Costa Rica - Part II

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Despite having slept very little/danced quite a bit the night before, I didn't manage to close my eyes until several hours in to the trip. The first leg of the bus ride was dipping out of the sprawling city - within minutes, we were passing farmland and headed in to mountainous rain forest.

Eventually, the winding roads gave way to much flatter terrain, but still equally as engaging.

Limon was our first stop, about 4/5 of the way through the entire trip. By now, it was fairly sweltering out, and I was itching to see ocean.

The bus station, wherein you pay 150 colone (or about $0.38) to use the restroom. Worth it. Absolutely worth it when it's the first bathroom you've seen in hours.

About a jillion miles of banana plants (no, seriously, Costa Rica is one of the world's largest producers of the fruit) and one frog-jumping-through-the-bus-window later, caribbean!! We made it, finally, to our end destination of the little town of Puerto Viejo de Talamanca.

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The mid-day sun was bringing out the seriously sweaty side of me as we wandered about trying to find Hotel Indalo. For a city with only about six streets, it was easy to get lost - but I'll chalk that up to a heavy backpack and a desire to drop EVERYTHING and faceplant in to the ocean...

...which was exactly what we did. Ditched everything, camera included, for the night in order to fully embrace the evening - so please excuse the crummy cellphone shots! It could not have been a more perfect introduction to Costa Rican caribbean; toes in the surf while sipping caipirinhas ("one is not enough, two is too many"), watching the sun slowly sink beneath heavy blue-grey clouds, and feeling the night slowly charge Puerto Viejo with a new energy. 

Wandering like hungry, happy little moths to the bright and colorful lights of their front porch, Koki Beach was the dinner jam. Not only did I eat THE most delicious octopus I've ever had in my life (think: buttery, beyond tender, incredibly flavorful), the server politely asked if we 'wanted to see the sloth' about midway through the meal. Um. YESYESEYES! Did I mention that this entire trip was booked under the premise of getting to see sloths in their natural environment?! Apparently that means right in the middle of a restaurant... 

Quite the way to end the first night in Puerto Viejo! And a quiet and early start the next morning with lush, whispering jungle just feet away from where I laid my head. It's rare to find me awake before 9 a.m. back home, but something about being in a new places has me up with the sun, ready for adventure. 

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Just a few steps outside of the room, a hummingbird flew up just a few inches away from my face to size me up for a long moment, then darted back off in to the canopy. Good morning, indeed!

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The air is mercifully cool, grey, and wet early in the day here; a busy hum of birds and insects and frogs can be heard until you're a few streets closer to the ocean where waves crashing drown them out.

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We nestled up in the wild little garden of Cafe Rico for breakfast - a restaurant/coffee roaster/book barter/laundry service/snorkel and bike rental joint. 

Halfway through devouring a meal served on a banana leaf (fried potatoes, eggs, cabbage, avocados, yumyumyum!), we had another 'hey, go check out crazy animals' - this time, it was the little red strawberry dart frogs. Note to self: do not lick paralytic amphibians. I counted about a dozen or so just hopping around on the rocks feet from us, and briefly remembered being a tiny kid with my face pressed to the glass at the National Aquarium in Baltimore seeing these guys for the first time in my life. 

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Important errands call, like introducing ourselves to the local feline population, exploring all ten or so streets that make up Puerto Viejo, getting more colones from the ATM, and beers on the beach/in the ocean.

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Majority of the people visiting (and even working in) Puerto Viejo are backpackers, and they're generally from Europe or Australia. It was incredible to hear so many accents and languages condensed in to such a small town. We took the diplomatic stance of purchasing extra cold beer 

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Courageous enough take my DSLR in the water to waist-height after a few beers. Worth it!

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We took the diplomatic route that morning + afternoon waiting for the sun to come out, which was to buy a cooler full of beer and share it with the other beach-goers. As anyone will tell you, diplomacy is hard work, and the sun started to really cook so we retreated to the shade of Reggae Chill, a bar with beanbags(!!!) overlooking the water.

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By the way- this day was momentous. Big time. This minute was delicious and unforgettable - my first taste of fresh passionfruit. I think I managed to eat about 20 of these buggers in my time here, had them mixed in to all manor of cocktails, and tried them as glazes/in any food I could. I have been completely hell-bent on finding them at home since my return. Tart and fragrant pulp surrounded crunchy little black seeds, they taste like a mix between kiwi and pineapple. Definitely a new favorite!

The lovely lady on the right is Serena - she slings and blends drinks at Reggae Chill, but she was also a super sweet friend during the entire trip with great tips on where to eat and what to do. It was always a treat to walk down the street and see her happy face and bright eyes. Plus, she introduced us to her mother back home in Italy on FaceTime. Ciao mama!

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Back to beach diplomacy (this time with the local beach dogs), and in to another evening crackling full of Caribbean mystery. That palpable energy I'd sensed the first night was easier to decipher on the second day - some combination of just enough alcohol to pair with spicy and fresh foods to set the head and palate buzzing, being enveloped in velvety shadows and a low, dark sky overhead, the sounds of the surf and night animals clashing with the chatter of a collection of languages and distant music, and the complete unknown prickle of Puerto Viejo itself - a presence that is untamed and awe-inspiring and just a little bit dangerous. 

We went to Stashus Con Fusion on the last night before they closed up for the slow season. Luckily we did, too, because the mix of cuisine was as varied and beautiful as Puerto Viejo itself - a little somethin' caribbean, asian, Mexican and soul-foody, it was an incredible meal to share with the new friends we'd made that day as well as with my friend Tom (a fellow Kent Islander!) and Nia of Bread and Chocolate.

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The next day got a slightly later start (something about bottomless mojitos after dinner got us), but it was a gorgeously sunny morning, which makes for an easy bounce back. And fresh coconut water + meat. If that doesn't cure what ails you, you're probably going to die. Fact.

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Even some of the local little ladies are in on the goodness of coconut, but I think machetes are a bit better to open them with than pavement slams.

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Ceviche and people/pup watching make for a good lunch, and then we're jumping back in to bathing suits and heading to the beach for snorkeling and exploring.

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For maximum enjoyment, please view these photos in a bathing suit with either a hairdryer spitting a warm wind your way or shut off your air conditioning. Breathe deeply, smell that imaginary salty air and sunblock...

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I think I'll quit my job and become a beach dog here. These cuties are so happy and get a ton of love from the beach-goers, and you can't help but smile watching them sprint about and play in the surf.

Back to the nighttime magic...

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...and back to Koki Beach. Mainly for the chance of another sloth sighting, but also because they make delicious, frosty cocktails that taste like air conditioning feels.

Street barbecue snacks, feline chasing, and passionfruit gin and tonics on the way to Lazlo's Catch of the Day, where what is caught is what is served. I can't say not to fresh seafood!

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Despite a full platter of fish, late-night empanadas are a serious thing. Apparently swimming and chasing dogs all day can work up a serious appetite? 

Alright. I'll admit it.
The jungle won. It totally got to me. Playing in the caribbean sun all day, sweating and adventuring and staying in a very hot hotel room with almost no air-circulation had me at super overheat/dehydration levels. This particular morning, I woke up like a strike of lightning, stumbled in to the bathroom and had a spectacular nosebleed. Shoot first, drink water and take a cold shower (or four) second - normal photographer course of action.

But no time to feel crummy! There's gallo pinto to eat, morning air to breathe in, and beaches to bike to.

8.5 km away beaches to bike to, actually. Punta Uva to be exact. We passed about thirty thousand spiders in webs high up in the trees, a pack full of howler monkey, and a whole host of gorgeous flora and fauna.

How cool are these touch-me-nots? They fold up when you tap the leaves! 

And finally, Punta Uva! Total postcard perfection with such a towering jungle along the ocean. It was a total blast getting thrown around by the substantially larger waves here.

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And this is where we leave off! I've had some serious techinical difficulties getting this post up (as in hours upon hours of work getting deleted and multiple episodes of frustrated tears), but next up is the exploration of Cahuita National Park and the cacao to chocolate process with my buddies over at Bread and Chocolate. Stay tuned, stay hungry! See y'all later. -xomj

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