Friday, May 29, 2015

Travels With Corinne - A Central American Adventure, Part 2

from Jacqueline

After kicking off our Costa Rica adventure in the capital, San Jose, the time spent in Tortuguero seemed to mark the real start of our trip – the Tortuga Lodge was just the sort of rustic yet very, very comfortable accommodation we’d hoped for.  And there was much planned – a river trip with a guide, a hike around the whole property to learn more about the flora and fauna of the very wild lands adjacent to the lodge, volunteering in a local village school, and visit to the neighboring village.  And then there was the iguana.

 Let’s get him out of the way first.  You know how you get birds and other animals who are used to guests eating outside, and seem to wait around for the odd tidbit to fall from the table.  This is the foodie who came to lunch and dinner.  I kept my distance. I am not a lover of reptiles, though I hold nothing against people who try to tell me it’s just like having a dog or cat in the house. I once had a friend who snuggled up with Hiss every night – yes, her boa constrictor. No, that’s not for me. I like fluffy and warm, not clammy with pointy bits that look dangerous.

I'm pretty sure that's him again, waiting for dinner to roll around.

We saw quite a few iguanas, and caimans, and lizards.  We saw poison dart frogs and all manner of spiders. There were also snakes to be avoided, with names such as the eyelash viper, or the pit viper.  A rattle snake seems positively cozy by comparison.  Oh, and one of my favorite insects – funnily enough – was the leaf cutter ant.  Talk about industrious! I should have a photo of a phalanx of them on my wall, just to remind me what it is to really work at something every time I have a touch of the lazies (which, admittedly, isn’t that often).

These tiny little ants march out from their nest every day, back and forth, back and forth, to bring back bits of leaf, which form a vital nutritional basis for the forms of life (a fungus in particular, I think …) that sustain them in the nest.  But apart from all that, an ant carrying a large chunk of leaf is a bit like me carrying around a big slab of concrete on my back, which we know is not going to happen in this lifetime. I have enough trouble with a backpack! Under each bit of leaf in that photograph is a worn out ant, who will deliver her cargo and then go straight back out to the leaf-face again. 

I loved the toucans, even though they can be pretty aggressive birds, taking eggs from the nests of other birds, and generally ruling the roost.  One evening we watched as a group of spider monkeys chased off toucans feeding high in one of the trees – moving in on what was obviously something really tasty.  I was a bit disappointed in toucan behavior, probably because I always thought they would be neighborly birds, given their links to the Guinness advertisements of old.  I imagined them toddling off to the Toucan Arms and having a pint with the locals.  And mystery writers – did you know that as a copywriter, Dorothy L. Sayers was on the advertising team that came up with the toucan idea for Guinness?

And then there was the sloth, who as far as I know has never been used to advertise anything, though parents of teens may have likened their offspring to the slow, rather lazy animal at times.  They are strange creatures, but with a life that’s quite fascinating.  Do you know about the sloth? They live in the same tree for weeks on end, only coming down from the tree once a week to do their business, then scurrying back up again (they are ungainly on the ground).  There’s a veritable city of life on the sloth – various insects call the sloth home, including one particular species of moth that uses the sloth and his waste matter as a crucial part of their reproductive process.  And to think, when the sloth is hanging in the tree upside down, munching on leaves, he looks so lazy (hence the name), but so much is going on in this animal, it’s an ecosystem in itself.  Sort of like a teen’s bedroom.

When we made arrangements for the trip, Gustavo (our travel planner) drew our attention to the Words Adventure Program organized by the Tortuga Lodge. Guests can volunteer to go to a local village school to be part of a lesson, giving the children an opportunity to practice their English skills. The founders of Costa Rica Expeditions  wanted to make a real contribution to the children of the area – and learning English is considered crucial given Costa Rica’s dependence upon tourism (and the worlds’ fastest-growing languages are English and Spanish).  We were taken along to the school by one of the guides – Priscilla – who taught several lessons at the school each week, and who was leading the lesson for the small class of more advanced learners.  By most “western” standards, the school left much to be desired.  Small prefabricated buildings, no electronic devices, no teaching aids other than a whiteboard and markers, all pretty low-tech.  The buildings had been brightly painted though, and outside a mixed group of boys and girls, all ages, played football (soccer, that is) on a makeshift pitch surrounded by others cheering and calling out. Dogs seemed to run around everywhere, and one even tried to join the class.  But here’s the key thing – those children might have had few of the advantages of the children in schools local to my home in northern California, but their English was really, really good, and they tried very hard to get things right (even though I am sure they would have much preferred to be kicking that ball around with the other kids).  We had a good time, and something strange happened to me – I remembered how much I enjoyed teaching!  OK, so before you think I don’t know what I am talking about – I originally trained to be a teacher, and during my three-year course I taught at some really challenging schools for several months at a time.  I might never have taken up a paid teaching position (by the time I graduated, there was a complete surplus of teachers in the UK), but I was able to draw upon something that lingered from my original training, because when I arrived back our room, I was Googling, “Volunteer teaching opportunities in Costa Rica.”  In any case, here we are with our class.  They were wonderful kids and it was one of the highlights of the trip for me.

After a couple of days at the Tortuga Lodge, it was time to move on to the Pacuare Lodge, one of the best-rated eco-lodges in the world.  There would be limited Wi-Fi (and only electricity in the office and kitchen, as they depend upon hydro power), and there would be no power in the cabins, so illumination at night would be provided by candles.  This is a photo of us on our way from Tortuguero to the Pacuare River, where we would board rafts to take us to the Lodge.  And this would be the last time Corinne saw her Tilley hat. More on that later.

Here we are on the river, after Corinne lost her Tilley hat, probably when she left it on the rocks as we prepared to get on the raft, and she discovered that we had to don helmets. Well of course we did – you could get knocked out on the rocks!

 This is Alberro, our river guide, who brought out juicy fresh pineapple when we stopped for a break and to look at some waterfalls.

Finally we were at the Pacuare Lodge. Heaven on earth. The sounds of the jungle reverberated around us, and I knew this was where I would finally start to really relax.  That’s when Corinne discovered two disasters: 
            The Tilley hat was no longer in her possession.
            If there was no electrical power in the rooms, then there was no way she could operate her HAIRDRYER! 
            I have traveled in quite a few countries with Corinne, and in our early twenties we shared three different flats and a cottage together over a period of about four years, and let me tell you, mornings with Corinne are punctuated by the sound of a hairdryer. Corinne does not leave the house without styling her hair and fiddling with the hairdryer.  I’m always telling her it doesn’t look any different for all the work, but still she goes on.  Once it used to drive me nuts (we were always late getting to parties, for a start), but now I just find it amusing.  I think her husband just shuts it out, or maybe revs up the car threatening to leave without her.
            However, the search for the hat had only just begun!

Next week:  More at Pacuare, a bumpy ride out, Arriving at Nayara and the Arenal volcano, the magical gardens of Nectandra, how to make a good cup of Joe - and what it means to grow in a place.

Notice Corinne minus her hat!


  1. Thank you so much, sat back with glass of wine and enjoyed the trip. Really felt I was there and got quite squeamish when reading about the snakes. Look forward to next installment when I hope Corinne finds her hat. (I could giver her mine). rbb

  2. Forgot to say, love the photos. rbb

    1. from RBB: Thanks for dropping by (with your glass of wine!). Luckily, Tilley hats have a guarantee, so Corinne returned to the shop with her receipt, filed a claim due to loss of hat, and was given a new one!

  3. JW, hope this gets through! I tried commenting twice! Thank you for taking us on adventures with you and Corinne. Love the photos. I think Travel Smith has Tilley hats? On another topic, you mentioned a surplus of teachers in the UK. Out of curiosity, was that also true if a teacher wanted to teach Deaf children (I think you would need to know Sign Language) or teach children with special needs? I am not sure of the correct term in the UK ~ something like mentally challenged or physically challenged? When I was at the Book Passage writing conference last summer, you taught some classes. I hope you do not mind my complimenting you when I say that you were one of the best teachers that I had at the BP writing conference. My Mom is an English teacher and I had several wonderful teachers growing up so I recognize and appreciate good teachers. Back to topic, I look forward to reading more about your Costa Rica adventures. Have a wonderful weekend!

  4. from Jacqueline: Thank you very much for your comment about the BP Mystery Writers' Conference - always a great event! When I started my teacher training course, there was a severe shortage of teachers, so they upped the advertising, and so that, by the time I graduated, you couldn't get a job! Mind you, I had already decided that I wanted to travel, and I wanted someone else to pay for it, so I went to work for an airline, which - as you probably know - is where I met my pal, Corinne. The terminology used to describe those with physical, emotional or psychological conditions that cause issues with learning are (I think) now known as "special needs" children. As in other countries, over time the powers that be have tried to become kinder with the labels we inflict upon what might be considered the most vulnerable children.

  5. I had friends in college whose pet iguanas apparently chased away some burglars. I tell the story on m "Frog and Friends" CD, and a friend in a writing class gave me a toy iguana . . . Thanks for letting us share the adventure of your trip!

    1. from Jacqueline: I knew there was a good reason to have an iguana in the house!

  6. James O. Born6/02/2015 10:24 AM

    Great travel log, Jackie

  7. from Jacqueline: Thanks, Jim!