people around and find out the ferry does leave at 8 but it's 8 in the morning and there is already a line of truckers that are sleeping over night and the girl tells the guys I'm with we should just stay in line so nobody wants to drive back 30 mins to the hotel options. Soooo we sleep in the car, on a road, in Panama and I'm thinking for sure this has to be the dumbest thing I've done yet on my trip. How easy of a target are we? Another prob with that is it's off and on raining and my car has power windows so if anyone wants to roll up or down, they need me to put the keys in. So it's a long night of sleep, I have a bad feeling when I wake up about the car battery. At about 7, an hour before the ferry, I try to start the car and the battery is completely dead. Now I'm really thinking we are an easy target, we're sitting on a street with a dead car and everyone in the world thinks I'm a millionairre. But just as I'm having all these bad thoughts, anyone and everyone around begins to help us. I'm thinking it sure would be nice to call AAA but I don't think they have AAA Panama. So First we ask the guy in front of us to try to jump the car and no luck. We're working against time, thinking this trip is just turning into a disaster which it partially was already. All these people, speaking spanish at me really fast and one guy says to pull out my battery he's going to bring his, try to start my truck and then switch back to my battery. Anyone that knows me knows my car skills are that I don't have any, so just pulling out the battery is something I know nothing about but at this point I have like 20 mins before the ferry leaves. This guy comes running back from far away with a giant battery from his semi-truck, I have my battery detached somehow or another and he links up my truck to his battery and it starts. We switch the battery back to mine, which I didn't know you could do this while the car was running. So in a flash, I learned a little more spanish, learned a little about car batteries and learned not to judge an entire country by alleged bad news when in reality these people were much more helpful than I could have possibly experienced at home. That is a difference I've noticed being here and being at Ricardo's place, there is a community and people help each other out with everything...it's much more personal than at home where we don't really talk to our neighbors anymore. So back to the trip, we made it on the ferry and off to Isla Colon, the primary island of bocas del torro. The time spent there was pretty cool, though it did rain almost the entire time. We drove offroad, major mud driving and surfed a bunch of spots around the island only accessible by 4x4 or boat. The people there were all Rasta afro caribbean decent but when they spoke it was pure spanish. It caught me off guard, I guess I have an image in my head of what someone is supposed to sound like by the way they look and it was way off. I guess what's cool about this trip is meeting so many people, especially staying in hostels and traveling around. I find myself hanging out with people from germany, france, netherlands, iceland, australia, canada, argentina, chile and so many other places. It's interesting to meet and talk to people from around the world, it definitely changes you're overall outlook. Some of the nicest people I met were from France who typically don't like americans and Ricardo is from Venezuela and our countries are at ends but yet the truth of the matter is that people are people and you can't judge a place or person by some idea of what you think of it in your head. There is a personal transformation happening with me as I travel and learn more about other places and about myself. It's hard to explain it all but it's happening and I'm sure I will reflect and see it better after this trip is over, if it ever ends. So we stay a few nights in Bocas and start the trek back, nothing is easy with a car. The ferry leaves at 4pm, takes 2 hours to hit land again and the frontier closes at 6 BUT somehow my latin american copilots can't seem to do that math and think we should just go to the border and they'll get us through somehow....to which I laugh. They don't want to spend money either so they would rather try the border and sleep in the car there if it doesn't work out. The drive towards the frontier was crazy, dense dense fog through a rainy rainforest with no street lights and zero visibility. We get to a town and head for a hotel as I refuse to go to the border and sleep in the car, I would rather fork out 10 dollars for a hotel room. So the border the next day, all goes pretty ok as far as borders are concerned BUT the bridge between panama and costa rica causes us a brief scare. It's not a car bridge, it's a railroad bridge perched about 50 feet above the water. Your car straddles the rails but with my big boat, when it is driving there isn't room for all the people walking so they have to hang over the ledge to let me pass. Well one guy just refused to move so as I was trying to avoid him, I manage to slip my right 2 tires over the rail which was an immediate disaster waiting to happen. I have 3 people yelling stupid instructions in spanish, like go to the right but what they don't know is my tire has no room to turn right and when you look left half of both tires are over the edge and the edge isn't straight so sometimes even more. it was so sketchy, I was certain we were going to flip off this bridge into the water. Now I have about 9 different people inside and outside the car yelling different directions at me in spanish, so of course I'm ready to kill them all. We're all sweating, could never get back over but in the end we made it to the end, at times with 1 entire back wheel in the air off the bridge. The scare was over, we enter costa with minimal headaches and back to drive across the country. While passing through the rain forest I see a kid with a sloth in his hand, so I stop and rewind back as Josymar would say or reverse back and got out to meet these kids. They had a little family, a dad, mom and tiny baby latched to the moms stomack. Sloths are crazy creatures and seeing one up close and holding it was quite a surreal experience for me, such an odd animal. That done, we traverse back across the entire country and I'm back at Ricardo's to regroup, change my oil, fix my tail light and clean my truck. I think I have my first visitor coming down, Dj is trying to come for his birthday at the end of March so I have some time to travel around until then. Pura vida!