04.05.2012 - 04.05.2012
palm oil fields
Cloud forests, volcanic crater lakes, dirt roads and potholes, rivers full with clear water, switchbacks through thick fog, roadside stands stocked with fruits and vegetables from surrounding farms. It was "Pura Vida" in Costa Rica.
reliable security on the road
We headed for the country's remote Osa Peninsula. A gas station attendant affirmed our suspicion: It was in fact a ferry on the map, and it was a shortcut. He called ahead and confirmed we had an hour to make it there. We hung a right off the Pan-American and soon found ourselves driving between miles and miles upon rows and rows of closely planted palm trees. The Aussies figured it out - the locals were harvesting palm oil, a highly saturated fat that is a product of the fruit of the palm, a product that is for first worlders used in loads of process foods and for third worlders used as a butter of sorts. Because of the size of the plant to yield the product (essentially a big palm tree), huge swaths of wet jungly land are cut to make room. And you can guess the rest. Nonetheless it was a unique sight. If you looked down a row of palms (as if you were driving past a vineyard) it looked as if the trunks were columns, the palms the roof. Moss hung everywhere and the whole big room of sorts went on and on until it faded into the dark.
We found the ferry unattended resting up on the bank of a wide river. Pale Cheek's diesel made the sleepy town of Puerto Escondido (good luck finding it on the map) aware of our arrival and soon followed the captain. This time the ferry itself was without power, just a steel flotilla of sorts. The captain hopped in an outboard powered dinghy that was lashed to the floating hunk of steel and it was this little craft that he wielded artfully to maneuver us through the rivers current to the opposite bank. I remember giving him a little man-nod in appreciation of his impressive piloting. All I got in return was a look that said "yeah I know what I do is impressive to some but it's just my job. Now be on your way."
With the 4wheel drive engaged, we ascended a small group of jungly hills to a point that looked over the whole green peninsula, the northern half of which was Corcavado National Park. Beyond, the horizon and the Pacific were just perceivable through in the mist. Daniel and I got out of Pale Cheeks, we stood on a ledge and looked below at the thick jungle, known to be the crown jewel of Costa Rica's vast network of parks. National Geographic had once named it (and still might name it) the most biodiverse place on earth (ref Wiki). The bugs were humming and my mind went to that thought, the one where I think to myself about what I had to do to get here and how I am very far from New York.
ferry to the osa
We reached the town of Puerto Jimenez, stocked up, and decided to push to the beach on the southwest point of the peninsula where we had heard we could find free oceanfront camping. We got lost for an hour and Pale Cheeks got a work out navigating the narrow hilly dirt roads, crossing clean-flowing creeks. We were able to maintain our morale, and we rode our mojo all the way to the Pacific and our little ocean front piece of paradise.
one view out from camp
Upon stepping out of our tents in the morning, we beheld the wildlife in our new surroundings. A city of hermit crabs swarmed around our sandy camp, pairs of macaws flew overhead, spider monkeys hopped from the palms. I saw a rodent the size of a fat Labrador skirt off the dirt road I was walking. He jetted into the jungle and I could hear him plowing the thick brush as he ran deep in. (If I hadn't seen him at first, that sound would have tricked me into believing he was a giant jungle bear) I remember the butterflies being the brightest most vibrant blue you can imagine. Daniel spotted tuscans. Anna was a bird lover and she was not in want.
We feasted like kings on the beach. I learned early on that the Aussies would never have it any other way. Their mantra was Fresh Produce. Roadside vegetable stands, markets, tasty spices, pastas, colorful salads. I carry a blue plastic milk crate in the back of Cheeks that all new expeditioners that have joined the trip learn to call simply "The Kitchen." It's filled with misc cooking utensils, pots and pans, a little gasoline powered stove, spices, misc food stuffs, and, if you're lucky to find some left, olive oil. Well, the Aussies embraced The Kitchen and we had glorious meals.(they were traveling with backpacks and couldn't carry the luxuries that Cheeks' kitchen could). Reader, I feel sorry if you cannot say this confidently from real experience, but it is true, Everything tastes better when camping.
I parted with the Aussies in David, Panama. It turned out having Anna with us yielded no detriment to our luck. The pair were a win-win. They both had great Spanish - Daniel by hard work from the months living in Mexico and Anna by natural suave. (I have learned anyway that women are naturally better at learning new languages and thus in that is revealed one of man's small gender disadvantages). We made a great team and a great example of this was our success crossing borders. Dan would help translate and make sense of the confusion while Anna would watch over Cheeks and make sure I maintained a positive attitude through the frustration. Like I said before, we had a lot in common and so we were able to travel easy south as if we were mingling with the sights and waypoints.
Sometimes you know somethings right, and once in a while you'll even get slipped a little reminder. One night in the middle of our journey together we found ourselves having a jolly evening on the beach. A welcoming family had set up a little impromtu resturant on the sand behind their ocean front home. Our waitress just seemed to be one of the kids carrying out one of her chores. After feasting on some fish, we ordered some Guatemalan beer, no doubt they of the Gallos brand. We chatted and ordered another round and maybe even another. In our general good spirits it came up in the discussion the mention of age and, as usually follows, birthdays. I heard Dan say the 7th of March and there was a delay before I realized we shared the same birthday. We yelled and jumped around (lucky we were the resturant's only patrons) and ordered another round.
dan and anna