Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica
“Exodus: Movement of Jah people! Oh-oh-oh, yea-eah!” and this is exactly what we did. It was time to move, move out of Panama and onto Costa Rica, the home of the toucan, the jungle, the sloth and ummm a little more expense? So we moved our asses across the border the easy way, via private shuttle that constituted; a water taxi from Boccas del Torro, a 4WD with a friendly young police officer to the border town of Sixola, a wait in the scorching sun to get our passports stamped out of Panama, a walk on foot across a dodgy wooden bridge into “no mans land”, another wait in line at the Costa Rican immigration and another shuttle bus that whizzed us through the virgin jungle to the rastafarian surf town of Puerto Viejo.
And here we grooved to the voice of Bob Marley who occupied every restaurant, every bar, ever tourists iPod and the song continued “Open your eyes and look within: Are you satisfied (with the life you’re living)? Exodus: Movement of Jah people! Oh-oh-oh, yea-eah!”. And to this we replied “yeah we’re pretty satisfied right now”. We had made is to picture postcard Costa Rica and this chilled out little place with 2000 inhabitants located in Limon province on the shores of the Caribbean Sea. Puerto Viejo de Talamanca was a surfers, hippies, weed smok’n, rusterfarian town. Originally called Old Port by the Jamaicans who settled this area in the 19th century to work in the banana plantations or as fishermen.
We checked into Monte Sol cabanas about 600 meters from the centre of town, a quite little place away from the hustle and bustle and run by a German and Costa Rican couple. Asking our host about the safety of the village, she replied that it was “real safe, just don’t take your pack to the beach” and of course we wouldn’t. So ready to explore we walked the half mile into town. The road side was surround by dense jungle where the vines creept up those ancient trees trying in vain to strangle them. Swaying palm trees lined the golden crescent beaches while hibiscus and other vibrate tropical flowers emerged from the growth. You could smell the fertile air that seemed more oxygen rich. As you walked through town there were small thrown together restaurants promoting typical Costa Rican cuisine where the standard rice and black beans took on a spicy Caribbean flavor. The real rusters with their long dredds and dark faces grooved to the beat and blew wacky smoke at you as they road past on their rusty old bikes (the locals didn’t use cars here). And yes it was a tourist town but we could ultimately say…we had made it impart to the Afro-Carribean.
But what we soon found was this slice of paradise was also being invaded by the dreaded northerners AKA the North Americans. And they were everywhere. Bars, restaurants, hostels. hotels, and well just residents. They had brought up business and land like there was no tomorrow and it soon become apparent that Costa Rica was truly like the Bali for Australians. The US was and still is the most important trading partner for Costa Rica and had turned this former Latin American land of Eden into a mini America where they owned two-thirds of the countries economy.
We ate lunch at Zion, a nice double story cafe with ambiance catering for the typical western sensibility. Zion held a menu of organic shakes and fusion pitas with Jamaican jerk chicken and juices with titles such as “hangover cure”. This I sampled after a heavy night on Coco Locos where the magic ingredient was a shot of garlic! Transitioning quickly from a headache and nauseous stomach to a headache, nauseous stomach and extreme garlic breath lasting 48 hours, it was soon clear that this antidote was no antidote. But Zion was as cool as could be where you rocked to more Bob Marley and was served by a Caribbean cat appropriately named James but owned and operated by…surprise..a Canadian couple that was sick of the corporate life and found a way out.
Right around the corner from our hostel was Stashus con Fusion and we opted for a good night out tempted by the chocolate festival that was kicking off here (and who could pass up free samples of chocolate beer and wine?). Another delectable operation owned by Americans, filled with all their expat friends and a handful of tourists dinning on Malaysian curried fish and vino blanco (the chocolate beer was terrible!). Further in town was Starky’s specialising in burritos and again owned and operated by a couple from Washington DC that came on holiday and ended up buying a business and a new life. As we chowed down on our average fare we talked a little further to the guy who told us to “take care and stay safe around town”. After pushing for a little more information he told us that both his wife and him were very upset. Not only was there the usual petty theft in the area but here it had turned more aggressive. Tourists were being held up on the beach at gun point where the thieves demanded everything and more. And these guys wanted out.
That very morning we had decided to rent bikes from Mr Plamz and follow the LPs advice to ride 13kms along the white sand crested coastline to reach Manzanillo. A beautiful ride where you crossed through small towns, gorgeous beaches and deeper into the Talamanca National Park. We organised our bikes and started the ride across a fairly flat landscape. Crossing a few bridges with streams, beaches, cafes and small schools the ride was very pleasant. But rounding the bend about 6kms out Murray yelled out “I’ve got a flat” and a flat he had. The front tire was completely down and we had no choice to enjoy an organic coffee on the roadside and ask for help from the Scottish waiter who suggested to follow the road back and find a red wheel on the roadside and a bike fixer. What luck! Riding back we found the wheel and entered the property with sign on the main gate translating to “beware the dog”. Hesitating we opening the gate and walked into the back yard to discover the guy looking as though he had just passed out in his hammock. Waking him up from his daze we let him know we needed a repair where he lazily told us “not today”. But he did manage to pump up the front tire which just got us back to Mr Palmz to argue about a refund.
Finally agreeing that Murray’s bike would be free of charge the following day we planed to start out early for the ride. But here’s where things changed. The owner of Starky’s who was telling us to “be careful” let us in on some more info. Apparently machete wheeling bandits had recently taken over the path to Manzanillo and tourists on bikes where being held up at knife point…big knife point. The week before a young French couple who were not fond of giving over “everything” which included their bikes the consequences where that the young man was attacked and his arm amputated. Hmm….this did not sound as “safe” as what our host had told us. Doing a little more research online, more and more stories reared their head. Tourists were being held up on bike at precisely just around the bend where Murray had a flat and where we were forced to turn back. But not being a believer that “it was a sign” but more sheer coincidence and some probable good luck, we choose not to rent those bikes again the following day. Perhaps you could put it down to the lyrics of another Marley song “Old pirates, yes, they rob I. Sold I to the merchant ships. Minutes after they took I. From the bottomless pit.” And yes these people were robbing because it was an income in the low season and because they probably needed a camera to sell for some cash to eat before we did..but perhaps not a third arm.
We spent five nights, four days just chill’n on the beach. Moving from town beach to Cockles beach just around the corner, we took in some rays, waves and gorgeous crystal clear water. By night we rocked to Bob and downed one bottle of Barcadi to the next. T
he hardest decision we had to make over that time (other then deciding not to ride) was if rum worked best with coke or orange juice? and was it best to apply the suncream before or after you swam in the Caribbean sea? If this wasn’t a rastafarian, hippy version of paradise it was probably pretty close. Or was this the candy that attracted the Northern Americans in droves? Before they swallowed a little too much and the sweet flavored turned sour? Where the reality of desperation and poverty soon reared its true head? And where it was apparent to them that they were no longer “in Kansas anymore”. Or perhaps it was just the rum.