Costa Rica, Part II: Cahuita & Tortuguero

On the 3rd day in Costa Rica, ijl and I woke up early to try Nacional Parque Cahuita again and with our swimsuits on. Again, there were multi-colored crabs hiding away in their sandy crab-holes and capuchin monkeys feasting on fruit in the trees right by an elevated wood path we took. Also, howler monkeys, hermit crabs, herons, egrets, sandpipers, a tiny yellow eyelash viper curled up around a branch, and even a mother sloth and her baby! The nice thing about sloths is that they move slowly enough for you to take plenty of photos đŸ™‚ I’d also been quite excited about possibly seeing a toucan (flying bananas!) so it was really incredible when we saw a pair of collared aricaris, like smaller toucans, hopping around on a branch by the path.


We swam both in Playa Blanca and a sheltered beach by Punta Cahuita. A tree had fallen right into the water and as we came near, crabs on the trunk would skitter away to the other side. The water was luxurious and calm, perfect to float in. But we found some unexpected passengers on us afterwards, clear little sea mites with dark eyes that clung to our skin so we had to pick them off.

For dinner, there was coconut rice & beans with chicken and chicken rondon, a coconut milk stew with many different starches ranging from yucca and taro to sweet potatos. Funny how few fresh vegetables are included there—you’d think the climate is well suited for it but it’s not apparent on the local menus. Cahuita itself was a tiny beach town with a main street that split once from the bus station and then the main road to Playa Negra. Many pizzerias and cabinas but few sodas (casual eateries) and off the main streets, only a few houses with fields in between. A school across from an empty lot with a rooster pecking away at the dirt.IMG_20150320_085931

Our cabina in Cahuita!
Our cabina in Cahuita!

The next day, we took a bus to Puerto Limon then a cab to the tiny port at Moin where Tuca met us. We clambered onto a 15 seater boat but hit a bump right away as our captain, Manuel forgot his case and had to turn back. His translator was a teenage boy who translated in a fairly monotone voice, almost angry, but Manuel didn’t spot many animals anyway. There were plenty of birds including swallows that followed and landed on our boat, but Cahuita had already spoiled us for wildlife. We did see a tiny crocodile hanging out with a bunch of branches on a bank, a Jesus lizard, and some sleeping sloths very high up in the trees. And the translator told us about how two people had been eaten in the river by crocodiles so one shouldn’t try swimming or wading in it. Four hours later, we landed in Tortuguero and took a room at Cabinas Tortuguero for $25 after looking around a bit. Alright but definitely not as nice as our cabina in Cahuita. The hammocks outside each room were nice though!

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The harbor at Moin
The harbor at Moin
Our cabina in Tortuguero
Our cabina in Tortuguero

Tortuguero is a tiny town on a long thin island bordered by the Caribbean sea on one side and Tortuguero River on the other and could only be reached by boat or airplane. It’s incredibly narrow so walking from the docks/nightclub with Jar Jar Binks statue/restaurants on the water to the beach facing the sea is pretty quick. But the sun was strong, especially on the main walkway through town (no cars! Only pedestrians plus the occasional kid on a bike.) Near a central square/park, there were remnants of heavy machinery which I thought had probably been placed there as sculpture but it was hard to tell. A clown with an open mouth seemed to function as a garbage can nearby. Further east, a maze of small alleyways of houses near the national park entrance to the east, hiding a bakery where we got some kind of pastry cone filled with dulce de leche. Many many dogs that just wandered around and played with one another or slept or begged for food. One was so fat that ijl and I were surprised it could move as jauntily as it did. IMG_20150320_191843

On the 5th day, we woke up early to rent a 2-person kayak after a breakfast of empanadas. We hadn’t done enough scouting the day before but it was easy enough to find someone who took us to a kayak rental place. We went down Cano Harold and Cano Chiguiro and got stuck on a branch in the middle of the river at one point. Luckily enough, a canoe full of tourists were fairly close by and helped us get unstuck. We saw more herons and a giant green lizard like a tattered leaf. We kayaked down the river and into tiny waterways surrounded by tall grasses and water plants with leaves that just floated atop the water and roots that drifted down but clung to nothing. Beautiful blue Morpho butterflies would glide past, shimmering, while a flock of bright yellow butterflies flew around the turtles perched on logs, sometimes landing on their heads. A symbiotic relationship? P1120546 P1120568

After 4 hours, we were pretty tired so went back but decided to hike through the park. Ijl thought we’d need the rubber boots that could be rented for $1/pair at houses lining the path to the park but they turned out to be terribly uncomfortable, creating blisters where they rubbed, so we ended up taking them off anyway. The path wasn’t too wet and even the mud was rather pleasant. Leafcutter ants all over the path—I’d read about how powerful their jaws were so walking around their meandering lines in bare feet was a strange sort of dance. I wonder if we’d gone the wrong way because there were markers every so often with paths that led out to the beach, probably to turtle nesting sites, but the path we walked on just petered out after a while.IMG_20150320_192153

Dinner at Tutti’s, near the beach. The meals in Costa Rica seem rather small by American standards, especially the portions of meat, but theirs was a bit bigger than others. After dinner, we saw pool tables inside an open storefront, a few slot machines near the entrance where the owner was also selling an assortment of fried food. One man played the slots while we played pool. During the evenings, the smell of grilling meat permeates the air but I don’t know when they sell it (or maybe it’s only dinner for the folks grilling?) but the restaurants close fairly early and so, we tended to eat dinner early. On the way back from a walk down the main path, a Hercules beetle skittered past, its giant horn casting a shadow on the sidewalk. We’d head out by boat the next day. IMG_20150321_201559


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