Tortuguero with Jungle Tom - Day 566
In our short time in Costa Rica, as well as La Fortuna and Monteverde, we wanted to visit Parque Nacional Tortuguero. The only way to get there was to get to La Pavona dock by road and then an hour's boat ride, (or flight, but we didn't consider this, we wanted to see the countryside)
Three bus rides, a water taxi, accommodation to book and a guide to find; the thought of organising this didn't float my boat, so a quick search on google I found an alternative. An overnight tour with Jungle Tom Safaris!
Once we compared prices, the tour was not that much more expensive.
We were picked up from our accommodation at 6 am and met our guide, Luis, plus eight other passengers who, unlike us, were only on a day tour.
Luis chatted continuously for the whole journey, and we quickly were thrilled that we had chosen this tour.
He informed us about the weather system, why the east of the country gets so wet resulting in the stunning rainforests. The band of mountains and volcanoes act as a barrier.
As we crossed this range, the heavens opened. We even saw a Tracked Digger slide down a huge mud pile towards us. The passengers in the back of the coach shrieked, so it must have been a close thing!
We stopped off for breakfast and in the restaurant grounds were tiny "Blue Jeans" red frogs, named this as they have blue legs. Indigenous people would wipe a needle over the frog's skin to make a poisonous dart to shoot their prey. The poison was destroyed by cooking the animal. I decided not to kiss these frogs.
Our Galle pinto (rice and beans) with scrambled egg and plantains was the best we have had and, of course, the coffee was divine — an excellent start for our trip.
Back in our minibus, after a short while, we stopped, and Luis and the driver got out. They were looking up in a tree searching for something. We were beckoned out and there, curled up and looking rather wet was a two-toed sloth. Wow, how cute! We saw two more (a two and a three-toed), including a baby along our journey, as well as some Howler monkeys and a Keel-billed toucan high up in a tree.
Luis carried on with our Costa Rican lesson and showed us a fruit which from first sight looked like a tomato. It was a peach-palm. Luis had cooked some, they can't be eaten raw, and we all had a try. Imagine a peach flavoured sweet potato.
Later we stopped outside a large pineapple farm, and Luis explained how unripe piñas are sent around the world, riping during the journey. Here we eat the ones left to ripen on the plant; so deliciously sweet and juicy.
We also passed a banana farm where the enormous bunches of bananas are grown in large plastic bags, stopping insects and monkeys feeding on them. The introduction of bananas to Costa Rica is an interesting story, but if I write it here, this blog may turn into a book! Look up Cooper Keith, coffee, rail tracks, given land, slaves, feed with bananas. Got the jist?
We finally arrived at La Pavona and piled into one of the long narrow boats. Our trip continued with Luis saying that the more animals we spotted, the more lunch we could have. He was such a fun character.
Not long after our launch, he spotted a baby crocodile basking in the sun. These can grow up to 7m here. No swimming in this river then!
One of our group noticed an otter swimming. He was undoubtedly getting lunch! Unfortunately, another boat zoomed up, scaring the otter away.
Our driver also had hawk-eyes and spotted a bright green Basilisk, a type of lizard, sitting pretending to be a leaf. Her disguise didn't work. Her partner, larger and more ornate (if that is the right word) was probably close by, so we all peered around. Yes, there he was on a branch — what a beauty.
We next veered off the main river down an inlet where the water looked like liquid chocolate. Luis explained that tannin in the leaves of a giant Palm caused the colouration.
It was so peaceful gently gliding through the rainforest, listening to the cacophony of birds hiding in the trees.
We finally arrived at our rather luxurious hotel, not our usual establishment to stay in and waved goodbye to our fellow passengers.
Wow! We would have missed this fabulous trip if we'd come here by ourselves. That extra expensive was oh so worth it, ten times over.
And it continued. We were greeted by a delightfully friendly man, Kevin, offering us a complimentary drink. He was going to meet us at the village later after lunch, so we had two hours to relax and eat.
We arrived by boat to Tortuguero village, which is on a long, thin piece of land spilt off from the mainland by the river and canals. Immediately we sensed a good vibe from this colourful village with its strong Afro-Caribbean roots, plus Kevin and his silver teeth grinning and greeting us.
We discovered that Kevin originates from Bluefields in Nicaragua (the place we didn't warm to). He left there 16 years ago with his Mum and six siblings and now settled here with his two young children.
He showed us around; not that this took long. We could easily see through to the Carribean sea. Kevin advised us not to swim due to the strong rift currents. He said that 6 people died in them last year, then with a twinkle in his eyes, added that they were all Brits.
As we wandered around, we noticed bright fun statues scattered all through the place. These were waste bins. What a great idea to encourage people to throw away their rubbish.
We said "Hasta luego" and strolled onto the black volcanic sand, dipping our toes in the warm sea water. This beach is famous for the Leatherback and Green Turtles that come to breed here each year (the name Tortuguero means ‘turtle catcher’). We wanted to know more.
Further down the beach was Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC), the oldest and highly acclaimed sea turtle organisation in the world! We watched a video of how it was founded in 1959 in response to Dr Archie Carr’s book, 'The Windward Road' which alerted the world to the plight of sea turtles.
Dr Carr managed to change the minds of the local people from taking the turtles eggs or killing and selling the turtles, to protecting and conserving these magnificent prehistoric creatures.
STC now is a research station, visitor centre and provides highly reputable volunteer programmes. We are quite tempted to return here in a couple of years. If you are interested to learn more, go to https://conserveturtles.org
What a fun-packed, fruitful day with nature. Thank you, Jungle Tom; highly recommended.