Travelling is freedom - Basti´s global journeys

The Caribbean´s two big Ws: Waves and Wildlife

Hola viejos

I am in San Jose now, the capital of Costa Rica. The last time I wrote to you, we had just crossed the border after 5 days in the middle of the jungle of Panama, far away from civilization. In Costa Rica we basically went up from south to north along the Caribbean coast, which has strong Jamaican Iguanas spend the whole day sunbathing to heat up their body for the night, much to the conent of us wildlife paparazis influences and is therefore slightly different than the rest of the country. However, one thing remains the same throughout Costa Rica: it has just so much wildlife! So get ready for a lot of animals, in the jungle and on a plate!

The rice and beans dilemma

We loved Costa Rica from the moment we got out of the bus in Puerto Viejo. Reggae music 24/7 everywhere, colorful paintings on the walls of all the Classic: cooking our tomato pasta in a very questionable kitchen in Tortugero houses, Rasta people greeting you with Costa Rica´s slogan pura vida amigo, tourists and locals using bikes as the main means of transport and the sound of the braking waves in the back – beauty.

We found shelter in a hostel founded by a German/Yemen guy, and you could tell immediately that it had been set up by a European – everything was organized, clean, spotless. It was a proper contrast after five days of having to walk 100m through muddy jungle in the middle of the night to go for a wee.

The one thing that didn’t change with this new more luxurious setting was the food we ate. Because it is so expensive to eat out, we basically have the same We eat the same stuff every day (pasta with tomatoes and peppers or rice with tomatoes and peppers), but occasionally we treat ourselves with some nice ingredients, here some fresh marlin! stuff every day. Breakfast: Untoasted slices of the cheapest toast bread with peanut butter (and now we added cheap pineapple jam, a little mid-vacation treat), then lunch usually pasta with tomato sauce or rice with tomato/peppers sauce. Then for dinner always the one thing we didn’t have for lunch. And this every day… The problem is really that they do not have a lot of ingredients, especially not a lot of vegetables. Meat, fish and fruit is expensive and we only buy it occasionally.

I am quite impressed by what we actually manage to dish up considering the scarce resources we have. And sometimes, every second day or so, we prepare one very nice dinner. So we had fresh marlin in a lime/black pepper marinade, whole fish with a Caribbean style coconut/coriander sauce or vegetable curry   Proper Homecooked Carribbean meal: fresh fish, rice and Coconut/Corianders Sauce (yes, this means tomato/peppers + the one corgette we discovered) with fresh yucca fries.

All of this stands in total contrast to the unhealthy, horrible diet of the Ticos, or Costa Ricans. Breakfast: rice and beans with a fried egg. Lunch: rice and beans with chicken. Dinner: rice and beans. We reckon that this custom dates back to when they actually had to work all day. Nowadays, they don’t, plus they love fizzy sugary drinks. The result is that an enormous amount of people here is obese, similar to the US and the food is not really appealing to me.

A green role-model

Before I continue on with the stuff we have done, a little bit of history: Unlike most other Latin American countries (such as Panama or Chile), Costa Rica was never really colonized. These beautiful iguanas get up to 1,5 long and have vivid green and yellow collors Despite the deceiving name given to it by Christopher Columbus (Costa Rica – rich coast), it did not have a lot of natural resources and it was full of tropical deceases. Moreover, the indigenous population was crippled from 800 000 to around 800, by killing and mostly by European diseases. Because of this, Costa Rica´s population today is mostly white or of Caribbean descent, who were used as slaves after the indigenous had all died.

Costa Rica developed very differently from most other countries. It abolished its army more than 50 years ago and declared more than 27% of its surface a national park. The result is a country with a unique approach to wildlife and the environment, which builds on eco-tourism and sustainability rather than profit maximizing exploitation of its resources. Nevertheless, Costa Rica is not freed from dam projects and deforestation, however, it is not a way smaller scale than in all other developing countries and the national parks are indeed amazing in the way they are maintained and the wildlife they offer.

Reaching the purpose of our trip – the Sloth Sanctuary

Enough now, let´s show some animals! As I have already stated in several News from Central America, the reason why we came here are the sloths! These After lunch, this sloth decided to chill in the tree for a couple of hours for a nice nap. We go quite excited seeing the first wild sloths beautiful creatures live in the tropics of the equator on the American continent, but nowhere are they more plentiful than in Costa Rica. We rented some bikes in Puerto Viejo and went for a 20km (exhausting) ride along the sea to Manzanillo, a beautiful Caribbean town with Sloths passing an endless palm-fringed beach. To get there we had to pass through the jungle. I was driving ahead and Celia at the back, then at one point I heard her saying: awwwwwwwwwwwww. So we stopped and there it was: our first sloth in the wild! It was quite far up in the trees and was gone by the time I had my camera out. I don’t know how Celia managed to see that while cycling but it was an emotional moment for two people who have been looking forward to this for months! On the way back, Cecilia (“The Tiger-Hawk” as she is now known) saw another one, this time closer to the road, just chilling up in the tree on the fork of a branch digesting and looking at us. And this time it didn’t move!

The following day we moved town 30km further up the coast to Cahuita, same same but different. Still all the Jamaican vibes, but less tourists. From here we Once a week (babies more often), sloths come down from the canopy for their weekly poo, a highly dangerous activity, considering all the predators waiting for this moment could take a bus to the one and only Sloth Sanctuary, the only institution of this kind in the world. We did a tour there and not only did we get to see the cutest animals I have ever seen, but they also told us everything there is to know about this gentle animal.

There are two kinds of sloths, two-toed and three-toed. They look fairly similar and both hang down from trees all of their lives. However, they derive from Baby two toed and baby three toed sloth in the sanctuary completely different species. As a result the three toed one has double the amount of ribs, can turn its head up to 270% and eat leaves only. The two toed on the other hand cannot turn its head more than 90% and is carnivorous, eating insects.

A sloths day looks like this: wake up around 11am, eat for a couple of hours, have a nap and digest until the sun sets, than move to the next tree, head back to sleep and wake up the next day at 11am. Then once a week they will leave the canopy, descend and do their poo. This is also the most dangerous By weighing the baby sloths they can check whether they pooed or not and adjust their diet moment, as they are vulnerable and Jaguars and Harpy Eagles love to feast on them.

However, their biggest threat are humans. Most of the sloths we saw, so the ones which cannot be released back into the wild because they wouldn’t survive, were electrocuted by power lines (they think that they are branches), trapped in barbed wire or driven over by cars. Sloths with minor injuries are pimped and then released back into the wild.

The best part of the tour were the baby sloths, undoubtedly the cutest thing I have ever seen. They give them stuffed animals, which they believe are their mothers and they will never give it away. Then they look at you with their constant smile, hanging down from the top and just chilling. So cute.

The Sanctuary was amazing, and it is the only place in the world where they also do research into these incredible animals, which have so much to teach us, as they do not worry, they just spend their day chilling in the trees, eating, napping and sleeping – awesome!

Pura Vida surfing – ocean 1 – Basti 0

The Carribbean Sea around Manzanillo, at the very southern end of Costa Rica After our sloth desires had been more than fulfilled, we came back to Cahuita to enjoy Costa Rica on another level: the sea. The Caribbean Sea can get quite rough here and it is full of deadly rip tides, which claim several lives every year. The waves carry a lot of water to the coast, which cannot flow back because of the currents. It gets more and more until it finds a narrow underwater tunnel out into the sea. Within seconds, millions of liters make their way back into the ocean and now imagine you are swimming, or even standing in the water when that happens – bam, There is a big rasta surfer community in these Carribbean towns. After Miguel´s awesome lesson in the rough Portugese sea I had to try again! you are gone. The only way to survive is not doing anything, saving your energies, waiting until it´s over and then swimming back to the shore with the waves. Now I am not the best swimmer either, therefore I respect the sea here a lot and I do not really go swimming.

I did make one exception though. At 50m from our shabby guest house in Cahuita, a free national park with an endless Caribbean beach is used by quite a lot of surfers to show off their skills. This spot is safe and they rent boards for a couple of hours. After the professional training that I got by Miguel in the cold and rough Atlantic Coast of Portugal I wanted to try these even and perfect waves without a swim suit and rented a body board.

The proof that I owned those waves! Well apart of the time when I tried to imitate the locals and go for the big ones, that kind of backfired It was way easier in Cahuita than in Portugal, as you do not have to fight your way through high waves coming from all directions to get to the breaking point. The water is very shallow and you can just walk there. I got a couple of nice little waves, had some fun but got bored. I wanted the big ones! So I took my board, swam around the little ones and was soon floating next to a Rasta surfer who looked at me in way that was all but reassuring. We were chilling there for around 10 minutes until the wave we had been waiting for arrived. My problem is that I cannot really swim well, and without fins I really cannot accelerate. I am forced to just wait for the wave to come and hope that it will brake right where I am, in order to catch it. If it breaks later, well I have to wait for the next, and if it breaks before me… So I see this huge wave coming, I see it piling up and then realize that it is braking 5m before me and I just saw this 2m wall of water crashing onto me behind my feet. BABABABABABABABABAAAM – the board hit me in the face, I swallowed liters of seawater – Ocean 1 : Basti 0. I was defeated.

Turtle times in Tortugero

Our last stop up the Caribbean coast was the small town of Tortugero. Reaching it was quite an adventure. Bus, walk, bus, bus, and then 1.5 hours boat ride The water and the waves might seem nice, but they the Carribbean Ocean is full of lethal rip currents so this was actually the farthest I would go in down a jungle river. The town itself literally means “big place where turtles stay” and this is exactly what it is. During the nesting season, so from June to September, thousands and thousands of turtles come to the 28km beach to lay millions of eggs.

Unfortunately, this is one of the few remaining places in the world where they can do so, as turtles are very sensitive animals and will not leave the sea if they see any lights on the beach: street lights, a bar, a headlight or even the flash of a camera is enough to make them stay in the water and lay their eggs there (which means they will not hatch).

In Tortugero, on the other hand, a huge national reserve has been built for them. Tours are heavily regulated. You can only go in small groups, all dressed in This is the hole of a Green Turtle. It lies its eggs, than it closes the hole with sand from another area nearby. As a result, the eggs are underneath a higher pile next to the hole. Afterwards, it slowly crawls back into the sea. dark clothes, no headlights, and no cameras (so no pictures of this guys). Once close to the beach, you have to wait until one of the two spotters has found a turtle which has started the egg-lying process. As soon as they start this, the turtle enters a trance and will not notice anyone as long as you keep it low. So then you can walk up and watch it lay hundreds of eggs into a hole, close it and go back into the sea.

When we got there, I thought we would see a 30-50cm turtle. But these Green Turtles are just massive! They are up to 1.50m in diameter and 300kg heavy! We stood next to it, then at some point this other turtle comes out of the sea and wanted to lay on top of the other to steel her spot! This would have interrupted the process and the eggs would have been lost, as dogs, birds and other animals will eat them if they are not properly buried under a meter of sand. Our guide had to push this huge animal away until it turned round and went back into the sea.

Unfortunately, only 1-3% of all the baby turtles actually make it into the sea, the rest dies on the hazardous trip there and in the shallow water. They will leave the Caribbean and spend their lives elsewhere, until they turn 25, when they will come back to exactly the same beach in Tortugero to lay their own eggs. They can live up to 100 years and I really hope that more places in other countries will take a similar approach and start protecting these highly endangered animals, which are so sensible to environmental changes and are simply beautiful.

Crossing a border to eat pizza

We had an awesome time in Tortugero. We found this cheap hostel, 15m from the sea, hammocks all over the place and just good vibes. The rest of the Beautiful, picturesque Carribbean beach days we just walked up and down the endless beach, looking at all the footprints left by the turtles the night before, the eggs that had been uncovered and eaten and the thousands of holes reminding of a beach war zone. The palm trees, the sun, the turquoise sea – I can only highly recommend the Caribbean Sea, it is beautiful!

But it was time to say good-bye, we won´t see the sea again on this trip. We took the boat back through the jungle, got onto a bus and are now in San Jose, a very ugly city and most of all a dangerous city, probably the most dangerous I have been to on this trip. Costa Rica might be different to its neighbors, but it is still on the drug trail from Columbia to the US and therefore full of drugs and weapons. It is more controlled here, but many barrios of this city cannot be walked at all, and all of the city should be avoided at night.

Fortunately, we found this awesome place on the internet which lies outside of the center, in the north, in a safe, posh, residential area. They picked us up from the bus terminal, drove us here and are very helpful with everything.

Tomorrow, or better in a couple of hours, we are taking the 6am bus straight to Nicaragua (tranquillo, the owner of the hostel is driving us to the station). The reason we are going is simple: pizza! Everyone we talked to about Nicaragua tells us about this mysterious place on an island in a lake, on the slope of an active volcano, in the middle of the jungle, run by an Italian. It is an eco-hostel, where everything is produced on spot and most of all it has a proper stone-oven to make pizza. Tuesdays is pizza night, so our aim is getting there (car, bus, border crossing, bus, cab, ferry, bus, cab, walk = mission) in time for a nice napolitana in the jungle! We cannot wait!

Hasta luego chicos


2 Responses to The Caribbean´s two big Ws: Waves and Wildlife

  1. […] Ok, let´s turn to my favourite topic: food! To be honest, this is the reason why I favoured Morocco to our other choice, Turkey. Especially after our last trip in Central America, where the lack of culinary variation was awful and we lived off rice, beans and tomatoes. […]

  2. […] Turkish and Middle Eastern influences. I was really looking forward to it, especially after our Central American food experience, where the diet consists of rice and beans and beans and rice, every day. And where fruit is […]

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