Pulpology: Mark & Sonia's Intercontinental Absurdities!

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31 July 2007
Taking Red Umbrella to a whole new level
One lonnnnnng day morphs into three

Y´know, I figured it was gonna be a *long* day, I just didn´t realize it was gonna be one of THOSE days...

Up and at ´em at the butt-crack of dawn, I made my way down to the dock to catch my 6am water taxi to Moín. I was dismayed (but not entirely surprised) to hear that there weren´t enough passengers for the early run, and we´d be leaving at 10am instead. Dagger! Not fatal, but it does severely muck up my plans for the day. Not only will I not get to run my various errands in San Jose as planned, but I will be arriving into San Jose just as it´s getting dark. Something I was trying to avoid. Well, there´s nothing I can do about it, and no sense worrying. Might as well make the most of the extra time this morning.

So, with four hours to kill, I scoped out some breakfast, and the only good deal in the otherwise very expensive Tortuguero: bottomless cups of coffee for less than a dollar! Sweeet, things were looking up a tad. Despite the horrendous Muzak offerings in the cafe -- Celine Dion (twice!), Lionel Ritchie, Knights in White Satin, god help us -- I spent some time catching up on my journal and catching a serious caffeine buzz. Next stop, the internet cafe, where I informed Bronwen of my slight change of plans and let her know I´d find an i-caf as soon as I got to San Jose. She was supposed to arrive before me and would be online after 4pm, so everything should fall into place eventually.

While waiting for the 10am boat to depart, I learned that there was a better way to get to San Jose, via another connection through another town. Which of course nobody had told me about. Grrrrrr. Once again, live and learn, there´s nothing much to do about it now. The boat trip back to Moín was unremarkable, although I did strike up a conversation with a friendly Canadian couple who were heading to Puerto Viejo. I managed to put in a plug for Margarita´s Guesthouse, and we had a good laugh about the David Hasselhoff thing.

we arrived at the lovely scenic port of Moín (love the smell of oil refineries in the afternoon! smells like victory!) and just about everyone from the boat hopped into a tourist shuttle headed for Cahuita and Puerto Viejo. The Canadians (never did get their names!) and another girl and I decided to grab a cab into Limón, where we would connect to our respective buses. Only one problem... no cabs to be found. Apparently if you didn´t choose the expensive tourist shuttle, you were on your own. No worries, our intrepid band of four trooped out to the main road and eventually flagged down a cab. It was just the sort of thing one might feel nervous about if one were all alone, but in an impromptu posse, it was an adventure rife with possibility!

I got dropped off first, and, dodging a crumbly-looking homeless woman, made my way into the terminal to buy my bus ticket to San Jose. With fifteen minutes to spare (sweet, again!) I glanced around at the denizens of the terminal. It was mostly the usual suspects -- women with little kids in tow, old guys selling stuff, an Artie Lange lookalike shoveling chips into his sweaty gullet -- nothing too scary. But I was glad not to have to spend any further time in Limón, and I was glad to be leaving the unrelentingly hot and humid and sketchy Caribbean Coast behind.

Got on the bus, and oh look! My assigned seat was next to the Spanish Artie Lange. Fantastic. His terrible aftershave only faintly covered his funk, and the combined smells resembled something like the inside of a rancid paper grocery sack that´s been filled with cheese and left in the sun. Charming accompaniment for the next three hours.

After a quick pitstop in Guápiles, leaving just enough time for the resourceful snack vendors to hop aboard chanting "MangoMangoMango! Jugosaguafríasodaplátanos! Mangomangomango!" we headed up into the mountains, signaling the return to San Jose. And, despite my best intentions to keep it all together, I started to freak myself out with "What´s the Worst Thing That Can Happen?" scenarios. Apparently my little brain can generate LOTS of appalling worst-case scenarios! I´ll spare you the details.

And then we crested the hill and started down into San Jose amid quite possibly the most brilliant sunset yet. The entire sky ws splashed with shades of pink, purple, and orange, and the hills seemed to be on fire in the glow of the setting sun. Truly the best Costa Rica had to offer, even in this most ugly and dangerous of places.

Bronwen keeps her chin up on the awful Nica borderOK, to bring this long story a bit closer to its end... I hopped a cab, found an internet cafe that was still open, got the address to Bronwen´s place, and had the same cab take me there. We hung out for a few hours with her roommate -- both of them were in Costa Rica for a three-month internship at a human rights org -- and tried valiantly to stay awake until our 3am bus left. The next 25+ hours on the Ticabus were spent attempting to sleep, stay warm in the frigid chill, and occasionally hop off and back on the bus at border crossings. The worse was the Costa Rica-Nicaraguan border, where we sat in the bus for about three hours, then waited in line to get our bags checked. When you reach the front of the line you have to hit a button attached to a big stoplight. If it´s green, you can get back on the bus, if it´s red... well, fortunately neither of us had to find out as we both got green. But how frickin´ random is that?!?!

the Dreaded and Troublesome Page 11There was also a somewhat scary moment on the border between Honduras and El Salvador, when the immigration officials couldn´t find the correct stamp in my passport. Now, my passport happens to have a lot of stamps and even some extra pages, but I *know* the guy stamped it at the Nicaraguan border, I saw him do it and so did Bronwen! But they kept flipping around and shaking their heads and saying "This is a big problem!" I thought for sure they were going to ditch me on the El Salvadorean border in the middle of the night. Turns out the miscreant had put a fifth stamp on an already crowded page -- hereinafter known as the Dreaded Page 11 -- which it took three officials to eventually find and not until after several long moments of intense sweating on my part. Never a dull moment! It was small comfort to have a CouchSurfing compatriot along for the ride, if only to tell my story if I never returned to civilzation...


Posted by soniaz at 12:00 AM | Link | 0 comments

29 July 2007
And it's off to Guatemala!
So long, Costa Rica, and thanks for all the fish

Again, I must apologize for not getting a chance to add more blogaliciousness. (But you're getting used to this by now, aren't you?) Internet access was both expensive and flakey on the Caribbean side. I have started backfilling some of the earlier entries, but I still have lots of pics and stories to share!

In the meantime, had a lovely stint in hot & muggy Tortuguero, getting an intimate view of huge green turtles as they laid eggs on the beach in the moonlight and viewing other wildlife on a guided canoe tour. Tortuguero is not easy to get to/from, and I spent an entire harrowing day today getting back to San Jose to meet up with another new CouchSurfing friend, Bronwen. Together, she and I are taking the overnight bus to Guatemala. It leaves San Jose at 3am this morning (eek!), goes through Nicaragua, stops tomorrow night in El Salvador, and we arrive in Guatemala City at 11am on July 31. Should be an interesting trip, to say the least. Stay tuned for more details!


Posted by soniaz at 11:55 PM | Link | 0 comments

28 July 2007
The good, the bad, and the ugly

Today was PURA COSTA RICA, start to finish, the good-bad-ugly all mashed together into life´s rich tapestry. Fitting, I guess, since it´s my last non-travel day in this country.

are we having fun yet? note Creepy Richard in the back of a canoe full of girlsAlrighty then, so my day began at the butt-crack of dawn (claro!) when I was supposed to meet the omnipresent Richard in the "lobby" of my guesthouse at 5:30am. After waiting for what seemed like forever, and just as I was about to give up, the dude appeared on the back porch. Creepy, but at least he´s consistent! We headed to the dock, where about 15 people and 5 or 6 dogs gathered for the canoe tour. That meant we´d need to split up into two canoes, and as luck would have it, I wound up in the front seat of the canoe piloted by Richard. Lovely. At least he was at the other end of the canoe. Almost as soon as we shove off, and we´d passed the obligatory park checkpoint, it started to pour holy hell. Which meant that in addition to getting thoroughly soaked, I couldn´t hear a single thing Richard was saying about all the wildlife we were supposed to be seeing. But neither could the two girls sitting directly behind me, so we formed a sarcastic peanut gallery with our own commentary. It was almost fun.

cayman close-upEventually the rain did clear up and we were actually able to see some cool stuff: sloths, spider and howler monkeys, a cayman, two otters, and tons of birds. It was definitely better to see the critters up close and personal from the canoe, rather than in the big motorboats used by the fancy lodges.

I got back to the dock and decided to book my passage back to civilization (or at least Moín). There´s a 6am and a 10am boat, and as long as enough people show up they´ll leave at the earlier time. Which gives me plenty of time to get to San Jose before it gets dark. Perfecto.

OK, so now it was time to check email and see what was up with Bronwen. I got far enough to see that she hadn´t sent me any reply emails when the connection totally crapped out. Fantastic! The grizzled old lady behind the counter was certainly not going to provide any tech support, so I gave up and decided to try to call Bronwen. She had our bus tickets to Guatemala, and I hadn´t yet made any contact with her besides a few emails. But supposedly she was here in Tortuguero somewhere! I staked out a public phone, whipped out my Costa Rican phone card, and dialed the number in my guidebook for Laguna Lodge. Busy. Four or five times in a row. Crapdoodles. Maybe there´s another number, but where to find it? Not on the internets! And they weren´t any help back at Meriscar. Hmmmm, what´s a resourceful girl to do? Ah-ha! Call Jeff & Carol in Tamarindo and see if they could scare up an alternative number or two. So that´s exactly what I did. Carol, amused, agreed to dig around a bit and see what she could find, and then call me back at the payphone. As luck would have it, somebody else needed to use the phone during that time. Fortunately he was only on for a few minutes (you never know!) and I was able to call Carol back and get the correct number.

Great! Now we´re cooking with gas. I dialed the number, and it actually rang through and an actual person picked up! Grrrrrrreat Success! I fumbled through my explanation -- trying to find a friend whose last name I did not know, that´s classy -- and eventually confirmed that she was in room 84 and would I like to leave a message? Yup, OK, please have her call me at... But when I gave the Meriscar number (also from my infernal book) the guy insisted that it couldn´t possibly be right, it didn´t have the correct Tortuguero extension. Nice! Two for two! I asked if they might have the number there at the Lodge. Foolish mortal. Why would they? So I had to go back to Meriscar and find out what the frickin number was. The guy seemed really confused but eventually gave me a biz card with four phone numbers printed on it. Once I confirmed which number would actually ring through to a phone that somebody might answer, I headed back to the payphone to try the Lodge again. And of course the phone was in use, and when it was my turn the number was busy again. But eventually I did get through, and left the rest of my message for Bronwen to please call me at Meriscar. It also occurred to me that I should let the Meriscar folks know to expect a phone call from a Canadian chick who doesn´t speak much Spanish, just so they weren´t caught totally off guard.

cool driftwood on the beachRight, so that brings us up to about 4pm. Time for a bit of reading, and a quick stroll on the beach. And where to have dinner? The book recommended two places: Miss Miriam´s, which was closed on Saturdays, and Miss Junie´s, which was in "town." Since I had to pass the payphone on the way to Miss Junie´s, I decided to leave another message for Bronwen just to hedge my bets. This time the person spoke English, so I left as much information as I could muster, with a worst-case-scenario that we´d just meet up in San Jose at the Ticabus station.

Dinner was delicious, a lovely local seafood specialty with coconut milk and exotic spices. Back at Meriscar, I inquired without much hope about "una llamada de mi amiga" and was pleasantly surprised to hear that she had called! No message, just the same phone number I already had, but that was some progress, anyway. I went back to the payphone, and of course on the first try it was busy. ::::: sigh ::::: Got through on the second try, and the guy informed me that Bronwen was indeed expecting my call. It took a while for him to find her -- fortunately I still had tons of minutes left on my card -- and eventually tracked her down in the restaurant. I have never been so happy to hear the voice of someone I´d never met! She was relieved as well. We agreed to check in via email tomorrow, and perhaps meet up at her house in San Jose to await our 3am bus departure. Whew, good, glad that´s all set!

Back to the ranch, to pack (yuck!) and attempt to think cool thoughts amidst all the humidity and pesky insects. Supposedly Guatemala is a bit cooler, at least at night, which will be a welcome change!

Posted by soniaz at 12:00 AM | Link | 0 comments

27 July 2007
And other Tortuguero strangeness

cucarachisima!OK, there´s something *very weird* going on in this room. Maybe the floor is treated with some kind of strange insecticide (not sure if that´s comforting or not) or maybe there´s something even stranger afoot (so to speak). All I know is that yesterday night there were two fat black ants crawling merrily around, and within minutes they were squirming crazily on their backs, and then they were dead. And tonight I came back to my room to find THE BIGGEST CUCARACHA -- I mean, we´re talking cucarachisima -- flat on its back on my floor. I thought he was dead until I started snapping pics. (Oh, c´mon, of *course* I had to document this!) And then he started twitching. Bleccch. The true freakaliciousness happened when I tried to get him OUT of my room. No way I was touching him. (And you like how I just assigned the male gender to this bug?) So I tried shoveling him up with my flip flop. No dice. Too big. Tried sorta chopsticking him with both flops. Nope, all I succeeded in doing was crushing him a bit. And he was still twitching. Ewwwwwww! This was getting nasty. I finally just swatted him out into the hallway. I had every intention of rocketing him off the balcony into the yard, but he got stuck in the weird plastic hallway flooring. Eh, let the obnoxious French couple next door find him tomorrow morning.

But I´m getting ahead of myself. I woke up this morning, reveling in the relative calm and comfort of NOT being at Rockin J´s. The previous evening, a friendly Bananero employee named Richard helped me and one other guy named Jay find a place to stay, and we wound up at Cabinas Meriscar, recommended by the book as a cheap and basic guesthouse. Yep, basic it is, but for $5 a night in a private room meant for three people, I can´t complain.

Anyway, after taking a nice cold shower (jeez it´s hot here!) and unpacking my things a bit, I heard a knock at my door. And I opened it to find Richard, the friendly guide from last night. Ehm, OK, that´s a little weird, but whatever. He was following up on a conversation we´d had about the various tours that are available, and he clearly wants to make a commission on the sale, and that´s his job, so fine. The tour situation in Tortuguero is overly-complex: there are two shifts for the night tour, and the guides have a lottery system to find out which timeslot they get, and you don´t find out whether you´re in the 8pm or the 10pm tour until about 5:00 or so. Plus you have to buy your own entrance to the Park, which must be done sometime before 5pm. Oy vey. OK, fine, if that´s how it works, I´ll go to the tour office this evening, after having purchased my Park pass, and figure it out.

Ten minutes later, he came back  :::: sigh ::::  to say he´d just come by Meriscar at 6pm to let me know about the tour time. I asked if he couldn´t also buy the Park pass for me, and he agreed. I gave him the funds, he gave me a receipt, and we were golden. Crikey.

downtown TortugueroAlrighty, next item on the agenda was finding an internet cafe and attempting to make contact with Bronwen, a new CouchSurfing (virtual) friend with whom I was planning to take the bus to Guatemala. She was supposedly staying at one of the swankier lodges on Tortuguero -- wrangled a sweet student rate -- which was a bit further away and only accessible by water taxi. We´d agreed to attempt to connect via email since we would both be in Tortuguero at about the same time. Now, if only I could find an internet cafe. Jay and I set out to explore the town and see what services were available. Once we left our ´hood of South Central Tortuguero -- keep your pimp hand strong -- the surroundings got a little less sketchy and a little nicer. There was only one i-caf in town, and it had the same expensive rates I found in Puerto Viejo, but beggars can´t be choosers. I did some quick email catchup and left before I could rack up too much of a bill.

hammock on the guesthouse back porchI passed part of the afternoon in the hammock on the back porch of Meriscar, which overlooked the ubiquitous town soccer field and also caught a nice ocean breeze. After dropping my laundry off with Carmen, I decided to hit the beach for a bit. It was actually quite pleasant there, with a nice strong breeze and big chunky waves. The water had a decidedly greenish foamy hue to it, so I decided not to do any swimming, although there were plenty of people in the water and lots of surfers. I had just settled into a nice comatose state when I felt a tap on my shoulder. Richard. OK, this was starting to get a bit stalker-creepy. I laughed nervously and said something silly about "Oh, you always know just where to find me, don´t you?" And he mentioned something about maybe joining him for a nice cold beer in an hour. Actually, a nice cold beer sounded pretty good just then, but I gave him a nice vague maybe, if I still happened to be there in an hour. I was glad to have left the beach without needing to negotiate that awkwardness any further. Hey, if he really wanted to see me he could just show up at my room again. :::: shudder ::::

I was sure to keep the door locked tightly at all times.

Posted by soniaz at 1:00 PM | Link | 0 comments
The fearsome Crocostimpy
Nature show on the beach

As promised, Richard did show up around 6pm to inform me and Jay that we would be taking the earlier tour. Fortunately, at the time, I was in the kitchen cooking my dinner, so there was no further encounter with him in the upstairs hallway. He almost didn´t produce my park pass, the bastard, claiming he´d completely forgotten to procure one for me. But then he came back later, pass in hand. Creep.

Anyway, the turtle walk was totally surreal. Our guide, Maria, didn´t seem to have a whole lot to say, and her West Indies patois was incredibly difficult to parse out. The non-English speakers on the tour all but gave up on her. It was a beautiful night to be on the beach: full moon, big silvery waves. Unfortunately there were waaaaaaaaay too many people, despite the whole timeslot dance. The park has a cadre of volunteers to monitor the turtles, tag and measure them, watch out for illegal poaching, etc. When one of the volunteers spotted a turtle laying eggs, we all crowded around for a look. It was cool, but also very weird. I mean, how would you feel if a bunch of people got all up in your business with a bunch of infrared flashlights?? As somebody said earlier in this trip, "You almost want to tell the turtle: Ma´am, I apologize for the intrusion!" True dat. But it was still a groovy and unique experience.

And then we spent a bunch of time standing around on the beach, not getting any further information from Maria, unlike the other tour groups whose guides were spouting off turtle tidbits and other info. We watched one turtle come lumbering out of the surf, take one look at the ginormous crowd, and whip a u-turn back into the sea. Can´t blame her one bit for that decision! We did watch another huge turtle make her way back into the ocean, having finished the work of laying and covering up her eggs. Those things move pretty fast, considering it´s like dragging yourself up and down the beach on your elbows. The whole thing reminded me of that episode of "Ren & Stimpy" where they did the nature show... and if you get that reference, you´re even more twisted than I thought! ;)

turtle egg campaign 1 - the Butthead Approachturtle egg campaign 2 - hey, big boy, real men don't need turtle eggsSadly, it's still common practice to steal turtle eggs right from the beach. They're believed, among other things, to have aphrodesiac powers. The Costa Rican government has launched some interesting PR/educational campaigns to discourage this activity, and there were posters up all over town. These are two of my favorites, each taking a slightly different approach to the same message: Hey, dude, listen up! It is so NOT COOL to consume stolen turtle eggs! They do not make you more of a man! Cut it out!


Posted by soniaz at 12:00 AM | Link | 0 comments
26 July 2007
Mariachi Torture
A circuitous route to Tortuguero

Yes, boys and girls, it´s time for another stressful travel day! It didn´t help that I got barely any sleep due to an incessantly barking dog yapping all night long. I´m completely over the hammock thing, too. I said goodbye to Jules and Tony and happily left Puerto Viejo for Tortuguero, further north on the Caribbean coast. It´s only accessible by boat, and you have to go through Limón, which is a total pit, but Tortuguero is a protected turtle sanctuary so it seemed unique and worth the trouble.

Heh. Famous last words.

The bus to Limón was no big deal, although we did have to stop for another of those police searches where they made us whip out our ID. At least we didn´t have to get off the bus. Got to Limón and there was a cab driver offering rides to Moín, the port where you catch the bus to Tortuguero. Perfect! Wouldn´t have to spend a minute more than necessary in Limón, a place where most guidebooks strongly recommend against female travelers staying the night lest you be swept up into a prostitution ring. Lovely. The driver turned out to be quite a chatty fellow, and offered me his opinions on everything from curvy women to the Israeli-Palestinian situation.

He dropped me off at some random restaurant on the edge of the canal in Moín and said the boat to Tortuguero would be $35. Yikes! That´s $15 more than they said it would be at Rockin J´s... but then again those folks tended to have less-than-reliable information. Well, let´s face it, it doesn´t make sense to argue over a measly fifteen bucks. Maybe it´s possible to get a better deal on the ride back. I paid the fare, got a receipt, and was told that the boat would be coming by around 3pm. Ehm, what? It´s like 11:30 now! What the hell am I supposed to do for almost four hours in this dump?

empty bar, scene of Mariachi Torture sessionAnswer: sit by myself (or occasionally with the proprietors of the restaurant) and watch bad Spanish game shows that favor the sound effect BOIIIIIINNNNNNNG. Midgets, too! (Bruce, you woulda loved it.) Then the situation went from bad to worse when they turned on this awful music that sounded something like a twisted Spanish polka, blasted at ear-shattering volume. Just what the flock is going on here? Does this guy just REALLY like this music? Does he think I might like it? Does he think it might attract other patrons?? The only other living thing on this block is an irritating squawking turkey-type bird across the street. Maybe the bad mariachi music is meant to drown out the turkey? DAGGER that there´s no one else here to appreciate the sublime weirdness of this situation...

never smile at a crocodile!Just as I was sure the godawful mariachi music was going to drive me insane, 3:00 rolled around and the "Bananero" boat showed up. Ohthankheavens. On the boat were a few other gringos and a handful of locals. Where had they come from and why had they not been subjected to the Mariachi Torture Machine? Life is not fair sometimes. Anyway, after the usual Tico pickups and dropoffs, we cruised out to the canal and cranked northwards. The scenery was absolutely stunning. Lots of birds, flowers, trees, you could hear the howler monkeys off in the distance, and we saw an *enormous* crocodile on the riverbank. Got right up close to him, and he struck a menacing pose, and then slunk into the water. Kickass.

sunset on the Rio TortugueroWe stopped at some random bar for a pitstop. There was a garden with beautiful tropical flowers and two kids playing with their pet parrot. Much nicer than any reststop along I-95! And the sunset was spectacular as well. Serene and beautiful. This boat trip was the perfect reminder that it´s GREAT to be alive. Mariachi music notwitstanding.


Posted by soniaz at 12:00 AM | Link | 0 comments