Google maps said it would take 4 hours 25 minutes to travel from San José to Puerto Viejo. They were just a tiny bit out – it actually took 7 hours 46 minutes. But hey. The jackknifed truck wasn’t holding up traffic. Neither were the two trucks and three cars we saw in ditches. But for some unknown reason, about 10km on the SJ side of Guapiles, it took us an hour to travel 2.5 km. Thankfully the food vendors were on the ball. Word had spread of the tailback and they were out with the plantain and pineapple chips, so we didn’t starve. It was teeming rain; the thunder and lightning added to the sound effects. But traffic was moving against us, which ruled out an accident or a mudslide or just about anything else we could think of. We never did see what caused the delay but in the drive to Limon, we rarely, if ever, had the chance to break the speed limit.
Driving into Limón, through the massive banana plantations and the mountains of shipping containers, there’s little doubt as to what Costa Rica’s main export is. But given that the country’s main port offloads and onloads from here, with Route 32 between the product and the end-user, I’d not be a trucker in Costa Rica for all the chocolate-covered coffee beans the country could produce. Driving that road on a regular basis would play havoc with my sanity.
We hung a right onto Route 36 just before Limón, heading to the coast, down past Puerto Viejo. We were heading for Punta Chiquita, one of several beaches that dot the coast on the Caribbean side of the country. Puerto Viejo was hopping as we drove through. Lots of tan-limbed twenty-somethings on vacation. Plenty of bars and cafés and restaurants and shops selling just about anything anyone might need for a beach holiday.
As we left the lights behind us and drove up the coast, the vibe muted somewhat and the laid-back Costa Rica emerged. This side of the country is predominately English-speaking, many of the locals originating from islanders who came years back to work the plantations. We’re staying in a cabin in the rain-forest – one of six that make up the Mar y Luz hotel. It’s never silent. The orchestra of sounds plays 24/7 with birds, howler monkeys, cicadas, and lots more in concert. It’s hot and humid. Nothing dries. The ants and the mosquitoes are delighting in fresh blood. But it’s all rather amazing. The plants, the shrubs, the trek through the jungle to get to the beach… all quite something. There was the mother of all storms last night – the tin roof and open walls really accentuated the whole effect. From the safety of my mosquito net, I got to see and hear it all.
On the drive to the end of the road at Punta Manzanillo, the southern-most tip of the Costa Rican coastline (next door is Panama), it was easy to see how development is slowly creeping in. By all accounts, the Caribbean side isn’t nearly as developed as the Pacific side, tourism-wise, so it will interesting to compare. There is a lot of land for sale – plenty of sites, one in particular that I’d rather like. Just 2.5 acres with beachfront. Am not sure I’d cope with the humidity though – did I mention that nothing dries? I’m up at 5.30 every morning to catch some cool. The heat starts to roll in about 7 and by 8 I’m dying. The rains come promptly at 5. One day I’ll live by the sea, but, unlike the multitude of foreigners who call this part of the country home, I doubt it’ll be this side of Costa Rica, no matter how much I enjoy looking for sloths. [A young Italian aeronautical engineer runs the local pizza shack; a Spanish lady runs the wildlife refuge; half the wait staff are North American.]