Dumb Ways To Fly La Fortuna Favours THe Brave

Monday. Time to leave Tortuguero. Honestly, had there been more to do around here then perhaps we'd have felt a bit meh about it, but we didn't. Given our appetite for the more adventurous stuff you can do around here was nil, we'd really done everything we wanted to do and had a relaxing time in the afternoons and evenings too. There's nothing else to keep us here, so no sadness to be leaving.

Well, I say that... sadness I guess isn't the right word, but there was at least trepidation, on Helen's part. The "this is awesome!" part of her mind was still not winning the war, so she wasn't really looking forward to the flight back to San Jose. I was desperate to get on with it, of course.

First, breakfast. Scrambled eggs, slightly less bland than on Saturday morning. Then extreme tetris, successfully packing everything up with 2.5 hours or so to spare. I paid our bill and then we sat on the decking, wondering what to do. Answer: nothing.

It didn't take a huge amount of time for nothing to be boring, so Helen suggested we go for one last look at the Caribbean. We did this, and it was brutally hot, what with the sun still being in the east. Not her best idea.

Back at the hotel via the supermarket for liquids and Greggs for some banana cake, which we ate on the decking. This little 'un was just along from us, preening in the sunshine.

I wasn't really freaked out. We'd seen plenty of these iguanas or whatever they are. What did, however, freak me out, was when he started to slowly make his way toward us, then an even bigger lizard to appear behind and chase that one across where we were sitting. Out of my seat like a flash, heart a-racing. Easy now.

I wrote up, but couldn't post, Sunday's goings on (discussions with Adobe were still ongoing) and then, more nothingness. Our cab was booked for 1130, checkout time, so at 1115 we handed back our key and.5 minutes later here's our guy.

I really like Tortugueran cabs, even if the boat does rock massively when I step on it.

The numerous lodges still look like uninviting places to stay. I'll miss the village though.

The airport parking lot. Some local teenagers are hanging around and skedaddle when we pitch up. Think we disturbed a covert joint or summat.

Our cabbie and cab.

We are ludicrously early. Like, an hour or so. It's the dead centre of the day, sun brutally hot, and there's no-one else around. Actually that's not quite true - a guy sits on a stone thing opposite and has a phone call, then walks off barefoot - barefoot -on the concrete when he's done, but other than him, and the guy who cycles along the airstrip, we see no-one else until Paolo turns up.

This is the entirety of Tortuguero airport

Somewhat improbably, there's a wifi signal requiring no password, from a nearby lodge. So I compose my blog post about the previous day. Probably my favourite location to have written something up.

Paolo, you may recall, is the guy with loads of jobs around here. Specifically he is the Sansa (the airline) rep. No other punters have turned up by the time he gets here, with a fire extinguisher, some cones, and a rucksack. And indeed no other punters ever arrive. Are we going to have the plane to ourselves?

We say hola and shake hands. He asks us if we're going to San Jose or La Fotuna, we tell him San Jose. Out of his rucksack comes some paperwork and bathroom scales. He takes our passports and "checks us in", which mostly involves writing our names and passport numbers on a slip of paper, putting tags on our bags, and weighing us. This is simply wonderful.

I am 8lb heavier than 3 days previous. Oops. How's that new year resolution going, Darren?

Anyway. A Sansa plane turns up, suspiciously early - it's only about 1210. A man gets off - just one man - and we see someone else staying onboard. Paperwork is conducted between Paolo and a pilot and then we get on. Same plane model as on Friday but the interior seems a bit older but it's roomier - there are only 12 seats, not 14. There's one lass already onboard, and us. We sit at the back.

We end up taking off before the thing was even due to have arrived, something like 25 minutes early. It's a southbound take off, followed immediately by a 180 over the beach back up towards the airstrip and then a 90 degree turn inland, for this flight goes west, to La Fortuna. It's fantastic, of course.

Adios, Tortuguero!

More legroom than on a BA short haul plane.

Turning west after the south-to-north 180. There's a timelapse video of the whole take off on my instagram feed.

That there laguna and rio, with four corners up the top.

A couple of minutes later, as we're still climbing, there's a bump. Nothing huge, but not pleasant either. The weather doesn't seem quite as nice as when we flew in a few days previous, and eyeballing the dashboard I can see - but don't tell Helen - there looks like some moderately significant weather up ahead. But I'm sure it'll be OK, right?

Then it gets cloudier, and bumpier, and cloudier, and bumpier. I glance across the aisle, Helen has her eyes closed and is practicing deep breathing exercises while clutching onto the seat in front. My offer of some banana cake does not go down well (and likely would not have stayed down well).

It gets worse. Soon we are not in white cloud, but grey cloud, which I know means rain. We all know it means rain, because the whole plane is being battered with rain and knocked around a fair bit. A few times I have to grab the seat in front of me too, and close my eyes, though honestly nowhere near as much as Helen.

I'm pretty confident it just feels bad but is perfectly safe. We both notice the pilot shoving both hands in his aircon sockets at once, not touching any controls. I take this as a sign of confidence, we're fine, everything's OK; Helen would much rather the guy aviate with a bit more thought for how it might look to any passengers who might be on the verge of losing their shit at that moment.

Eventually we emerge from all the cloud... downwards. It's still cloudy above us, but we can see things like distance and height OK. Volcano Arenal looms ahead of us, and we're clearly descending - legimitately, not plummeting from the sky. Fairly suddenly we pull what feels like a 540 spiral turn and land on a considerably worse surface than Tortuguero's airstrip - this is a gravel track between a couple of farms, yet has a proper terminal building with automatic doors and a car park and everything. Ladies and gentlmen, welcome to La Fortuna.

The lass who was already on at Tortuguero gets off. We stay on. A NatureAir plane - the other domestic airline - arrives, and it looks a bit fancier and bigger and Helen really wants to get off and get that, or actually she'd rather get a bus. But no, we're staying on here. Behave yourself.

After a few minutes, a large group of Americans get on - a part of 9, taking up all but one of the remaining seats. And then, after a long bumpy taxi along the gravel we're up again, heading back to San Jose.

It's a smoother flight than the previous one, but not as smooth as Friday's. If these experiences had been in a different order there is no doubt that Helen would have refused to fly back, chancing her arm with the 7 hour boat/bus/bandidos route instead. But anyway.

It's only about a 20 minute flight back to San Jose. We skirt around a couple of volcanos and the weather systems over them, spot the big church in Grecia that we'd got the bus past the other week, then land. There is no fanfare and no-one handing out medals for bravery or anything else that Helen thinks would've been appropriate. I'm hyper and giddy again. It's not that I wasn't scared at all, I totally was during parts of the first flight, but I still had an absolute blast. She never wants to fly such a small plane again, so next time I'm on my own.

Confusingly, to me at least, there are no cabs at the Sansa terminal of the airport. I'm sure there was a queue of them on Sunday and just kinda assumed there always would be, but with none in sight we walked to the international terminal outside of which was a huge scrum of official drivers and pirates and those waving signs with people's names on.

I'm instigating a new rule that you never accept a cab ride from a driver who hails you, so we battle through the masses to a man with a clipboard who shouts "Alejandro!" at a guy presumably called Alejandro. He will drive us to the Pura Vida hotel in Tuetal Sur, swanky venue for our last night in Costa Rica.

This place is more expensive than 3 nights in Tortuguero. We deliberately splurged, wanting some comfort and being a bit spoilt on our way back. The drive is quick and even though we pay and handsomely tip the driver, he loiters around to be paid by the hotel - he's totally trying it on, because they only cough up if you arrive via an international flight. Jose, the man who greets us, tells him to do one.

Inside, as well as Jose, we meet Cibo and Bandido. These are large German shepherd dogs, deceptively cute and predictably smelly. Jose walks us to Katydid, our 2 bedroom villa with living room and kitchen and stuff, and comes back 5 minutes later with a welcome drink.

The place is huge. When we booked it we'd received an excellent, long, informative email from the owners regaling us with knowledge and tips and humour - and now that we're here, the theme continued. The 16 page booklet in the room is written in the same style, and features email replies given to the more unusual or ridiculous requests. Of particular interest is the very diplomatic answer to someone requesting a recommendation between Sansa and NatureAir with emphasis on safety: apparently Sansa have "the braver pilots". Ha.

There's a big garden with numerous other villas, all hidden from one another's view by a mass of plants. Most of them have labels in, giving the name and some information about them - even when that info is "We have no idea what this is". It's a bit wacky and quirky but not off-puttingly so, and the garden is stunningly beautiful and peaceful, except for the fairly noisy road outside.

We both try the hammock, me more successfully than Helen, and then move to sun loungers - with beers retrieved from the restaurant. Cibo comes to show off the log they've got, then roll around being all cute and that, then sniff Helen's feet and disappear quick smart. Eww, apparently.

Unfortunately, it's still pretty cloudy, and Helen (incorrectly, as it happens) predicts there's an imminent downpour so we go in for a siesta. I wake up after only an hour or so, feeling pretty dreadful; a shower sorts that out, and then we pop up to the restaurant.

Pura Vida hotel is famous for its food as well as the accommodation, and we've booked ourselves in for the three course dinner. As we get there, another member of staff introduces himself followed shortly by Berni, one of the co-owners. Turns out he's from southwest London. Good lad.

Another family appears, being Texas Joe with his wife, daughter and son-in-law. They sit on the table behind us, throwing the football repeatedly for Bandido to fetch. At one point they get bored with this, and want to eat, so the dog brings the ball to my feet. Aww. But we've decided to follow the explicit "please don't throw stuff for the dogs" instructions.

Starter is a spinach, egg and bacon salad with swiss cheese. We're told the story of a roaming swiss cheese advocate, the man who introduced it to Costa Rica by travelling through and stopping at a village where a lass had 4 cows. "Have you thought about making cheese?" "No" "Well, you should. Here's how..."

Apparently that man still travels the world doing the same thing to this day. I don't care if the story isn't true, it's excellent either way. As was this salad.

For main we have a rosemary wrapped pork chop on fruity cous cous with wokked vegetables. I'm not really a fan of pork chops, but I get through this like nobody's business. It isn't enough to make me likely to choose them again, but it's certainly the best I've ever had.

Dessert is 72% cacao Belgian chocolate with some local blackberry-type-things and properly whipped cream. When this is served, the chef - Berni's other half - comes out and receives a round of applause. She's a bundle of energy and it's a bit OTT.

Because we're leaving so soon, Berni arranges for us to meet him here at 6am at which point he'll hand us our breakfast to go and call us a cab, and we pay right now. Awkwardly, once he's totted everything up, I say we wouldn't mind another drink: his response is, no problem, as it happens drinks which are requested so late are on the house. Thanks, Berni!

Pura Vida is lovely. The lodgings, food, gardens, and people, all of it. But I'm not sure I'd stay there rather than, say, Hotel 1915 again. My main problem is timing: because the sun always sets about 6pm, year round, you can't really sit outside and enjoy them very much, and using the place as a base while you bugger off around the valley (as we did) seems like a waste. What's more, you have to ask for drinks, which feels awkward. I think it's just not made for my style of holiday, but we definitely had a great time there for our last afternoon and evening.

The bed was also the most comfortable, by a long way, of any we used in Costa Rica. Shame we had to set the alarm for 5am really.

Created By
Darren Foreman

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