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Published: August 6th 2016
“Your credit card please.” the gentleman at the front desk of the Christina Apartments asked me politely. I just arrived in San Jose from Quepos on an afternoon flight. “Sure, it’s Visa,” and I was about to take my wallet out, when I felt an arm on my right shoulder. I am usually alert during my trips and I turned around like a lightning rod to confront the intruder who I thought was laying his hand on my backpack. Surprise, surprise! I saw my friend Dipankar was standing there with a big smile. “Helllllooo”, - I gave him a high five so hard that my palm was burning. If you recall from one of my earlier blog that Dipankar and I departed our own way from Monteverde…I went towards Arenal and he went to climb Mount Chiripo…the tallest mountain in Costa Rica.
“So, tell me about your trip. Did you climb the summit?’ I was excited.
“Yes, I did, well it was not perfect…but I managed it.”
“Com’on, details please!” I was teasing him.
“Let’s first complete the check-in.”
We spent the evening listening to each other’s experience in the last few days over dinner. His
story of climb was interesting, actually very interesting I should say. Perhaps, I will share the story some other time. Let’s talk now about our trip to another amazing place - Tortuguero. Tortuguero from San Jose
I met so many people in the recent past who have either visited or about to make a trip to Costa Rica. Monteverde stays in the top of the list for most people. Tortuguero didn’t make it to their itinerary. I don’t know why! Tortuguero National Park is an amazing place on earth for eco tourism. I haven’t seen many places in the world where only way to travel there is by boat or flying. Few years ago I travelled to the Mangrove swamps in the delta of the Bay of Bengal, the only place on earth where tigers are man-eaters by nature. Again, the only way to travel there is by boat! But that’s a story for another day.
It was a clear morning with a mixture of sun and cloud when the bus came to pick us up from the hotel. It’s a 7-seater and already a couple of passengers were sitting in the front. Photography is
my passion. I got a front seat and I fixed my camera on the dashboard with the video running and put on my video-sunglass.
The bus rolled along the highway 32 towards Cariari…some 2.5 hours drive from San Jose. Soon we left the city limit and the bus was cruising along the vast banana plantations towards Cariari. We stopped at a couple of places – once to check out the banana plantations and then to check out a lazy sloth on top of a tree. A bus load of people also pulled up, who normally wouldn’t care less when they see such a non-descriptive creature in a confined environment like a zoo. But when such a sight comes up during a trip or something like that, all hell breaks loose! People with their sophisticated DSLR cameras fitted with the impressive zoom lenses started running around just to get a glimpse of the animal. I am also not excluded from such a frenzy, although I just carry a half-decent point and shoot that goes in my jeans pocket. The bus stopped in Cariari for a short while and then started towards La Pavona where the boat leaves for Turtuguero. We
arrived at La Pavona around 11:30 am and we were guided to a boat where others also joined. Peter, a man with British accent was in charge of our boat of 20 people. It’s not a luxury boat by any means and we settled on the wooden benches of the boat. I took the front bench and Peter allowed me to go the starboard to take some panoramic shots.
I loved every minute of the 2 hours boat ride to Tortuguero. We travelled along the swirling grey coloured river in the high tide. The dense rain forest on both sides was touching the river. I could spot croc resting on the logs by the river side, herons were searching for fish, and Capuchin monkeys were jumping on the branches of the tall trees. It’s not the vastness of the river that made me awed, but it’s the eerie feeling that I will ever remember the journey. Peter was giving a running commentary about the rivers. I asked him,
“Peter, what is there beyond the jungles?”
Peter gave me a sideways look and said “More jungles.”
“Does anyone ever trek on these jungles?”
“Whoever goes never
comes back,” Peter was calm. Then he added,
“You can give it a try, but it would be a one way ticket, my friend.” he said flatly.
The boat arrived at the Tortuguero village in the afternoon. It was a short walk to our hotel from the dock. It’s a family run hotel and the owner used to live in Canada long time ago. There was a lady in the front desk.
“Hola,” I said, “We have a reservation.”
She checked the register, looked at us and confirmed with a smiling face,
“You have two rooms reserved. Enjoy your stay!”
We went out for a walk after leaving our luggage in the room. By no means it’s a town…rather, it’s a village alright. But I loved it. Narrow roads, sometimes not even paved, flowers everywhere, Durians were hanging from the trees, non-descriptive simple houses of the villagers, a village school with a soccer field, .…it’s the portrait of an easy going life style that I thrive for so often. No stress, no cosmetic make up of a city life, a serene, tranquil life style of a small village strip that is surrounded by the
rivers on one side and the Caribbean Sea on the other. I crave for such a life style where I don’t have to join the rat race for everyday living and I don’t have to fight the road rage and traffic in everyday commute. The people here don’t have huge ambitions that we call “success”; they live a life that is shaped by the eco-system of Tortuguero; go fishing in the morning to the sea or maintain a small grocery store to cater the needs of the boat-load of the tourists that arrive here few times a day. July-October is the season when the sea turtles lay their eggs on the beaches. January is the low season and not many tourists were around, and it was a lazy afternoon that we strolled around the village.
“I want to take a dip in the Caribbean.” I said
“Have you already forgotten what happened to you in Manual Antonio? You don’t even know how to swim, you fool.” Dipankar snapped back. “Besides, the sea is rough here.”
I have been always stubborn, “I won’t go too far,” I told him. I quickly changed and went for a dip in
the Caribbean. A bit deeper inside the sea when water level reached to my chest, I could feel the current and I quickly came back to the shore. It felt good after the dip. Back in the hotel, we settled in the porch with our drinks and watched a beautiful day slowly faded away beyond the Tortuguero River. Few people were boating in the river at a far distance, their silhouette figures drifting towards the vast green horizon of Tortuguero. These are the special moments I treasure for my rainy days to get me going.
“Hey, are you guys interested to go for a night walk in the swamp?” Paul the hotel owner came and asked us. I suddenly remembered what Peter told me in the boat from La Pavona to Tortuguero – “It’s only one way ticket, my friend”. Paul laughed and assured me, “no sweat pal, you’ll come back”. Dipankar asked from the side, “Also, how about a boat trip in the morning to enjoy the rivers and the rain forests?” I have to admit, this guy comes up with some bright ideas in rare occasions! “Deal”, Paul told me and asked us to get ready.
It was pitch dark when our boat slowly anchored close to the swamp in high tide. Daniel, our captain cum guide told us, we will be out of the swamp in a couple of hours before the water level drops down. Otherwise, we spend the night in the swamp! “You kidding, let’s get going,” I thought. We were wearing high rubber boots to walk through the swamp. With us, also came a family of three. The husband and wife are both biologists. Their lovely little daughter was showing her enthusiasm at every little insect that we were discovering on our way. I was convinced that she is also growing up to be a future biologist. We were trying to track down the poisonous frogs and the nocturnal lives in the swamp. To me, thumping in the swamp in pitch darkness was good enough to give me some low dose excitement of Indiana Jones!
We were back in the village around 9:00 pm. The village roads were deserted except some stray dogs. Tortuguero has long gone to sleep. Dipankar and I didn’t have dinner and we were hungry. It didn’t take us long to search the entire village. Nada! Finally,
we found a place where lights were still on. We stepped in. Now, listen to this. Two young girls were mopping the floor, the restaurant was closed. The girls looked at us. My Spanish doesn’t go well. So, I asked them politely in English,
“Do you know any place where we could have a quick bite?”
“All are closed.” One of the girls replied. But the other girl came to us and told us in clear English,
“You are welcome to sit. I will make some food for you; you look so hungry.”
I couldn’t believe my ears! Is she my mother? How did she know that we were hungry? I read long time ago somewhere, that all women in this world have the mother instinct. And perhaps so! I have seen this over and over again in the streets of Cambodia, mountains in Vietnam, villages in Thailand, towns in India and now, in this obscure village in Tortuguero. This amazes me! There are certain qualities in life, some unparallel humanity within women that we can only acknowledge with gratitude. “Thank You”, is never good enough! Once again, my head bowed down in gratitude to this
young girl, and to the entire womanhood in this world!
“You have to wait a bit and it will be a simple meal,” she said. Such a young girl, but so much matured humanity! Why can’t everyone be like that? We don’t need much in life; - a little bit of love, a touch of compassion and this world would be such a better place to live in! The girl stood in front of us to make sure we don’t leave hungry. My eyes welled with tears. I had my best dinner of the tour that night.
It was an early morning boat ride next day before sunrise. Still the mist was rising from the Tortuguero River; birds were chirping everywhere, jasmine flowers spreading the lovely smell. I always cherish these lovely mornings at the crack of dawn. Ah, it feels so great! The whole world feels so serene, so pure, and so sacred. The dust on the ground, leaves of the trees, rising mist from the river, - they all remind me that how fortunate I am to wake up and see another lovely morning in this beautiful world that we live in. In times like this,
I want to be alone to absorb the softness of the breeze around me and the serenity of the early morning smell. But it was time to board the boat, no time for soul searching. The gentle ride through the rain forest, the reflection of the green lives on the tranquil water in lagoons, the herons on the tree tops, - it was a perfect portrait of a collage that Mother Nature creates every day for us. We forget to watch. We forget to take a deep breath of the morning mist.
We returned at the right time for a tempting homemade breakfast with toast, eggs and orange juice. It was a lovely morning.
We spent the day lazily strolling around. There was nothing much to do…a complete day of relaxation after plenty of zip-lining and mountain climbing. Now this is the funny part! Dipankar and I were sitting on a rock at the middle of the village square and watched people go by. A couple of stray dogs were hanging around us hoping for food which we didn’t have. There was a road nearby. We were betting on the people who would turn right on
the road and who would turn left. Dollar a person! I was winning when an elderly person came to us, totally bewildered. I looked at him wondering what he is up to when he said,
“Well, I lost my hotel.”
“How could you lose your hotel? Which hotel?”
“It’s a resort type hotel”.
“What’s the name?”
“I don’t know, my wife knows.”
“Where is your wife?”
“She is in the hotel. And she has the direction.” Great! That helps a lot, I thought!
“Then how did you come here?” I asked.
“Well I took a boat tour and they dropped me to a wrong spot and left. Are you the village information guys?” Now I understood why he came to us. Two vagabonds sitting on a rock in the middle of the village doing nothing and they look Latino – what else could they be? Must be the tour guides!
I wished he could remember the name of the hotel where he was staying. We took him to the REAL information center, five minute walk from there. The next boat would be around 4:00 pm, they told; so be it,
finally the couple would be reunited, I told Dipankar. That was our good karma for the day other than betting in the afternoon.
All good times have to come to an end. Our flight back to San Jose was early in the morning. The boat came to take us to the airport, only 5-10 minutes ride to the airport. It’s a sleepy village airstrip by the Caribbean. We were first to arrive in the airstrip. When we took off amid a misty sunrise, Tortuguero village was still asleep, guarded by its ever flowing rivers and the rain forest. Suddenly I felt a void, a nostalgic feeling towards a place that I have fallen in love with. It’s a special moment that I didn’t feel for other places in Costa Rica. Perhaps it’s the simplicity of the village that embraced me without any vanity; perhaps it’s the unique landscape of Tortuguero that sparked my desire to live in this world for ever, or, is it the touch of heart from a young little girl who made sure I don’t leave her place hungry that night,- I don’t know. But I sure left a part of me in Tortuguero
that would remain there forever, mingled with its dust and swamps and the flowers and its rain forest. I pressed my face to the window to get a last glimpse of my beloved Tortuguero, fading away fast in the morning mist. I realized I was lip-singing to a song that was buzzing in my head with soft sadness,
“…my heart is down,
My head is turning round,
I have to leave a little girl in the Kingston Town…”
Yes, I’ll be back again…sometime…someday.
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