Pulpology: Mark & Sonia's Intercontinental Absurdities!

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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

25 July 2007
Lazy day, crazy night
How I became an assassin

Tony ponders life's mysteries from a hammockA laaaaaaaazy rainy day, and the perfect excuse to lounge around in a hammock all day, reading and chatting. Met a new friend in the hammock lounge at Rockin J´s, a biology teacher from Darby, England, named Tony. Funny guy! Seems like you could wind him up and he´d chat all day. But unlike most people, where you´re wishing they´d just shut the hell up after a few sentences, Tony managed to keep me (and then Jules) amused for the better part of the day. We discussed hacking, teaching, travel philosophies, and how much fun it is to pretend to be a different profession when you meet new people. I´ve decided that from now on I´m going to be an international assassin. I could tell you more, but then I´d have to kill you.

Benno & Adele are ANIMALSWhew, and that totally lazy day turned into a totally crazy night. Where to begin? Around sunset, Tony introduced us to two of his British cohorts, Benno and Adele. They set up a minibar next to Tent 25, and we spent the next hour or so playing some wacked drinking game with animal charades. (Tony, if you´re reading this: I MUST get those pics of each of us "doing" our animals!) Once we were good and knackered, it was time to head out in search of dinner.

And that´s where things started to go a bit awry. It was only then that we noticed just how much gin & tonic Adele had put away. She was a little wiggy to begin with (who gets fired from a volunteer job on a farm after just one day?!?) but the booze put her over the edge. After Adele caused a bit of a scene at the first restaurant because they were out of whatever the heck it was she´d wanted to order, we decided to split before they started spitting in our food or worse. OK, the second place seemed to be a better choice, until Adele decided to order us all a round of tequila shots and then was shocked when the bill came. And then she insisted we were all angry with her for incurring this extra expense, so we had to have a big group hug in the middle of the dustry street. Fantastic.

Jules and Tony with their fierce bouncer staresRight, so we finally made it to Cafe Maritza, where there was indeed live reggae music and all of Rockin J´s seemed to be present. The place was OK, but had that tinge of malaise you sometimes get in Caribbean clubs... as though one of the edgy Rasta guys might just whip out a knife at a moment´s notice and gut one of the turistas like a fish. Fortunately we had two fierce-looking bouncers in our posse. ;)

After listening to the thunderingly loud music until our ears began to bleed, we headed outside for some air. The evening´s coup de grace was seeing Adele engage in conversation with the magic-doin drug-sellin guy who looked like a grizzled Santa Claus, and then insist he was her friend and that he was going to give her a ride home! And then -- wait for it! -- she got on the handlebars of his rickety-ass bike and they rode off into the darkness. We worried for a bit that she might wind up sold into white slavery, but then decided that she´d probably annoy her captors into letting her go within a day or so. Ay caramba.

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

24 July 2007
Beachy goodness in Puerto Viejo
And a romantic candlelit meal

Turns out sleeping in a hammock is more novelty than comfort. Or maybe I am just getting too old for this shizzle. (Never!) Anyway, I was happy to get out of bed at the crack of dawn. But not so happy to discover that for the first time there was no free coffee at this place! Buzzkill!

Nevermind... Julia had mentioned something about renting a bike to explore the nearby beaches, and I decided to do the same. The beach within a few steps of the hostel was convenient, but littered with rocks and dead reef and other scratchy unpleasantries. Supposedly the beaches just to the south were much nicer. And for $5 a day to rent a bicycle, it was hard to go wrong. Even if you haven´t actually *been* on a bike since the early ´90s!

Lizard pigI wobbled down the road to check out "The Lizard King," the nearest high-speed internet cafe, and was shocked to see how expensive it was. ($4 an hour, are you kidding me?) Nevertheless, the place was run by two Cali expats with a pet pig, and had air conditioning, so it made for a nice place to spend a quick hour catching up on email.

beachy goodness at Playa CoclesNext stop, the beach! The guidebook (and also the chick at Lizard King) recommended Punta Uva, but I opted for the much closer Playa Cocles. Not a bad place to spend a few hours. Wide, sandy beaches, lots of surfers, nice breeze. I parked my trusty steed and headed past the lifeguard stand. Owwwww! Molten hot sand! Back on with the flops! I set my stuff down and jumped in the ocean for a dip. The water was really warm, and the waves weren´t as dramatic as on the Pacific Coast, but it was still fun to bob around a bit and watch the surfers. Tons of surfers, from seemingly every country. Kids as well as adults. Fun to watch!

And from there, a trip into "town" to find a decent grocery store. A much more pleasant trip than the previous day, sans huge bag and with some rickety-but-functional wheels. It´s definitely got more of a Jamaican feel here, with Bob Marley all over the place and tons of little streetside vendors. I found a grocery store, and an ATM, and headed back to Rockin J´s feeling very productive indeed.

Julia with our fry-up masterpieceOnce again, Jules and I proved that we really need to open up a restaurant. We´ve perfected "hostel cuisine" even under the most challenging of circumstances! Tonight´s repast was a sausage and potato stir-fry, with a splash of red wine, and I must say it came out astonishingly well. Ehm, and the astonishing part came when all the power went off! Fortunately we were cooking with gas, baby, and had a handy lil´ flashlight to get the job done. That´s right, we rock.

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

23 July 2007
A Red Umbrella travel day
Time to hit the other coast
Today I found myself thinking of Barney and Jill and the rest of the crew from Marriott eCommerce who worked on the Red Umbrella project. No surprise, you guys nailed it: travel *is* hard, even when it´s great! I had one heck of a Red Umbrella day today.

Apparently I used up all my good bus karma getting into Alajuela, because getting out was a royal pain in the tuchus. First, I waited for the neighborhood bus -- which was supposed to run every half hour or so -- which would take me to downtown Alajuela. And I waited. And I waited. Just as I was about to give up, the stupid bus finally arrived. Even though I was the only person on the bus, the driver grumpily made sure I was aware that the first seat was for elderly and disabled passengers ONLY. Yes, you´re so right! I´d better move to the back of the bus and make room for the hordes of senior citizens who are not on this bus. Good call!

I had explicit instructions from Margarita about where to get off in Alajuela to find the bus to San Jose, but something got scrambled along the way and I wound up a good five or six blocks (up a steep hill, of course!) from the station. Buses in Central America are never centralized from one terminal, and you always have to hunt around to figure out what block your bus is leaving from. So I wound up asking three or four times and had to walk an extra two or three blocks to find the "direct" bus to San Jose. By the time I flumped on the bus, I was a sweaty exhausted mess.

So I get to the big bad capital city, with no idea which terminal we´re at. I know I need to get to the Terminal al Caribe, and I know where *that* is on the map, but that doesn´t help when I don´t know where *I* am on the map. I asked a woman sitting on a nearby bench, and she just looked puzzled. (One of those "I know how to get there, but I don´t know how to explain it" looks.) Finally she said that it was too far to walk, and I should just get in a cab. Hallelujiah! First good advice of the day.

OK, so I arrived at the Terminal al Caribe, and it seems to be pretty clearly marked as to which bus goes where. One problem: there are two spots labeled Puerto Viejo. Um, which is it? I tried asking someone, and got another of those puzzled stares. Then I remembered that there is another Puerto Viejo, closer to San Jose, and I definitely wanted the *other* one near Cahuita, so I got in line at that bus. I loaded my bag in the belly of the beast... uh, bus... and got in line to board. Only when I got to the front of the line did the driver inform me that I had to buy a ticket inside. Great, with about three minutes to spare! Please don´t leave with my stuff!!! I dashed inside, and of course the guy at the window was on the phone with no reason to hurry and help me. I nearly reached inside the small window and shook him by the collar. Fortunately, there was no need for violence, and I managed to make it on the bus in time. Whew!

The ride took about four hours, and I could feel it getting hotter and more humid as we approached the Caribbean Coast. By the time we reached Puerto Viejo, it was downright sticky and so was I. Mmmmmmm! I got off the bus and realized I had no idea how to find my hostel, the infamous Rockin J´s. It was written up in my book but not on the map. I stopped at the first cafe I could find, and asked for directions. Oh, it´s about a 20-minute walk down this road, on the left side. Great! Twenty more minutes of walking around in this heat with this infernal backpack, and I just might keel over.

Puerto Viejo beach at sunsetI managed to make it there without collapsing in a heap by the side of the road, of course. And was pleasantly surprised to be reunited with my long-lost travel sista Julia! It´s always nice to see a friendly face after a long hot dusty transport day. A quick dip in the ocean, right next to the hostel, also helped improve my attitude immensely. All´s well that ends well!
Posted by soniaz at 12:00 AM | Link | 0 comments