Subject: The great annual crab migration
Iguanas are curious creatures. The sit sunning themselves in the most conspicuious of spots (and what does a reptile need with a tan) and yet they think that you cant see them. They´ll wait until you´re right up on them before they scurry off. I watched about half a dozen iguanas the other day, as they chased each other up and down trees, one chasing the other up, the other chasing the other down. It seems it would make more sense for them to stay in and out of the tree respectively and be done with it. I couldnt really make rhyme or reason to their moving about for the 2 hours that I watched them the other day. Then again, they´re probably thinking that humans are curious creatures as they watched me sitting in a hammock for 2 hours holding a bound stack of papers, watching lizards.
But back to the story....
I think my last email left off with, "Al is probably off meeting some crazy folk right now". No sooner did I finish typing that did he come to the internet place and say "You´ve GOT to come meet these guys...". Those guys were brothers Rick and Roy from Louisana, whose parents moved to Costa Rica when the brothers were 10 and 12. Four years later, the parents moved them back to the states for a "real education". After a semester, the brothers decided they wanted to go back to Costa Rica, but the parents said no. So, they hitchhiked. A 14 and 16 year old with $90 between them. That was some 30 years ago, and their lives have been that crazy since. They, along with the rest of the band of locals at Bar Vida Loca is probably what caused us to stay in Playa del Coco as long as we did.
While we were in Playa del Coco, we went on a zip-line tour. Something which is rather popular in Costa Rica. I'm sure insurance regulations in the US would make anything like this impossible, but down here, there are no such regulations. A zip-line tour is one where you hike up a mountainside, and after you reach a certian point, you hook a pulley to a long steel cable, attach it to your harness and zip down through the trees. I think it has been said, it was originally designed as a way to see wildlife from atop the canopy of trees, but due to the fact its a bit of a thrill ride and riders cream with delight, most wildlife re-locates away from the zip lines. Although we still did see a lot of monkeys in the trees that our tour goes through. There were about a dozen lines on our tour, crisscrossing down until you reach the base, the longest line being about 400 meters. Woo Hoo.
Another night took us back to Vida Loca, the Costa Rican equivalent of cheers, where everybody knows your name. We were able to figure who would be Sam, Norm, Carla, Woody, and I think we found a dysfunctional Frasier in our friend Roy.
After 3 days in Playa del Coco, we headed back to San Jose, and went out back at El Pueblo for Als last night in town.
After he left, I spent the next couple days getting things in order. I never really re-organized after the truck was stolen. Just sort of threw what was left in a bag, bought some more stuff, and headed. Now, in full travel mode, I knew what I could get rid of and knew what else I needed. It feels good to be organized, but am in a desparate search of a smaller bag now.
While in San Jose, I met a guy named Bernardo at the hostel, who lives in Santa Theresa. For a reason that will be disclosed at a later time, I headed to Santa Theresa with him and his girlfriend Julia.
I really enjoyed staying at Santa Theresa. It was where Al and I had gone to the full moon party, and I back then I wished I could have stayed longer. I got to hang out there for about 4 days and take it easy and watch iguanas. They're about as common as squirrels down there.
The next day, walking over to Bernardos, I saw a few crabs who met their fate on the road. Theres one. And onother. Oh no, theres 20..... another 20....... oh my.... the road is orange with crab bits. Aparently there were more popular crossing spots than our hostel. The beaches then look like a little crab city has sprung up over night, with thousands of little wrist-sized holes clearly marked with a big pile of sand which was just excavated from it on its own doorstep.
That night, I headed out to a bar on the other side of "town" (town in quotes as town is just one long dirt street with houses and businesses along it) with a girl named Kate from the hostel, and there were the few tardy crabs who didnt get the memo in time and seemed to be coming down a night late. As Kate and I walked to the bar, which would have taken 15 minutes by any normal pace, we made it our personal mission to play crossing guard and shooed as many crabs across as we could so they didnt become the next mornings orange pavement. At one point I stopped a car to usher my little friend past. They arent real receptive to the idea of being shooed. In fact they'll defiantly hold up both claws in attack mode despite the fact that at 6'0" I am about 5 foot 10 inches taller than them. They also dont care that my heart is in the right place. Unfortunately, they seem to raise their little claws to the oncoming vehicles as well. It took us 30 minutes to get there, and perhaps as long to get back, but we felt like little crab saviours.
Well, I needed to make tracks to the Carribean side to visit friends, so I set off on a 12 hour travel mission which would enable me to see the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans in the same day. Mission Accomplished.
I arrived at Cahuita last night, which back on the Carribean side, is as the same feel of other Carribean towns. The ever familar rasta vibe. Its actually a bit strange. In Guatemala, Honduras and Costa Rica, there seems to be a drawn line where people of hispanic decent stop, and those of black decent start. One might think there would be a gradual effect to it, but no.
Cahuita isnt much of a backpackers destination. I went out to the local bar to grab a beer after my 12 hour marathon of busses and trucks and ferries. I met a rastafarian who was the equivalent of Pat, the androgenous character from Saturday Night Live. We struck up a conversation that lasted about 30 minutes but which ended somewhat abruptly when I refused his/her offer to sell me weed for the 4th time. Never did figure out its gender.
The main reason I stopped in Cahuita is because a freind of mine, Kerry, who I was travelling with in Honduras and Nicaragua is volunteering at a sloth rehabilitation center a few miles away. Cahuita is the closest place to the rehab center. I spent the day at the sloth farm visiting Kerry and her "babies". There are about 36 sloths there being prepped to return to the wild. I got to play with the young baby ones with her, and even hold one of the adults. Amazing creatures. I took tons of photos, but if you´d like to see more, check out www.ogphoto.com/aviarios/foundation.htm.
Well, I am back in Cahuita and will be heading to Sixola tomorrow to visit some more friends. Apologies to people who have sent me email. I will not be replying today. For you computer geeks, I'll describe the set up. I am on a 133mhz computer, a speed proudly desplayed on the casing. I am on a dial-up. It dials to San Jose, 4 hours away. There are 5, count them 5 other people, networked on this one dial up line. It goes down often. When I came here earlier, the place was closed as the wind was blowing hard, and causes power outages. :) Love it.
Subject: Isla de Ricardo?
When people say they're travelling alone, they're never really travelling alone. For the past 4 months, I really can't remember being alone, which is probably why in Cahuita the silence of having my own room was so strange. Before this, everytime I had parted ways with one travel partner, I had found the next on the same day or in the days before. In some ways its relaxing, but in others its just strange. I used the solo time and finished my book that a freind had sent me, Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins, which now ranks up with my favorite books of all times.
The next morning I woke up with plans to head to Puerto Viejo. Its about 40km away. There was a torrential downpour that didnt seem to be letting up. I grabbed some coffee and met a Canadian guy in the cafe who seemed to want to have his picture taken while standing in the rain. Everytime it started raining harder, he wanted a picture with the new improved harder falling rain.
The idea of hanging in the cafe all day and taking pictures of some guy in the rain made me decide to risk melting in the downpour, and grab the 11am bus to Puerto Viejo. In my haste to leave, I didnt realize I left my guidebook in the cafe. Guidebooks arent too easy to come by here, so finding another might not be that easy. Ironically enough, one of my favorite passages from the book I just read was about travelling without guides or maps, so I decided to "go blind" from here on out.
I dont know why I assume that because a town is one of the largest towns on the Costa Rican carribean coast that it would have paved streets. Somehow I just assumed it would, but as big as Puerto Viejo is, it doesnt. Its crazy how different somewhere can appear in your mind by looking at it on a map or in a guide book. Puerto Viejo is normally a rather busy town full of travellers and surfers, but because of the rain, just about everybody headed to the Pacific side. So I decided to just stay one night, hanging out with people I'd met on the bus, and head out the next day.
I stopped in an internet cafe in Puerto Viejo, and got a strange email. On my website, I have pictures of my various hairstyles throughout my life, for good or ill. http://www.travelhead.com/life/hair/. Well, someone from the TV "Judging Amy" (http://www.cbs.com/primetime/judging_amy/) show wants to do an episode where Amy looks through her old yearbook and sees a guy who she had a crush on, with a very 80's looking mullet. They want to use my pic. I said sure, so watch for it. :)
Before leaving Puerto Viejo, I got in to a long conversation with a guy who I overheard say he once lived in Hawaii. We both lived there for about the same decade, but on different islands. His name was Brownie, and he had moved to Costa Rica 7 years ago after being a pharmacist in the US. He came to study the uses of rainforest plants as medicines. He bought a piece of land 7km inland of Puerto Viejo, and has been studying/learning/selling medicinal plants ever since. There are elders who live scattered through the jungles who know of plants which can cure just about anything. None of them leave their houses, and the generations of Costa Ricans today have become too westernized to care about the traditional medicines, so these secrets are being lost. So Brownie goes from elder to elder on his bicycle and by foot, learning the secrets that they have, and passing the knowledge that one might have to another one that might not. He said that most of these elders are 80 or 90 years old, and that when they die, their knowledge goes with them because the younger generations dont have an interest. As we parted ways, I gave him my book that I just finished, as it ironically dealt a lot with plants and their powers.
And thus starts one of the crazier days of travel I have had yet....
I have 2 friends from by mexico travels working in Costa Rica that I wanted to visit. They work in a farm just outside of Sixola, which is just on the border with Panama. Any taxi driver in Sixola will know where the farm is. Fair enough. Well, I missed the 9:15 bus from Puerto Viejo to Sixola by 15 minutes. Although annoying, it did allow me to talk with brownie. But I caught the 12:15 bus to the border town of Sixola. We come to a point where the road was flooded, and everyone, including our bus had to drive through water about 2 feet deep. Thats up to mid-door on pickup trucks. We pass without problem and after 40 minutes, the bus stops and turns off the engine. This must be Sixola. Well, not exactly, this is the where the road to Sixola is blocked by a raging current 50 feet wide caused by the flooding. No one can cross, and people are standing on the both sides of this river. It must be pretty deep if even the large trucks arent driving through. Those who are really desparate can take a "boat" (aka semi-hollowed log) across a perpendicular current, over to a small island of land, then walk across a wider point much further upstream where the current is slower and the water is deeper. It is waist high. After waiting an hour, a bus on the other side leaves, and we are told the only other bus is about to leave as well. Either we get across now, or go back. Here we go. I changed in to my swim trunks and went for it. The crossing took about 20 minutes total, and the water was waist high about the whole time. My backpack was just inches above water. I didnt even want to think about the electronics that would get ruined if I fell.
On the other side, we found the bus was leaving in an hour, so we grabbed a taxi to Sixola. When I got to Sixola, I was told the road to the farm was too flooded to cross by truck or on foot. This whole area was flooded. Shops, streets, houses, everything.
Border towns are generally the pits. I had read in a friends guidbook that it described Sixola as " a truly unattractive town with nothing to do or see". But I was told the road would be passable in the morning, so what does one night matter. I met a 5 year old named Bernardo who took me to the only hotel in town. After we checked in, he asked me why I wanted to stay in Sixola. I told him I just wanted to get to the farm tomorrow. He told me I should go over to Panama, to Bocas del Toro, which is 90 minutes away. Why, I asked. Because its very dangerous here. Crazy people, bar fights... especially in the bar beneath your hotel. Ok, time to check out. I was going to forfiet the $5 for the hotel room if needed, but got a refund anyway. As I was headed to Panama, as fate would have it, I met 2 other girls who worked on the same farm as my friends who now had to head BACK to Bocas del Toro as the road was blocked, so we went together.
We rushed, but missed the last boat to Bocas by 5 minutes, which I told them was fitting. If we had made it, it wouldnt have fit with my day. We got a hotel in Changuinola and decided to catch the morning boat. As luck would have it, there was a fair in town, and we got to go on rides, bumper cars, and the bouncy castle, before turning in, in the first room I've had with A/C in at least 4 months.
The next day, we made it to Bocas and checked in to a hotel. Bocas is a really cool little town. It does have a paved main street and a nice park in the center of town. It is also known for some of the best surfing on the carribean, as well as having spectacular diving. People are very friendly, and the place is a lot cleaner than most I've visited in Central America. It has a fair number of bars, resturants and hotels, but not too many. Yeah, I like Bocas.
Let me preface my next thought with this.... I've really been trying to figure out where to go from Panama. When I had the truck, it was all clear. Now, I dont have that restriction, or adgenda, so I thought about going to Equador and starting South America from there. Then I thought about finding a boat through the Panama canal and going to Columbia and going through there. Well, the US state department website has just issued a warning against going there - nix that idea. But, I did want to be in Europe by June for weather reason, which means that because I took so long in Central America I would have to do South America in 2 short months, regardless of where I start from. Or I could just find somewhere I really liked, stay for 2 months, then head to Europe, skipping South America and leaving that for another trip and time. So when I met Don, wheels in my head started turning.....
Don had met the 2 girls I was travelling with, and when we stopped to talk to him he said he had just bought an island here near Bocas. He then found there was a market for islands, and he goes "island searching", finds the owner, negotiates a price and finders fee and helps complete the deal. We talked for a little bit about buying islands, and starting companies, and about Bocas in general. So, I'm seriously considering staying here for a month or two to do some "island shopping", and help out Don with some marketing and sales while I find something I am interested in.
The next day we took a bus back to the Panama/Costa Rica border and crossed yet again. The border is a rusty old bridge crossing the river which devides the two countries. There is no walkway. Just the roadway, which is about as wide as a car. When there are large trucks on the bridge, you need to put your feet literally underneath the truck and walk at an angle, propping yourself against a decaying picket fence which has been erected at an angle for this purpose. You put most your weight on it, clearly seeing that if it goes, so do you. And its far down.
The farm is then a 15 minute cab ride from Sixola, then a 20 minute walk through the forest. Yeah, they're out there. Finca Lomas is the name of the farm, and it has no electricity, phones, or city water. All water is collected rain water, but there is a sink. Getting back to the farm, it was great to see my friends, Sam and Claudia, from my Mexico trip. We travelled together for a month, but in traveller time, thats like a lifetime. We spent the night catching up, and I just enjoyed the idea of being so far away from everything.
The next day Sam and Claudia wanted to come to Panama to do email, so here I am for the day, then I will go back to the farm for a couple days and return to Bocas to talk with Don some more.
"Upon those travelers who make their way without maps or guides, there breaks a wave of exhilaration wiht each unexpected change of plans. This exhiliration is not a whore who can be bought with money nor a neighborhood beauty who may be wooed. She (to persist in personifying the sensation as female) is a wild and sea-eyed undine, the darling daughter of adventure, the sister of risk, and it is for her rare and always ephemeral embrace, the temporary pressure she exerts on the membrane of ecstasy, that many men leave home" -Tom Robbins