A Page From My Journal

Sept 14-15, 2011

Picture this. Staying in a cottage/lodge steps from the jungle and the great canal, being woken up to the sounds of toucans and other birds and the howling of the monkeys. This was my experience in Pachira Lodge in Tortuguero.

We spent 3 days 2 nights in this jungle paradise. Upon arrival, we were immediately handed a cocktail to quench our thirst after an almost 2-hour boat ride to reach this place. That little treat scored big points for me. Before we even finished our drink, our room assignment was being given to us, right there in the pool area, by the bar. Our little group of 7 – the Friendly Planet group – was housed in one lodge/cottage. Each lodge is divided into 4 rooms – with double queen size beds. We were on room 2 and our lodge is closest to the dining area, bar, pool – everything. The monkeys and toucans also hang around the trees around our lodge.

Upon receipt of our room keys, we dragged our luggage to the room and was more interested in checking out what’s around the lodge than resting. The gardens are splendid. Total tropical paradise feel, and just yards away from the actual jungle.

We dumped our luggage, didn’t even bother to unpack. Two nights/3 days wasn’t that long to unload everything from the luggage. I just pulled out the t-shirts and the shorts/pants that I would be using while I was here and pulled out the toiletries, even though there were some provided.

Lunch time was calling. We were given our timetable, and lunch buffet is open for about 1.5-2 hours. Buffet is not the same as what we are used to in the states where there are endless choices of proteins and carbs and desserts. Here they have a spread of tropical fruits, 1 or 2 meat dish, a veggie dish, rice, and another carb choice, and 1 or 2 dessert choices. The juice is free flowing. They have wonderful selections like one day they had blackberry juice, which I never had before.

Plenty of time between lunch and 3 pm which was the time when our jungle walk/hike would commence. We walked around the perimeter of our lodge and I took the time to wash up a bit. I feel the need to always wash up here – sweat, bug spray and sunblock.

At the bar was where the group would meet for the jungle walk. Just off the pool area is a trail that leads to the jungle. Although we didn’t go far enough – ask anyone from the group and they’d tell you we wanted to go deeper into the mysterious forest – I had a good time. Immediately as we arrived at the foot of the trail, we were asked to look up the tree and see what’s there. I didn’t see it at first but suddenly I did, a three-toed sloth – I would trust my guide for I cannot see that far how many toes the sloth had. It was exciting. Julio our guide – with Mariano who handles mostly the Spanish speaking group – was very knowledgeable. Very likeable too and friendly, but keeps a tight rein with following the schedule.

He showed us different flora – some of which are not foreign to my eyes having been raised in a tropical country as well. I learned to be careful of where I step, be vigilant of other creatures that are sharing the space with me. We saw spiders – some scary looking and others cute – and mostly bugs. Learning about the trees and their symbiotic relationship with each other was very fascinating. It was tough to focus on Julio and what he was saying when the whole time all I could think about is how to compose the image that I was about to take. The blogger in me takes over sometimes.

Midway through the tour, my husband and I and another couple were lagging behind because hubby was taking photos when all of a sudden he saw a sloth on the ground. Sloths come down on the ground once every 9 days or so to defecate. Excitedly we alerted the group who were a few yards away from us to come back and see what we found. Julio in all his years of guiding tours has never seen a sloth on the ground before. The slow movement of the sloth should have given me ample time to take great shot, except that under the canopy where light is scarce there was only so much I can do. It was an amazing experience. Everyone was thanking the hubby for his keen eye.

It was dark inside the forest, but still light outside when we emerged from it. We had nothing to do – the time until dinner is ours to do as we please. This is a place where there are no phones, no tv, no internet. Across the canal, via a water taxi is the main village. They have a bar and some shopping and restaurants. But no one went. We all ran up to our room changed into our swimming gears and jumped into the pool. Since the pool is next to the bar, we had a few drinks while engaging in tittle tattle with our fellow travelers. I’ve never been in a pool this much time as I’ve had here in Pachira – there is nothing else to do. Plus, we found out soon enough mosquitoes cannot get us when we’re in the pool. So we spent time in the pool and gotten the cooling off we needed.

The next day our itinerary is full. After breakfast we took a boat ride across the canal to Tortuguero village. Mariano was in charge of the English speaking group this time. We walked around, watched the fire ants collect blades of grass and spotted some very tiny wren. We proceeded to go to the beach, which is a part of the sanctuary for turtles. Limited access to general public here because it’s part of the national park system. They want to preserve the sanctuary for these turtles.

The sun was high and unbearable. We were walking down the beach of the Carribean sea, but the seabreeze offered no relief to the heat. As we were walking along we spotted a baby turtle that died on the nest. When they hatch, they need to be able to leave the nest and get into the water before the sun is high. This one must have been caught in the heat, didn’t have a chance. Apparently the baby turtle has to hurdle many challenges for its survival. Predators like birds and dogs and other animals, people who still didn’t get the memo. Then from its nest it has to make sure it reaches the ocean before the sun gets too hot. Also we were advised not to pick up turtles, especially live ones, as they have sensors in their belly/feet that senses the and memorizes the path they take from the nest to the ocean, which will be very helpful if and when these babies grow up and mature to lay eggs.

While the beach was gorgeous and the tempatation to unlace my walking shoes and dip my heated toesies in the water was strong, I was glad that the beach portion of this tour was over. It was incredibly hot, people.

Finally, it was time to visit the village, which was immediately across the lodge from us. There is a paved path – should I even consider it road even when the only transportation that uses it is a two-wheeler bike – that goes straight parallel to the canal. Facing the village with our backs to the canal, we decided to walk to the right where both sides of the path are lined with stores and eateries and accommodations all housed in structures painted in vivid colors. We entered a few stores and bought turtle earrings for gifts and then continued our walk. My strength was dwindling mainly due to thirst and heat. I was able to finish a bottle of water immediately after we entered the village, but that doesn’t seem enough. I was still thirsty and at the same time worried that I might need a bathroom, which is a problem.

We spotted a cart vendor pushing coconuts – he was in demand – and my hubs and I split one coconut between us, which tide me over. And so I continued to shoot.

We returned to the lodge before lunch. While others jumped into the pool right away to cool down, I didn’t. The pool was under full sun and I was afraid I’d be taking extra sun than I needed (although I do have Vit. D deficiency) and that I’d be burned to a crisp so we just walked around and the perimeter and watched a family of monkeys swing from branches to branches, never gets old after two days 

Since we knew we wanted to see the giant turtle laying eggs that night, we had to buy our tickets at the reception area. After we secured our spots for the trip that night we lingered on the porch outside the reception desk where we could get a great view of the monkeys. I don’t recall whose cellphone it was that my hubs was carrying, mine or his, and why the heck was there a cellphone in his pocket in this out-of-the-way locale anyway, but for the heck of it he checked if there is wifi connection since we spotted a router inside the reception area. We were told this place has no phone, no tv, no internet. But yahoo, our little phone that could was able to connect to Facebook of course. And so he hurried to get the laptop in our room, which is a stone’s throw away from where we were sitting. I have to travel with a laptop because I need to upload my images to a computer – the bane of travelling with a compulsive shooter.

This serendipitious discovery has enabled us to email family and peek at facebook and allowed our newfound friends to shoot emails to their families as well.

Another couple that we spend our time here had shared that they had nowhere to go after we leave here tomorrow. They were under the impression that they were staying in the lodge for 3 nights. On the way back from the village, they chatted with Julio, our guide, about what’s in store for them tomorrow when the rest of us will leave. Julio told them WE all will leave. The lodge offers only either a 2 days 1 night stay or a 3 days 2 nights stay. And tonite is the second night here.

This is when my laptop was helpful. They had to make emergency travel arrangements. He even teased me why I’m carrying a huge laptop in this age when everything techie is going small. It’s a 15 inches laptop – not that huge, but it’s about 2 years old, antiquated to some, but it serves its purpose, cache for my photos and now their way to acquiring lodging for tomorrow night.

3:00 pm was the time the jungle cruise/boat ride began. As usual we were split into Spanish speaking and non-Spanish speaking/English speaking groups. On our boat we had Julio as our guide. Ronnie was our driver.

We sailed quietly, the hushed surroundings lent itself to a little meditative moment but we weren’t here to float aimlessly. We were here to see and hear and experience jungle. Parts of the jungle/national park can be explored by foot, which we did yesterday. Most of it can only be explored through the canals. There is an impressive canal system both natural and man-made that offers the best experience.

Have you been to the Disneyland ride to the jungle? This is a thousand times cooler and better. But having ridden both rides, I must say Disney had it right on target, but nothing beats the real thing.

Our driver had keen eyes. While the other boat passed us by because there was no activity going on, he spotted some curious lizards on the branches, by the bushes. He’s very good.

We continued floating by the canals, went into a smaller canal, which if my memory is correct is one of the man-made ones. These jungles are home to three different monkeys – howler, spider, and white faced. We saw all while staying in Pachira.

What a thrill! I cannot explain the pulchritude of the place or how affected I was of its serenity, beauty, power, and strength. If allowed I would not mind taking this boat trip every single day. So many things to see and hear and experience. Jaguars are said to live here, we didn’t see one that day. I wonder if they would come closer to the water. My guess is that they would stay deep in the forest.

Birdwatching is excellent, although there weren’t many birds. We saw enough to satisfy us.

The trip lasted 2 to 2.5 hours and we disembarked all sweaty and hot and in need of a dip in the pool. It’s an hour or so before dinner bell rings (figuratively) so we had plenty of time to congregate by the pool and enjoy some ice cold beverages.

Because of the propinquity of the jacuzzi/pool area to the entrance to the jungle/national park, we were watching the sloth up in the tree while soaking in the jacuzzi. How cool is that?

We had to take our dinner quickly because we had signed up for a tour to see the turtles lay eggs on the beach that night and it was starting at 8 pm.

I’ve noticed that people/tour guides are very punctual here in Costa Rica – no tour is late, earlier even.

We were transported from our lodge to the village by boat/water taxi and was met by our guide for tonight. It appears that a different license is required to guide tours for turtles laying eggs than regular tours, and Julio didn’t have that license. He was however very firm in saying over and over again to observe the rules set out by the park – without exceptions no recording of any sort, no cameras, no video nothing. When a tourist violates these rules, which apparently are enforced diligently, the guide will lose her license for a period of 1 to 2 years. No one wants to be responsible for a guide losing her job because we can’t follow the rules.

What I thought was going to be a lazy walk on the beach by moonlight was the opposite. The minute we all got out of the boat and the guide introduced herself, we were off like we’re running away from immigration officers . Brisk walking, meet Maria. It was a tough walk to the beach. We passed by the village then onto the dimly lit portion of the beach to a waiting station. The rangers don’t want a mob descending on the beach during this time when the turtles are just coming out of the water. The waiting station which was totally in darkness is a ways off. The beach area is divided into stations and a runner/ranger would be scouring the beach for turtles. When they spot a turtle and find where it goes and begins to dig, the runner would then go to the waiting station and informs the guide where to direct the tourists.

We waited for a long time in the station, which was good because I was able to catch my breath. There were hushed conversations among us, but in general the quiet and the dark were a potent combination for relaxation – if I wasn’t dog tired from that almost running we just did. I was so horrified at how poorly I performed at brisk walking. How could I be so out of shape – nope don’t answer that.

When the runner came, he said something to the guide who then herded us to backtrack because apparently we overshot our target spot, the turtle chose to lay eggs closer to the village.

Another long brisk walk, I was crying (figuratively again!) I drank like a gallon of juice and water over dinner and though I was sweating profusely, my tee-shirt was soaked, I felt the need to pee.

We found the section that we were told to go but nothing was happening. Apparently, we had to wait for another runner to tell us when to approach. While we were waiting on the beach, I was imagining how romantic this scenario would be under different circumstance. All of a sudden, we spotted a turtle coming out of the water to the beach to lay an egg. I thought that was our turtle. I was wrong. Our turtle was already in the beach, digging furiously and was about to lay eggs. This whole tour is 2 hours long. Whether or not the group sees a turtle the tour ends after 2 hours. And so our time was spent mostly waiting and waiting. An hour and 30 minutes into the tour, a runner approached us as we were sprawled on the cool sand and told us where to go to see the turtle.

The long hike on the beach and the seemingly endless wait on the beach dissipated upon the sight of this once-in-a-lifetime experience. The turtle was huge. You know even bigger than a paella pan. She was in the process of laying eggs, they could lay about a hundred eggs if my memory is correct and once they start laying eggs they go on a trance. We were really quiet, but awestruck at how amazing a sight this is. We let the other group – there was another one – to peek, then it was our turn again. This time the turtle was done and she was covering up the eggs with sand. She takes breaks in between; she must have used up most of her energy laying all those eggs.

We didn’t stay to see the turtle eggs get fully covered in sand, because we’re on a time limit and another set of tours is about to commence. They have two tours daily during the laying season from July to September, 8 and 10 pm.

The couple from Baltimore was complaining how vigorous the walk was and they are regular walkers; they walk daily for an hour. The woman even said the tour guide’s plump appearance belied her physical conditioning.

While many chose to stay around the pool/bar area – the full moon was beautiful – to enjoy a few more cold ones, I decided it was time to hit the showers and the sack soon after.

A group of guys decided to see the baby turtles return to the ocean in the morning. They agreed to leave by 5:30 am. A handful signed up, this isn’t a tour sanctioned by the lodge or the tour agency. It was a group of visitors who wanted to see the baby turtles early in the morning. The public is allowed on the beach on certain times and that’s 5 am to 7 am only. This is done to minimize disruption to the turtles routine during the time of laying eggs. Plus the beach is part of the national park.

My husband signed up and so did the Baltimore guy. Both the Baltimore wife and I opted to sleep in, we were tired from last night’s marathon hike . The wives volunteered to pack up for tomorrow’s departure, not that I had plenty to do since we only took out the clothing we needed for the duration of our stay here.

The group had fun exploring the beach and found a baby turtle on his way to the sea.


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