Tag Archives: Tico

(welcome to the) Hotel California

After another long day on the road, I arrived in Puerto Viejo de Talamanca all hot & sweaty. I fell straight off the bus into the nearest hostel. It was totally lacking in personality but it was cheap. And convenient.

I had a few happy hour beers, a feed & a jibber with the cute bartender at the local reggae bar. Later, back at the hostel I met a few fun Aussie lads who were leaving the next day & were playing a drinking game with dice called ‘Chase The Ace’. Yes: I know I’m probably too old for drinking games. No: I don’t give a rat’s. Shits & giggles!

The next day, I had a chat to the local dive operator (shit visibility & not really worth going out). Still, I quite liked the feel of this place so I decided I’d stay on for maybe a week anyway… party a bit, explore a bit, chill a bit.

I went to check out Rocking J’s – a hostel recommended by LP, but to be perfectly honest – it was just a big backpacker’s barn. At the bar, I ran into someone I had met on Little Corn. A nice enough Aussie who was (motorbike) riding from Canada to Argentina with a couple of mates. I made plans to come back later for beers and maybe dinner.

A group of us went to a beautiful Japanese restaurant which promised “edible art”. All you can eat sushi for $20. Expensive feed in Central America but I was super excited. Turns out, some of the best sushi I’ve had.

However the meal was almost ruined for me by two of Easy Rider’s yobbo mates. They got hammered, spent the whole time swearing like they were at a cage fight, and complaining really loudly about the food. They’d never had sushi before. They didn’t know how to use chopsticks. Which is fine. But they were just stupid ignorant fucks about it.

These were the sort of boys for whom Japan = snowboarding & pussy. And Central America = cocaine & pussy. And I don’t have a problem with that if it’s coupled with an open, inquisitive mind that wants to learn something about a different culture. But I don’t believe these imbeciles had the capacity for learning anything. To my mind – these are the sorts of Australians who shouldn’t be allowed passports. They give us a bad rep.

It made me miss Todd & Piers (the lovely smart Aussie men that Pinky brought to Little Corn with him). Anyways, needless to say I paid up quick & got the hell out of there as soon as dinner was over. I over-tipped by way of compensation.

The next day I went to look for a different hotel – having been subjected to listening to a couple having sex in our dorm. It just wasn’t worth saving a lousy $4. I wound up at the Hotel Puerto Viejo, on the recommendation of the dive shop owner.

Kurt the owner, was a quietly charismatic Californian. He was tall & fit with dark moppish hair and a strong jaw line (which I’m always a bit of a sucker for). He was aging well for a man in his early 50s. Think Richard Gere meets Kurt Russell.

Evidently, he’s the nephew of a pioneering big wave rider and has surfed Pipeline, himself. I asked him if he’d ever surfed in Australia. He told me when he was ready to die – he’d come & give Shipsterns Bluff a crack.

The place was teeming with half-naked men. Men waxing boards in the yard. Men rolling Jamaican goodness. Men getting into Jeeps to go ride the legendary Salsa Brava. A mix of Caribbean men, Ticos, and imports. All of them with those perfect surfer boy backs. And beautiful brown skin. Man that stuff is addictive. I felt like a kid in a candy store!

The rooms were pretty basic and a bit dark truth be told, but the place had a good ambience about it. And besides, a private room with a fan for $10 was a deal in this town.

I came back with my pack and watched in amusement as four men & a teenage boy tried to check me in. It was a shit show. I think largely because they so stoned (except the lil tacker). And probably because they had better things to do (see above).

Kurt told me he was one of the first foreign business owners in Puerto Viejo, having arrived some 24 years ago. He’d built the place himself. It was a huge rabbit warren of a place – 70 odd rooms cobbled together with lots of mismatching pieces of timber.

It amused me how he answered the phone with the almost arrogant, “Hotel”. As though he was the only one, still.

When he found out I was travelling solo, he reassured me they would take care of me there. And taken care of I was. Morning, noon & night 😉

Puerto Viejo reminded me a bit of Byron Bay 15 years ago. Just a whole lot blacker. And a whole lot cooler. Great waves. Perfect weather. Good reggae. I felt like I was on set of a TVC for an über cool beer.

One day, I hired a bicycletta & rode 15ks to Manzanillo on a nice flat road with the jungle rising up on one side and pretty beaches all the way on the other. I stopped for a swim at the picture perfect Punta Uva. A pretty lil cove with some amazing snorkelling.

I also took some surf lessons with a Rasta, who failed to get me up surfing, but did manage to put me on my arse with some seriously good hashish. Smoking is just a way of life here. People were wrapping up on the bar & smoking openly in the calle. I literally saw a bloke wave to a cop as he sparked up a spliff. Now you don’t see that everyday.

I would have stayed a lot longer had everything not been damn so expensive. And besides – Ometepe Shannon & I had transgressed from just chatting about meeting up with Pinky who was in Panama, to sail to Colombia – to actually making proper plans. Well, one of us made proper plans.

I left Puerto Viejo to catch a bus across the border in the vague hope I could buy a ticket for the plane trip from a one horse town called Changuinola to Panama City. Of course there were no more seats left. And so I ended up on a 10 hour overnight bus trip instead.

I arrived at 330am with no reservations for a room. I was lucky to get a decent taxi driver (not quite ready to take back everything I’ve ever said about taxi drivers yet though) who drove me around town to 4 different places before i found one that would stick me in a hammock until a bed became available. They made one up for me, and at 5 in the morning i crashed out absolutely filthy & absolutely spent.

By mid-morning, I had linked up with Pinky & was having the first beer of the day in a new country. Hello Panama!

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Rolling down the river

The next day I made my way to Turriabla.

Because Costa Rica is so expensive, I have been keen to hit the highlights & get through it fairly quickly. This has meant not spending as much time in one place and travelling longer distances between destinations.

It was a big day of travel: 6 hours on 3 buses to go 240km. And I had another incident with a yet another freakin taxi driver in San Jose.*Apparently* buses to Cartago weren’t running due to an industrial strike or some such. My thoughtful driver even placed a call to the officina to confirm. Then offered to take me as far as Cartago for the very low price of $30. The bus would cost me about $3. I knew I could get a bed for around $12 in San Jos, and then try again the next day. But I was loathe to spend any time in the city.

My gut spoke up and in my shithouse Spanglish, I asked him to take me to the bus station anyway. $12 later (more than double of what it should have cost) & I was at the bus station. Guess what? There was a bus in 15mins. The fucker.

I arrived in Turriabla as the sun was setting. It was a large rural town, with a nice feel to it. I checked into a cheap & clean hotel (the kind where you get given a towel!) down by the railway tracks. I later enjoyed a cheap & super tasty casada at a typical Tico restaurant. Gotta say: The local fare in Costa Rica shits all over the stuff Nicas serve up.  Loads more flavour. Loads more vegies.

The next day I was going white water rafting for the first time ever, so I woke up bouncing off the walls like a pogo stick on amphetamines. It was early – so I wandered about the township looking for a panaderia for some more of the spicy beef & potato empanadas I was acquiring a taste for.

The Rio Pacuare is one of the top 5 white rafting sites in the world. It starts in the Cordillera de Talamanca and flows 108km to the Caribbean. The rapids range from beginner (Class I) to expert (Class V) depending on whether it’s wet or dry season. The river is surrounded by these massive, dramatic gorges and sheathed in dense jungle that’s a million shades of green, just teeming with wildlife (jaguars, monkeys & ocelots, although we didn’t see any). And we were about to spend the next few hours rafting down some 25km of it.

After a quick briefing and a bit of Team Paddling 101, we set off. It took us a while to find our rhythm as a team but we got there in the end. Before you know it, we were gently cascading down our first lil rapid.

The raft was certainly very sturdy but also supple enough that you could feel the shape of the river & her rocks underneath. Under the guidance of the very capable Luis (who i called Guns), we progressed from Class I up to Class IV in a pretty short space of time and ended up manoeuvring through some pretty tight ‘passages’ and some pretty freakin turbulent waters. We got up some real speed in these conditions and I could not stop squealing the whole time. A few of us spilled out overboard around one particularly hectic bend. I got a face ache from smiling so much. I went to bed a very tired and happy girl that night.

The next day I woke up & decided to move on and make my way back to the Caribbean in the hope of getting some more diving in.