Over the Hills We Go: By Bus, By Boat

Well, the emotional dust is finally settling allowing the amazing travel experiences we had sink in. Jerry and Gail have returned home and left in their absence an incredible air of motivation. Their visit recharged us; homesickness aside, we can see ahead a bit clearer, make appropriate choices based on what feels right rather than what will get us home quicker. Nick and I both feel that our journey is just beginning. While we may not stay in Costa Rica for a whole year, it’s not time to settle back in Traverse City. How do we describe this feeling? While we’re trying to make decisions without muddling it with emotion, we have a world full of options and all we have to go by is feeling: the feeling that this adventure isn’t over yet.

The setting for these big life decisions really should be given some of the credit. I’ve already reported on the West coast of Costa Rica (Montezuma and Caco Blanco), where the area is dry but absolutely beautiful. Seeing both coasts was a goal not only for Nick and I but Jerry and Gail as well so to the Caribbean side we went! Credit really needs to be given to Pilar at Casa de las Tias who planned the entire thing, including placing reservations.

As highly recommended, we chose to visit the village of Tortuguero near Tortuguero National Park on the Caribbean coast. Our place of stay was an all-inclusive resort, Laguna Lodge, near the village. This area on the Caribbean side is only reachable by boat or plane and transportation was included in the lodge’s nightly rate. We were extremely thankful for this as finding our own way would have been a nightmare. One downside however, seeing as it is an all-inclusive resort, was how touristy it was and as Jerry describe it, “we felt a little like cattle.”

In the wee hours of morning, 5:45a to be exact, we were picked up at Casa de las Tias by Laguna Lodge’s bus. More like a mini-bus, it was air conditioned, spacious, and all-around comfortable. As we were the first on the bus, the next two hours were spent driving around the Central Valley picking up the other guests.

One-by-one, two-by-two, the seat were filled and we were on our way. We exited the Central Valley via route 32 that runs directly through the breathtaking national park that is Braulio Carrillo. I look out my kitchen windows everyday and see this stretch of mountains not realizing until now the extent of it’s beauty. The route takes you literally through the mountain and into the clouds. Prehistoric is really the only way to describe the forest; the trees are dripping with moss and there are leaves larger than umbrellas.

The rain began as we ascended the mountain the the Central Valley side and continued well throughout the trip, increasing the closer we got to Tortuguero.  Our guide, who narrated the majority or the trip, hoarse with a cold mind you, informed us that the Caribbean coast’s climate is influenced by the tropical trade winds. This creates a lush, wet, tropical environment very different from the Pacific coast. The Caribbean landscape is not only more lush especially in the dry season, but it is relatively flat, immediately apparent when we began our descent. You could see for miles.

All meals are included in the lodge’s nightly rate and en route, you are taken to a restaurant at a half-way point for buffet style meals. It was breakfast time for us and we pulled up to what looked like a truck stop. The restaurant is owned and operated by the lodge, includes a butterfly garden which is worth visiting if you’re given enough time, and in the parking lot is a conveniently placed fruit stand. The guide gives you a time frame and you make your way up to the buffet. Typical gallo pinto was present, (picked over) fresh fruit, coffee, tea, water, and an interesting mix of what was attempting to be American cuisine – in this case, sliced hot-dogs floating in an ominous brown sauce. Most importantly, and it is worth repeating, there was coffee. We fueled up and had 20 minutes to explore the butterfly garden which was beautiful. There was an employee in there who very obviously loved his job and educated us on the different types of butterflies there.

We were corralled back on the bus for the final bus leg of our journey which took us through beautiful countryside and quaint little towns. The last 45 minutes of the drive was through Chiquita and Del Monte banana plantations via a ‘massaging’ dirt road. Seeing where our bananas come from was exciting yet a bit concerning; seeing the fruit grow and being excitedly waved at by employees was something I’ll cherish but seeing bananas in vats of who-knows-what chemicals, the private air strips for crop dusting, and feeling like a tourist was not so pleasant. All I can describe the feeling as is strange and new.

This dirt road then led to a dock which is the main point of exchange for most of the lodges along the canals. We get off the bus, rush to the surprisingly nice but open bathroom facilities, soak in the new surroundings, then get on the low boat for a 1.5 hour ride through the canals. Again, prehistoric. Once in the national park, the jungle is so dense you can’t even see the shoreline.

The canals are narrow, water brown from sediment, and teeming with life. Droves of shorebirds, birds in trees, flying above us… Life, thriving. Beyond thriving! It was unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.

Oh, and it was raining, very hard at times, which only heightened the experience for me. If you could forget for a moment that you were one of many touristas and if anything were to go wrong there would be immediate lawsuits and expensive settlements… you felt like you were in the Amazon. Without the bugs and various diseases. Needless to say, the boat ride was an amazing end to a six hour travel day.

We arrived to the lodge docks, greeted with juice, and were shuffled into a cramped waiting area where we stood with all our luggage awaiting our room number. Our hoarse guide quietly gives instructions about staying on the grounds, when meals are, none of which we heard then a new guide stood before us. I disliked this part; it was unorganized and unprofessional. Also, there was confusion about who our new guide was, which apparently places you in a specific group, like assigned seating in the restaurant area. I apologize for the complaining, but it really was bizarre and again, touristy. Very little room for an individualistic experience, in my opinion.

The lodge is beautiful. Every inch is decorated with amazing, vibrant mosaics.

At about 3:30p we boarded the boats again and traveled to Tortuguero Village. You are given an hour and a half to explore on your own then board the boat or leave at your leisure and walk the beach back to the lodge. After this, I promise my complaining will end. Tortuguero Village exists, as it is now, for tourists. Surprise, surprise. It was like getting off a cruise ship and directed to the ‘local’ shops peddling ‘handmade’ goods really mass produced by little children somewhere. I know that’s incredibly cynical, and most-likely ignorant, but that is how I felt. I felt stared at and stereotyped. The village is beautiful, though. A thin strip of land, now an island because of a past earthquake, lush and abundant with life.

Our time at the lodge was well spent, even though we were only able to stay one night. We walked the beach, stared at the ocean, bird watched, conversed with other guests. Despite my cynicism, which is more driven by my apparent dislike for all-inclusive resorts and being a tourista, I had a great time. Meals were ok, somewhat unsatisfying yet filling; buffet style, a mix between traditional and American cuisine, much like the halfway point restaurant. Some notable highlights include seeing a roseate spoonbill in the canal; Nick took a step further in overcoming his fear of spiders, necessary because the largest we’ve seen yet were everywhere; Nick and I befriended a sweet roaming dog; and I saw a toucan! The ride back home felt longer; we were exhausted and probably overstimulated from our packed 10 days with Jerry and Gail, but boy those mountains are beautiful. – Jes

For more photos check out the Tortuguero Village Gallery and Laguna Lodge Gallery!


4 responses to “Over the Hills We Go: By Bus, By Boat

  1. Jessie — You’ve done an admirable job of describing a fascinating journey to a complex place. Next time we’ll find an alternate way to explore Tortuguera or the Caribbean coast south of it, one that allows us to step off the cattle train and go our own way.

    The dust is finally settling here, too, and what I’m left with is profound appreciation for you and Nick. Thank you (again!) for giving so much to make this the greatest vacation of our lives. I’m deeply, deeply grateful. And VERY proud of both of you.


    • Thank you, thank you! I hope it doesn’t come across as I didn’t enjoy Tortuguero. I just felt it was important to explain the atmosphere and what type of lodge it was, who it may appeal to more.

      I hope you know that you both left us with this amazing motivation, almost tangible, that has set in motion many idea into actions. We’ll skype soon!

  2. Pingback: Tortuguero Village, Costa Rica « with our legs on the edge·

  3. Pingback: Laguna Lodge, Tortuguero, Costa Rica « with our legs on the edge·

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