After leaving the Buena Finca in Saripiqui, R and I decided to cross from Costa Rica to Panama at the Sixaola-Guabito border crossing. We felt that this border crossing had some advantages. First, given its remote location in Costa Rica, far from the Pan-American highway, we hoped it would be quicker than crossing at one of the other two available crossings. Second, it would put us in a corner of Panama that is only accessible by one road, which we likely would not have traveled at all if we entered Panama on the Pan-American which provides a more direct route to Panama City and the Canal Zone. Finally, it would require us to travel to the Caribbean coast, which we’ve not been able to do so far in eight months of driving Mexico and Central America.
The trip through the lowlands of Costa Rica took us through banana plantations grown under the Chiquita, Dole, and Del Monte flags. Thousands of banana bunches had bags hung around them to keep off the birds and presumably to hasten the process so they can be cut and exported. Bananas are like a delicious but worthless currency and we haven’t purchased one in months because the places we’ve been have had a bunch hanging from the rafters and you can walk by and help yourself.
One of the things we’ve enjoyed is the ability to scavenge from the fruit-bearing trees that grow everywhere – tamarindo, orange, guaba, lime, water apple, star fruit, coconuts, and mangoes – and often have a pile of rotting fruit underneath.
We set foot on the palm fringed, black sand shores of Cahuita, Costa Rica, 514 years after Columbus, but the indigenous tribes he encountered remain. Now, however, they are sprinkled liberally with descendants of the Africans and Caribbean Islanders who were brought to the mainland to work the banana plantations. Given this blend of cultures, the coast has a different look and vibe to it than the rest of Costa Rica and plays to a Bob Marley soundtrack.
It was here that the pre-trip contact lens fitting I had finally paid off. We snorkeled Cahuita National Park and one of the last living reefs in Costa Rica and I was actually able to see the reef sharks, sting rays, and other fish of various shapes, sizes, and colors.
After coming in under our daily budget for two weeks running while at the Buena Finca we had a little extra cash in our pockets so at our next stop down the coast we decided to travel like we are on vacation and Puerto Viejo is the perfect place for a gringo tourist to blow a wad of cash. We splurged for a room at a small hotel with a beautiful garden, went to a sushi buffet, and paid to have our laundry done. We also went to a jaguar rescue center where there are no jaguars, but lots of other jungle animals waiting to heal and be released to the wild. The monkeys were having a blast and I’ve got it narrowed down to coming back as either a spider monkey or Mick Jagger in my next life.
Costa Rica doesn’t have seasons (actually, it does, the dry season and the rainy season, but both are hot and humid) but it does have times of day when it is possible to be outside and not have sweat droplets form behind your ears. As I sat on the beach in Puerto Viejo center watching the day wind down while a cool ocean breeze blew the mosquitoes and worries away, I regretted our small, stuffy room and wished we were camped in Wesley at water’s edge. We haven’t done much wild camping (or any), mostly because we don’t have a toilet, but this would have been the place to squeeze our cheeks together and tempt fate.
With our plan to cross to Panama the next day in mind, I reflected on the time we spent in Costa Rica. We didn’t expect to like it much, (mostly because of the cost, and it’s true we didn’t like spending $40 every time we went to the grocery for milk, eggs, and canned tuna) but we did end up having a great experience.
Yes, the natural beauty, whitewater, beaches, and other ways to spend your cash that it offers helped us make some memories, but whenever we talk about Costa Rica now it will always be defined by the time we spent with Tom and Esteban, Tom’s family, and the other good folks we met at the Buena Casa. Whether we ever see them again or not, we’ll still have that time together to remember.
But, now, Panama beckons. There are other adventures to have.