Tag Archives: Puerto Jimenez

Kayak to Koh Nangyuan

Off the North West of the island of Koh Tao, there lies another much smaller privately owned island of Koh Nangyuan.  Since being on Koh Tao for the past couple of months now, I’ve always thought to go visit Koh Nangyuan as I’d heard spectacular things about it.  Of course it has popular spots for diving and snorkeling, but it also has a bit of hiking and provides beautiful views looking back on Koh Tao.  To get there however one must either go on a snorkel/diving tour or hire a taxi boat.  Since I was on my own I couldn’t justify paying the price for a taxi boat, however I knew that Anna (my neighbor in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica and whom I’d visited in Scotland and she’d visited me in Italy) was coming for a 5 week trip to Thailand.  So I waited for her to come to do some of the activities that aren’t near as fun solo as with a traveling buddy.

When Anna first arrived we were absolutely lazy.  I stopped doing Muay Thai, we slept in until 10 every day, had cocktails nightly on Sairee beach and generally lounged about.  When I’m on my own I’m in travel mode which means saving every penny and taking advantage of every day.  But when a friend arrives who is on vacation mode, the spending increases and the relaxing skyrockets!  Isn’t that what people do on vacation??  After the first week however we snapped to and started actually planning activities that extended beyond reading books and napping on the beach.  Afterall, there is literally so much to do and see on this teeny 21 square km island that it’s impressive!

One of the activities I saved for her visit was to visit Koh Nangyuan.  But instead of going there the “conventional” way, we opted to kayak there :).  Deb and Rick (friends I’d made on the island who own my favorite coffee and sandwich shop on the island, Through the Looking Glass) suggested where to go to rent the kayaks.  So semi-early one day after a couple of cups of coffee, Anna and I made our way to Wind Beach for the kayak rental.  For 600 baht we rented a double kayak complete with life jackets and a dry bag for the entire day.  We were supposed to give something as a deposit for the rental (passport- though recently I heard it’s actually illegal for people in Thailand to hold your passport, monetary deposit, room key, something!) but as we didn’t arrive THAT prepared, after a few minutes the guy simply said, “no problem, just write your name, where you stay on the island and where you from”.  Good thing!

We packed the kayak with our stuff and a large plastic bottle of water, snapped on the life vests and headed out to sea!  I’d only done sea kayaking once before in my life and that was years ago in Puerto Jimenez, Costa Rica in a single kayak to boot.  Riding in a double kayak is a teeny bit different.  First off communication is KEY!!  For if one person is paddling right and the other left, well no one would get anywhere!  Since Anna is similar in nature to myself however, even when we did goof up or get out of sync, we simply laughed it up and got back in communication.  It did take probably the first 10 minutes or so for us to completely organize ourselves with our respective duties on the kayak (Anna in the back would call out commands- left, right, steering!!- and I in the front would look out for obstacles) but once we did we rocked it out!

The morning sea while not insanely choppy did have quite a few waves to overcome.  The channel between Koh Tao and Koh Nangyuan is often frequented by passing dive boats, tour boats and taxi boat traffic which added to the waves, but we took it all in stride.  Currents were another thing to contend with as we found ourselves often being spun toward land so we had to paddle to the left much more than to the right, which of course exhausted that side faster.

We crossed the channel safely however and then were faced with a new question… Where are we supposed to park this thing over there??  We weren’t given any instruction when we left so who knew where it was appropriate to land… The first little bay area we reached, just next to the pier where the boats came in, was where we decided to go and we very slowly and carefully navigated our way to shore.  I say “slowly and carefully” because just beneath the surface were tons and tons of coral and sea slugs/cucumbers!  We had to paddle very shallowly as well so we wouldn’t knock any corals and navigating became a bit trickier to avoid the living marine life.  We thankfully made it to shore without incident to marine life however and pulled the kayak to dry land.

It just seems that each beach that I’ve been to in Thailand just gets more and more beautiful than the next.  Koh Nangyuan is no exception!!  The structure of the island is essentially two small island connected by a sandbar which on either side exists beautiful ocean bays full of a ridiculously lush array of sea life!  We immediately had to get in the water to cool off and do a bit of snorkeling.  The snorkel didn’t last terribly long that first time however because the fish in that particular bay kept nibbling at us… Guess they knew we were new to the island, lol!!

As we emerged from the first “dip in the pool” we were approached by a Thai gentlemen who obviously worked on the island.  He asked if we were the ones with the kayak and then said we had to each pay 100 baht to be on the island…  It was then that we were told that this island was privately owned and hence there was a fee to walk about it and play in the waters surrounding it… We did come with plenty of money, but it would have been nice to know in advance of this extra charge.  So I’m sharing it for future travelers!  Also, I don’t know if for the taxi boats, if the charge to get there includes or not the 100 baht fee to be on the island… In any event, just be aware of this additional cost.

Moving on.  The small island bit to the South had a walking trail that led around the edge of the island to a beautiful viewpoint, so we headed off on it to check it out.  Mind you, it is possible to sleep on the island so as we skirted along the very shady (i.e. sketchy) barely still standing wooden plank path, we were passing several pleasant-looking bungalows.  We went to the viewpoint that was on the southernmost tip of the island and then had to turn back as the wooden path was falling apart and almost demolished in bits beyond a point, and headed up the trail that led to the top of the island for another viewpoint.

Though it was very hot and the walk was completely uphill, it really wasn’t a terrible walk by any means and not terribly high either.  The only struggle really was competing for space at the top on the rocks to be able to take pictures without other in them!  There seemed to be quite a few impatient people really who wanted to simply scramble to the top, took ages getting “just the right shot” with them in them and then hauled down.  So needless to say it took us a bit of time to get some shots, and once completed we leisurely made our way down.

At this point it was time for a nibble of food and as we sat down at the only restaurant on the island with our plastic water bottle in tow, it was then we noticed the signs just about everywhere that read “NO PLASTIC BOTTLES”…. Ooooppsss!!!!  Apparently plastic containers are NOT allowed on the island and all beverages from the restaurant are served in glass containers.  Again, just another little tip for future travelers:)  We were never yelled at for having the bottle however and we made a very big point of being sure to carry the bottle home with us, regardless of it being empty.

After the nibble it was time to check out the North end of the sandbar to see what kind of snorkeling action we could get there.  Don’t worry mothers we did wait about a half hour after food to go swimming 😉  The North end of the sandbar was lined on both sides with umbrellas and beach chairs and seeing as the sun was out in full force, we opted to pay the 150 baht for the set-up.  This part of the island was by far my favorite and it as quite evident it was the favorite of just about everyone else there too.  The water was crystal clear and reminded me of the waters I’d seen at some of the beaches on the Island of Elba off the Tuscan coast.  I lovingly started to refer to that bay as the “kiddie pool” as the waters were very calm, quite deep, but so clear you could simply stand on the edge and see all the marine life.  All sorts of fish (including puffers!!), sea urchins, anemones an cucumbers could be found in a relatively small area.  The bay was large enough however to accommodate several dozens of snorkelers and several classes of divers working on their refresher course.  It was absolutely spectacular snorkeling that I spent at least an hour exploring.

The rest of the day was simply spent reading under our shade, dipping in the kiddie pool to cool off, snorkeling and generally relaxing.  Around 4 we decided to head back to Koh Tao to turn in the kayak and though the waters were calmer in the afternoon, we did have some harrowing moments as the boat traffic (we must have hit rush hour) was a bit on the ridiculous side!  But after about 45 minutes and dodging about a dozen boats or taxis, we made it safe to shore and headed straight to the Wind Beach bar for a nice cold beer.  We watched the sunset while sipping on our beers (though it was quite cloudy at that point so not the best sunset sadly) and I even bought a beach dress from a traveling sales lady.  Though we were both exhausted from our day of activities, we had plans for the night as well… It was time to check out the Lady Boy Cabaret!

On to Night with the Ladies

Back to Thailand

Advertisements

Boquete, Panama

After a boat ride, taxi and two separate buses I arrived in the cool (literally) little town of Boquete.  Nestled between mountain ranges, this adorable town was quite a sight to behold!  I can still recall sitting on the bus, completely surrounded by nothing but the view of mountain sides, when all of a sudden the view opened up and ahead was Boquete.  It literally reminded me of some little obscure mountain town in Europe, quietly slumbering, hiding its secrets in the valley.

I stepped off the bus at the main square and started my hunt for a place to stay.  There were several hostels along the main “highway” that looked quite nice, but a little out of my preferred price range.  I had immediately decided to stay in Boquete for 5 days to a week so I wanted to find somewhere that I could get comfortable in for a bit.  Off the main road I came across a house that had a little sign hanging on the front.  The building to the right looked like a personal home, while the building to the left had 2 doors with numbers on them.  I wish I had taken note as to the name of the place so I could share it with future travelers to this area, but sadly I did not.

After speaking with the family living in the main house about accommodations in one of their 4 apartments, I paid for 5 nights at $8.00 a night.  That $8 a night bought me my own private room with queen size bed, little kitchen, private bath and even a little TV.  Sadly the television only got a few channels and of course all were in Spanish, but at least it made for some entertaining distraction when I needed some.

Not a whole lot of excitement occurred in Boquete for me really.  I used my time there to unwind a bit and get some essential things done before traveling on.  For example laundry and a very much-needed pedicure!  Hey, a girl still has to keep herself up regardless of where she goes:).  I spent my days walking around the town and exploring new areas of the town each day, which also served as a good way to get exercise.  Every day, and on some days all day, we had thunderstorms, the kind that rattle the very core of you shaking you from the inside out!  Now I absolutely adore thunderstorms and was quite happy to be somewhere with consistent ones for  a bit.  During my lunch and dinner I would turn on the television and watch Spanish Soap Operas, which let me tell you are quite dramatic and funny in how dramatic they are.  The days basically passed like this with a walk everyday for at least a couple of hours, otherwise killing my time with books or thoughts of where to go next.

What was interesting about Boquete was the great extreme of people present.  It is obvious that Boquete has turned into the American Retiree place to go.  For one, it’s cheap and in Panama in general it is quite easy to become a resident.  All that is required is proof of steady income, which if you have your social security check, you get in immediately.  What was funny to me though was the great divide in the town.  You had your Panamanians, your Panamanian Tribe people who were easily spotted due to their traditional clothing that they wore daily, and then you had the Gringos (i.e. the expats living off their Social Security checks out of the Country where the cost of living is lower).  It was humorous to watch as the Gringo gang walked around the town.  Their dogs were all on leashes (every other dog was street smart and ran around free), they all walked in packs (the people, not the dogs) and English was the only language spoken or attempted (at least in all those who I noticed).  I did find it quite sad that these people didn’t seem to make an attempt to learn the language.  For if I were to permanently move to another Country, at least I could try to show respect to them by learning their language.  Especially since I was in effect there taking advantage of their cheap standards of living…. But I digress.

Along this point I did myself look into a Spanish school in Boquete.  As I probably mentioned before, I only spoke conversational Italian prior to coming to Latin America and while it was slowly changing over from Italian to Spanish, I thought some school would probably be a good idea to help facilitate and speed the process of speaking Spanish better.  Boquete though was not somewhere I wanted to be for a long period of time though.  It served its purpose well as a relaxing and quiet retreat, but knowing myself I knew there just wasn’t enough of a life there to keep myself busy for an extended period of time.  Plus it was chilly there at night and sometimes during the day when the sun failed to make it through the cloud cover and I’m really a warm-weather kind of person so staying in cold climates can only be tolerated for so long!  Interestingly enough, the school in Bocas (Habla Ya!) had a sister school in Bocas del Toro, Panama on the Caribbean coast.  I had heard a lot about Bocas so thought perhaps I would check out the school there and if I liked the town would stay there for the classes.  So after my 5 nights in relaxing Boquete, I moved on to Bocas del Toro.

David, Panama

Since being on the road I tried to make it a point to NOT be on the road… But in David, it was certainly hard to do!  David is a hustle-bustle city much like ones you would find the in the States.  Traffic, roads filled to the hilt with cars, wilderness stripped away, or in other words a typical settled city.  There isn’t a whole lot to do in David.  It really is just a stop over city to get you to your next destination.

I got off at the main terminal in David and true to my stubborn nature, I figured I could easily walk to my destination for the night:  The Purple House hostel.  I had earlier acquired a map of Panama at the tourist stop at the border and on the back it had a detailed map of David.  No worries!  I could find this place without help!

About a half hour to 40 minutes later, I threw in the towel of submission… I had been wandering around with all my things in tow and apparently was also going in the wrong direction.  The map and the streets (when they had street signs on them) seemed to coincide with the right direction, but then all of a sudden they wouldn’t!  Street signs would appear that weren’t anywhere on the map according to where I was supposed to be, but then a block over the signs would coincide properly so I thought I was going in the right direction!  Well, apparently not at all and as I said earlier I eventually submitted and walked into a used clothing store where a woman and 6 young boys were chattering away.  I plunked the map on the table and asked desperately “Donde estamos??”  (i.e. where are we??).  The boys immediately set to figuring out where we were on the map, turning it sideways, upside down, right side up and down again several times.  There apparent confusion indeed was a little worrisome as they didn’t seem to know where we were either on the map, but then again it made me feel a bit better about not being able to get my way around with it as well!

About 5-10 minutes later the eldest of the boys (probably about 10) declared he knew where we were on the map and asked where I wanted to go.  After giving me directions (I was 12 blocks in the opposite direction from where I was supposed to be!) I thanked them all and headed out again.  About 3 blocks into my walk, two of the boys from the shop, the eldest and a friend of his, came running up behind me and declared that they would take me to the house themselves.  How freaking cute!!

True to their word they walked ahead of me picking their roads carefully and avoiding the traffic where and when possible.  I was definitely thankful for them as guides at this point due to my mind and body getting very tired and neither wanting to think anymore.  We arrived at The Purple House hostel and as a thank you, I gave them both a dollar.  Ironically enough, I came to find out that if I had taken a taxi from the terminal to the house, it would have also cost $2!  This version however definitely got my exercise in for the day:)

The Purple House hostel in David is EXACTLY as it sounds… PURPLE!  The walls are purple, the sheets are purple the cups, plates, mugs, folders, towels, dog, shower curtains, or in other words everything is purple!  Ok, for those who were paying attention, the dog isn’t purple (her name is cute-si) but her collar is;)  The woman who owns the hostel is from NYC and has been living down here since 2004, I believe.  She has also lived in Israel and the Greek Isles prior to here, working as a runner in Israel for the original Purple House hostel there.  (Side note: a runner is a person who goes to the bus stations and waits for backpacker arrivals to take them to a particular hostel or to sell them on their hostel.)  True to the New Yorker way of life, she is a tough cookie!  Very friendly and very accommodating, but no one you would ever want to cross so to speak.

After settling in, I met a few girls from the States and joined them in a walk  to the movie theater to watch a movie at the Multicine National Theater.  A movie theater?!?!?!?!?!  I literally almost died when I heard them suggest to go and see a movie!!  In a theater no less!!  I absolutely adore movies and with the traveling, it’s obviously been hard to watch movies at all or to even see a television, let alone go to a theater!!  I can say for sure that I honestly haven’t missed TV at all, but movies on a big screen I do get nostalgic for.  In any event, we watched “Friends with Benefits” and cabbed it back to the hostel as it was pouring rain when we got out of the theater.

Once we arrived back, ironically once more, I met a couple who had been living in Puerto Jimenez for several months!  She was the schoolmaster and her husband was at that time still looking for work but being the “house-mom” in between.  I just couldn’t believe that we had been in the same place together for at least a week and yet I had never run into them before!  But, I suppose it isn’t that uncommon as there are areas that are more residential than the “tourist” areas that those who live there wouldn’t have any necessity to go in to.  In any event, they were down in David for their 90 day Visa renewal and were planning to stay a few days longer.  I dined with them that night chatting away about Puerto Jimenez experiences.  One of the things I recall the most was their thoughts on the Macaws… They cracked me up as they started in on how wonderful and beautiful and majestic they seemed at first, but how now they couldn’t stand the loud, obnoxious, always dropping almond seeds on our roof at all hours BIRDS!  LOL!!  I guess everything can lose its charm… Though I still maintain that they are wonderful creatures that though they may have their annoyances, we are better off with them than without them!

I stayed only a single night on this trip (ironically again:  I am currently back at the Purple House Hostel while writing this though it’s been 9 months since being here!  I warned you all that this blog wouldn’t always be up to date!!)  and the next day made my way to Boca Chica on the Pacific coast of Panama.

Sea Kayaking

By far the time spent in Puerto Jimenez was the most jam-packed with activities each day!  Perhaps it was simply because of the company I was surrounded with and because of my resounding stubbornness to make sure I didn’t miss a single activity… Either way, looking back on my time spent there, it really was quite amazing how many different things I was engaged in.

On this final day in Puerto Jimenez, the blistered and bitten Belgian guy did as he said he would: he sat all day on the steps of The Corner hostel and read a book.  Myself, Jul and the other Belgian however decided to go sea kayaking!  Now I had never been sea kayaking before, just kayaking in the calm waters of a lake back in North Carolina.  But as the waters of the gulf were not at all choppy, the experience was quite the same as it was in the lake: calm and easily navigable!

After negotiating with a local for a good price on kayak rentals, the three of us headed out to sea!  We navigated along the coast of Puerto Jimenez heading south right to the mouth of the river that Jul and I had swam across just days before.  Along the way, a sea turtle was spotted hanging about on the surface of the water just before diving below the surface never to be spotted again.  We paddled our way through the river for several hours, often having to duck and squeeze our way under branches and fallen trees that were in our way.  Not really knowing where we were going, we simply followed the leader until the river literally narrowed and eventually came to a dead-end where it was no longer possible to pass!  There were tiny little waterfalls coming from the land that dumped into the river but otherwise we found ourselves in a little alcove surrounded only by land!  “Macgyver”, who true to form was always up to something adventurous got out of his kayak to see if there was anywhere on land to go.  Perhaps for the better there wasn’t any path or place to easily walk around without creating one ourselves with the use of a machete (which he forgot to bring on this one occasion).

So without anywhere else to go, we turned around and headed back to Puerto Jimenez.  Again, it probably was all for the better because once again the tide had risen (you would have thought we would have learned our lesson from the day before, but NO!!) making the trip back even more treacherous!!  The tight squeezes we had to make on the way up the river were even tighter on the way back, but luckily in some cases a little easier as branches we once had to go under were now completely submerged!

As we navigated our way back, we all stated chatting about the good times we had experienced in Puerto Jimenez and eventually started chatting about our favorite person there: Berta.  “F” always called Berta “Mama” even though she wasn’t of any relation to him, and with this idea in mind, “Macgyver” decided we should make up a song and dedicate it to Berta as a final farewell to her.  Completely surrounded by nothing but jungle and the creatures that resided there, the three of us started singing at the top of our lungs “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen because of the lyrics dedicated to “mama”, of course changing the lines to suit and fit a song to be dedicated to Berta!  It was quite humorous to say the least, and had others been in the vicinity they definitely would have thought we were all completely nuts!!  We did actually come up with several original lines to the tune of Queen’s song that we memorized and planned to perform to her later knowing full well that she wouldn’t have been able to understand them anyway (since they were all in English)!!

The sun was once again starting to set and the currents in the river as we approached the ocean were tough to push through.  But eventually as the first stars started to become visible, we made it back out into the gulf and as storm clouds closed in on us from all directions with lightning and spurts of thunder, yet surprisingly still calm waters, we made it back to the rental facility and dropped off the kayaks.

We were several hours past the time we said we would return the kayaks, as it was pitch black when we did finally get there, and the ticos were outside eagerly waiting for us.  I sometimes wonder if they would have sent a search party had we not returned that night, or if they would have figured either #1 that we simply stole the kayaks or #2 that we were just crazy gringos and if we got lost/injured/died it would have been our own idiotic fault!  Luckily none of those scenarios occurred however!!

That night was the final one for all 4 of us (Jul, the two Belgians and myself).  The next day we were all heading out on the early boat back to Golfito and heading in our separate ways.  We celebrated our last night with beers and good conversation but sadly had all neglected to remember to sing our “original” song to Berta:(.  Such is life as the adventure continues…

On to On the Road Again

On to Puerto Viejo (A Sunny Town)

Back to Costa Rica

Gators and Rest!

The following day was a lazy one to say the least after having completely spent all energy resources the day before!  But of course though it wasn’t completely without some activity or another…

Having missed the previous trips to see the gators, Jul wanted to go check them out so I opted to join yet again, this time armed with my camera!  Honestly I don’t know what time of day it was that we set off to see the gators again, but when we did get there true to the times before there were several in the little slow river.  At the “end” of the trail there were two men on the other side of the fence maintaining the landscape of the property that lay beyond and they were all too quick to show us their “crocodile hunting” skills by luring the gators toward the bank of the river so we could get some good pictures.

Below are the images I took that day!  The two tico men said that there are two large gators (the one on the bank was one of them) who ruled all the others.  In fact, as we were watching them all there was at one point when a smaller gator came over to check out the commotion that the two men were making to lure the large gator on the bank, but the minute it got too close, the larger gator simply turned in its direction and the smaller one quickly swam away!  Quite impressive what a single look can do!

Not much else happened that day, except that the two Belgium Macgyver boys returned from their grand adventure in Corcovado Park.  While the one was quite happy with their adventure, the other (less of a Macgyver type) was VERY happy to be back!!  Poor thing he was bitten up to pieces by bugs and had huge blisters on his feet that almost completely disabled him from being able to walk!  He swore that the next day he would simply sit and read and do absolutely nothing else, which true to his word was all he did the next day!

The evening was spent dining and drinking with Jul and “Macgyver” at a karaoke bar listening to the off-key melodies of the locals:)  The adventures of Day 5 were just around the corner…

Beach Adventure

The next morning started bright and early.  The couple that had arrived the day before had set out for their private tour of Corcovado Park with “F” and the Belgian boys had already set out the day before for the park, so it was only Jul and I at the hostel with Berta.  Jul had actually gotten up in the morning on this day and since we were the only two there, we ended up joining forces to explore new areas of the town.

After a breakfast of coffee and fresh, delicious pineapple, we decided to go on a hike to a beach about 7 kilometers from the town.  Jul had heard of the beach from others as a particularly nice one so we opted to give it a shot.  Berta suggested that we ride bikes there, which in retrospect ended up being advice that we should have followed but of course didn’t, thus beginning the grand adventure for the day….

We took off on foot heading South toward the road that led to the beach.  However, instead of taking the “long way” (i.e. correct road), we thought to take what we thought would be a shortcut.  Instead we ended up at a deadend and had no choice but to trespass on private properties, cross fields with knee-high grasses (perfect for snakes to hide in) and shimmy under barbwire fences to get back on the road we should have just taken in the first place.   In any event, after perhaps a half hour of “misguided” time we got back on track and set off for the rest of the hike.

We crossed property after property, some brand new, others quite old and shabby, through back roads of the Osa Peninsula.  Not too much wildlife was spotted on our walk but certainly some interesting sights.  The first was of a young girl, probably 3 years old standing in the front yard swinging a machete around as if it were a stick she was playing with.  Amazing our cultural differences!!  While that sight nearly gave me a heart-attack, I very much doubt locals would flutter an eyelash at it.  The other sight was quite humorous.  As we walked past one of the older and poorer homes there were two young boys on the front porch, probably 4 or so.  One was squatting on the porch playing with something on the ground and the other was proudly standing at the front of the porch buck naked and peeing off the edge into the grass below.  The best part of that was that all the while he was peeing, he was watching us walk by and had the biggest smile across his face as he waved excitedly to us.  We chuckled to ourselves and simply waved back, returning the greeting in waves that we were given!

I’m not entirely sure how much time it took to get to the beach, just that we finally made it at some point and it couldn’t have come at a better time!  We were both getting rather tired from walking the entire way (we tried hitchhiking several times with no success) and welcomed the rest that the water and beach provided.  We took some time to swim in the water relax and rejuvenate our spirits.  Looking back now, I can’t really say that this particular beach was really that spectacular, but I do recall that the waves were quite impressive as many avid surfers were also out enjoying the gift of the waves.  Either way though the coolness of the water was definitely welcome after the long walk there!!

After some time swimming both Jul and I were quite hungry and decided to find somewhere to eat.  We walked along the beach, thinking that surely there would be somewhere that we could grab something… Unfortunately we were quite wrong in thinking this as well!!  We walked and walked and walked along the beach reaching one place after another that was either closed, didn’t serve food, served food but at a phenomenal expense, or simply wasn’t a restraunt!!  By the time we thought to give up the hunt we figured that we were probably almost back to the town of Puerto Jimenez and that we should just continue on along the beach because surely we would end up there soon!

Wrong again!!  Or rather, we forgot one teeny tiny detail… Yes, the beach did eventually connect from where we were on the beach (7 Km South) to the beach along the town of Puerto Jimenez, but it was separated by a river about 2-300 meters wide!!  So there we were, we had finally made it back to a point on the beach where we could see the town but all we had to do was cross the river… Now, had we hit it at the right time, the tide would have been low enough to simply walk or wade across, but of course since it was late in the evening (yes even the sun was starting to fade so it was about 4:30-5 pm at this point with us both only having eaten breakfast and thankfully a glass of water offered by a nice home owner along our way back) the tide was quite high making it impossible to walk or wade through…

So we had a choice: either walk all the way back down the beach, back to the road on which we had walked earlier to the town which would have certainly taken us several hours and we would have had to walk in the dark, OR swim across the mouth of the river to the mangroves and private house across the way.

We chose plan B… Swim across the mouth of the river.  I had luckily brought a plastic bag with me that contained sunscreen and stuffed my clothes (keeping the bathing suit on of course) and shoes in it.  After everything was secure, I walked into the water with my bag overhead and started to swim.  The plan was to swim to the mangroves that were closer to us than the shore and after who knows how long of kicking and paddling and back-stroking and praying we both made it to the mangroves!  We stopped there for several minutes just trying to catch our breath and rest for a little while.  While I obviously do know how to swim, I hadn’t done that much swimming in a long time and this particular swim was quite challenging as I had to keep one arm overhead holding all my clothes and the current from the river kept pushing us (or trying to) out toward the ocean.

But the worst was definitely over and I was quite thankful for it!!  Truthfully there were several moments while I was kicking my way across where I thought “WTF was I thinking?!?!?!”  and several times I wondered if I should just turn back!!  And there were several times that I wondered what kind of critters were swimming in the waters with or below me, but luckily I kept with it and little by little keeping patient and calm I made it across!

We weren’t out of trouble just yet though as the mangroves were submerged in the river water quite a bit as well, and I still couldn’t reach the bottom of the river/ocean so had to hold myself above water my clinging onto the mangroves and standing on large exposed roots.  And Jul had so wonderfully mentioned that snakes and potentially crocs could be found in the mangroves so there was definitely much more motivation to get the heck out of there!!  So while I was exhausted, I wasn’t going to hang around any longer than I had to!!  After a few minutes of gathering our strength back up, we made our way around the mangroves, half swimming-half clinging to the submerged trees and finally made it to shore!!

Three children were playing in the shallow water of shore that we ended up on and at one point stopped to point us out and giggle at the silly gringos who seemingly came from nowhere but now appeared with blood-shot red faces almost crawling out onto the land.  I had never been so happy to be on land before!  We made it to a little bench and sat for a few minutes, laughing at how crazy what we had just done was!!

To be honest I don’t recall the rest of the night, only that I’m sure I slept well and that I was quite thankful all turned out well!!  What an adventure that day turned out to be!!  I do recall chuckling with Jul at one point on how each day seemed to hold an interesting new adventure, and lo and behold, the next day too had a little adventure in store for us yet again…

On to Sea Kayaking

Back to Costa Rica

An Interesting Start…

The first afternoon in Puerto Jimenez, I simply spent wandering the streets of the little town simply getting to know the area and my bearings.  I spent several hours just wandering back and forth checking out all the little nooks and crannies in between private homes that served as short-cuts between “main roads” and all the spaces in between from the landing strip (which actually functions as an airport!!) to the far corners of the town.  I of course stopped for some dinner at a local soda recommended to me by Berta and then settled in for the night at the hostel.

There was a storm settling over us as the sun started to set, and since I wasn’t quite tired yet, I opted to hang out with Berta in the front area.  We spent some time getting to know each other and chit-chatting when another man came by, calling Berta “Mama”.  In fact, this man wasn’t Berta’s son but rather the son of the woman who owned the soda I had eaten dinner at.  “F” as he will be known as from now on was a tour guide for the famed Corcovado Park on the Osa Peninsula, a National Park that attracts real adventurous hiker backpackers.  As I came to later learn about him, he had a lot of tragedy in his life which either from those events or just because it was his nature, he was also an alcoholic.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Anyway, “F” took an immediate liking to me and after the initial introductions were exchanged he left only to return a little later with some beers.  I’m never one to turn down free booze, and since I had yet no idea of his trouble and problem with consuming alcohol, I had no qualms about drinking with him.  As we drank we discussed the usual topics of conversation such as “where are you from”, “what are you doing in Costa Rica” etc.  I gave my general background and stated that I was hoping to find somewhere I could call home and who knows, perhaps start-up my own business of sorts.  When Berta heard this, it became her greatest topic of conversation with me throughout the rest of my stay in Puerto Jimenez, especially since I also stated that I quite liked this particular area.

With Berta sitting at her desk, playing solitaire and listening in to the chatter and interjecting where she had opinion (F spoke English, so at this point the majority was spoken in English with F filling Berta in to what was being said) F and I were steadily becoming intoxicated with beer after beer.  We had at one point even gone to the grocery store for more, which was quite conveniently located just across the street from the hostel as well.

Time skipped by and the next thing I recall was Berta announcing that the 9pm bus would soon be arriving and that we should go scout people from the bus to stay at the hostel.  When I had arrived earlier in the day, I was the first and only person staying in the hostel.  At Berta’s request “F” and I hopped to attention and went off toward the bus station (just down the street a few blocks) to collect any backpackers that may have been on the bus.  I chuckled at myself as we walked down the road on how in less than 12 hours I had gone from being the one escorted and lead to a hostel for the night to being the “hustler” in getting new arrivals to come to my hostel!   But as I was intoxicated, I really just relished the little trip of something new to do.

We made it to the bus stop just as it had dropped off 3 passengers, one very tired man from France, and two travelling friends from Belgium.  “F” and I rounded the trio up and walked them over to The Corner to help get them settled in.  The man from France simply signed in and passed out within 20 minutes of arrival and that was the last anyone saw of him for almost a full day as he apparently spent just about all of the next day sleeping!!  The other two friends from Belgium hung out with myself, Berta and “F” and joined in the booze festivities.  They were interested in hiking and camping in the Corcovado National Park and upon hearing that “F” was a tour guide, became very interested in picking his brain.  It was at this point that we had all learned that the Corcovado Park would be closing in 2 days for the entire month of October for Park maintenance.  So, if one were to want to go into the Park, it could only be for a single night and 2 days.  This greatly saddened the two Belgium friends, as they were quite looking forward to some major hiking and camping in the Park.

In any event, as it was starting to get late, Berta excused herself and retired for the night, while myself, “F” and the two Belgium men decided to continue the fiesta by going to a local bar.  There we had several more drinks and sadly the once festive tune began to turn rather somber and strange as the alcohol in “F’s” system started to bring out an entirely different personality.  While at the bar he continuously tried to hit on me and though I tried to politely turn him down, perhaps it was the rejection and his drunken stupor, but the demons began to draw out of him.  Noticing signs I didn’t want to associate myself with, I began to withdraw myself from his company and instead talked more with the Belgium friends and others at the bar.  For those of me who know me, when intoxicated I tend to become a very social butterfly.  I love talking with everyone and enjoy festive tones throughout drunken occasions and drift away from energies that are negative.

The final straw for us all was when “F” began telling us about the tragedies in his life (which I won’t share as it’s not my business to) and then turned on the two Belgiums claiming they were giving him a look he didn’t approve of and that he would kill them if they didn’t stop.  The Belgiums tried to pacify the now very touchy situation by buying “F” another beer as the three of us scurried back to the hostel, leaving “F” to his tico friends at the bar.  I mentioned earlier about the great security at The Corner, and it was particularly in this occasion that I was most happy for it.  The upstairs area where we were all sleeping (my private room and the dorm room area for the boys) was padlocked and only those with room keys could open it.  We locked the gate behind us and all went to sleep.

On to Crocs!

Back to Costa Rica

Puerto Jimenez: The Arrival

Upon arriving at the port of Puerto Jimenez, I was greeted by an old gringo who looked about in his 70’s. He first asked if I was the only backpacker on the boat, and when I replied ‘yes’, he set about his business of telling me all about the hotel/hostel he runs and how it’s the best and yada, yada, yada. Of course I wanted to keep my options open and look around for a bit of price and place comparison instead of simply taking his word for it, and despite telling him “thanks for the info, I will keep it in mind but first want to look elsewhere” he insisted on coming with me to every hotel/hostel as I did my comparisons.

Later I came to find out that even though he would have gotten the most money for me staying at his hostel, he still got a commission from any other hotel/hostel that I happened to stay in just because technically he told me about it- hence why he insisted on coming with me to every hotel/hostel. In any event, he was quite pleasant as we made our way around the little town to find suitable accommodations.  As we wandered near the town park I heard the calls of the Scarlet macaw, a once endangered but now flourishing bird on the Osa Peninsula. I was told by my escort that these beautiful birds can live into their 80’s and mate for life! What a spectacular sight indeed they were!! Even though I had of course seen scarlet macaws in pet shops and people’s homes, there isn’t anything quite like the sight of them in the wild and free!! The town park was lined with almond trees, which is the macaw’s favorite food, and my guide informed me that as the sun sets, there can be hundreds of macaws gathering in the park for the setting of the sun.

Finally we wandered into a hostel called “The Corner” just one block off from the main road where an older woman named Berta owned and operated it. She didn’t speak a lick of English, but immediately I quite liked her. She showed me a private room with shared bath that was absolutely adorable, and as I was the only one in the hostel at the time, and as the price of the room was only $10 per night, I made up in my mind that I would be staying there as it was also very secure in it’s location. Not wanting to be rude to the old man who had been hobbling beside me all through town as I picked the place I wanted to stay in, I opted to first check out the accommodations that he offered prior to voicing my opinion. We walked along the main road to his hostel and after seeing the room, despite the fact that there was a restaurant conveniently located in the front, I politely turned the room down and returned to Berta at The Corner.

At this point, I really had felt like I had been travelling the country WAY too fast! And since I quite liked the energy and feel of this little Peninsula town, I decided to stay a full week! What I would do with my time I hadn’t yet known, but what ended up happening with my time was well beyond any adventure I had expected!!

Sadly, looking back at my photos from Puerto Jimenez, considering how long I’d stayed I really didn’t take as many photos as I should have… Sorry!!  But enjoy the few below:)

On to An Interesting Start

Back to Costa Rica

Golfito Detour

My initial plan in getting to Puerto Jimenez was to take a bus down and around the upper part of the Peninsula through Rincon to Golfito.  However on the way down, as usually has been the case during my bus rides, I struck up a conversation with a local.  He was a very friendly older gentleman who is a local Costa Rican but who now lives in Panama.  He was in Costa Rica just checking on some properties of his that he rents out to tourists and such.

Again most of our conversation was a mix of Spanglish and charades.  It was great to chat with him and to pick his brain concerning the best route for me to get to Puerto Jimenez.  My original route was to go to Chacarita, then to Rincon and down to Puerto Jimenez.  I was strongly discouraged to take to this route however as it would have taken over 8 hours since the terrain in this path was mountainous and rough.  Instead, I was instructed to go to Golfito and take the ferry across.  This route would save my 4-5 hours of travel, and upon hearing this I was definitely most grateful to my chatting partner for the information.  Once we got to Chacarita, he instructed me to get off the bus and told me where to find the bus for Golfito.

Once in Chacarita we said our good-byes and thanks and parted ways.  Now as a traveler, even though I was engaged in conversation with another person, my observations of my surroundings never stop.  It was on the bus down to Chacarita that I noticed two younger men consistently looking back to see me on the bus.  When I departed the bus for the bus to Golfito, I noticed the two men also depart and  after I got on the Golfito bus, so did they.  They sat next to me and tried to talk me up.  I wasn’t going to be rude, but also I don’t have a lot of patience for people who make me uncomfortable.  So mainly I ignored them and feigned ignorance for the Spanish language.  Luckily they didn’t know a whole lot of English so ignoring them was easier to show them my disinterest.  My instincts told me to stay on the bus until they got off at their stops and I did so.  While this action did make me feel better, it also took about an hour to backtrack to get to where I needed to be.

I had completely missed my stop for the ferry to Golfito but was thankfully guided by a very nice older tica on which bus to take and where to get off.  Of course the stop I should have gotten off on in the first place was one of the stops that the men I was getting away from got off at.  Luckily however enough time had passed that they were nowhere in sight and I continued on my way to the ferry.  This little detour however did cost me to miss they ferry by about 10 minutes and thus I was left to wait a few hours for the next one.

It was while I was hanging out near the dock enjoying a soda that I met two guys traveling Costa Rica together.  Though they didn’t know each other prior to a few weeks ago, they evidently had enough of a bong that made them decide to travel together for the rest of their time in Costa Rica.  One guy was from Austria and had an unbelievable amount of energy, and the other was from England but looked as if from India.  These two travelers (whose names have totally escaped me) were trying to get a group of people organized to take a whale watching boat tour.  Despite my better judgement on this occasion, as I really am not the biggest fan of boating around for the sole purpose of trying to catch a glimpse of a whale or dolphin, I agreed to be part of the crew.

The boat was to take off from Golfito the next morning which meant that I would have to stay the night there.  The two guys knew of a good place where they were staying right along the main road called El Toucan (honestly it seems every town has a place called El Toucan) so I went along with them so I could also get a room and settle in.

At this point it was about 5pm, so we opted to take a small boat ride to another part of the gulf area and do a hike that the boys had heard about.  Golfito has almost a gulf within a gulf as there is a large vast area of ocean at the town, but to actually get into the Golfo de Dulce, you have to cross the mouth of the smaller gulf into the larger.  On this boat ride we stayed within the smaller gulf area and crossed to a more secluded and foresty area.  Only a few tico homes were lined along this beach area and in fact, the man who boated us out there lived in one of the homes.  Once we arrived the very energetic Austrian and his friend found the hiking path they heard about and started on their way.  I opted to just hang about the coast area and simply take pictures of my surroundings close by.  I opted to do this for two reasons: first, because I honestly needed a break from the overly energetic duo, and second I knew that it would be getting dark pretty soon and didn’t want to get stuck walking along hiking paths as it got darker when the threat of potential snakes on the trail was possible.

As I was hanging about, I was fortunate to hear and see a troop of Capuchin monkeys come by.  I indulged in taking several photos of them as well as photos of the many crabs hanging along the beach.  And just as I had predicted, about a half hour after the two guys headed out on the trail, they returned because they heard some noises that they couldn’t identify from some large-sounding animal and got frightened back down the trail.  A little while later we made our way back to Golfito and went shopping for dinner.  The Austrian whipped up some pasta for us along with some carrots, onions and mushrooms.  He was quite upset however when he left the watch of the food to his friend who then ended up burning all the veggies.  It was by far the most interesting meal I had had as the pasta sauce he chose to use was ketchup!  I almost opted to just skip the meal altogether, but in not wanting to be rude, I ate it and it surprisingly wasn’t as terrible as I had thought it would be.

The next day we headed out early for our boat ride and not to my surprise but to the great disappointment of the guys, we didn’t see any whales or dolphins out in the vast and large Golfo de Dulce.  The Golfo de Dulce (sweet gulf) is one of the deepest gulfs and due to the calm and protected waters in this area, it is a very popular location for many whale species to come to during birthing season.  We drove around the gulf for several hours and while nothing was spotted, I still enjoyed just being on the water.  My two companions were not at all content on not having seen anything and were becoming increasingly annoying as they kept trying to get our tour to go here and there for potential whale spotting.  Needless to say I was probably more happy when the ride was over with and I was able to part ways with the energetic duo.  Once back on land I boarded the 1pm 40 minute ferry across the Golfo de Dulce (which if I had been smarter, I should have just asked to be dropped of there during our whale tour) to Puerto Jimenez.

Back to Costa Rica

Uvita

The road to Uvita was quite uneventful.  Just before leaving I was told by various Manuel Antonio “locals” (i.e. the bus stop gang previous mentioned in the Manuel Antonio post) that due to the storms that had been in the area, the road to Uvita had been washed out and was impassable.  Though I thanked them for their concerns (really I think they just wanted me to hand out and around with them, but as drugs aren’t my thing I really wanted nothing to do with  these particular folks) I figured that if indeed this information was correct, then the best people who would know for sure would be the bus drivers themselves.

So it was that I set back on a bus from Manuel Antonio to Quepos and had zero trouble boarding a bus for Uvita.  As it turned out the information given to me about the hazardous road wasn’t completely untruthful as at one point we did pass a portion of the road where literally half of it was missing and it was reduced to a single lane road.  The drainage pipe below the road simply wasn’t able to withstand the amount of rain and debris that had passed though to keep it standing.  Nonetheless however we were able to get past the area and still in good time.

On recommendation from a person whom I had met at the Costa Linda Backpackers hostel in Manuel Antonio (he worked for Lonely Planet and was making his way around to various hostels to review for their publications) I was set on staying at a hostel in Uvita called “The Butterfly Garden”.  Ok, once again I can’t be exact of the name now since it has been a while, but it was definitely something to do with butterflies.  And anyone who was paying any sort of attention to the various road signs along the way would have spotted signs for it for quite some time.  The signs for Uvita however were not so clear.  One thing to definitely get used to is that there are never any welcome signs or alerts of any measure to indicate which little town you may be in or may have passed.  All there is to rely on is the information and constant inquiries to local passengers or the bus driver (despite the numerous “do not talk to the bus driver” signs) as to where exactly you are and when it is that you need to leave the bus to make it to the right place!

I was the last person on the local bus and wasn’t panicking yet as I still saw road signs along the way advertising the Butterfly hostel.  Seeing as I was the last one on board however, I struck up conversation with the driver directly this time (usually I try to pick the local people’s brains sitting around me) and he instructed me on when to get off and which way to go.

I was dropped off along a dirt road and pointed in the direction of a long dirt road that curved at the end.  About 10 minutes later I arrived at the Butterfly Garden hostel.  The place had been described to me as “Neverland” complete with treetop bungalows that you had to get into via wooden ladders.  Really the story of the owner, as is the story of most, was quite interesting.  She had moved down years before having decided that Uvita was her place to live.  She gave up everything in the States to create her own personal Neverland and thus there it was in front of me.

The place was quite impressive and had a lot of charms.  They were in the middle of constructing new treetop bungalows however so there was a lot of work and noise going on mainly from volunteer random travelers and from friends of hers from the States who came down to help with construction.  The place honestly was quite deserted had it not been for 2 Italian girls (volunteers to do art work and other creative projects on-site) and another couple of volunteers who were just hanging out trading work for a free stay.

For some reason, while the place was quite nice and the people too were perfectly nice, something about the place just didn’t sit well with me and as soon as I had arrived, I had already made my mind that I would be leaving the next morning.

I nonetheless settled in for the night and as it was still early in the day, I opted to go for a walk along the beach that was only a few hundred meters away and via the entrance from the hostel you could avoid the fee to enter what was considered their National Park.

The Baleen National Park of Uvita is so named for a sand bar and for the numerous whale spottings off of this particular coast.  At just the right tide however, and with an aerial view, a sand bar would present itself in the exact and perfect shape of a whale’s tail!  It sounded so fascinating, but as mentioned you really wouldn’t be able to see much unless you had an aerial view and if you had timed the tides correctly.

I wandered along the beach for quite some time taking pictures of the area but opting not to swim as there were several signs to guard your belongings from beach thieves.  Since I didn’t have a buddy with me to watch my stuff while in the water, I chose this time to simply be a photo-op session.  I do adore the ocean in so many ways but again, perhaps it was just my mood, but the beach wasn’t at all impressive to me.  Or perhaps because I had just come from some beautiful beaches, these just didn’t seem up to par.  The beach was washed up with a ton of random debris, the water looked murky, dirty and portions had what looked to be oil slick along the surface, and sadly there were no whales to spot in the distance.

I spent about 1-2 hours walking along the shore however until I reached a river jutting into the ocean and opted to turn back instead of trying to swim across (Lord knows if I would have been able to get back again with the tides turning!!).  I made it back to the hostel just in time to be invited to go surfing by the owner and her construction friend from the states.  Now, I have never been surfing but at this point thought, why the heck not!  But that’s as far as that story gets as when we got back out to the beach the conditions were not suitable for surfing.  So while I still haven’t been or tried surfing yet, I did learn a little about it by one of the surfers who explained “closed-out” waves and other surfing conditions.  We did spend some time simply splashing about in the ocean however and just enjoying the wonder that Nature had provided in the form of the vast sea.

By this point it was starting to get dark so back to the hostel we all went again.  The rest of the evening was quite uneventful and passed rather dully.  To this day I still can’t put my finger on what my “Beef” with Uvita or the Butterfly place was.  Because while the people were perfectly nice and the place was very beautiful, there just was nothing to really do there.  The town was very small and uneventful (I did forget to mention that I had a walk-about the town itself before the beach walk in search of much needed food!!) and really I felt like I came away from the place having spent way too much money for what it was worth!  But not every place is for everybody, so I took it in stride and stuck with my plan to leave the next morning.  I caught the 9am bus headed South again to get to my next “planned” destination of Puerto Jimenez on the Osa Peninsula

Back to Costa Rica

Pictures from Uvita and the Butterfly Garden hostel: