Welcome To The Jungle You're gonna Fly

Bear with me here. A fair bit of time has passed since Thursday night and while I have a pile of notes in my excellently dog-eared notepad, everything is a bit of an overwhelming blur.

I'm reasonably sure Friday started with us reminiscing about that time we each held a toucan. In fact, I know it did, and I know I wrote that phrase loads of times too. Then our last breakfast at Hotel 1915, pay for the laundry, and back in the room to pack.

I'm uncertain. Because we have gifts, and despite the fact we'll now be using my rucksack as a bag in its own right, I think fitting everything into our cases is going to prove tricky. More to the point, arranging things such that what we need and what we can leave behind neatly fits into the right bags looks nigh-on impossible. Thankfully though, Helen is a master of Tetris-esque suitcase packing and before too long we're sorted: man bag, rucksack, and her case full of stuff for the next 4 days, my case with all the remaining crap, and some stuff left behind in the room.

So, now there's about 80 minutes to kill until the cab. Huh. Since it's easily at hand, Helen suggests a two player game on my iPad and I, for reasons unknown, suggest Scrabble. Quickly, as always happens when we play, she races into a lead and I get extraordinarily grumpy. So we give up mid-game, with her a full 40 points ahead of me and 55 tiles still left to draw. Let's go sit in reception.

We hand our key over to the old lady, who asks if we need a cab. No thanks, one is coming in 20 minutes. He of course turns up in 5, and whisks us away to the airport. It's a zig zag route courtesy of the grid of one way streets, and finally we see off licence-esque shops. Bit late now.

The airport is no distance away and he drops us at the international terminal. A man with no legs directs us inside, wherein we spy no ATMs and instead go to an exchange desk. I explain I want some dollars and some colones; she says she can't give out both, only exchange from one to the other, or something. I'm like, right, but I have a card, I just want some of two currencies. She's adamant so screw it, I'll stick to colones. Yet more discussion as she tries, successfully, to up my order to an amount that gives me a preferential rate and guaranteed identical rate should I need to exchange it back, and finally she's counting the notes out into an envelope. This was all way harder than it needed to be.

Then, we leave the terminal and walk up the road to the next one. Today, we are flying one of Costa Rica's two domestic airlines: Sansa, who have their own terminal at this airport. We're over an hour early for our flight, but better safe than sorry.

At the check-in desk we ask for the location of lockers the internet has assured us exist. There are no lockers. Oh. So we have to take all our luggage? Yes, yes we do. Shit. OK well never mind. We give her our passports, she finds us on the printed manifest and highlights our names. Then she weighs and tags our bags, and then ... she weighs us. Seriously, one at a time Helen and I stand on the luggage weighing platform - holding our hand luggage - and she measures how much we are. This is a new experience. I'm 224lb, which I don't think is too bad considering my clothing and rucksack.

Our boarding passes are large laminated cards with the destination on. That's it. Interesting. We're directed through security, which is a lady waving one of those metal detecting wands and making cursory examinations of our hand luggage contents, laughing at how many USB and other cables we have. I stroll through with my bottle of water. T5 this ain't.

No, T5 this really ain't. The facilities here are: a single women's loo, one men's urinal plus cubicle, and this "cafeteria" which is really a shop selling snacks, soft drinks, and sun cream. It is also the provider of terminal wifi, which at one point I drop off - turning my head, I see the guy at the counter has just hit the reset button.

There's a desk by a door and it gets noisy because a plane arrives. Oh, hello, you tiny little terrifying but exciting but terrifying planes.

I've been looking forward to this for ages. Also terrified. But mostly looking forward. As we sit down, the terror aspect rises and at one point threatens to overwhelm because I briefly feel sick, but that is very temporary. Mostly I'm just very excited. Helen has the same dilemma, though perhaps less excitement.

When we arrive there's about 3 other people waiting. 4 or 5 planes arrive, each of them decanting groups of old women with large cameras into the room. A few more other departees turn up, but we don't know where people are going because there are 4 or 5 departures all within half hour. Ours is meant to be first, but at around 1140 a member of crew carries a cat in a box to a plane, then someone else calls the lone woman sat over the way. Seems she's got a private ride?

By 1150 two grumpy old well dressed men are queueing up, for god's sake, at the little desk, looking every bit as impatient and "don't you know who I am?" as someone waiting for BA to Geneva or whatever. Then, just before 1200 a woman says "Tortuguero!". The German couple who'd taken loads of photos earlier step forward, get ticked off the list, and go through the door. "You must be Helen and Darren?" says the clipboard wielder to us, and away we go. There are only 4 of us on the plane today. Fantastic.

All 4 of us stop to take photos of each other. The only people we're delaying are ourselves, after all. The plane only holds 14 people and the Germans take seats at the rear, so Helen and I go past them and sit nearer the front. There's single seats on the left and duals on the right; Helen sits immediately behind the pilots on the right, and I immediately behind her. This is going to be FANTASTIC.

I'm right under the wing, not that it matters. There are two flight crew, and they make the announcements you'd expect: turn off all electronics, put your seat belts on, thanks for flying Sansa, etc etc. There's power sockets at the seats and an in-flight magazine, albeit from a different airline. Legroom is tight, but it seems churlish to complain.

We taxi, there seems to be some problem with the wing. There's some pointing and prodding of buttons, and then we taxi some more. The engines rev, we turn onto the runway, and then we're up!

I'm loving it. Happier than a pig in shit. Honestly, as much as I plainly love to fly I really had no idea how I would cope with such a tiny plane but it's amazing. We climb, there's the tiniest of bumps - hardly turbulence, but something this small is going to be buffeted by wind a bit more than yer A380, innit - and the views are ... well, whatever. You can't have everything. Costa Rica's central valley is much more built up than I thought and it's not instantly views of volcanoes and mountains and stuff - certainly not on the right. There seems to be good stuff on the left. But who cares!

The climb steadies, and I have a great view of the pilot instrumentation, especially with optical zoom on the camera. We've taken heed of the "no electronics" advice so far as phones are concerned, but that in retrospect seemed a little unnecessary given how both of the flight crew were dicking around on Whatsapp for a bit while up top.

There's a few clouds and we navigate between two obvious weather systems, i.e. storms. I'm quite glad about this. There's clouds. The aircon is very cold. It's noisy. This is fantastic.

I'm starting to worry the weather in Tortuguero will be cloudy, and what that means for the landing - as well as our time there.

There are breaks. Things start to look a bit greener.

"Left? Or right? No, not Tortuguero - tell me what you think of this girl on Tinder"

Oh, it's very green now. But where's the coast?

There! There's the coast! That's the Caribbean sea. "Ladies and Gentlemen, 4 minutes until landing". No mention of doors to manual and cross check.

Ooh. Is that the Tortuguero river I spy beneath us? It surely is. Though hang on, what's that other river?

Civilisation! Presumably that's Tortuguero village.

That ain't a big air strip.

And then, some 35 minutes after we took off from a large international airport serviced by big widebody craft flying intercontinental itineraries, our 14 seater Cessna Grand Caravan touches down on a makeshift strip of concrete precariously placed at the northern end of a peninsula about 200ft wide, with the Caribbean sea on one side and a lagoon on the other. There's one building, but either they didn't finish it or it fell into immense disrepair some time ago. Folks, welcome to Tortuguero.

I think perhaps that was my favourite flight of all time. I want to do it all over again. Helen seems cheerful enough but is yet to reveal her full thoughts, preferring to combat my hyperactivity with the idea that we should figure out how to reach our accommodation, she should get some nicotine, and we should have a beer.

OK, fine. The Germans have been met by two uniformed men from their fancy schmancy lodge, many of which line the interior and are a distance away - geographically and culturally - from the village. So they get whisked away. The guy in shorts and a hi-vis jacket who's helping the departing passengers get their bags onboard and is doing some paperwork with the flight crew says "5 minutes, OK? I'll take you to the village". Well, OK then.

That's Paolo. He has about 15 jobs. After finishing up as ATC, porter, ground crew, and "airport" security he turns wildlife guide, walking us across the grass to show us a three toed sloth in a nearby tree. Then he plonks us in his boat and becomes our taxi driver.

Here's another thing I expected to be terrified of, and totally wasn't. A tiny boat bumping along the river in what appears to be paradise. Blimey. He gets a fair bit of speed up, but then makes a sharp turn into the shoreline - not because we're at our destination, but because he's seen a heron he wants to show us. While there we also spot a crocodile. Wait, what? Fucking hell, there's a crocodile! Paolo's almost as surprised as we are; he reckons caiman are more frequently spotted, as well as less aggressive - spotting a croc is rare. Not a bad welcome party.

The croc is poking his eye up, on the left.

Paolo takes us directly to our B&B's private dock, because everything here has a private dock. He tells me it's "10 per person" cost, so I hand him 20k colones and like every tourist trap cab driver in the world, he says "no, no, I meant 20 dollars" and hands me 10k colones back. Thanks Paolo!

No-one's around to welcome us, it seems. There's a family sat at a table on the decking but they barely acknowledge us. We walk up the side of the building and a friendly man stops his work, confirms we don't speak Español, and pops behind reception. Yep, we're Darren and Helen. He shows us a map of the village, tells us the Caribbean is about a 1 minute walk away, tell us we can keep beer or whisky in the common fridge, and walks us to our room.

Aaaaand relax. Whew. OK. That was quite a journey to get here. Like, maybe the best journey I've ever made. I like the pointy end of a big plane, and I wouldn't say I've got sea legs, but as ways to get from A to B go that was incredible. So, about that beer...

Out of the hotel, we turn left. There's a bakery, a supermarket, some shops, and ... wait. They take credit cards here? And there's an ATM? We were told, very very explicitly, by everything we consulted including the personal email from the owner of our B&B, that you must bring all the cash you need for your stay because there's no cards and no ATM. Well god damn it!

Anyway. We cut through between some houses and a lot of dogs and chickens - I won't really be using the word "street" because there's no cars here, just people on foot and bikes - and a minute later we're on a Caribbean beach. Well OK then.

It's a huge beach. Like tens, maybe hundreds of kilometres. For all we know it might reach all the way down to Panama, but we're not going that far. Helen reckons there's at least one bar on this beach, so we walk along looking for it. There is no bar, only lots of coconut palms, hammocks, and frontage of various lodgings. So we cut back in, and suddenly we're in the jungle.

That light at the end is the Caribbean beach.

Somewhat less suddenly, we're then at the entrance to the protected bit, the Tortuguero national park. Oh, that's not what we wanted. So we pull a right, and walk past a delicious and incredible smelling cocoa tour place and, oh, there's a wild monkey in the tree just there if you're interested like.

Blurry because phone zoom and moves fast but THAT'S A WILD MONKEY.

Now there are coconut water salesmen, and tour guides, and a massage spa, and some restaurants and bars and a hardware store. Still nowhere tempts us in until the Buddha Cafe, a mere two doors from our B&B. At least we've got our bearings now.

It isn't a terrible place to grab a beer. It's an amazing place to grab a beer. I don't even like water or hot countries and I'm still hyper and giddy with childish joy about everything we've just done and seen (that was a WILD MONKEY just back there! And that's a boat delivering wholesale beer to the shops, and there's a wardrobe on the front!). We order food - a savoury crepe, and unexpectedly large "medium" pizza arrive. They are delicious.

And now, finally, with some liquids and calories in her system, Helen can debrief me on what she made of the plane ride.

Turns out she loved it. And hated it. Simultaneously and in equal measure. She thought she was going to die, she thought it was the best thing ever, she thought she'd have to make her own way back when we leave because she's never doing it again, she can't wait to get back on. Her body and brain had opposing reactions at the same moments; we decide to call it a "flight or flight response".

We pay the guy at the till, who takes a remarkably long time to tally up so few items given it seems to be his only job, but perhaps we're just not quite living life at the local speed quite yet. Then we hit the supermarket and buy nearly all of their beer - a whole 6 cans! - plus some softies, and fill up a corner of the fridge.

Back to reception to book a tour for 0545 the next day - you heard - and out again. It's damn hot, but on the Caribbean side it won't be because the sun's too low in the west now. Indeed, it's lovely and cool. Helen goes for a paddle. But by now it's about 5pm, which means really we should go sit on the deck and watch the sun set while sinking our beers.

Starts off merely lovely.

Then gets, OK, a bit special.

I mean, it's really taking the piss now. The amount of river traffic surprises us both.

With the sun having now disappeared along with most of our beers, it's almost 6pm and we think the shops shut about now. So I head out to buy some. The supermarket only has one left, and I go further up the same road finding no other beer vendors, but enjoying the very very loud show being put on by tons of different birds all converging on the trees near the playground. Back up the other end of town I find an open shop with many fridges full of booze, and buy 6 cans of Imperial.

Back at the deck, it's now very dark. There's still lots of surprising river traffic, and a great many stars visible in the sky. Our comfy chairs are comfy and it's still about 22 celsius. The beer goes down well. Heart rates drop. Noisy families hush. It's so relaxing I'm almost comatose. While it's true we need to be up early in the morning, we don't want to be starving hungry (0545 is pre-breakfast) so Helen convinces me we should pop back to the Buddha Cafe for two more beers and some hummus. It's a good choice, and one of the many dogs comes up and wants to be my friend. It's hella cute.

And then, back to the room. It's been quite a day and we're wondering if Saturday can compare.

Created By
Darren Foreman

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