Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Heather's Brusque Initiation into the World of Backpacking

Heather came to Costa Rica prepared. After hearing countless travel tales of how I've run from cannibals, barely escaped the fangs of cobras, waded through typhoid fever, etc., she was ready for an adventure. So what kind of big brother would I be to disappoint her??? We started off easy though with her first night in a beautiful antique hotel in Alajuela, Costa Rica. The fresh blackberry juice in the breakfast alone was enough to addict Heather to the joys of traveling... the calm before the storm...

From there we rushed to catch a bus which carted us off to the Pacific shore as we rattled back and forth with stories of South America and Arizona. It's funny to see how each person interprets the same experience differently... for example, on the bus ride Heather continuously pointed out the fact that all the houses had shiny clean floors regardless of the state of the house - that is a fact that I have never noticed in all my years of travels!

After a few hours of lush vegetation and clean floors, we came into the dock where our new friend from Massachusetts, Wayne, guided us to the ships to travel across to the Nicoyan Peninsula, one of the hotspots for jungle beaches in Costa Rica. There was quite a wait, but we eventually left the dock around 4:00 p.m. and had a peaceful sail across the water...

On the other side, as night was falling, we caught a bus which slowly wound down the coast towards our final destination of Las Palmeras. Now, being a responsible brother, I had done something I hadn't done on these entire travels... I paid for a reservation! The obvious advantage of that is that we had a definite place to stay. The not so obvious disadvantage is that we had to find it.

The website had given vague directions and Joo and I had slightly conflicting memories of it. She thought it was located in a town called Montezuma and I thought it was in Cobano, but we definitely knew that it was right next to the soccer field so we weren't that worried at first. We got off the bus in Cobano and amidst a sea of taxi-drivers with widely-varied specious directions, it became clear that none of them really knew where it was. However, it was clear that it was not in Cobano... strike one. So, as it started to rain (which it inevitably does in these situations), we lugged our backpacks down the road in search of an internet cafe to double check the directions. Unfortunately, the first three people told us there was no internet in town. The fourth told us there was and we followed him several blocks to an internet cafe which did in fact have computers but no internet (they told us it was out on the entire peninsula). We asked to see the phone book, but the number wasn't listed. It was getting a bit strange since it was a small rural area and the locals who had lived there their entire lives swore there was no hotel called Las Palmeras. Feeling stuck, I tried calling a British guy who owned a nearby hotel and he reassured me that it did exist and it was in Montezuma.

So we found a friendly taxi driver who said he knew exactly where it was and took our $8 to drive us there. We did indeed arrive at Las Palmeras but it was a restaurant, not a hotel. What was happening? Strike two. Now we were getting a bit frustrated, but we walked into Montezuma and lo and behold, there WAS internet! We checked the website which listed the hotel at three locations, Cobano, Montezuma, and Delicias. Having tried the first two, and carefully reading the other directions, it became glaringly clear that Delicias was indeed where we needed to go. With that settled, we dried off and got some food in our bellies and laughed over the adventure.

And as Joo said, that would normally be the end to one of our adventures. But not that night. After dinner, I took the phone number for the hotel and tried to call on a pay phone. After several failed attempts, some locals informed me the pay phones didn't work. So I begged someone for a cellphone and called the number but there was no answer. Not a big problem... we would just go anyway. After all, we had reservations.

We asked a few people where it was. The website had made a point of mentioning how CONVENIENTLY LOCATED the hotel was and so we thought maybe we could just walk. It was soon clear that was not possible. Everyone we asked was helpful at first until we told them we were trying to go to Las Delicias. Then they just shook their head, laughed, and generally said something like, "You're @$#$ed!" So we tried to find a taxi. But there were none in the whole town. There was, however, a guy who was quite intoxicated but trying in his own way to help us by setting us up with a pirate taxi driver. We debated back and forth about the safety of this since it would obviously be too dangerous to walk but we didn't fully trust the driver (who, thankfully wasn't intoxicated). Instead, we decided to scrap our reservation, even if it meant losing all the money, and just finding any hotel to stay in. Unfortunately, they were all full. We finally spotted a REAL taxi driver who said he had never heard of the hotel, but he would take us up there to Delicias.

Surprisingly, we found the place fine, which was in the middle of nowhere but right next to a soccer field, and got out in relief. It was now about 11pm. The driver pulled away and we knocked on the door... no answer. We knocked on the back door... no answer. For the next 15 minutes, we yelled, knocked, did everything possible, but it appeared that no one was home. Finally, the Irish owner came out in her nightgown and said, "Oh, I was wondering if you would make it up here! Most people who make reservations just never show up for some reason!" Hmmm... I wonder why...

She was actually very kind and gave us a much larger cabin after all we had been through. THEN... the adventure was finally over and we could collapse in relief (see the first picture of this blog). Aside from a monster cockroach lurking in the bathroom...

everything went smoothly from then on, and Heather had her first experience of sleeping in a mosquito net. She slept rather soundly, although she did have some altercations with the IBB (Imaginary Bed Bugs) that Joo had grown to despise. Of course, the next morning, as Nora the Irish lady cooked us up a fine breakfast and the sun broke over all the lovely colors of plants and animals and our nostrils filled with the fragrant fresh air, we all laughed together over the experience and Heather felt like a true backpacker!

Two days later, Heather had planned for another big travel day... back to the mainland and up a long, winding road to the mountains of MonteVerde where the Quakers had settled. The travel itself went quite smoothly until it got dark, started raining, and the mountainous dirt roads turned to mush. After it seemed like we had stopped particularly long at one random bus stop on the dark roads, the sounds of spinning tires alerted us to the grim fact that we were stuck. The driver ordered all of us off the bus into the mud and rain, but after about 10 minutes it was apparent that only the foreigners had heeded his words as the blank stares of the Costa Ricans peered out at us. A couple cars zoomed down the one lane road from the opposite direction, promptly getting stuck sideways and further sealing our sedantary state of affairs.

After fully soiling their feet and shoes somehow (which I'm still not quite sure how since my shoes were probably even cleaner when I re-boarded the bus, thanks to the rain) Heather and Joo huddled together on the bus until the driver gave it full gas and got us out of there!

1 comment:

  1. WOW, this blog grew from the first time I saw it.