A walkabout is a rite of passage- a person will go out into the wilderness to discover his or her identity and purpose, and then return home.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Weekend Trip #1: Puerto Viejo

Indisputably, my weekend adventures get a lot more crazy and exciting than anything that goes on in Atenas during the week.  {Though last week an earthquake of magnitude 6.2 rippled through the town- didn´t do any real damage, but I certainly felt it up in my already-shaky second story room.  I guess that could be considered exciting....}  I definitely enjoy planning them and anticipating all the fun during the week.  Time passes weirdly both fast and slow here, but before you know it, it´s Thursday and you´ve got to look up bus schedules and pack your bag for the weekend {which starts Friday}.  

Generally, how we {Lindsay and I, with Dean being included the first couple weeks} decide where we´re going for the weekend is based purely on recommendations we´ve received from other travelers. Rarely do we go somewhere because we´ve researched it or read about it in a guide book.  Though sometimes we do choose places based on activities we want to do/things we want to see, so I guess it really does depend. 

But anyway, without further ado, I present the recap of my first weekend of traveling:* 

Weekend 1- Puerto Viejo/The Carnaval that wasn´t...

This weekend was a special one, for multiple reasons.  For me, it was my first chance getting to travel and explore Costa Rica without trying to reach one volunteer gig or another, my first time traveling with Lindsay and Dean {the first time they´d traveled together was the weekend before}, and my first weekend getting out of Atenas {which I was eager to do, as the one before had been rather miserable}.  Also, it was a three-day weekend, thanks to the Exchange of Cultures Day on Monday (their Columbus Day, except he´s not very well liked around here).  The goal was to make it to the city of Limon (a port city on the Caribbean side, just a bit south of where I volunteered with the turtles) for this grand event called Carnaval. It´s sort of funny- while Lindsay, Dean, and I had heard extensively about the existence of this festival from multiple sources, no one seemed to know exactly what went on during it.  But one thing was certain: it was going to be crazy.

Limon itself was a city already known for being a bit insane.  It was a dangerous place to walk around, especially at night.  Lindsay had told us about her friend who was held up at gunpoint there, and even the locals cautioned us about the place, citing numerous thefts and murders.  To be honest, we were a bit sketched out- I mean, when even Costa Ricans don´t feel safe in a city, you know as a foreigner you´d be stupid not to feel at least a bit of apprehension.  Also, putting the safety precautions aside, almost everyone we talked to who´d already been there sort of made a face when we mentioned we were going, and told us in no uncertain terms that "Limon es feo," Limon is ugly.  

While all the negativity about our trip in no way deterred us from seeing the city, or the Carnaval, we did concede to book a hostel in the town of Puerto Viejo  (an hour away) instead of Limon itself.  We figured it´d be cheaper and places to stay would be more available {plus Lindsay and I could breathe a little easier knowing we wouldn´t have to sleep in a city of murderers}.  So our weekend plans were set, and on Thursday we called a hostel {recommended to us by Lindsay´s friend who´s lived in Costa Rica for over a year} to reserve three hammocks{!} for three nights.  It was on.

Since Dean´s volunteer position had Fridays off, he left Thursday night for Puerto Viejo, leaving Lindsay and I to make our own way there after working at the Hogarcito on Friday.  We researched bus schedules and figured it´d be safest to catch the 2:00pm bus to San Jose, where we´d transfer bus stations and then take the 4:00pm bus direct to Puerto Viejo.  We anticipated we´d arrive around 7:30pm- a good time, as it would leave us a few hours in which to get dinner and chill before going out for the night.  If only things had worked out that well....

Friday afternoon, Lindsay and I get back to Atenas a bit after 1:00pm, and we race home to eat lunch and finish packing.  Since I needed to go to the bank to change some dollars into colones before our trip {imperative as banks close around 4:00pm in Costa Rica, and aren´t open weekends}, we decided we´d just meet at the bus station around 1:50pm to ensure we got a seat.  I scarfed down lunch, grabbed my {newly purchased, daypack-sized} backpack, and headed to the bank with 15 minutes until I was supposed to meet Lindsay.  As soon as I entered the bank, I felt a sinking in my stomach- this was going to take more time than I had, I could just feel it.  

I was guided to a square formation of chairs by an armed guard, and sat down at the end of the "line."  I was four rows back and three chairs in.  The square itself had eight rows in total, with six chairs in each row.  Watching the line move would´ve been quite funny, had I not been so anxious about the time: every time the person in the first chair got up to walk to an available banker, the second person would move one chair over, with everyone in the following chairs doing the same thing in a sort of slow-moving wave.  While this snaking line  of chair transfers was actually moving at a pretty good speed, I ended up leaving about six chair-moves in- there was just no way I was going to make the bus if I stayed.  I figured I could find a bank in the two hour "layover" we had in San Jose, so I wasn´t too worried about not having any colones on me at that point.  I just had to find one before the bus from San Jose, or I´d be screwed for the weekend {I stupidly didn´t bring any card for an ATM with me <-- travel mistake I won´t make again #1}.

We reached San Jose a bit after 3:00pm, and hailed a cab to take us to the Caribeños bus station, stopping for a quick detour by a bank.  Only problem was the cabbie managed to find us the least-functional bank in the city.  I´m not exaggerating- out of the five possible attendant windows, only one was being manned.  On a Friday before a holiday weekend.  What the hell.  I left after standing in the line-that-didn´t-move for 15 minutes.  I just hoped Lindsay would be fine covering me for the weekend, and I´d pay her back once we returned to Atenas.

We finally pulled up to the bus station, and it was packed.  So many people, travelers and locals, obviously had big beach plans for the upcoming three-day weekend.  We raced to the ticket booths, where Lindsay stood in line to get us tickets since I had spotted a bank in the terminal where I figured I´d make one last-ditch effort to convert my money.  I ended up asking the two guys in front of me if I could budge them, since I was worried about running out of time and missing the bus.  While the men complied, I needn´t have worried: the bus ended up leaving an  hour late.  

It was relieving to finally be on the bus to Puerto Viejo, but the bus ride itself was probably one of the craziest rides I´ve ever been on.  Since we left around 5:00pm, by the time we reached the city limits it was already dark, so the majority of the trip was pitch black {the personal lights on Costa Rican buses never work}.  Our driver was a maniac- ridiculously fast, especially on the twisty turns of the mountain paths, and had no regard for trying to avoid potholes.  Lindsay and I were sitting in the second row from the back, meaning we got to feel the worst of all the bumps.  And the people around us were hilariously terrible travel-mates: the people across from us decided to listen to bad Latin music on full blast on their headphone-less iPod, while the guys behind us decided the bus ride was the perfect time to smoke a joint.   We spent the entire ride in and out of a weird, dazed sleep, the window wide open for some fresh air.  By the time we reached Puerto Viejo, we were exhausted and just wanted to hit the hammocks of our hostel and sleep.

Little did we know that sleep is not an option at Rockin´J´s.  I kid you not- search "top party hostel Costa Rica" and see what turns up.  Yeah... we weren´t aware of that when we booked the place.  For three nights.  Lindsay and I showed up at 10:30pm {I almost walked directly past it because I assumed from the noise and people spilling outside that is was a club}, and stepped foot into a massive party.  People {noisy, drunk, high, and covered in face paint} were everywhere: dancing at the bar connected to the hostel, playing pool, smoking joints, smoking hookahs, playing beer pong, sitting at the tables mixing drinks... you get the idea.  I feel like I experienced my first frat party in Costa Rica- except this one was held on a Caribbean beach.

Dean spotted us and came over to show us to our hammocks {lucky us, we got the three closest to the bar, yayyyyy}, and then introduced us to some guys he´d met and had been hanging out with.  While we were mostly very confused about what the hell was going on, and annoyed we couldn´t just go to sleep, Lindsay and I actually ended up having a pretty good time socializing.  And when the music was finally turned off at 2:00am, we fell into our hammocks, ready to rest up in preparation for the Carnaval the next day.

All three of us woke up bright and early {like 6:00am- I tell you, this hostel just doesn´t allow you to sleep}, and after breakfast caught the 9:00am bus to Limon for the Carnaval.  We were expecting to arrive and be accosted by music, crowds, parades, dancing, vendors, and just general craziness {ironically, almost exactly what we experienced the night before}, but were instead greeted by nothing of the sort.  The city was essentially just San Jose on a smaller scale- a dirty, unexciting, completely commercialized handful of streets.  The only evidence of any sort of celebration were a few closed tents set up on the sides of streets, and a parade that involved people dressed as clowns going around hitting bystanders with sticks.  We wandered around for a few hours, were thoroughly disgusted by the lack of excitement**, and left.  After an hour and a half standing-room-only {we were the standers} bus ride back, we grabbed a late lunch, and then hit up a nearby beach until it got dark.  We congratulated ourselves on having chosen to stay in Puerto Viejo instead of Limon for the weekend.  If it had been the other way around, I think I might have melted in a pool of disappointment.

Puerto Viejo is a really cool place.  It´s where all the newly-freed slaves of the Spaniards congregated way back in 1800-something  {don´t quote me on my historical accuracy- I´m on vacation after all}, meaning it developed it´s own Bahamian atmosphere, very separate from the rest of the country.  There´s a strong reggae, laid-back feel, and lots of dreadlocks and marijuana are present.  Everyone there, locals and travelers alike, were friendly, and I never felt paranoid about being robbed {like I had in Limon}.  Yeah, there were many tourists- especially from the surfing/bro/stoner/frat guy population- but they only somewhat tainted the otherwise pristine scenery, haha.  Given that explanation of Puerto Viejo, you´re probably not surprised that another night of craziness {that involved going to a local club and literally starting the party there} ensued Saturday night.  Twas fun ;)

Sunday was our beach day.  We rented bikes from the hostel, and after a few false starts {luckily Dean knew how to put chains back on uncooperative gears} embarked on an hour-long ride to the southern-most beach on the Caribbean side, named Manzanillo.  The beach was gorgeous and untouristed, with amazing white sand and warm water.  It was also cool, because we were only an hour away from the Panama border- we all regretted not going into Panama after we looked on a map and saw how close we´d been.  But after biking back we were all exhausted {bumming it on the beach does that to you, haha}, and Lindsay and I took a nap, while Dean went off and did whatever.  When we woke up and realized it was almost dinner time, Lindsay and I dressed up to go eat a classy meal out... and then promptly got soaked in a torrential rainstorm on our way back to Rockin´J´s.  Oh well, cést la vie.  We chilled at the hostel until about 10:00pm, when {the always health-conscious} Dean declared he was leaving to go find a hamburger.  Lindsay and I went with him, and on our expedition we ran into a bar called The Lazy Mon {<-- really playing up the reggae vibe, huh?} that was having an open mic night.  We ended up staying there through an awesome fire-dancing show, before we decide to call it a night and headed back to sleep.

Monday we were planning on stopping for a few hours in Cahuita national park before returning to Atenas, but ended up deciding in the morning that we just wanted to get back into town.  We lucked out transportation-wise on the way back- we managed to hit every station right before the bus pulled out, meaning we didn´t have to wait around and waste time.  We arrived in Atenas a bit after 1:00pm, tired but happy about our successful weekend away.  I think it was an early night for all of us.

So that´s my long-winded story of my first weekend trip- and first real taste of being a backpacker- here in Costa Rica.

I´m exhausted just typing all that.

xoxo, Cleome

*I had originally titled this Weekends 1, 2, 3, since I´d naively assumed I could fit their recaps all into one large post.  But when the clock read two hours after I´d started, and I was only just getting to trying to change my dollars into colones, I realized I had grossly underestimated how much I´d write.  Or maybe just how much I´d remember.  Anyway, all this is to say that I´m working, slowly but surely, on recapping my earlier weekends here.  It just takes time.  A lot of it.

**Oh, and apparently there actually is a cool Carnaval that happens in Limon.  It´s just that all the excitement doesn´t start until dark, and that the real deal was actually the weekend after when we visited- we´d caught the lamer, more tame "Children´s Carnaval."

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