Ah… One of the banes of (well probably only bane) living in Costa Rica is the inevitable border crossing…
Now…. According to Costa Rica law, tourists are only granted a visa for 90 days to stay in the country. And when you enter the country you must have proof of leaving the country within that 90 day period whether by boat, train or plane…. If you plan on staying longer as I ended up doing, you must hop the border to a neighboring country every 3 months and stay out of the country for one day for each 30 day period you want your passport to be renewed for. For example, if I wanted a 90 day stamp again, I would have to stay out of the country for 72 hours, or 3 days…
Oh and by the way the 90 day stamp literally means 90 days, NOT 3 months… depending on the agent and how close you are to the end of the 90 days, they may bust out a calendar and count the days and if you are over 90, you could be looking at a hefty bribe, um, eh, I mean fine…
Yes… As you may have guessed by all the “……” in this particular post… lets just say things were not always done completely by the letter of the law… Every 90 days or so I would hop the border, but only for about a night and in one case only for a couple of hours….. I still managed to get 90 day stamps but again I wouldn’t say this will be the case for everyone… One of my friends in fact almost got deported because, even though he left Costa Rica and stayed out appropriately, he didn’t get his stamp back in and almost got the boot for it!
I never bribed anyone either… ok well there was the 3 coca-colas and bag of chips I bought for the Panama immigration in exchange for them stamping me back out of Panama after only a couple hours… But really, does that count? Funny thing about that is I was upfront with them from the start, said, look I only need a stamp in and out and I can be on my way. They said ok. I asked if they wanted anything to which they replied coca-colas. So off I trotted to do a little shopping and stopped in the grocery store and when they saw me come back, they invited me into the air conditioned office (it was sweltering hot outside with a huge line of tourists piling up to get in and out). We had our sodas and chips, I showed off my shopping and about 20 minutes later they stamped my passport, we said goodbye and on my way I went!
Another quick border crossing story… the crossing itself…!! There exists a bridge between Sixaola, Costa Rica and Guabito, Panama since a river divides the border of Costa Rica and Panama…. This bridge is about the oldest, most rusted out, shady, wood planks falling out beneath you kinda bridge you’ve ever seen! Walking across it was about the most nerve wracking experience ever and seeing the water rushing below as you made your way across the death trap was enough to almost topple me over!! Oh yes…. and my favorite part was as dozens of tourists crossed the bridge praying not to fall through the planks, huge semi-trucks would pass you by…. joy of all joys!! Enjoy the picts… There are only a couple as it was all I could stomach to do… LOL
Though I had an absolute fantastic time in Puerto Viejo and met a bunch of people whom I consider life-long friends, after about 10 months of living there, it was time to pack up and see more of the world once again. I still to this day miss a lot of Puerto Viejo and Costa Rica in general, namely the wildlife and captivating nature that surrounds you daily there…. But, if I had stayed there I wouldn’t have had the chance to continue traveling and exploring as I originally planned to do.
Truth be told as well, just as in many places you first go to then get to know better, the rose colored glasses came off. While there was and is a lot of beauty and great things about Costa Rica and Puerto Viejo, there are also a lot of drugs there. They are after all in the direct line of drug trafficking, so it’s really no big surprise, but still there gets a point where enough is enough. Looking around knowing that the majority of people were on one drug or another, just started to wear on me. And looking at people who had lived there forever and seeing how squirrely they had turned out, just made you wonder if that was the only future to look forward to. So for that reason and wanting to explore and travel more in general, I packed it up and headed out.
Since I’d already done Bocas del Toro, I decided to simply head back to David, then on to Panama City, then head to Portobello on the Caribbean coast of Panama to catch a sailboat through the San Blas Islands into Colombia…
So the travels continue…
“Pati, Pati, Pati” man: The story behind this guy is as follows. He was once a drug addict, was married and lived in town. One day he came across his wife sleeping with another man in their house. So, since he was drugged up he went crazy and killed both his wife and her lover. He was subsequently arrested and sent to jail. He found God in jail and upon his release opened his own church! He is now the pastor in this church and daily rides his bike back and forth around town selling “Patis” which are sort of like an empanada. You could hear him coming several hundred feet away as he called “Pati, Pati, Pati”!!
Machete blow-out: While out in town one night with friends, we were all at Mangos, I was hanging about outside and noticed that in between Mangos and the sandwich shop hiding in the shadows was a guy that lived in P.V. and frequently went to Tasty Waves. He did odd jobs around town and was quite the fit individual. Anyway, I noticed him cowering in the shadows so to speak so I asked if he was ok? He replied no, and that he had… let’s politely say… “soiled” himself… As he came out of the shadows I could first smell that he indeed did soil himself, but then I noticed that he had a huge slit in his left shoulder blade that was quite gnarly looking and bloody! I asked what happened and he was a bit incoherent, so I called my other friend along to see if he could help. Eventually the ambulance was called as were the cops. However, the ambulance never arrived because of the cost involved to do so, so only the cops came and offered that the guy take a taxi to the hospital to get sewn up! Of course the injured guy would have to pay for the taxi ride himself… Anyway, so the final story of what happened finally came out like this… The guy that got hurt, let’s call him Paul, was apparently doing drugs on the hood of a car parked across from Mangos… The owner of the car, a well respected Rasta man of the village saw him and asked him not to do the drugs on his car… Paul however, being high on apparently several drugs at the time got in a huff about being asked to stop his drug use and went to his bicycle to grab his machete. He marched back to the Rasta man flailing his machete around in an attempt to frighten the Rasta man away. The Rasta man however simply grabbed the machete from Paul’s hand and smacked Paul on his left shoulder blade with the flat end of the machete just to scare Paul out of his lunacy. Being extremely sharp however, the machete blade still managed to slice a huge gash on Paul’s shoulder. And well, needless to say, this scared Paul so much that he literally sh*t himself…
Cannibal??: To my knowledge this individual was not on any particular drug… However he was known around town as the dog eater and potentially people eater too… He was a wild looking individual and literally sharpened his teeth with a file so that they resembled that of a cat or the canines of a dog… NOT kidding either!! You would see him wandering around town often, and though I’d never witnessed him doing anything crazy, every time a posting went up around town about a missing little dog, you just HAD to wonder…
Pipa man: Known also as Guapo (Spanish for handsome) this older Rasta man was a staple all over town! Very nice and always happy (offered to marry me daily!) he would come around and sell pipas, or bananas, or limes to local businesses. His main crop of choice to sell however was the pipa… Pipas are a cousin to coconuts and are known to have healing powers in their milk. They grow just like coconuts and are often served with their tops hacked off and a straw. Personally I never liked the taste of pipas, but it’s one of those things you have to try “when in Rome” :). Anyway Guapo would frequently come by basically trading his pipas for beer and though several businesses would be fully stocked with pipas that he had collected the previous week, they would still accept more so to give Guapo his beer…
Again, because I lived in Puerto Viejo for an extended period of time, it’s hard to recall everything, so on this page I will simply mention my favorite things about Puerto Viejo and why I lived there for as long as I did… The below is in no particular order..
- Absolutely my favorite place to live! Just down the street from Tasty Waves in Cocles beach, Cabinas Garibaldi was absolutely fantastic!!!! I can’t say enough about this place!!! They have short and long term rentals available and the family that owns the land and properties lives on site! Mancho (aka Martin) is the son of the elder woman Dona Rosa who originally owned the place. Martin along with his mom and wife take care of the property and no one messes with Martin! He once noticed someone trying to break into one of the bungalows and he chased him down with a machete in hand! No one since that event has tried to rob any of the places in Cabinas Garibaldi since:) Why do I love the place so much?? Simple: private apartment with kitchen, bathroom, hot water, WiFi, across the street from beach (literally) all for about $260 a month!!!!! The people were fantastic, my neighbors were great! Dona Rosa even did our bed laundry weekly… just superior and super place!!!
- Howler monkeys, spider monkeys, capuchins, toucans, sloths, agouti, iguanas… Literally everywhere you looked nature was alive and beautiful around you!! Puerto Viejo literally was the perfect blend of beach and Jungle right at your finger tips… The nature there is just so captivatingly beautiful and alive! So splendid!
- Just north of Puerto Viejo was playa negra, the black beach, and as you moved into town the sand turned white all the way down the coast line to Manzanillo, the town furthest south in Costa Rica on the Caribbean coast. The sands were wonderful and the water was always warm!! Great snorkeling and scuba diving areas too! Only word of warning: beware the currents as they could be quite strong! Oh and lots of great surfing for those who enjoy either surfing or watching the hot bodies of surfers;)
- Everything was accessible by bike or public bus!! I never for one second missed having to drive a car anywhere!! I loved simply riding around town, to and from work, etc on a bike! And for those times where I needed to get out of town, public busses did the trick.
Caribe del Sol
- Located just outside my house in Cabinas Garibaldi (aka Anna’s front yard) was the best restaurant Caribe del Sol!! Great Italian cuisine and local casado menu!! The floor of the place was all sand so it felt as if you were just dining on the beach with a view of the beach while not getting soaked by sea spray:) The people were great and actually I just heard that the owner of the place married his long-time girlfriend (my friend as well) and moved to the States! So hopefully the place is still as tasty as I recall it being!
- I spent some time riding with the Caribe horse club and loved every second of it! You just simply can’t beat the views from horseback and the places you can get from the seat of a horse! Great jungle and beach riding on safe and fun horses!!
Dogs, dogs and more dogs!!
- Ah, I LOVE animals!! So to live in a place where all animals basically were wild and free, I absolutely adored it even more!! You see, while each dog had an owner, they were allowed to run free daily and do whatever they pleased! Run along the beach, beg for food, run rampant on the streets, etc. At night however, they all always seemed to simply disappear since most had an actual home where they would stay at during the night. Or if the owners were going into town, the dogs would accompany them and chill with them in town before turning in for the night! Each dog had their own personality and name of course, and you literally greeted them as if they were people wandering around town! Now of course, this kind of life for dogs while great was also rough… Many did get hit by cars, damaged by other dogs, get mange attacks, etc. and they were treated as dogs, not necessarily as family members as we tend to do in the States. So if an animal was injured, they wouldn’t necessarily be taken to the vet. It was just part of the jungle life!
- Ok, now the following is not in any way intended to be racist, so I don’t want to hear about people complaining about it being so! If anything didn’t work well or wasn’t quite working as it should, it was called “Jungle”… For example, the pool table in Tasty Waves was called a “jungle table” since it wasn’t quite level. “Jungle coffee” referred to coffee made in the morning that had floating ants in it because I forgot to put the sugar away in the fridge! (First time that happened I was appalled! Second and subsequent times I simply scooped the little buggers out and enjoyed my coffee:) Plumbing issues? “Jungle plumbing”…. you get the point!
Lazy Mon Sundays
- I’m sure I’ve mentioned somewhere else already how every night was a different businesses night to draw in the tourists and crowds. Well Sunday night was dedicated to the Lazy Mon hostel and restaurant almost smack “downtown” Puerto Viejo. It is basically an open-mic night where people can come to perform. Truth be told, it’s really more of a usual crew that come and perform for the tourists and my absolute favorite part of that show is the fire show!!! Several men and women dancing to music while twirling various objects on fire! Absolutely mesmerizing and was always a thrill to watch!!
A REAL community
- People took care of each other in Puerto Viejo in a way that I hadn’t yet experienced. People supported each other, their businesses, causes, etc. You really couldn’t get away with much! If you were a bad customer, didn’t pay your bill (many places allowed locals to run tabs and pay at later dates) or tabs or tried to screw someone over, everyone heard about it immediately and you would be shut out just as fast. Of course not every society is perfect, but the people were always friendly. People would look you in the eye and say good morning to you daily (imagine!!)!! The sense of community there was brilliant. You felt as part of something, and you did your part to take care of others as they did for you
- “Ahora” in Spanish means “right now”… This is a very general term in Puerto Viejo and really Costa Rica in general… If you want something done or are waiting for the bus and ask “when will xyz happen?” and are told “hora”… that could be anywhere from “now” to two weeks from now… if you are told “ahora” it could be anywhere from “right now” to about a day from now… Love that relaxed nature!!
- I don’t know what the heck they do to their meat but MAN, I absolutely LOVE street meat!!! Mind you, the street meat vendors only come out on the street as the sun starts to set because lord knows it’s way too hot to stand over a BBQ in the heat of the day, and luckily they stay open until the wee hours of the morning for all those stumbling out of the bars in search of something yummy to eat. Basically they only sell chicken or beef on a skewer. Sounds super simple, I know, but the spicy sauce they put on it is absolutely to die for!! You can get it extra spicy or just regular spicy (I always got it extra spicy!!)!! And I promise this basis of critique on the food is not because I was always drunk when eating!! There were in fact several times that I went into town just to purchase a couple skewers of street meat spicy chicken for my dinner completely sober!! My mouth is salivating at the very thought…
I’ve got to mention Tasty Waves… Of course there are several other great bars and restaurants to be at in town (Lazy Mon for open mic-night on Sunday nights; Tex-Mex if you like to get high any time of the day or night; Mango’s is great for any night of the week to chill with a drink and friends) but I’ve got to mention my favorite: Tasty Waves Cantina.
Located just 2 km south of the main town of Puerto Viejo on Cocles beach, Tasty Waves is a fun mix of relaxation, good food, good company, incredible beach views and of course, Tasty Tuesday! You see, each place in P.V. has one night a week at least where everyone goes there to support the business or hang out in general. Lazy Mon is Sunday night, Tasty Waves had a movie night Mondays, Tasty Waves had their Tasty Tuesday, their largest party of the week every Tuesday, and well… the rest of the week it was generally to Mango’s…
There is actually another bar that was mostly where the locals went called Johnny’s… Anyway, I would advise to stay away from there as many times the locals are packing heat and aren’t afraid to suddenly bust out their guns during altercations… not kidding either! There was one time I was standing in line for the bathroom and suddenly the sound of gunshots rang inside just on the dance floor… Everyone ran out of the building and those waiting in line for the bathroom with me dropped to the floor…. I on the other hand, didn’t quite register that it was in fact a GUN that went off… so I stood there looking around thinking WTF?? Until it dawned on me to which I slowly crouched down myself… Anyway I digress
Anyway, I definitely recommend that if you are ever in Puerto Viejo, stop by Tasty Waves to see my boys Bryton and Jackson, have a beer and a delicious taco, hang your flip flops on the boneyard wall and be sure to join in the party on Tuesday night, where you may “have 99 problems but a b*tch” won’t be one!