Wednesday 22 February 2023 – Today is the first of two full days we have here. It’s billed by Pura Aventura as “relaxed”, which means, possibly, slightly old-fashioned. We have a large half-share of a sort of bungalow, with a lovely veranda
and several nice little details, like the pineapple decoration of this fan
(although the room is called “Banano”). The hotel itself is up in the hills, away from the beaches of Ostional and San Juanillo
and it’s generally noticeably hotter and more humid than Alajuela, where we stayed upon arrival. The hotel has a nice lounge with a picture-postcard entrance.
We started the day with a decent breakfast, which was served in a slightly idiosyncratic way. There is no buffet, so you basically get food put down in front of you without asking: fruit, yoghurt, granola, bread, butter, their own delicious jam. You do get to vote on whether you get plain or strawberry yoghurt and whether you get tea or coffee (parenthetical note – I have been in Costa Rica, famous for its coffee, for three days and for some reason not a drop of coffee has yet passed my lips). Eventually you’re offered a choice of egg style with a variety of accompaniments, so it was eggs and bacon for me; and Jane tried a taster of the local breakfast speciality, gallo pinto. Gallo pinto means “painted rooster”, so quite how they get from that to the reality, which is rice and beans is beyond me. Also, by the way, “rice and beans” doesn’t sound very appetising, but it’s actually a very tasty dish. The beans are black, the rice is fried and the whole thing is nicely seasoned. Anyway, we enjoyed breakfast and it sustained us right through to dinner time,
Breakfast was enlivened by the arrival to the hotel’s pool of a vulture, in search of a drink. Well, I expect a corpse wouldn’t have gone amiss, but in the absence of that, a glug of slightly chlorinated water was obviously appreciated.
This being early in the day meant, of course, that it was a breakfast vulture, rather than a luncheon vulture.
That joke will only mean something to people of my age or similar. To all of you good folk out there, thank you. Thank you for listening to my joke.
So: what to do with the day? There were many possibilities, but we’d identified three that seemed of interest: some kind of turtle activity, since Ostional is where three-quarters of the world’s supply of Olive Ridley turtles make their home and crucially their maternity ward; a visit to a centre which specialises in the rescue of Scarlet Macaws; and a local walk to see the view and hopefully some wildlife, ideally undertaken at 6am as a pre-breakfast activity.
At first, the auguries for the first two didn’t seem promising. The turtles regularly come ashore en masse to lay eggs in a phenomenon called an “arribada“; but one had occurred just some five days before, so the likelihood of seeing turtles on the beach (a night trip) was very small. Another option would be a boat trip to find turtles at sea and possibly snorkel among them, but we didn’t know how to fix this, and our breakfast waiter didn’t seem too sure about it, either. The Macaw centre was in the southern part of the Nicoya peninsula, and that meant an arduous drive of somewhere between one and a half and two hours on the frankly crappy roads that are such a feature of the southern part – and, more to the point, the same drive back, but in the dark. Very daunting. Well, actually, terminal, since we decided that simply wasn’t a good way to pass the time.
We had a quick chat with one of the hotel managers, a friendly and well-organised Belgian chap called Olivier, who told us that a boat trip might be possible and we decided that tomorrow morning would be a good time. We were about to head out to visit Ostional in an attempt to avoid total inactivity when Olivier caught us to say that, effectively, the only option was to do the boat trip that afternoon. So we went to the office where his wife contacted Gacci, the skipper of the boat, to make arrangements – time (3.30pm), location (Rancho Cocobolo in San Juanillo) and cost (US $120 – cash only). Fortunately, I had enough dollars to hand, so we were all set.
The few minutes before we set off for the 10-minute drive to San Juanillo saw us sorting out all those things that we needed to take with us for a boating and possibly snorkelling expedition – swimming costumes, goggles, snorkel tubes, sunblock, waterproof cameras, courage (I am really not good at snorkelling). We found the rendezvous point and also an English expatriate called Simon, who was to accompany us as a guide. A few minutes later, Gacci arrived with his small fishing boat. After a flurry of activity we clambered aboard and set off, in lovely calm conditions – so calm, I wish I’d brought my Nikon. Ah, well. The phone does a good job almost all of the time,
We passed a local landmark, the “Indian Rock”, which delineates the start of Ostional.
Gacci and Simon were surprised at the height of the water – normally there is dry land leading to the rock. Simon reckoned the tides were maybe as much as three metres higher than normal.
This affected two things. One was the likelihood of seeing turtles. The other was the desirability or indeed the sense in going snorkelling, which is best done in shallow water, i.e. at low tide. I was glad about the latter as I really am not comfortable going snorkelling and only do so in order to try to get the photos, normally unsuccessfully. But the former seemed to be the case, as we went for over an hour without seeing any marine wildlife activity at all. Gacci and Simon bore up manfully under this burden.
Simon thought it so unlikely that we’d see anything that he got the fishing line out (he had instructions from his wife to bring back something from the trip, otherwise it just looked like he was having fun, apparently).
Almost immediately he’d done this, things began to happen. We saw a couple of Olive Ridley turtles in the distance, and one glided right by the boat.
After that we were treated to a rare sight – Black Turtles (the ones we know as Green Sea Turtles), rather than the Olive Ridley sort that Ostional is famous for.
In fact, it turned out that we were seeing the sort of grim battle which Mother Nature has determined is the best way to banish the weaklings – two bloke turtles fighting to have their way with a girl turtle, who has quite a struggle on her hands to avoid being drowned. If you want to see some of the more grisly bits, and have some three minutes to spare, take a look at the video I made that summarises the afternoon. (There are some other delights in the video, I should point out. It’s not all turtle porn.)
Whilst we were rather voyeuristically and pruriently focussed on these interesting but surely testudinatical matters, there had been other action on the other side of the boat as well. The general shagfest extended to two pairs of Olive Ridley turtles, too
and a distant view of another pair – no gatecrasher this time – of Black Turtles mating. I’m not sure we should be comfortable with the degree of satisfaction we felt with the amount of turtle mating we’d witnessed, but we certainly were happy that the boat trip had been more than just a couple of companiable hours bobbing around on the Pacific Ocean. So when the dolphins came to play with us (no photos I’m afraid, I did get some video though which is part of the video above) it was the icing on the cake, as we headed home past a beautiful sunset.
Simon caught a skipjack tuna, which he was happy about but which rather disconcertingly flapped around in the back of the boat for what I thought was an unconscionable time. Then we arrived back in San Juanillo, where we bade goodbye to Simon and Gacci and his boat
and headed back to the car in a lovely twilight,
before making our way carefully back to the hotel. This provided further education about what it was like to drive on these dodgy roads with their unexpected potholes, craters and narrow bridges in the dark, so that Macaw place is definitely off the list of possibilities.
We had a good but (for us) late dinner back at the hotel
before an earlyish night, as the morrow holds the possibility of an early morning walk; not something I would normally countenance, but, hey, we’re
on holiday travelling, which makes it OK. No, really. So, do come back tomorrow, and find out how that went, won’t you?