Tuesday, 24 February 2009

The Island of the Lonely Men

On Sunday we went on our final excursion of our extended stay in Costa Rica.

Last week we went to our friend's holiday apartment on the pacific coast for some sun and swimming. On Sunday we returned to the pacific coast, this time as part of a day trip to Isla San Lucas.

We were picked up by the Samantha tours bus from the Rosti Pollos restaurant near the airport. As the bus was picking us up at 7:30am on a Sunday morning, we decided to catch a taxi down to the pickup location. This proved to be no problem and the 20 minute ride cost 5000 colones.

The bus was certainly the most luxurious we have been on in Costa Rica with reclining soft seats, air conditioning and a WC. There were about 20 or so others on the bus, 99% of them ticos. This was most likely due to the fact that the tour operator runs the tour at discounted rates for residents on a Sunday (if you are not a resident, you may still get a special deal if they have spaces left for a Sunday tour).

After about 45 minutes on the bus, we stopped just after San Ramon for some breakfast. It was the usual rice, beans and scrambled eggs and, despite us already having had breakfast before we left, it was very tasty.

After about another hour on the bus we arrived at the port town of Puntarenas to get on the boat which would take us to the island. We were met by Craig (although all his Costa Rican employees seemed to call him Greg, maybe Craig is not easy to pronounce for Spanish speakers) the owner of the tour company who was originally from Orkney. Throughout the course of the tour, Craig and his fellow guides were very attentive, frequently asking if we needed anything to drink, providing us with information on the surroundings and even checking that we had sunblock on!

The boat ride to Isla San Lucas took about an hour, during which we sat on the open front of the boat enjoying the sun, views and the free fruit and natural fruit drinks that were on offer.

For over 100 years San Lucas was home to Costa Rica's largest and most brutal prison, often compared to Alcatraz and Devil's Island. The prison closed in 1992 and had until very recently been off-limits to visitors. It is still not frequented by large numbers of visitors as Samantha tours operates the only tour of the island, and the only other visitors are usually volunteers and researchers from charities and universities.

At the dock there are the remains of two small holding cells where prisoners (often in unfeasibly large numbers) would be held until they were allocated to cells. There was a large tarantula sitting in the corner of one of the holding cells when we visited.

The road up the small hill to the prison is very straight and you pass the remains of the old infirmary before reaching the main administration building and the church. Many of the buildings look ready to fall down, and indeed we were advised against going up to any higher floor levels because the flooring is collapsing in many areas. We were also advised not to use flash photography inside many of the buildings as there were lots and lots of bats - many of which took to flying just above our heads while we were going in and out of rooms!

It is the prisoners cells that are the most interesting, mainly due to the graffiti that the prisoners have left on the walls. There are many pictures, phrases, names and dates. Although despite the age of the prison, the graffiti seems to only date from the 1960s onwards. The prisoners had no paints or inks so they made their own from soot, ash, stones and blood. It was rumoured that the red dress of one of the pictures was made from the blood of a nurse killed here. Some of the pictures include cartoon characters, jesus, pele, and women in various states of undress.
After the prison tour we walked back to the boat and enjoyed a delicious lunch of grilled fish (mahi mahi), rice and vegetables washed down with sangria (or soft drink). Then we left for a walk through the forest, via the old prison laundry, to get to the beach (playa el coco). After the walk, which was in quite stifling heat, it was very, very nice to be able to submerge ourselves in the cool (but not too cool) waters of the pacific ocean. The only problem we found was burning our feet on the hot sand prior to reaching the water. After our dip, we took a walk along the beach before heading back to the boat.

On the cruise back to the mainland, we sailed around the other side of the island which gave a great view of the many other islands that lie in the gulf of Nicoya. The bus ride back took much longer than the one in the morning because it seemed that half of Costa Rica was also making their way back along the road from the coast to the central valley. Regardless, we had enjoyed our trip to prison, but grateful that we could spend the night back in our comfortable home in Heredia and not in the heat and brutal conditions of Isla San Lucas.

Thursday, 19 February 2009

On the buses

xLes>en Googlec
[click to translate] Rev.

Regular readers of our blog will have noted that we spend a lot of time on buses. Below we list some of the things that make buses special in Costa Rica.

We have liked travelling by bus as it immerses you more into the way of Costa Rican life. It allows you to be amongst people going about their day-to-day lives. In our few days of travelling by hire car, we quickly noticed how much more cut off from other people you become as you just get in the car, go to where you want and get out again.

A lot of people travel by bus in Costa Rica because it is so cheap. Usually the fares are fixed regardless of how far you are travelling. The fare from Heredia to our house takes about 10 minutes and costs a fixed 165 colones (about 20p). The journey from Heredia to San Jose, which can take anything from 30 minutes to 1 hour and 30 minutes depending on the traffic, costs 340 colones / 45p (from the cheapest of the bus companies). In fact, our bus journey from San Jose to the Caribbean, which took four hours only cost 3900 colones / £5!

The buses in Costa Rica are run by lots of different companies, so you can often travel to your destination via a number of different buses and routes. Even within the same bus company, the buses can range in size and quality from former US type school buses with hard seats, to coach size buses with soft reclinable seats. The bus that we usually catch from Heredia to our house is one with hard seats, this is especially unfortunate as the route it takes involves going along some very bumpy pot-holed roads. If the driver is in a hurry it can be a real bone-shaker.

It would appear that the same bus drivers often run the same routes every day with the same buses. So a lot of the drivers have decked out their own corner of the bus with family photos, stickers or flags. We even rode on one bus where the driver had pimped his stereo system to include full size speakers and a subwoofer. This might be an idea for a new TV show "Pimp my bus"!

Buses in Costa Rica also seem to be far more reliable than their UK equivalents. Some of the buses only run every 20 or 30 minutes, but you can rely on them leaving/arriving at that time. On the most popular routes (such as between Heredia and San Jose), at the most popular times (rush hour) you will even find buses lined up behind one another at the first stop. When one fills up and drives off, the next one immediately takes it's place and it fills up.

Buses in Costa Rica usually have two doors - one at the front and one at the back. So when getting off you can select the exit most convenient - usually the one that doesn't send you down a big hole in the road. Most people get on the bus at the front, but we have seen folks get on at the rear then walk inside the bus to pay the driver.

You can get change from Costa Rican bus drivers. True, they wouldn't accommodate you if you handed over a 5000 colones note, but it's likely that up to 2000 colones you would get change. The bus drivers have to account for their days takings and if they are short then they have to make up the difference themselves. The total amount of passengers each day is known because at both sets of doors there are electronic detectors that count every coming and going. The ones at the front can either be right at the doors or after the driver - it's best not to hang around these areas as it could count your passing more than once, which will only upset the driver.

On the major bus routes you will often get someone come on the bus to collect money for a charity or organisation. They will give a short speech about what they are representing and then "sell" little items such as pens, pencils or stickers for a donation. They seem to get a lot more donations than we would expect a similar attempt on a UK bus would get.

They have a reverse gear on buses in Costa Rica. Ok, so the buses in the UK will also have one, but how often do you ever see a bus reverse? Here in Costa Rica, it happens all the time - pulling out from stops, trying to get round corners, etc. And if you are a pedestrian or the driver of a car behind, you'd better keep out of the way or take evasive action because the bus won't pay much attention to you.

Last but not least, politeness still exists on the buses in Costa Rica. Many years ago when we were children travelling on the bus in the UK, it was not uncommon for males on the bus (including boys) to allow women and elderly to have their seat. Well this still happens in Costa Rica. Even male teenagers will often give up their seat on a full bus to allow a female of any age to sit down. This is all too rare in the UK nowadays.

We would also like to state that we have not seen any chickens or any other farmyard animals on buses in Costa Rica.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

el árbitro nos ha robado el partido

On Saturday, as it was Valentine's Day (el día del amor y la amistad), and as Colin is such a romantic, he took Zoë out for a date... to the football!

A word of warning, if you have absolutely no interest in football you can probably stop reading here!

Ideally we would have been able to go and see our local team C.S. Herediano (English) play in their own little stadium. But as there hasn't been a suitable home game available we decided to take a trip to Tibas, a town/suburb just north of San Jose where Heredianos were away to Saprissa (English). At least this way we would get to see our home team and also get to visit Costa Rica's largest stadium, Estadio Ricardo Saprissa (English), where Saprissa, and also currently the Costa Rican national team, play.

When you visit Costa Rica, and if you have any passing interest in football, you cannot fail to see or hear about the football team Saprissa. They are the Manchester United and Chelsea of Costa Rica. The richest and most successful team in the country and who it seems nearly every second person in the country supports as their "home" team. As you walk the streets of Heredia or San Jose, or in the malls and street markets you will always see at least one person in the purple of Saprissa. It is a shame that Saprissa are the Man U of Costa Rica, and therefore we can in no way bring ourselves to support them, because their purple and white strips are quite fetching it has to be said (although perhaps wearing a shirt with "Bimbo", Saprissa's sponsor, across the front isn't smart in the UK).

We are not quite sure what the appeal is in supporting a team than nearly everyone else also supports (or at least it would appear that way). Saprissa do have one other team in the country that they are large rivals with, and that is Liga Deportiva Alajuelense (English). However, and this might just be in the areas we have visited, even this team seem to only have half the support of Saprissa. In the sports shops in malls and in towns, the only football shirts on sale are Saprissa, LDA and the Costa Rican national strip. Walking around we do occasionally see people wearing foreign football tops, these are only ever Barcelona, Real Madrid, Man Utd, Chelsea or Arsenal, no one else.

On approach to the stadium there were plenty of opportunities to purchase (mostly) Saprissa and (some) Heredia merchandise from the various street vendors that had set up stalls on street corners. Zoë was particularly attracted to the spiked furry hats with tails, but managed to resist. There were also one or two touts selling tickets. At the stadium itself there were quite large queues formed at the boleteria, but there was one window selling tickets to the palco and platea which had a very small queue which we joined.

The stadium seats just over 23,000 people, so it was very similar in size to what we are used to with our own home stadium, Pittodrie, home of Aberdeen. However, Saprissa's stadium has two very large covered stands on the east and west sides (along the touchlines of the field) and two smaller uncovered stands on the north and south (along the goal lines).
As it was a special occasion we purchased two palco tickets. These were the most expensive seats available and were for the boxes that were half way up the east and west stands. They were 8000 colones each (which is about £18 for both - you would struggle to get one cheap seat ticket in Scotland for that). On this occasion the tickets were not for specific numbered seats, so upon checking with a steward were were informed we could sit wherever we wanted. The palcos were really just sections of this part of the stand that were partially separated by wooden sides to their neighbours. There was no glass front or soft seats here, although some of the palcos must have been private or corporate as they were locked and had televisions. Each of the boxes held about 40 seats, and we picked one that was empty at the time (about 25 minutes before kick-off). At kick-off time though, it and most of the other boxes filled up quite a bit with men, women and children all present. The stadium looked about half full (so again similar to Pittodrie!) but the attendance probably wasn't helped by the fact that the game was on television. The only area of the stadium that looked particularly active/rowdy was in the South end (the sol sur) where the Ultras and a brass band were located. This group of fans were continually jumping and seemed to be the only section that were singing any songs during the game.

That's not to say that our own section was completely quiet. In the front row of our palco was a male Saprissa fan who occasionally got quite animated and would allow us to hear some curses in Spanish. There were quite a lot of "hijo de puta" coming from him whenever a Saprissa forward missed another sitter.

It was also interesting to note that the few Heredia fans present were just dotted about all over the stadium, there was no one single area dedicated for them. Another difference was the fencing all around the pitch, something that hasn't been seen in the UK for a number of years. This did mean that no ball boys were situated around the field as the ball usually didn't make it over the fence when played out. The pitch at Saprissa is artifical turf and the ball did appear to bounce slightly more than on grass.

The game itself was quite entertaining, and the overall quality seemed very similar to that of an SPL game. As you would expect of a latin american country, the individual skill and technical ability was present, but it did seem that the players would often try to beat one man too many and then lose the ball too often. Crosses of the ball were often good and many of the goal chances came from these or fast counter-attacks. The goalkeepers, like many in Europe nowadays, preferred to punch the ball out rather than attempt to catch it.

Saprissa are currently rated 122 in the IFFHS World club rankings. As a comparison with Scottish teams, Glasgow Rangers and Celtic are 24 and 78 respectively and Aberdeen are currently rated 195.

Saprissa won the game 2-1, after Heredia had taken a 1-0 lead. Despite Saprissa dominating much of the game, they were helped by some dubious refereeing decisions including the award of a penalty and subsequent sending off of a Heredia player (Mauricio Solis). After this decision and the penalty it took about 5 minutes for the game to restart and the Heredia players to stop surrounding the dodgy ref. At the end of the game the ref was again surrounded (after he blew the final whistle while Heredia were about to take a corner) and we read later about the Heredia coach, Paulo Wanchope a name familiar to British football fans, complaining that his team had to play against 12 players (including the ref).

It took a long time for us to catch a bus back to Heredia as the queue was long and numerous full buses passed without stopping. But despite there being both Saprissa and Heredia fans in the queue everyone was in reasonably high spirits after a pretty good evening's entertainment.

Match photos from La Nacion.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

At the movies (en Tres-D)

On Tuesday we treated ourselves to a day to the mall. It was our "anniversary" so we thought we would see a movie.

We arrived at the Paseo de las Flores at about 10:30am and a lot of the shops and food places were still shut, so we had a cup of tea and coffee and a very nice piece of chocolate cake each (a day off from healthy eating). After finishing these we had a little look in some of the shops before heading to the cinema at the end of the mall to buy our tickets. Many of the films here are shown in English but with Spanish subtitles, the exception to this is animated films which are most often dubbed into Spanish. We decided to see Coraline y la puerta secreta, in 3-D. This would be a challenge as it was dubbed, but we figured that at least we would be able to enjoy the 3-D. Because it was a 3-D film it was also a bit more expensive than the usual showings (3500 colones compared to 2200 colones). The coming attractions (all animations) were in 3-D, which was nice. The film itself was entertaining and the dialogue was nearly always easy enough for us to understand so following the story was never a problem. The 3-D was a nice extra and wasn't overdone.

After the film we had some lunch at the La Fabbrica Pizzeria (as we said, a day off from healthy eating), also at the mall. Zoë really enjoyed her pizza, while Colin thought his probably wasn't quite as good as that of our usual Italian restaurant (L'Antica Roma). Either way the pizzas were big and tasty.

On the way to the mall we noticed that all the bus stops have changed again in Central Heredia.... this time without advance warning in La Nacion. Perhaps this is what you miss out on when you don't have a TV!

Monday, 9 February 2009

Zarcero, home of the mighty bush

Today we went on a bus adventure. We took the bus to San Jose, and from there to Zarcero. There was no real purpose in this trip other than to have a day out. Riding buses might not be everyone’s idea of fun, but the scenery on the rides into the mountains is just stunning and since we don’t have a car…

Zarcero itself is small town with all the normal things found in a Costa Rican small town including the church facing a park. But the park here is somewhat different. Remember Edward Scissorhands? Well everyone in Zacero looks like him.

No not really.

But in the central park there are lots and lots of bushes pruned into all kinds of strange and interesting shapes (topiary, of course). Gardener Evangelisto Blanco has been trimming and shaping the bushes of this park since the 1960s and he is obviously very imaginative (or strange). The shaped bushes that we came across included a dinosaur, numerous faces, a turtle, creatures dancing, something that seemed to resemble the honey monster from sugar puffs and a cat riding a motorbike!

Friday, 6 February 2009

Reggae Beats, Fishy Treats & Soaking Feet!

From the 1st to the 4th of February we visited Cahuita, on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica. This was the first time we have been to that side of the country. Since it covers 4 days, this is a huge blog entry so you may want to go and get a drink and snack before sitting down to read!

Getting There & Back
We had several options for getting to Cahuita, including hiring a car or using one of the tourist shuttle services (Interbus or Fantasy Line). We chose to go by public transport as it was significantly cheaper. The bus from San José to Cahuita costs 3900 colones each way. We went to the Gran Terminal Caribe bus station in San José a few days in advance to purchase our tickets to Cahuita. On the way to Cahuita, you are given assigned seat numbers. The Gran Terminal Caribe bus station is conveniently located, for us anyway, just a few hundred metres from the Microbuses Rapidos Heredianos terminal, who run a Heredia-San José bus route via Santo Domingo & Tibas.

The journey from San José to Cahuita took 4 hours in total, including a 20 minute stop (the driver will tell you 10!) in Limón for a toilet break and an opportunity to buy something to eat. We had somewhat of a culture shock, as the majority of the passengers on the bus to Cahuita were English-speaking tourists and we haven’t really been around many tourists since we’ve been here. There were also a few Ticos, and a nun dressed in white. Clearly we thought that the chances of our bus being involved in an accident would be greatly diminished with a nun on board.

You cannot purchase the return ticket until you are in Cahuita, and the earliest you can buy it is the day before you want to travel. Seats are not assigned on the way back, and Cahuita is the last stop before San José so be prepared if you are travelling with someone to sit separately from them. However, the nice Chilean guy who Zoë sat next to offered to swap seats with Colin so that we could sit together. Personally we think the chileno just wanted to sit next to the skinny girl with the long, wavy dark hair that spoke perfect Spanish who Colin had sat next to! Because of the flooding (the province of Limón, in which Cahuita is located, had torrential rain during the time we were there) the journey back to San José took us 6 hours.

Just north of Cahuita is a police checkpoint. On the way back a policeman boarded the bus and checked everyone’s ID. Remember to carry your passport, or a photocopy of the ID page, with you at all times when travelling in Costa Rica (we carry photocopies).


We stayed at
El Encanto Bed & Breakfast. This had been recommended to us by a couple of guys we met at Hotel Hojarascas the last time we visited Costa Rica (February/March 2008). We had one of the cabins in the beautiful gardens, which were inhabited by numerous colourful birds and lots of little green & black poison dart frogs.

Each morning we were woken by the sound of howler monkeys in the area. There was also a small swimming pool which due to the torrential rain we didn’t actually end up using (we arrived on Sunday afternoon, the rain started on Monday lunchtime and hadn’t stopped by the time we left late on Wednesday morning). We did however make good use of the covered terrace at the front of our cabin to sit outside in the torrential rain and watch the comings and goings of the wildlife and the hotel guests and staff. It may have been pouring with rain, but at least it was warm!
Cahuita itself is full of accommodation for tourists at all prices from basic cabinas to upscale hotels. We were happy with our mid-price choice.

Eating & Drinking
The small village of Cahuita is packed full of bars and restaurants catering to the tourists and also several more local, traditional sodas. It all seemed a little disproportionate really for such a small place. However, the upside is that the choice provides a lot of really good eating! In just a short visit we couldn’t possibly visit every one of them but here’s where we did go:

Reggae Bar
, on the road leading out of the village along Playa Negra (Black Beach). We arrived on the Sunday afternoon while it was sunny and warm (the rain didn’t start until Monday) and went for a walk along the beach/beach road. We stopped off here for a drink. A very rough hewn bar with laid back staff and customers including surfers, Rastafarians and aging hippies from the USA who have probably been here a little too long. Like pretty much all the bars in Cahuita, this one was showing European football on its TV, and playing reggae music.

Restaurante Sobre Las Olas
, on the road leading out of the village along Playa Negra, is the closest restaurant to El Encanto. Being on the coast, we wanted to ensure that we got our fill of seafood while we were in Cahuita. So, on the Sunday night we chose this restaurant because it was so close to the hotel and advertised seafood as its specialty. This is not a cheap restaurant. In fact it is by far the most expensive place we have eaten since we arrived in Costa Rica in early December. But the candlelit table on the Caribbean shore and the delicious food made it worth every colón. Colin had red snapper in a Caribbean sauce (coconutty and creamy), which he thought was the best meal he ate while we were in Cahuita. Zoë had a Caribbean-style seafood rice dish, which came with every conceivable type of seafood mixed in with the wonderfully flavoured rice. Quite an adventure to a relative newcomer to seafood! Colin also took advantage of a free sample of local cahuita white rum, it had quite a kick to it.
Pizz’ n’ Love is in the centre of the village. We ended up here because the Sunday night was the night of the Superbowl and we couldn’t watch it at El Encanto because the tube in the television in the communal area had blown that morning. We walked through the village looking to see if anywhere was showing it … we did think that we might have to go and ask at the house that serves as the laundry if we could go and watch their telly, but then we came across Pizz’ n’ Love who were showing the Superbowl on a big screen much to Colin’s (and the large number of Steelers and Cardinals fans who had gathered there) relief. It was a nice atmosphere, the drinks were good, the food looked good (we had already eaten though) and the host was very friendly and seemed to know everyone who passed by and stopped to watch from the roadside for a few minutes.

Coral Reef Restaurant in the centre of the village was our Monday night dinner stop. Delicious Rice and Beans (traditionally Caribbean with a hint of coconut) and corvina (sea bass). Zoë’s was in a creole sauce, and Colin’s in a Caribbean sauce (more spicy and less coconutty than the previous night). We also had postres (pudding) here, both of us opting for a banano flambeado con helado, which was very tasty.

Café del Parquecito
is, as the name suggests, right by the little park in the village. We stopped here on Tuesday morning partly to get a break from the rain, and partly to try out the crepes here (“the best in town” – probably the only in town). The crepes were good and so were the hot chocolates we drank. It seemed to be the hangout for the German-speaking tourists – maybe the crepes reminded them of Europe.

Cha Cha Cha
, serves cocina del mundo (food of the world) in Cahuita village. We ate here on Tuesday evening and were glad that we got there early as the small restaurant filled up quickly and the food took a while to arrive (it was just as well that Zoë had her natural de mora and Colin his Haitian Zombie cocktail to keep them occupied). We both had the catch of the day – shark fillet in a creole sauce. We were given a choice of how spicy we wanted the sauce – not very for Zoë, quite a lot for Colin. This was Zoë’s favourite meal here. While we waited for our food Colin spotted a strange shadow that seemed to be making its way along a telephone line which turned out to be a sloth. Zoë went to investigate despite the torrential rain, but the sloth was moving too fast (yes really!) and it was too dark to take a photograph. Still it was an interesting sight to see.

Soda Lili
, at the bus station. We had quite a while to wait for our bus back to San Jose on Wednesday morning, so we had a nice cup of hot chocolate to raise our spirits at the small soda right next to the swimming pool (OK, it was the bus stop…. but we could probably have gone swimming if we had wanted!)

On the Monday we went on an organised tour which took us to the Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica, the Uatsi Waterfall and the Tsiru Úe, a family run “Chocolate House”.

Our driver for the day was Daubrin. He didn’t speak much English, and the 8 other tourists we were with didn’t speak Spanish so initially he seemed quite unfriendly and uncommunicative. But when he realised that we could speak some Spanish he brightened up a bit and turned out to be very friendly and helpful. Moral of the story: always try to speak at least a little of the language of the country you are travelling to.

We were picked up at El Encanto at 10.20 am, and driven to the Sloth Sanctuary. Our guide at the sanctuary was Jeffrey, the Las Vegas born and raised grandson of the sanctuary owners who had originally wanted to be an architect until he visited his grandparents in Costa Rica 4 years ago … and stayed. Jeffrey told us a lot about sloths with the help of a large mural, a video and sloth skeletons and then we went to meet some live ones. Each of the sloths at the sanctuary has its own story of how it got there … some were orphaned as babies or found abandoned, others sustained injuries as adults. Unfortunately, if the sloth is orphaned it doesn’t learn how to survive in the wild from its mother and it is therefore destined to a comfortable, but captive, life at the sanctuary. Injured sloths, once healed, are released into the “wild” of the sanctuary’s own private area of forest. Some of these sloths will move on to the real wild of their own accord. We met several adult sloths, one of which we were allowed to stroke, and many small baby sloths. Unfortunately, due to the time constraints of the tour we didn’t have time to go for a walk along the “sendero de los peresozos” (the path of the sloths) to look for sloths in the sanctuary’s forest.

At the Sanctuary we also learned that sloths, along with dolphins, are the only creatures that are permanently smiling .... :)

We were driven to the town of Bribrí, where we made a quick lunch stop, before heading to the Uatsi waterfall. This involved a drive into the Talamanca mountains, which ended sooner than Daubrin anticipated because one of the rivers on the way to the waterfall, which he usually crossed in his vehicle, was uncrossable in his people carrier. Thus our hike was further than anticipated and involved wading across 3 rivers before eventually getting to the river with the waterfall.

The whole experience was adventurous and entertaining (some of the folk on the tour were just not prepared for this) and the reward at the end, paddling/swimming in the pool at the bottom of the waterfall was for Zoë the surprise highlight of the tour. Colin didn’t go into the pool, and Daubrin offered to take him on a little hike to the top of the waterfall; Colin couldn’t think at that moment how to say “I don’t like heights” in Spanish but did manage to comprehend that it wasn't going to be too steep so he followed Daubrin and ended up going to places he would never have usually gone. The view was great, but a bit too high for comfort.

After the waterfall we visited Tsiru Úe. This family from the indigenous Bribrí tribe make chocolate from the cacao trees growing in their garden. They showed us the trees, the cacao fruit at different stages of growth (it takes 6 months to reach the stage where it can be used for chocolate), allowed us to try some of the fruit (very sweet and kind of like mango) and showed us how they processed the seeds into cocoa butter and chocolate before allowing us to try (and of course purchase) the results.

It was while we were visiting Tsiru Úe that the torrential rain, which would last until we left Cahuita, began. We were pleased that we hadn’t booked the tour for the Tuesday as we think that the waterfall trip would have been too dangerous and unpredictable with that amount of rainfall in such a short time.

On Tuesday we went for a walk in Cahuita National Park. We did postpone the start of the walk for a couple of hours in case the rain stopped, but when it didn’t we just resigned ourselves to getting very wet. We were only in Cahuita for a limited time and didn’t want to spend that time sitting watching the rain. We followed the trail through the park from the Kelly Creek Ranger Station (at Cahuita) to the Puerto Vargas Ranger Station. A distance of 8 km, plus an extra couple of kilometres to get transport back to Cahuita.

On the trail we walked along Caribbean beaches with waves crashing to the shore and through jungle where we saw abundant wildlife including blue fiddler crabs, a troup of capuchin monkeys and two bocaracás (bright yellow venomous snakes which apparently aren’t often seen in the park). Although we didn’t go swimming in the Caribbean (it looked just a little too rough for us) we may as well have as we were absolutely soaked, but we did often paddle along the edges. We had decided to make absolutely no attempt to stay dry as it would have been impossible and instead enjoyed the feeling of wearing shorts and t-shirts in warm rain. This just does not happen in Aberdeen!

At the end of the walk we reached the multipurpose Bar Boca Chica where they have a swimming pool free to use for their customers (somewhat ironic on this particular day), served food and drink, braided hair, sold souvenirs and offered a taxi service. Colin had a warming coffee while we dried out a little under their thatched shelters (we do think that they should add Hot Chocolate to their menu, especially for soaking days like this one!) before we hired the barman to drive us back to Cahuita in his “taxi”. The barman/taxi driver spoke good English learnt whilst he worked for a couple of years in Glasgow about 20 years ago. His Glaswegian impression was also spot on, including obscenities (“for **** sake gies a fag, pal”).

Despite the torrential rain, which we later found had caused lots of flooding in the province, we enjoyed our trip to the Caribbean as much as we had hoped. It was very strange to be among so many English-speaking people, both tourists and locals. We had read the odd bad report about Cahuita, but everyone we met was very friendly and we didn’t experience any problems. All-in-all, Cahuita was the relaxed, quiet getaway we wanted.