Wednesday 1 March 2023 – The third early morning on the trot. We needed to be at an embarcadero, Caño Blanco, at 10am in order to be transferred to Tortuga Lodge, on the east coast of the country.
As you can see from the satellite map above, Tortuga Lodge is inaccessible by road (the only options are boat or air) so our hire car, nice as it was, wouldn’t get us there. We had to be at the right place at the right time in order not to miss the boat. Hence leaving at 6am for a journey that officially would take three and a quarter hours.
The journey was fundamentally fine. The roads threw no curve balls to upset the timings, going through pleasant countryside on decent surfaces
until we hit Route 32 .This is the subject of massive, massive roadworks, and it’ll be lovely when it’s finished, but it was a torturous mix of nice surfaces, pothole slaloms and carriageway changes. By and large the surface is good, but the traffic can be heavy, in two ways: lots of it; and some huge trucks. It’s obviously an important commercial highway, which is presumably why it’s being upgraded. The roadworks threw up some oddities,
like the enterprising chap, who had set up his stall in the middle of the roadworks. But we ground our way on, eventually leaving Route 32 for more pleasant roads, which then turned into dirt roads, albeit with a largely drivable surface.
The driving wasn’t all straightforward. In shady sections such as shown above, one could never be quite sure if a dark patch was a shadow or a crater. My success rate in guessing was over 75%, but our teeth were a little looser by the time we arrived at the embarcadero.
There were some interesting sights on the journey – some lovely orange-flowered trees
and a Crested Caracara having a late breakfast, presumably on roadkill.
The embarcadero is billed on Google Maps as a “tourist attraction”, which is, frankly, actionably false.
What it is is a hub for tourist transfers to and from the various lodges in and around Tortuguero. We arrived well early, so it was fairly quiet, with only a couple of boats in
but as 10am approached, things began to happen, with incoming boats disgorging tourists and luggage. Eventually, a couple of boats labelled “Tortuga Lodge” turned up
and we gathered hopefully around them, along with a bunch of other people who were also bound thither.
The Lodge experience was described, slightly disparagingly, in our Pura Aventura material as “packaged”, as if that would offend the sensibilities of posh travellers like what we are. What it is is very well-organised. Juan (chap with sunglasses in the photo above) checked us on his list and gave us labels to put on our bags so that they could be transferred directly to our rooms. Then he got us to sign the waivers that said we wouldn’t sue if we were killed in some freak accident.
Our bags left before us
and then we were off as well.
It’s worth noting at this point that we weren’t at the usual embarkation point for our destination Lodge, which would have been at La Pavona, some 10 miles away from the Lodge as the crow flies. However, the river there was apparently too low, hence the change of embarkation point (not just for today, but for the whole season – and I think the other lodges had made that change as well, judging from the comings and goings that morning). Instead, we had a 22-mile boat journey of over 90 minutes in order to get to the Lodge.
That time wasn’t wasted, though. Juan used it to give us a thorough briefing and to make some detailed preparations.
We were offered various excursions and could make bookings on those that interested us; and we were offered the lunch menu so that the restaurant at the Lodge would be ready for us on our arrival. Very smoothly done.
We also saw some wildlife en route, and the boat occasionally slowed and stopped for us to see
a North American Crocodile and
some spider monkeys. There were also herons and egrets (we had a few, but then again….) and other things that I quite failed to get photos of. The boat spent most of its time at full throttle and I frankly dozed for much of the journey. Jane took a couple of shots of the scenery as it went by
and also recorded some video as we passed Tortuguero, the main town of the region.
We arrived to a cordial greeting and a fresh fruit juice cocktail from several members of the staff there, and then immediately went through to lunch in the very pleasant dining area,
which I was pleased to note also had what looked like a fully-stocked bar.
The Lodge and Gardens is a pleasant area
and we had a nice (cool!) room, with a colourful veranda, conveniently close to the
bar reception and restaurant.
Even though we had no formal wildlife spotting activities planned until later, it was difficult to get away from the creatures that were all around. There were, of course, the ubiquitous Montezuma’s Oropendolas (more of them in a later post), but there’s at least one large Green Iguana which uses parts of the Lodge as its domain
and we saw a Great Kissadee and a Grackle from our seats on our veranda
and also a young – and definitely green – Green Iguana.
I mentioned that there were organised activities on offer, and the Lodge offers a decent programme of possibilities, all accompanied by a professional guide, which is excellent, as they’re mainly wildlife-focussed. (“Tortuga” means “turtle” in Spanish, and there is often the possibility of turtle action among these activities. But it’s the wrong season right now, so there weren’t any for us.)
The programme details were a bit different from what we’d expected based on Pura Aventura’s materials, but no matter. We both decided to take a morning boat ride to see local wildlife, and also to do a walk up to the top of a local, nay, the only local, hill. Those were set for the next day, and you’ll just have to wait to read all about them.
Jane also elected to go on a night walk, while I decided that I was too tired and too much in need of a gin. So while I toiled away in my creative fervour and the bar, Jane went on a humid, bug-ridden but interesting walk with Miguel, “Monkey”, as the guide.
Miguel proved to be every bit as skillful as, probably more so than, Danny, our guide in Arenal. He spotted tiny poison dart frogs
so called because of the toxins on the skin – natives would wipe their arrows on the frog to make the tips poisonous. Miguel also spotted a tiny anole lizard,
intricate spiders’ webs,
a Black and White Owl
and also up a tree – believe it or not – a porcupine! He/she/it was directly above, foraging for fruit, so we present you with a most unusual view of the underside of a porcupine!
Miguel’s ability to spot things was uncanny, and born of decades of long practice, building up huge knowledge. He was actually born in the forest, beside a mahogany tree, and his passion for watching wildlife shines through all the time. Jane enjoyed the walk, despite the heat, humidity and bugs and despite the pushiness of a German lady in the group who clearly thought that having the biggest camera with the chunkiest lens entitled her to elbow others aside to line up the shot she wanted. (I can understand this, and I do try not to be that type, but I bet I’ve failed a few times over the years.)
After Jane came back from her walk, we went to the restaurant for dinner. The food and service were excellent, and there was also a bit of cabaret for us, in the shape of a performance from the children of Tortuguero who were learning music as part of the Tortuguero Cultural Collective.
After the kids did their thing, a more conventional cabaret followed and I include a snatch of it which might bring a smile to the face of anyone who knows the name Stan Freberg.
A combination of the calypso singing and tiredness drove us back to our room to prepare ourselves for the following day. Which you can read about when you come back tomorrow, OK? See you then.