July 3, 2005
Today was our first day back on the road. The drive out of San Jose wasn't as terrible as we thought it would be. I think because it was a Sunday, there weren't as many trucks on the road as there might have been. We decided to take "back roads" as we would be able to avoid San Jose proper and it was a pretty drive, even though some of the roads were pretty narrow and all of the bridges were one lane. We eventually hooked up with the highway going north and drove through the Braulio Carrillo National Park. We stopped for lunch on the side of the road overlooking fields and fields of pineapples. We were passed a couple of times by huge trailers hauling freshly harvested pineapples.
Turning east, we headed toward the Caribbean coast. We passed through Limon which is a huge port city, and passed trucking facilities for Dole, Chiquita and Del Monte Foods. Coming out of Limon, there is was, the Caribbean Sea. Just like that, the view opened up and became serene with miles of beaches and waves breaking close to shore. We continued along the shoreline until the road once again turned inland.
Our destination today is Cahuita with its black/brown sand beach. We've learned that the dark sand beaches are preferred by nesting turtles as the dark color keeps the sand warm and acts as an incubator. Turtles don't come ashore here as this part of the coast is too developed. We found a nice shady spot at the end of the beach on the "iron shore" to set up camp. The iron shore is actually fossilized coral reef that sits above the waterline. We have to wear something with soles on our feet as the exposed reef is extremely sharp, yet we see so many locals walking along it as if it were regular ground. We guess that they have tougher soles on their feet from going barefoot so regularly.
As we set up our BBQ to cook dinner, we realized that we've made camp along side a huge ant mound, something like 25 feet long, with nasty red ants. Even though we wear socks, the ants grab on to our shoes and clothing and refuse to let go. We have to pull them off one by one, and when they bite it feels like a quick electrical shock.
A few minutes later, a local Rastafarian pedaled up on his bicycle to have a talk. He suggested that since now is low tourist season that he didn't think it was safe to camp at unsecured spots on the beach. Even though our Fuso is large and intimidating we decide not to take the chance, and move just down the road to a small traveler lodge where we can camp in their driveway.
July 4, 2005
Heading down the road, we drove toward Gandoca-Manzanillo National Wildlife Refuge. We were at the furthest northeast corner of the country and in the middle of a banana growing area. Stopping for lunch, we pulled into the loading area of Del Monte Foods and parked the vehicle. Across the road was an archway that we thought was used to hang the stalks of bananas before they were picked up. But all of a sudden we noticed a line of stalks moving down the archway. We got out of the vehicle to get a better look and were surprised to see a man, strap around his waist, walking down the archway, pulling the line of bananas. As we watched, he pulled the line into the the processing plant and unhooked himself. After receiving permission to watch the process, we walked around the plant and watched while the stalks of bananas were pressured washed and cut up in bunches and the damaged ones culled. The bunches were then placed in (what we assume was) a disinfectant bath. Other workers then placed Del Monte stickers on the bunches and still others packed the bunches in boxes for shipping. It was a fascinating process to watch as we so rarely get to see what goes into processing the food that we just go to the grocery store to buy. We had heard that working at the processing plants was grueling work. The workers in the plant were on their feet and working either in or with water, but they all had gloves and aprons. It looked like quite physical labor, but it looked efficient and those workers were inside and out of the sun. The men working outside and physically hauling bananas down the line however, were not protected in any way and we were appalled to see that movement of the stalks was not being accomplished in a more efficient manner than by physical labor. We have no idea how far the men walk to move the bananas into the processing plant.
Moving on down the road, we headed toward the Wildlife Refuge which is a turtle nesting area. Before reaching the refuge, however, we discovered that we had to cross a couple of pretty dicey looking bridges. At the first one we got out to check out the situation. We discovered that the bridge span itself was built from steel I-beams and looked sturdy. Over the top were planks of wood in various configurations and thickness'. I was a little leery, but Don felt that we would be driving directly over the I-beams and it would be OK. Just at that moment a small car jammed full of people drove up and they all started insisting that the bridge was perfectly safe and that busses drove over it all the time, but of course they waiting around to watch - just to be sure that they wouldn't miss it if we didn't make it. OK, time to be brave and go for it! Don drove over the bridge as I watched from the other side biting my nails. After one noisy-moving-board moment everything was fine. About 1/2 mile further on we passed two logging trucks so I guess the bridge is stable.
Later that evening we met up with Sergio and hiked down to the beach to look for females coming onto the beach to lay their eggs. Sergio explained that it was the end of the season for the leatherbacks, but you never knew when a turtle would show up. There is no good time of night, they can show up any time. It was black as pitch outside but apparently with experience the guides and the volunteers know what they are looking for. There were guides and volunteers and the nightly patrol all looking for turtles in the pitch blackness. They use red tinted lights and have a system of signaling when they find something. But after wandering up and down the beach for two hours we were disappointed to not find any turtles. Oh well, that's the way it goes when you are dealing with nature, and we did have the wonderful experience of seeing the baby turtle make it to the ocean.