After yesterday’s constant downpour we don’t expect to wake up to a gorgeous sunny morning. The volcano still refuses to emerge from behind cloud though. We have a later start this morning; we’re still catching up on the time difference so Mr Fletche and I are still down for an early breakfast. I satisfy myself with an hour’s blogging on the patio, Mr Fletche wanders around the grounds with his camera.
Eventually it’s time to say goodbye to the Arenal Springs. The volcano is almost – but not quite – casting off its cloudy robes. We soon leave the sunshine behind us and journey west towards the next stop on our Costa Rica Grand Tour – Sarapiqui, an area rich with biodiversity and an incredible wildlife population.
There’s a buffet lunch ready for us – yes, it’s rice and beans – and we check into our rooms. For an eco lodge in a tropical rainforest, we are pleasantly surprised with our room. There’s a huge king size bed, and a wonderful mosquito-netted verandah with rocking chairs and a hammock overlooking the river. It turns out many of our group weren’t so lucky with their rooms. But we’re not here to hang around our rooms, we’re here to find wildlife. And there are few places better than La Selva Biological Station, one of the most important places in the world for conservation, research and education. It’s pouring down with rain, but we’re entering a rainforest so it kind of goes with the territory.
We divide into two groups once more. We sign yet another waiver which requires far more information than is surely required for a two hour nature walk. (Funny story: when asked for an emergency contact number, I go to put Ma Lee’s number in. Except it’s quite similar to our telephone number at the old house. That we have now moved out of. So Mo not only bought our house, but is now our “in-case-of-emergency” contact. I’m sure he’ll be pleased).
We’re just a few minutes in when we have our first wildlife sighting. And it’s a sloth. Unlike yesterday, there’s no mistaking this one. And despite it’s name and reputation, it’s moving around pretty niftily. And the sightings don’t stop there. There’s a solo howler monkey, looking a little sorry for itself in the rain. A couple of toucans. The strawberry red poison dart frog. Spider monkeys, putting on a show for us. More howler monkeys, a little happier than the last one. The elusive and endangered great green macaw. And all in the most torrential rain you can imagine.
I’ve taken practically no photos, not only because I couldn’t do justice to what we’re seeing but also because I’m just enjoying being at one with nature. Plus it’s peeing down with rain and everything’s a little steamy.
It’s time to return to La Quinta. I fear I may never be dry again. Four days in and our suitcases are starting to emanate a slightly rank smell from the damp clothing and sweaty footwear. It was a good idea to separate our week one and week two clothing but I fear there may be some cross contamination. It’s another buffet dinner – yes, more rice and beans, this time with various meat accompaniments – and another early night. I’ve stopped blaming the jet lag now. I’m just generally exhausted.
It’s a beautifully sunny morning. We drop our cases at reception, pay our bar bill, have breakfast and then take a quick walk around the grounds. There are no caymans in the cayman pool, or frogs in the frog pond, but there are definitely butterflies in the butterfly garden. We’re heading ever westwards, this time towards the Caribbean coastline of Costa Rica and to the National Park of Tortuguero. A quick toilet stop and a spontaneous sloth sighting break up the long bus ride. As Tortuguero is located on a rainforest covered sandbar the only way in is by boat. I declare this is the only way I want to arrive at hotels from now on. We almost see a crocodile, and almost see a river turtle, but neither add to our actual wildlife tally.
The Pachira Lodge is on the banks of the Tortuguero River, with the accommodation surrounded by lush vegetation and plenty of wildlife to keep us company. With the sunshine beating down on us on arrival we’re happy to see an open-air bar and a turtle-shaped pool. This feels like a proper holiday now. We weave our way through the maze of plants and trees to our lodge. It’s rustic, and it’s clear we are now going to suffer the dampness that many of our fellow tour family suffered at La Quinta. It’s not helped by the fact that we don’t have real windows, just a mesh covering to keep out bugs. This also means a distinct lack of privacy as every cough, sneeze and fart carries into next door.
We have a little bit of free time after our rice and beans lunch so we take the opportunity to grab a drink or two at the bar whilst others in our group grab a quick bit of pool time. The lodge’s resident monkeys are on hand to keep everyone entertained. I knock back my second tequila sunrise and head to the dock to meet our boat transportation over to the village of Tortuguero.
It’s a bustling village where tourists and locals mingle, with brightly coloured buildings, street art and storefront facades selling all sorts of knick knacks as souvenirs. There are no motorised vehicles on Tortuguero apart from the odd police quad bike; and the village has the most beautiful sandy beach fringing the Caribbean Sea. Andres walks us through the town before leaving us to our own devices. Our own devices involve hot footing it back to the dock so we can use the public toilets – the money for which goes to the education and local schools – I’ll gladly have more pees when the money goes to good causes.
The sun is beating down and it’s a pleasant couple of hours strolling along the beach and through the hustle and bustle of the town. We give the bar a swerve when we arrive back for a rest in our damp room before dinner at seven. There are rice and beans. The usual suspects decamp to the bar afterwards – yes, I’m including us in that group – but now that Andres has given us a sunrise walk option we’re conscious that we have a 4:15 alarm set to wake us (if the damp or the birds or the monkeys don’t wake us first) so it’s another pre 9pm bedtime for us.
It is 4:15am. The damp, the birds and the monkeys have indeed conspired to ensure that we don’t sleep through that alarm. Fourteen out of our twenty-strong group head back down to the dock for the 4:45 boat. Six were sensible and are grabbing extra sleep where they can. When we disembark the boat we have to clamber through a jungle path, lit up only by the glow of mobile phone torches and Mr Fletche’s headlamp. We make it to the beach, and although the clouds are hanging low over the horizon there is enough colour in the sky to make it worth the early start. Mr Fletche’s photos show off the sunrise so much better than mine…
We meet up with twelve bleary-eyed tour family at breakfast, and six who look fresh as a daisy. The clouds from this morning decide to dowse us with rain as we walk back to our lodge – optimistically packing away our rain jackets seems a little premature. The group WhatsApp pings – our 8:30am canal boat tour has been pushed back to 11am because of the weather. Typically, by 8:30 the weather has cleared. By 11am, we make our way down to the dock, prepared for any weather eventuality.
The canal tour is great fun. We’re split into two groups, with Andres giving both boats information about the wildlife we’re seeing. We’re not long into the tour when we find an adolescent cayman, and this is soon followed by a fully-grown adult and a whole kindergarten of baby cayman. We also see turtles and lizards of varying sizes, and a myriad of birds including herons and a particularly teasing kingfisher. After 90 minutes of lazily drifting along the canals, our driver puts his foot down to get us back in time for our 1pm lunch. I arrive windswept and exhilarated – it’s been another great trip.
We only have one more nature walk left of our tour before we head for the bright lights and big city of San Jose, and we bookend the walk – in the grounds of the Pachira Lodge – with pool time. Which also means beer time. The nature walk doesn’t yield much in the way of new wildlife reveals but it does break up the sunbathing and alcohol session. Which is advisable.
By our final evening at Pachira we have indeed gelled as a family with the conversation getting ever louder and ever more animated at both pre- and post-dinner (rice and beans) drinks.
Tomorrow it’s the final stop on our Costa Rica Grand Tour. We’ve already wished a tearful farewell to Alfredo so let’s hope our new driver Jeffrey does indeed know the way to San Jose…