At the point I left Nicaragua, the time was running out for my Central American adventure: I had to meet my folks in Lima, Peru in eight days time, and was flying out of Panama, two countries away. I don’t regret the time I lingered longer in the places, like El Tunco, or visited places I never expected to such as Lago de Apoyo, but it meant I had to move now and quickly. That’s the thing with travel: the very best adventures are had when you follow a new path, a new lead, a new tale from another traveller, and that’s why you should never plan. Except to see loved ones. Of course.
So I got up bright and early and left Hotel Oasis for the Ticabus station enroute to Costa Rica. We had assigned seating and my seat companion was a Costa Rican gentleman who told me all about his trip to Nicaragua in lightening-speed Spanish: I didn’t have the heart, or the conversation gap, to reiterate my “no hablo espanol muchos” and “despacio per favor”, particularly when he started getting a little teary. From our hour-long chat, I vaguely caught that he’d had an eye operation, he’d made some wonderful friends in Nicaragua and his mother was very kind. But I could be wrong. Noticing that there were some empty seats up the back, I excused myself to go to sleep and promptly bumped into my friend from the Ometepe, Annalise, who was on her way back to Costa Rica where she’d been learning Spanish and volunteering. I sat with her for the rest of the seven-hour journey and she told me about her favourite places in Costa Rica, with pictures – it looked magical.
We got to the Nicaraguan/Costa Rican border in only three hours and as we waited for the passports to be processed, my old seating companion presented me with a handmade red card. Inside, one side featured cut out pictures of the World Cup 2014 U17 woman’s football team’s logo and another with a football and on the other, a feather painted with a beach scene. Quite unique.
Anyway, the journey continued, passing through the beautiful lush greenery of the Costa Rican landscape. Annalise got out in La Libertad to get down to Jaco and I heading on to San Jose, the capital, for my obligatory one-night pit stop. There, I had to choose between going west towards the beautiful beaches of the Pacific side, or east towards the Caribbean side, with the promise of sloths, beaches and an easier way to go through Panama's Bocas del Toro afterwards. I choose east.
Still jumpy from San Salvador, I didn’t go out at night in San Jose except to get a pizza - palma ham and rucola, one of the best I’d had in a long old time - from the pizzeria, the Corner, right next door to the hostel. I ate, I wrote, I facetimed my folks and I slept and that’s really all to say about my San Jose experience. Early the next day, I got back on another bus and headed to Puerto Viejo.
Puerto Viejo is beautiful and sleepy and straight on the beach – as soon as I got there, I headed directly for the highly recommended Hostel Pagalu and took the last available bed. After watching the sunset over the beach, I had a quiet night in and wrote; ready to see some sloths the next day.
The next morning I was chatting to my fellow dorm mate Thierry and it turned out he was going to the Jaguar Rescue Centre too so we hired bikes and made our way down early. Thierry is such a sweet quiet fellow – an only child, he had self-reliance and quiet amiability, choosing silence and smiles to check whether all was OK as we travelled along. It felt comfortable to be silent with him – and I needed some silence. At the Jaguar Rescue Centre, we went on a tour – the only way you can see around it actually – led by the super knowledgeable and ultra smiley Kevin. I was glad we chose the Centre as opposed to the Sloth Sanctuary, which was more than three times the price. I liked the Centre’s aims and the way it lovingly cares for its animals, which it finds in all sorts of situations: beautiful rare birds which had been illegally sold on the black market, wounded monkeys, abandoned sloths, blind birds. They were all there, looked after with care and supported to, wherever possible, go back into the wild.
We saw so many animals that day: beautiful owls, baby monkeys, curious anteaters, reptiles of all kinds and… sloths. One of my very dear friends said, drunkenly, at my work leaving do, that if we had to pick an animal we most looked like, she would pick the sloth for me. Hirsute with a slightly vague expression on their sweet little faces. I don’t agree. But I do love them – they are so very weird and adorable. I didn’t get to cuddle them as I wanted to, but got close enough to marvel at them, moving slowly and strangely, with their long arms reaching assuredly to grab hold of each new branch, and then stopping for a while to chill out. So weird. So wonderful.
Thierry had heard about a beautiful beach from another traveller so after the Centre, we cycled the 19 kilometres to Manzanilla Beach, parked our bikes, had a fresh coconut for refreshment and then hiked a mile or two to the secret beach. It wasn’t secret, really, but there was hardly anyone there and it felt like we discovered it. The sea was a such a range of blues, from turquoise to deep blue, and framed by golden sand and coconut trees. Such a delight - and it's the picture on my homepage. On closer inspection there were two other people on the beach – a half-naked man who seemed to be doing some interpretive dancing without music - to the waves crashing perhaps? - while facing the sea. He waved a cheery hello as we passed him and resumed his slow movements while his partner lazily looked on from her hammock that she’d hung up to a nearby coconut tree. “He must be French,” said Thierry. “He could be Australian,” said I - but it all seemed perfectly normal in such a place.
We were getting hungry so we made our way back into town, cycling along – such a great way to get around on a warm summers day near the sea – and looking up into the trees to see if we could spot any sloths. We headed to the local supermarket for tomatoes, avocados, cheese, fresh bread, ham and cervesas and set back out for a picnic on the beach – we went to Playa Cockles for the last of the day’s sunshine. It was another beautiful beach - and different. The colours again were a myriad of vibrant blues and gold and greens. A magical place, a special place.
I’d packed so much into the day so the evening was very chilled out, spending the time chatting with Thierry and fellow travellers before going to bed early ready for my trip to Panama the next day. It had been a wonderful day – and such a beautiful place. And like most places I'd been, a very different, unique kind of beauty. It was a delight to be there - pure delight to have experienced it - and I was reminded of how lucky I was to be doing this and seeing these things. Pura vida, Costa Rica: I will be back.