Friday, October 5, 2012

Visa Run Day 6: On the Costa Rican road again

DISCLAIMER: Alison here . . .  I’m writing a series of guest blogs covering 9/30-10/7 – the dates where Nick, Minh and I joined Vic on his visa run to Nicaragua and the journey through Costa Rica back to Costa de Oro.

Date: Friday 10/5/12

Location: Costa Rica: Playa de Costa de Oro, various Guanacaste province driving

Word of the day: Aguacate – avocado. I love me some avocado. The most amazing thing about Costa Rican avocados is that they are humungous. Ingrid, Vic’s Tica housemate at Pretoma, brought one back with her from her uncle’s house in San Jose and it made enough guac to fill an entire serving dish! The most surprising thing about the size is that they really maintain the creamy, full flavor of the smaller Hass avocados back home.

Costa Rica Fact: Costa Rican cows are a bizarre sight from the road. They are plentiful livestock, especially in the Guanacaste province where we were driving all day. They have wobbly necks and look distinctly different then American cows. When asking local Ticos about this – they mostly shrug and say, “They’re just cows.” But upon further research, I have discovered they are Brahman cattle. They are common in this area because they have sweat glands, unlike the common cattle of North America. The Brahman cattle originated in India and are much better suited to the climate of Costa Rica. 
 2AM wake up call for what will be Nick and Minh’s last turtle patrol. They both have flights out of San Jose this afternoon – so we are all doing the full patrol with Vic and then hitting the road.

We start out the walk once again thankful for the moon the lights the way. There are a few babies that have come up in the hatchery and need to be released so we count them, attribute them to a nest in the Pretoma records, put them in the bucket and head to the beach. Once on the beach, we plan to walk a little ways with the babies before setting them free. Since Olive Ridley turtles come back to the same spot they were born to lay their nests, Pretoma focuses on releasing the babies from various spots on the beaches so there won’t be a nest pile up in 12 years when they all come back and start the circle of life over again.

We walked a couple of sectors (100 meter sections) down the beach and stop to set these babies free. I don’t take many pictures since it’s the same red light situation, but we stand on the beach and watch in the moonlight as they made their way the five feet down the sand and into the waves to be swept out with the tide. It never gets old.

We continue our walk down the beach in companionable silence for a bit before we come across the first turtle tracks on the beach. We follow them up the beach and using the CSI style evaluation, quickly determine where the nest is. 

Vic uses the stick method and digs down to the eggs before turning it over to Nick again to pull the eggs from the nest and put them into the transportation bag. Nick is a bit horrified that he might hurt a baby turtle egg and takes his time with the first couple eggs until Vic reminds us that the longer we spend here, the more time poachers have to get the other nests. This speeds Nick along and he quickly puts the 100+ eggs from this nest into the drawstring bag to carry the rest of the way on our walk before putting them in the hatchery.

The rest of the walk is fairly uneventful as we do not see any more turtle tracks. But we make our way to the estuary, turn tail and head back to the Pretoma house. We alternate quietly and conversationally walking and enjoy the time on the beach.

When we arrive back at the house, it’s time to dig a nest in the hatchery for the newly rescued eggs. We select an empty plot and Vic digs a hole the appropriate depth. Nick gently pours the eggs from the bag into the new nest and covers them with sand. There are a few more baby stragglers that have come up while we were on our walk and we gather them, count them and release them before heading inside for a quick breakfast.

Minh and Nick pack up and load the car while I make coffee and Vic makes breakfast to eat before we hit the road and drop them off in San Jose. Today, breakfast is French toast made with horchata instead of milk! Delish. We all eat a couple of pieces and down some coffee before packing up the car and hitting the dirt road.

We decide to attempt a new route to San Jose that will not take us through the ridiculously steep mountains – but end up on that route anyway. All roads point to mountain unless you are meticulous with your directions. We don’t make an attempt to change this though as we are all pretty excited to see what this route is like in the day time.

The sun is just coming up when we head out, so by the time we are climbing up the first set of steep switchbacks we have incredible views of sun soaked valleys in the yellow of the day's first light. 

Definitely worth the drive through the mountains.
We encounter no cows blocking the roads this time as Vic drives the sharp curves and steep hills over the mountain to cross the Nicoya peninsula. The road flattens out when we near the town of Nicoya and we are on track for the quick trip to San Jose.

The rest of the car ride passes fairly uneventfully – a good thing since we are on a time table for their flights – and we get to the airport with plenty of time. Vic and I drop Nick and Minh off, say our goodbyes and are sad to see them go. And then there were two.

Vic and I decide to grab lunch near the airport and set our game plan for the rest of the day. We find a place nearby that is likely describable to the TGI Friday’s of Central America. But it’s new to us! Plus I am ecstatic at that thought of  a fountain Diet Coke. So we grab a table and order the same thing – a delicious looking rice dish that includes cheese and spinach. Our sides are plantains and avocado. Can we be any more Tico?

We look through the guidebook and chat. We have a few ideas of options – but are both so tired that we instead opt for simply driving and taking the long way home, stopping for vistas, photo ops and fun along the way. This week has wiped us out.

Lunch is delicious and we watch a rain storm rolling in as we eat. We pay our bill and head to the car before the rain sets in; we are able to beat it out of San Jose. We hit the road toward Puntarenas – our first photo op – and settle into the drive.

Though I’m sure Vic would hate to admit it, he napped a bit as I drove while we rocked some NPR pod casts. It’s surreal to drive through the country side of Costa Rica. For a while, you are just driving and everything is great. And then you pass over a gap in the hills where you can see out and beyond the valleys forever (sometimes all the way to the Gulf of Nicoya or Pacific ocean) and you are like, “OH YEAH! I’m in Costa Rica.” It’s unmistakably beautiful in a way I have only ever seen in this country. The weather was beautiful, the windows were down and the drive was a blast.

When we reach Puntarenas – we hop out for a photo op of the Gulf of Nicoya. There is not much to see, but whales have been known to head to this area for warmer waters in the winter months. Fingers are crossed, but instead we just got some solid photos of the gulf. 

Back in the car we chat and drive until we reach another landmark mid-Guanacaste: DINO WORLD! We have passed it several times on the trip and decide this is a perfect opportunity for a photo shoot. 

Post photo shoot, we decide not to go for the tour (it was an hour long!) and instead continue on our way to Costa de Oro. We make one more stop near Tres Hermanas (home of the famous arroz con camarones) to grab an ice cream cone at Pops. I go for ron con pasas and Vic for dulce de leche. We eat them in the parking lot and they are a sticky, delicious mess. 

Vic takes the wheel for the last hour and a half of our drive. Our final stop before the dirt road stretch is the super mercado so Vic can grab a couple more things and stock up before he’s once again car-less. This super mercado does not offer the same musical stylings of 80’s rock n roll, but the people watching is fun and I’m always a fan of checking out products in other countries. Even the packaging is interesting. 

We are on the road shortly and when we turn off the main road for the dirt road stretch, we again attempt to avoid the mountainous route and fail. Still make no attempt to re-navigate and enjoy the ridiculous/beautiful roads.
We make it back to the Pretoma house to find Kayla and Ingrid home; Courtney is off with her visiting family for the evening.  For dinner, Vic makes us some coconut curry chicken with  leftover pulled chicken and serves it with garlic green beans and Costa Rican rice and beans. It’s delicious and perfectly spiced. 

We eat dinner along side Kayla and Ingrid. We chat and listen to Kayla’s billboard 100 list on Spotify. Little lizards are in the house running along the walls, eating the bugs and making the cutest noises as we chat.

It’s fun getting to know them and learning about the things we all have in common. Dinner is delicious, conversation is good and we are wiped from the drive so make it another early bed time before the 2AM turtle patrol (Ingrid and Kayla take the 10PM patrol).

Sleep comes fast and solid until the early morning wake up call.

  • Make the drive fun because it’s half the journey
  • Sunrise is almost as good as sunset
  • Ice cream melts just as soon as it’s exposed to Costa Rican air
  • The best conversation time is right before eating – it’s always fun to chat while prepping meals and hanging around in those pre-dinner moments
  • I am really digging all this going to bed early
  • Café con horchata
  • French toasts con horchata
  • Arroz con queso y espinca; yucca y aquacate
  • Coconut curry chicken with veggies, rice and beans
  • Rice pudding made with coconut milk

Animals: turtles, turtles, turtles!

Something I am thankful for: Knowing when to appreciate I'm already doing; taking the long way home. After Vic and I dropped off Minh and Nick at the airport, we had some thoughts on hikes and other activities around the San Jose area, but after talking about it we decided we were both exhausted from the days of travel, early turtle patrol and no sleep. We opted to skip the hike and make the car trip back to Costa de Oro leisurely with stops where we saw opportunities for fun. This laid back attitude was the perfect opposition to the physically demanding and activity filled theme of the trip thus far. Instead of packing too much in, this day ended up being relaxing and full of fun, pod casts, conversation and beautiful vistas.

Something I don't want to admit: I always realize how much I love fountain coke when I travel. At home, I always think of myself as just a water drinker – and then I am posed with situations where fountain sodas are not an option and I realize the depth of the issue. Particularly today when we ate at the Costa Rican TGI Friday's and I was able to order one – so good. But Diet Coke in Central America is much different than North America. It’s called Coca-cola light or “Coca light” to the locals. In North America, it is sweetened with aspartame but in Central America, it’s a blend of three different artificial sweeteners which leaves I much sweeter to taste. I know none of that is good – but I just love it.

Total Nest I have saved: Two!!
Total Nests Poached on my Patrol:  Zero . . . so far
Total Turtle Eggs I saved: 204+
Total Baby Turtles I Released: 250+ (I’m not the scientist – so we will be dealing with rounded numbers on my count :)
Days of Rain: still only the one in the rain forest
Miles traveled: 510km (316 miles) – the round trip the San Jose airport was about eight total hours in the car. Good thing the views were so pretty!

1 comment:

  1. Agreed. Love to take the long way around! Buenas!