Puerto Viejo

Big fish, stolen iPhone, baby sloths and Pina Colodas. This about sums up the past few days.

We took advantage of our time in San Juan del Sur to recharged our batteries by doing not much of anything. We took the “shuttle” (more of a beat up pick up truck) to Playa Maderas, the famous local surf spot in the area. A large swell had the tide rising high and surfing, we did not participate. Instead, we partook in some serious, as Rick likes to call it, apres surf in the form of Cheladas and lounge chairs. Perfecto.

The next morning we were up at 5am (seems to be the usual) to go fishing. This was my first time going out into the open ocean on what seemed to me a rather tiny boat (25ft lancha). Our crew comprised of our Captain and his assistant, Manuel and Darios respectively. They seemed to know what they were doing, so the only thing to do was enjoy the ride. My perspective on the ocean is that it’s friggen huge and it can do whatever it wants to you. The sheer magnitude of it boggles my mind and being out on it, you can’t help but feel microscopic. We were only going out as far as 5 miles, but quickly the movement of the water and wind change create swells that take on a life of their own. Up and down, you just roll along like a dandelion fluff on the wind.

The fishing part was its own ball of wax. They set-up 6 lines of various depths, with specific lures and dropped them into the water. The captain looks out for seafaring birds, which give signs of feeding and fish activity. The further we made out across the ocean shelf, the more signs of sea life we saw such as sail fish leaping out of the water and little birds that dip and dive for food, black sea birds that seem to hover motionless in the wind. Then, just like that, fish start biting and they strap a belt to brace the rod against your body and start yelling at you to “reel, REEL, Rich-arrrd!”. Rick managed to pull in a 30lb mahi mahi and a 100lb sail fish. The sail fish was released, but not without some rather ecstatic photos instead of Rick’s first plan to have it stuffed. I pulled in two small durado and then finally got myself a big guy: a 50lb durado! It was a feat to say the least, reeling and pulling, that sucker did circles around the boat and I did my best not to get pulled in too. The next day we both had sore fishing muscles – who knew.

Once we got back to shore, they filleted our catch and sent us on our way with a bag of fresh fish. In town, you can bring your catch to any restaurant and they’ll cook it up for you however you like. After a very long nap back at our hotel, we ventured out for our feast then spent the rest of the evening sitting on beach with Cuba Libres and conversation.

Next morning, we were back on the road headed for Costa Rica. The border is only 40km away and took us about 1.5hrs to get through the rigamarole even with a fixer. On the Nica side it was somewhat intuitive, except for the part where you need to get documents stamped by Police who wander around and blend in with the borderlanders. Then we crossed into Costa Rica and had to go through the usual process: immigration, aduana, insurance… At least here they were more organized and had photos with arrows showing you where to go. At every border we’ve crossed they want copies of documents. Sometimes just passport and title, or maybe your DL too. We swear it’s a racket, because there is always someone with a shitty ‘fotocopia’ machine in a shack waiting to earn a buck or two off you for things you need extra copies of.

On the plus side, we met a really cool woman named Maria who was heading to her home in San Jose. She was super friendly and bless her heart, lent us some change for a copy since they couldn’t break a bill for $10,000 Colones (inflation much?). She was also bringing a vehicle into the country so we had a good opportunity to chat with her throughout the process. We learned that she was an administrator for the Red Cross and traveled the world as a single mom with her two kids. She specifically worked in areas during times of war and spoke about being in Belgrade during the bombings, Nigeria during the civil war, and so on. When I told her I spoke a bit of Serbian we started chatting and then exchanged contact information. We agreed that this time next year we’d meet in Montenegro.

It’s safe to say that every border we’ve crossed the first 50-100km into the new country looks like shit. Not sure why that is, but frontiers don’t inspire a lot of confidence at first. We found ourselves riding along a dirt “highway” which for me felt endless. In reality it was only 30km, but when you’re going slow and bumping around moments like that teach me that I have a lot more learning to do about riding off-road. It wasn’t long through before we got back onto tarmac and finally the landscape transformed into lush agricultural land and jungle. We crossed many bridges with quaint little rivers and rode through small towns with perfectly landscaped lawns and flowers blooming. We were making our way towards a town called La Fronterra, which sits at the base of Arenal, one of the more tourist attractive volcanos in the country (recently lays dormant and no longer glows at night).

The town itself was nothing special. It was a tourist zone for many people planning trips into the jungle. Everything was going just fine until Rick’s iPhone got stolen. He was using it near the lobby of our motel and put it down and momentarily walked away. Only crossing the street, he realized he didn’t have it and without going into the long detective story, we feel strongly that the young woman who was working at our motel snatched it. She passionately insisted she saw Rick leaving with the phone, but alas it was gone. That put a damper on our first night and we were happy to be up early and out of there, leaving the bad vibes behind.

The days riding goal was to reach Limon, a port town on the Caribbean (probably for limes?). We managed to get there by lunch time and decided we would go further to Puerto Viejo, a haven for caribbean surfers and backpacker vibes. The road was nicely paved but extremely busy getting to Limon. Many, many, many trucks and the speed limit skated between 60km to 80km. So we made a game of truck passing and zipped right along; easier to do when the traffic is moving slower. When we reached Limon we popped into town and noticed the evidence of Colonial trading influence with its architecture and layout. Charming, but it also affirmed our choice to move on, as it still felt dusty and industrial. The route to Puerto Viejo just happened to pass by a sloth sanctuary that I have been eyeing (no exaggeration) for years. They posted a YouTube video years ago of sloths that went viral and after that, I desperately I wanted to see a real sloth. When were traveling in Nicaragua in 2013, we rented a truck and almost crossed into Costa Rica to make the trip to the sanctuary.

We arrived just-in-time, literally, 10 minutes before the last tour of the day. So we pulled off our stinky riding gear, grabbed our cameras and got ready for sloth immersion. The first hour of the tour is a canoe ride down the mangroves that run next to the property into the jungle. We were looking out for wildlife and spotted lizards, brightly coloured birds, crabs and a family of bats. Then we headed into the sloth zone and my heart melted when I was allowed to feed and pet the adult sloths. They are biological marvels and have the most beautiful nature to them. They are very gentle and have a really sweet sense of curiosity as they lie on their backs looking at the world around them. I loved every single moment. What could be more amazing than this? Well, baby sloths of course! We were led into the nursery to see half a dozen babies, who often bond with stuffed animals and when they sleep, curl into towels to mimic the warmth they’d receive from their mothers. Then… a baby sloth took my hand and licked me! Sigh.

After getting our fill of sloths chilling out, we had to find a place of our own. We drove the last 30km to Puerto Viejo and found a cabina spot on the sea and searched for some food. The one place that enticed us, ended up taken over by a bunch of families who came in to drink and play music. Kids everywhere and not much parental supervision. Sounds about right to me. I enjoyed a calamari sandwich and got a bit drunk off Pina Coladas. Rick enjoyed the local beer. Pretty awesome day that ended at 930pm. It’s hard work to have this much fun.

Today, we’re going to chill out in Puerto Viejo before crossing into Panama and taking a boat to Bocas del Toro. We’ll be properly off the grid for a few days as we glamp it up on the beach on Isla Bastimentos. We’ll be off the grid for those few days, so expect to hear from us once we’re back on the mainland on Thursday.

Sarah and Rick

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