Monday, December 18, 2006

Logbook: Cahuita

Cahuita1On Saturday morning, I packed up and checked out of the lovely La Condesa that had been my home for a week in the San Jose area. I said good-bye to my friends on the staff who had been so helpful and hospitable then got a ride to “Los Caribenos” -- the name commonly used for the San Jose bus station that handles all buses to the Caribbean Coast. Because of the time and cost that would have been involved in getting my ticket in advance, I had ignored Vanessa’s warnings that the weekend buses might be full and that I might have some difficulty getting a seat. Frankly, having a few months of Central American bus experience under my belt, I realized that I had been over-working the problem in the past and was ready to take an easier approach. I had checked the bus schedule and found that there were four direct buses to Cahuita -- with one leaving every two hours starting at ten in the morning -- so I was pretty confident of getting a ride at some point in the day.

Sure enough, I arrived at the terminal a little after nine, walked up to the ticket counter, said “Cahuita” and was rewarded with a seat on the ten o’clock bus. Big deal. Right on time, the bus loaded up to capacity, hit the road and about three hours later pulled into a scruffy little town with signs that indicated I had arrived in Cahuita. I got off the bus, got my gear and watched as the bus pulled away in a cloud of dust. In the immediate vicinity of the Chuita bus station -- which consists of a ticket window, an awning and a bench -- there is a bar, a tour operator, a bar, a little restaurant and a bar. There were no cabs waiting to take me the mile or so out of town to my hotel, but there were a few people milling around, and they were my first indication that this was a very different part of Costa Rica. Poor, black and speaking in a distinctive “Island English” dialect, it is clear that this area was settled from the East, not from the North or South. Anyway, I stood around for a few minutes taking in the sights and waiting to see what would happen, when a woman on bicycle stopped, said “Welcome to Cahuita, mon! I’ll get you a cab, mon!” and peddled off. A few minutes later I got into a car -- obviously not a cab -- with a young guy, his wife and two kids for a ride down the road. It’s funny how ingrained our paranoia is sometimes, because the thought that I might be on my way to a mugging actually crossed my mind. That thought gave way almost immediately to recognition that the guy’s wife and kids were in the car and that it was most likely he was the bicycle woman’s son just looking to make a couple of bucks.

Needless to say, I survived the entirely uneventful five minute trip and arrived safely at La Diosa -- a quiet, tidy collection of “cabinas” that had been recommended to me by a friend. After a quick check-in and change of clothes, I spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around, checking the place out and then laying in a hammock by the ocean reading a book. A simple dinner in a place across the road capped off the day, and I slept to the sound of waves washing onto the lava rock shore. Tough life, I know, but somebody has to do it!

Cahuita2Sunday morning I walked into town and got under the awning of the market just as the rain started pouring down. I spent a few minutes looking around the goofy little place, bought some water and a few snacks then stood out under the awning again while the rain continued. For about twenty minutes it rained like crazy, and I passed the time joking with the girls in the store, helping a kid put the chain back on his bike and petting the dogs who were hanging around. When the rain stopped, the skies cleared and the sun shone while I walked back to my lodging. It was immediately sweltering, so I spent most of the afternoon walking along the beach and reading, then had dinner and hit the rack. Yesterday, I decided to catch a bus up to Limon to check out what I have ahead of me there prior to my sailing date on January 3rd. So, I walked into town, found the bus station and bought a ticket. Although it was already almost 9:30, I saw that my ticket was for the 9:15 bus. A quick query of the ticket clerk was answered with a shrug and I knew immediately that this was completely normal.

At about ten the bus arrived, already full, so I climbed on and hung on as the bus took off with a lurch. About 15 minutes later, after even more people packed in, the bus pulled over to the side of the road and people started getting off. At first I thought this was some kind of popular stop, but as the bus got more and more empty and it became obvious that everybody was going to get off, I realized that I was experiencing my first Costa Rican road block! We all stood in line, had our papers examined by a man in a hat and got back on the bus. It all took about fifteen minutes which, it turns out, is also enough time for people to buy drinks and snacks from a cart that I am pretty sure belongs to the brother of the man in the had... If you know what I mean. Anyway, the last fifteen minutes of the trip to Limon was uneventful and I got off the bus in the middle of town. I will save my observations of Limon until I’ve been there longer, but for now I will tell you that within two hours I had located the pier, arranged a place to stay only two blocks away, found a store where I will be able to get some rubber boots that I will need on my cruises, had a snack and a bottle of water, located a hi-speed internet connection and gotten back on a bus.

By the time I reached Cahuita, I was hot and tired so, you guessed it, I found my favorite hammock and read my book, then had fresh fish for dinner and an early bed time. This morning I spent some time with Marcello -- the owner of La Diosa -- introducing him to his first Mac which a relative had brought him last week. In the process, I was able to sort out some of his internet stuff and got my own trusty Mac to be able to connect more reliably with the great Mac server in the sky. So, I’ve spent much of the afternoon in iLife and will wrap up by posting this Logbook entry. In closing, I will say that I really like Cahuita. It is a scruffy, undeveloped, remote little town that offers nice beaches, plenty of quirky eateries and lodging -- with reasonable prices -- and nice people. If you want to “get away”, avoid the bus tourists and experience a completely different Costa Rica, this could be a place for you.

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