Monday, 1 February, 1999. Boulder, Colorado.
After the last of my family left for the states I was on my own. My mom had given me a learn Spanish set of CDs, which I had been less than religious about listening to. Anything more complicated than asking where the bathroom is located is beyond my grasp. But it was a little late to fix things and I'd have to wing it from here.
My plan was to use public transportation as much as possible. I took a cab from my hotel to the bus station. In Costa Rica there isn't one central bus terminal like I was used to. Rather each destination is served by a different private bus line, each with their own bus station. At the bus station I asked for a ticket to Playa de Coco, a beach on the pacific coast of Costa Rica. I knew enough spanish to ask for the ticket, but not enough to understand the ticket agent when there wasn't a seat available on the direct bus. Finally she said "full" in english and I understood.
While waiting for the next bus, I meet two college students from Wisconsin who had been traveling in Costa Rica for a month and a half. Comparing their bags and mine, I quickly realized I had way too much stuff. Too late now.
After six hours on buses I made it to my destination Playa Hermosa. The buses in Costa Rica are pretty nice, realitively new coach style buses. There were people standing in the isles for most of the trip, but no farm animals! In Playa Hermosa I checked into the eclectic Cabinas Playa Hermosa. It wasn't the cheapest place, but it definately had the most character. That afternoon a pack of Howler monkeys fed in the trees above the front yard. I could see a baby monkey holding on to its mother's back. Unfortunately the dense tree cover made for very dim light for photos.
The primary reason for travelling to Playa Hermosa was to go diving. The diving was good, but no where near as beautiful as the Carribean. The visibility is closer to 20-25 feet, because of the dense plankton. The water is warm, but there is very little coral. Making up for this were the huge schools of larger fish. Some of the cool sea life we saw were a loggerhead turtle, many moray eels, sting rays, a 5' long greater amberjack (kinda like a tuna), and lots of puffer fish. The diving was pretty deep here, our deepest dive was 90'. I'd brought my own wet suit and scuba fins. Next time I'd just bring my mask and rent the rest.
My guide book didn't explain how I would get to Monteverde where I was going to see the cloud rain forest. But I asked around and was told the best way was to catch the 5AM bus. Whoa, that's early. I managed to communicate to the desk clerk that I wanted to check out early. At 4:45 I left my room, only to be stopped by the grounds keeper/security guard. He must have thought I was ransacking one of the rooms. He made it quite clear to me that I should wait while he went and talked to the manager. I'm thinking, here I am in a foreign country I'm going to jail or at the least miss the bus. But he returned quickly and escorted me out. Good thing he did since the gate to the road was padlocked. Crisis adverted, I caught the bus. On the bus to Playa Hermosa there were several Americans, or at least english speaking tourists. This bus was almost exclusively locals. I got dropped off at the turnoff for Monteverde. The road to Monteverde is legendary. The locals don't want it improved to avoid increased tourism. After waiting two and half hours, a bus to Monteverde came. It was full, but they let me on anyway. The bus was packed with tourists, mostly young backpacker types like me. The road was better than the guide books had led me to believe.
After dumping my stuff at my hotel/lodge, I caught a cab to the Santa Elena Rainforest Reserve. The interesting thing about the town of Santa Elena is that all the taxi cabs are four wheel drive trucks. Tells you a little something about the conditions of the local roads. I was hoping to see some exotic birds such as the Resplendent Quazital, which this the national bird of Nicaragua. But no such luck. Lots of smaller, less dramatic birds. The best bird life was at the hummingbird feeder at the visitor center. I bummed a ride from two Canadians to avoid walking the seven kilometers back into town.
In the morning meet at the offices of the Canopy Tour. The Canopy Tour is a ropes course set in the treetops of the rain forest. We rode the few kilometers out of town in a relic Mercedes-Benz army truck. Zipping between the tree platforms was fun, but the focus was much more on having fun, than seeing wildlife. As a climber I was a little underwelmed. We returned from the Canopy Tour with a few hours to kill before catching the return bus to San Jose. I'd meet Dawn that morning on the Canopy Tour. She was waiting for the same bus, so we decided to tour the Butterfly Gardens. Our tour guide was very knowledgeable and good at pointing out the different species. After the tour, we backtracked through the butterfly habitats taking pictures. Did you know that the average lifespan of a butterfly is just three weeks?
During the bus ride back, I was a little worried about my big backpack which had been placed in the under bus storage compartments. Unlike in the states, baggage collection is self-service and no one checks luggage tags. But we arrived in San Jose and all bag was there. Dawn was headed to a different hostel, so we parted ways. While waiting for a cab, a local woman was trying to get my attention. I had what looked like sun tan lotion all over the side of my pants. How the hell did this happen? She pointed to a water spigot and I proceeded to clean myself up. I'm sure all of you reading this, can see what happens next. I didn't. As I'm cleaning up, I suddenly think to check on my small backpack which I had set at my feet. Its gone! I run around looking for someone with it, but they're long gone. My camera (Nikon SLR), binoculars and assorted other incidentals were in the bag. Luckily my prescription sunglasses were in my pocket and my airline tickets, passport and money were all in a neck pouch.
Semi-panicked, I now feel very foreign and vulnerable. Its after dark, I'm in a crappy section of town (often how that's where the bus terminal is) and am the only non-local person in sight. I hail a cab and get the hell out of there. The youth hostel is a safe harbor. The staff speaks english. Once assigned to my room, my dorm mates comiserate with me and offer me a beer.
Dejected, I call home for moral support. My parents think I ought to file a police report, but I barely have the spanish skills to direct the taxi cab driver to my hotel. I decide to make the most of my last full day in Costa Rica. I had previously arranged to go white water rafting on the Pacure River. The rafting company picked me up at my hotel and off we went. The water temperature was reasonable and even I didn't get hypothermia. The river runs through a beautiful section of tropical rain forest. The scenery is the best of the various rivers that I've run over the years. All this scenery and the rapids are really good. Even considering this is the "dry" season, the water level was good and the river never became dull. The rafting company took good care us, feeding us breakfast enroute and lunch while on the river. The rafting company has a cool encampment on the river. Rafting was one of the best things I did in Costa Rica.
The San Jose airport gets confusing and crowded quickly. I needed most of the two hours I was there before the flight to stand in line. But I managed to keep all my posessions and arrive safely back in Austin, Texas.
Costa Rica is a beautiful country. And inspite of getting my bag stolen, is a great place to visit. I'd definately go again. Next time I'd stay for a minimum of two weeks and pack much lighter. I'd only take one medium sized backpack that would fit into the overhead bins on buses. And for someone who spoke little spanish, its a pretty easy place to survive. A lot of the locals understand english, especially in the tourist areas.