Saturday, 29 April 2017

Bocas Del Toro

It was a long journey over two days to get from Montezuma to Puerto Viejo, travelling via the capital, San Jose. Considering Costa Rica is a fairly well-developed country with a decent standard of living, it is surprising the condition of the roads, many of which are unsealed, pot-holed and require a four by four to get around. Even our accommodation in Montezuma advised leg one of the journey to San Jose would take three hours, where it in fact took seven! Still, we’re not in any kind of rush, so no problem there.

We arrived in San Jose to torrential rain, thunder storms and a power cut – it was actually a welcome relief to the high temperatures and humidity in Montezuma! Our accommodation had a view over Poas volcano, which had a small eruption a couple of weeks ago – just a bit of gas and smoke – but we were relieved to pass through without further incident as the area was on alert for a while, in case of further eruptions.

As we travelled through Monteverde and Montezuma, we kept meeting people headed from or to Bocas Del Toro, Panama (on the border with Costa Rica) – to the point where we wondered what we were missing. Upon a little research, we decided that too we should amend our itinerary (which was pretty open) to spend a week there and add another stamp to our passports…

So, we hopped on a bus to Puerto Viejo (a journey which actually took its designated travel time of five hours and not the usual seven!), the jumping off point for Bocas Del Toro.
Puerto Viejo is a backpacker destination in its own right, however – a very laid back atmosphere, miles of coastline, nice beaches, good surf and hot weather.

Puerto Viejo - Playa Cocles

Puerto Viejo is on the Caribbean Coast, to which there’s a really different vibe to the Pacific Coast. In addition to the local Costa Ricans (Ticos, as they like to call themselves) there are also local Caribbean people, speaking in their own Creole dialect and serving up ‘rice and beans’ and other Caribbean food in their restaurants.

We stayed near Playa Negra, where the sand is black (burning the soles of your feet as you run down to the sea) and two kilometres away there’s Playa Cocles, a long stretch of white sand, good surf and nice for swimming.

Surfboards on Playa Cocles

There’s a jungle path to walk between the Playa Negra and Playa Cocles and on the way, we saw three sloths in the trees! The first two were sleeping as we spotted them during the day, but we saw the third one at dusk and he’d just woken up and was having his dinner (breakfast?) Please forgive the terrible photo – I really tested the limits of my camera in the fading light and zooming right in. Still, you can still make out that it’s a sloth and at least it wasn’t moving too fast to photograph!

After a few nights in Puerto Viejo, we took the shuttle over the border into Panama and then the boat into Bocas del Toro.

Bocas Del Toro is a chain of islands and we chose Isla Bastimentos for our first stop, as it seemed a bit quieter with nice beaches. It's really picturesque with wooden houses built on stilts over the sea.
Isla Bastimentos

However, we decided to move to a different island after one night due to there being no running water on the island because of a water shortage.
We were allowed to have a short shower from the tank, but basically had to ask the hotel management for permission to use the water. Now, the weather app on my phone told me the humidity levels were at 92% at one point, which makes the 32 degree temperatures feel so much hotter, so you don't feel clean for long – and we decided we just couldn’t live without running water. What divas we are! 

So, we took a boat back over to the main island and stayed in Bocas town, which was perfect for us.
All the nice beaches are a short boat, or bus ride away and the town has the best food options as well – though to be honest the standard of food is nowhere near what it was in, say, Mexico!

The closest beach, on Isla Carenero, was idyllic with calm turquoise water, white sand, palm trees and a restaurant with decking out over the seas that served the best pina coladas. After a couple of visits there, however, Kev learned the hard way that there are also sand flies, which made a meal out him. Astonishingly, they went for Kev and not me – it is usually the other way around! At last count, Kev had over a hundred bites and is currently being driven to distraction by the itching…

Isla Carenero

The island was also home to some small crabs with one claw as big as their whole body – I thought it was interesting how some were right and some were left-handed (or clawed!)
Left and right-handed crabs!

Fortunately, we also visited some other lovely beaches without sand flies: Bocas del Drago, which leads on to Playa Estrella is home to hundreds of orange starfish, which you can see with a snorkel, just a few feet from the shore. I saw around thirty of them in as many metres, whilst swimming along the shore.

Bocas Del Drago

Starfish at Playa Estrella
I also thought I’d share with you the famous Costa Rican (and Panamanian, evidently) ‘suicide shower’ – so called because there is an un-earthed heating element in the shower head itself and you are advised not to touch the shower head with wet hands - for obvious reasons! This is a particularly fine example of one in our guest house, complete with gaffer tape and a piece of string holding it up! (Note: the accommodation also had a cold-water shower which we preferred to use!)

The famous suicide shower!

After another day in Bocas, we’re heading back to San Jose via Puerto Viejo for two nights to break up the journey. Then on Wednesday we fly to Colombia for the final leg of our journey – I will write again from there.

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