Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Puerto Viejo: My Favourite Town in Central America

Si senorita, this boat will take you straight to the buses in Moin. Then the driver will show you the minibus to go directo to Puerto Viejo and you get there at 3.30. Solamente 40 dolares,” the hostel owner assured me.

“Okay, so boat to the bus stop, then directo right to Puerto Viejo?” I asked.

Si senorita,” he confirmed.

By this time I’d learned that directo does not mean 'direct bus' in Central America (if you’re looking for a bus that doesn’t stop along the way to your destination, you should be asking for an express which are quite hard to come by). Regardless, it was the best option, and because of my timing, the only option to get from the island of Tortuguero to Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica. At least I wouldn’t have to deal with taxis and transfers doing this by myself, I thought.

The next morning I woke up at eight, grabbed a quick breakfast, and set out on a three and a half hour boat ride down the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica. I’d spent the day before exploring Tortuguero National Park but, to be honest, there isn’t much more to see on the island and I was ready to move on. 

Waterfront homes in Costa Rica
Homes on the water in Tortuguero, Costa Rica
Puerto Viejo: My Favourite Town in Central America

The beautiful canals of Tortuguero, Costa Rica
The beautiful canals connecting Tortuguero to mainland Costa Rica
The shuttle boat was surprisingly comfortable and I was so relieved to sit back, relax, and catch a little nap, especially after the disastrous ferry experiences I’d had earlier in Central America. Maybe this day of travel will go smoothly after all, I thought.

Yeah right. 

The confusion began once the ride ended. I felt a sense of panic rise within me as we pulled up to the dock and there weren’t any buses waiting. A handful of eager taxi drivers approached the boat and started hauling out bags. If I’ve learned anything throughout my travels it’s that nothing is for free. Call me cheap but I didn’t want to pay any “expected tips” so when random men started grabbing my pack I immediately snatched it back and waited for the boat driver to direct me to where I was supposed to go. 

Apparently there must’ve been some miscommunication because the driver had no idea what minibus I was talking about and, feeling anxious in the moment, my brain wasn’t pulling the Spanish vocabulary that I’d learned in Guatemala fast enough for me to communicate properly.

The boat driver told me to take a taxi to the bus station in Puerto Limon then take a bus down the coast to Puerto Viejo. By this time there was only one taxi remaining at the dock so I piled in with a family of three and hoped for the best. (I should note here that of course I got charged the tourist price. For the boat ride, the gringos were charged $40 per person in advance but when locals got off the boat I saw them handing over $20. For the taxi ride, I paid $10 for one seat in a taxi whereas the family I was sharing with paid $10 total to get dropped off a minute before me. Grrrrr.)

Once the taxi driver and I were alone in the car, he asked me where I was heading to and offered me a ride to Puerto Viejo for $50 (“normally $84, but for you $50”). I rolled my eyes and said no thank you. I’d take my chances with the bus. 

He dropped me off at the station and I was so relieved to find out a bus was leaving for Puerto Viejo in 20 minutes and tickets only cost $3.50. Screw you taxi man! For a fraction of the price and only an hour and a half ride, I’d happily take public transportation.

The buses in Costa Rica were very well-maintained and much more comfortable than the chicken buses or minibuses I’d taken elsewhere in Central America. There were plenty of seats and I appreciated not being packed to the brim. I sank into my seat and visibly exhaled as the bus started its journey. 

I kept my eye on the time and got off when I recognized the restaurant names that I remembered through my TripAdvisor and Lonely Planet research about the town of Puerto Viejo. What luck that I happened to pick the right area of town! I walked around with two backpacks (this was before my daypack was stolen) asking for directions until I found where I was looking for. Of course it would be much too easy for the street names to be displayed but fortunately some Spanish vocabulary seemed to have returned to my brain by then.

Navigating through last minute changes in a foreign language makes me very anxious on “transit” days, especially when I’m put on the spot and have to make decisions by myself. Though it sounds very minor now that I’m writing it out, travel accomplishments like that make me feel really proud of myself! Yay, I figured it out! Now I totally deserve a drink < my usual thought process.

Lazy Daze Guesthouse in Utila, Honduras
Sadly I lost most of my photos from Costa Rica when my other camera was stolen so here's an unrelated but pretty sunset pic from Utila, Honduras
I dropped my things off at Cabinas Lika ($20/night for a private room with private bath) and meandered through the streets of the reggae-loving beach town known as Puerto Viejo. Costa Rica is so beautiful and its people very friendly, but PV in particular reeled me in from the very beginning. It took me less than an hour of exploring to decide that I loved it already. 

With a wicked craving for a mojito, I made my way into the first place with a view offering 2-4-1 drinks. I found the perfect people-watching perch at Monli Bar and Restaurant and splurged on a juicy beef tenderloin dinner for $14. Mojitos came with fresh mint leaves, decorative lime stars, and (most importantly) three shots of rum! The next day I’d find a grocery store and buy breakfast/lunch foods there to compensate for the splurge, but for now a view overlooking the sunset, the ocean, and “the strip” were all I needed. 

Have you ever had to adjust your travel route on the fly? How about finding a town that you fell instantly in love with? I'd love to read your thoughts in the comments below.

Linking up with Bonnie and Camila.

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