Pura Vida (Part 1)

Published: March 31st 2016
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Sunset Over Salsa BravaSunset Over Salsa BravaSunset Over Salsa Brava

Some say that sunsets never get old.
To travel a fairly short distance, I had to make five connections, which was a bit of a joke. So when a colectivo offered to take me straight to the Costa Rican border and thus saving me two connections for just $10, I decided to take a slight kidnapping risk by agreeing to the offer. Things didn’t get any more encouraging when I turned out to be the only passenger in the colectivo, but it all worked out fine in the end and I even had a decent chat with the driver. By the time I added up what I paid for all the different transportation I had taken, I only saved $8 in the end versus a direct shuttle from Bocas to Puerto Viejo but such was my determination to save money.
To make things worse in this respect however, the $60 shuttle bus I bought out of Costa Rica to Nicaragua on the basis that I thought I needed to present an onward journey to Costa Rican immigration, wasn’t even checked.

There are two accepted currencies in Costa Rica; the local colon and the US dollar. Which as useful in the sense that I had a lot of
Salsa BravaSalsa BravaSalsa Brava

Surf beach closest to Puerto Viejo.
US dollars left over from Panama, but when you get your change back in colones, it is at an arbitrary/generally-accepted exchange rate of US$1 = 500CRC so as well as things being expensive here, I may also have been getting fleeced a little on the exchange rate.

Arriving in Puerto Viejo, I reunited with Kurt again, who I hung out with in Bocas del Toro. He had taken an earlier shuttle bus that morning and I was following through in the afternoon.
We had a late-afternoon dip at the scenic but not-greatest-for-swimming Playa Salsa Brava, best known for its gnarly waves. We would liked to have had a drink at the beachside bar behind us, but none of us could really afford it.

We ended up cooking and eating our leftover pasta from Bocas at Kurt’s hostel – I would’ve stayed there too but Kurt got the last bed there – where we ended up playing drinking games with the hostel’s other temporary residents. The dice game made a welcome comeback, this time with guaro as opposed to cachaça, which is pretty much the same as aguardiente in Colombia.
This warmed us up sufficiently for a night out at Tasty Waves – a place far
Outback Jack'sOutback Jack'sOutback Jack's

The type of place typical of Puerto Viejo's nightlife.
enough away that we had to hitch a ride there in a pick-up truck – where it was busy with ladies’ night, with free drinks before 11pm.
We mingled with the mostly gringo posses of American Spring Breakers, Swedes and Germans that was part of the larger, overall mainly female crowd at the bar. The Spring Breakers’ collective lack of knowledge of the early 90s hip-hop and R&B classics being played – Warren G and Ini Kamoze being just two of the artists that were boomed out of the speakers that night – made me feel desperately old. Come on, how can you not know “Regulate” by Warren G?!

There are several beaches within close proximity to Puerto Viejo and partying apart, are the town’s main draw. With the main road some way back from the beach however, it was difficult to spot the unmarked public turnoffs to the beach and we ended up cycling up all the way to Punta Uva.
With cliffs on one side and wild jungle coast on the other, it was a fairly scenic beach although not as scenic as Cayo Zapatilla in Bocas. The sand was wet where we were too, which wasn’t
Playa NegraPlaya NegraPlaya Negra

Just before sunset.
to my liking and I would have preferred being in the sun, which was safely behind the clouds that day.
Carrying on up to Manzanillo, the beach there was much better, the water almost being like a gigantic swimming pool. It was wider, lined with coconut trees and was nice and open, though it came at a price – US$2.40 for a bottle of Coke to be exact.
We finished up our beach day at Playa Cocles, which wasn’t as scenic as Manzanillo but was more rugged – mostly from the strong waves there. They were fun though, and they were quite big – they crashed quickly, so attempting to catch them ended up dumping you into the ground. After our workout on the waves, I could have easily fallen asleep right there on the beach but sadly, it was getting dark.

There are more gringoes in Puerto Viejo than locals for sure…and they, like us, were all on classic bicycles with baskets on the front of them. But the town itself has a really friendly, relaxed vibe, emanating from both gringoes and locals – a vibe that makes you want to stay a bit longer.

Which is
Punta UvaPunta UvaPunta Uva

Supposedly a good snorkelling spot, I wouldn't put it among my favourite beaches around Puerto Viejo.
exactly what I did the next day.
Looking ahead at my itinerary of Central America, I found myself with a pretty tight schedule in order to get back to Europe in mid-May to meet up with a friend in Bilbao. However, the meeting wasn’t confirmed yet so I was wondering if I really had to rush. Having then got a message from my friend instructing me to plan my travels without him at 5.45am in the morning – the time I was supposed to leave to catch my bus to Tortuguero – I decided in my sleepy stupor to stay another day.

Which at first, felt like the wrong decision.
My hostel had no space for me that night and neither did Kurt’s. So I ended up at a nice but mosquito-infested hostel which wasn’t ideal. And rather than spending more time at the beach, I found myself having an admin day instead – when I realised that I had made a huge budgetary blunder on my money-tracking spreadsheet. I basically have a credit card debt that I didn’t factor in and I’m going to have to find money from somewhere to pay it off. The problem isn’t enough

Calm beach about an hour's bike ride from Puerto Viejo.
to fully derail my travel plans but it might well curtail them somewhere down the line.
So it was a stressful afternoon, especially as I discovered this mistake while in the most expensive country that I have visited on this trip so far. It is crippling. It was already expensive to start off with but I really couldn’t afford to be paying US$10-US$20 a meal now. Looks like I’ll be cooking for the foreseeable future.
It isn’t just food though – transport and doing cool stuff is also ridiculously expensive. US$35 here, US$40 there – it would all add up really quickly. I couldn’t wait to get to Nicaragua to take some pressure off my wallet!
I seemed to have had a delayed hangover too, from two nights’ partying in a row – I was surprised I wasn’t feeling like shit the previous day – and all this added up to telling me that I should’ve moved on…that I needed to get out of Costly Costa Rica as soon as possible!

Part of the reason why it is so expensive here is the fact that there are a lot more short-term tourists here, particularly from the US. You can
Playa CoclesPlaya CoclesPlaya Cocles

Beach with big, fun waves.
spend more when you’re still working and earning so this drives prices up. The fact that US currency is also accepted doesn’t help either.

Well, what a difference a few beers can make.
With Kurt convincing me to bring a few beers to his hostel, before we knew it, we were off to get more free drinks for the ladies (and thus, for us) with ladies’ night on again at another establishment with an amazing location right on the beach. The vibe was a bit too relaxed and chilled however, and the drinks were far too weak for what we were after so we moved on to arguably the biggest place in Puerto Viejo, Rocking Js, which was as the name suggests…rocking! It was ladies’ night here too and the drinks on offer here were a really strong fruit punch and unlimited tequila shots. This was more like it.
A live band belted out classics by The Police, Lionel Richie, Bob Marley (for a beachside town, an obvious choice) and The Clash and a good boogie was had by all. They even had a beach party / camp fire going where there was so much weed being smoked, you
Swing SwingSwing SwingSwing Swing

By a bar on Salsa Brava.
didn’t even need to be smoking it to get high. It was fun!
I got talking to Amy, an English girl who was in my dorm the previous night and we had a really enjoyable conversation about travelling, drinking games and the chaos unfolding around us. It helps if you’re both a bit tipsy too! Also fun was another English girl Paula, who I had also chatted to the previous night at the hostel. Good times! And I didn’t even have to pay a cent! I love this place!
I wasn’t going to be making any sensible decisions about my next travel move in this state – which should be to get to Nicaragua ASAP – so I resolved to stay another day in Puerto Viejo to sort it out.
PV was now turning into my Hotel California – rarely have I come across a place on my travels so far that I had really wanted to stay in for so long. I will go as far as saying that it is my favourite place I have been to so far in Central America and one of my favourites in both Central and South America.

The decision I made
Lunch With A ViewLunch With A ViewLunch With A View

They set me back US$18 but they were among the best fish tacos I've ever had.
the next day was to skip Tortuguero on the basis that it would be too expensive, too expensive and difficult to get to, that I will go to the Amazon one day to see similar things, and that I would see sloths in Monteverde – which was now my next destination.
On my last day in Puerto Viejo, I just relaxed on Playa Negra – named after the black sand on its beach – watching the waves roll in while listening to music. Bliss.
Having had plenty of partying, I decided that it would be a quiet night. Especially considering that I had an early bus the next morning…

So as suggested above, my next blog entry will be coming to you from Monteverde. So until then, as they say here in Costa Rica;

Pura vida!

Additional photos below
Photos: 12, Displayed: 12


Crossing The BorderCrossing The Border
Crossing The Border

Crossing that has to be done by foot from Panama into Costa Rica at Guabito/Sixaola.
Hostel ShowerHostel Shower
Hostel Shower

Maybe the fanciest hostel shower I've seen, at the Sel & Sucre.
Watching The TideWatching The Tide
Watching The Tide

Not much beats lying on the beach and listening to some tunes. This is Playa Negra with its black sand.

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