Drop it like a Sloth

Last week, I navigated native tribes and dicey rides on my way to a sopping good time in the Chiriquí mountains. Kiki Waterfall left her aqueous mark before I reached the island of poison dart frogs to the north. This week, I entered my second nation, as I went sloth-searching through the Costa Rican jungle – only to spot my first one on the dancefloor.

Day 15 – Bocas del Toro Town, Panama

A brand-new fresh hot-off-the-press week, and it began at Bocas Town docks – as I decided to leave one far-flung island for an even more far-flung one. Bastimento (impossible not to say in a Latin accent) lay a fifteen-minute boat ride east of Bocas and was home to a very badly kept secret: Brexit is a shitshow. Oh, not that secret. I meant Red Frog Beach.

Named after the resident strawberry poison-dart frogs, the beach was the closest thing I had witnessed to Leo di Caprio’s 2000 film version (just without the murderous natives and fields of dope). Less than a handful holidaymakers were there to annoy me – marinating their sallow torsos with abundant applications of emollient, whilst utilising their oversized portable speakers to expose everyone within a fifty miles radius to Lil’ Wayne – how very dare they. I, on the other hand, ambled up and down the playa in search of the local amphibians (no not the Tories) whilst giving as many disgruntled stares as I could muster.

Unable to locate any noteworthy wildlife (barring a gecko with a gammy leg) I set my towel down as far away as I could from any other sort of ‘human’ and read until I ran out of Bryson and the distant echoes of Lil’ Wayne’s Blunt Blowin had long since disappeared. I then made my way back through the mangroves to the drunk boat master charged with piloting me back to civilization – a highly clenched journey it was too.

Day 16 – Bocas del Toro Town, Panama to Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica

Whenever I enter a country for the first time, the levels of dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin and endorphins in my brain are at euphoric levels. It’s a kind of stimulation I can honestly only compare to one other instance in life: watching a party political broadcast by the Lib Dems. In truth, I believe it’s because I have spent almost my whole life obsessed with reading and learning as much as I can about every single country: their flag, currency, population, cities, geographical features, the sheep-to-human ratio – anything to build a picture of what a place might be like in ‘real life’. And it’s when I get the opportunity to start replacing this book-knowledge, the image built brick-by-brick in my head, with tangible realities and palpable tales that really gives a fix that only the hardest of junkies would appreciate.

Well that fix lasts just about up to border control when the interrogation begins, and the white latex gloves get handed from police officer to police officer, and you suddenly remember that learning from a book wasn’t so bad after all. At least, that didn’t happen in this instance. The walk across ‘no man’s land bridge’ between Panama and Costa Rica was unintimidating, and the guards on both sides seemed more interested in their Candy Crush scores than with inspecting my internal organs. I have made it to Costa Rica my friends.

Day 17 – Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica

I made a swift inspection of my new Costa Rican surroundings late last night and stopped off for a few well-deserved drinks in the centre of coastal town: Puerto Viejo. As I sat sipping my cervaza, an almighty hubbub erupted to the left of me, with phones and cameras thrust towards the ceiling. A genuine sloth, not ten feet away, was salsaing its way along the wooden beams towards the front of the stage. Folks, it would appear that this sloth clearly had better dancing talent than I, as it gyrate its hips this way and that, Hound Dog style, in perfect time with the reggaeton accompaniment. Quite the sight.

On to today, and the sun was out guys. The coastline on which I’m based is strewn with impeccable beaches and Instagram-worthy vistas and the most efficient way of visiting them all was by horse. Failing to find one hanging around, I stumped up the cash for a bike instead. Along with a couple of hostel friends (in your best Inbetweeners voice), we pedalled our way down the coast, stopping at each flawless beach for a swim, beer and swing in the hammock before moving on to the next. This really was backpacking at its easiest. If only I had realised earlier that I was quickly starting to resemble David Dickinson after an hour under the sunbeds, then I might have been able to avert the forthcoming calamity…

Day 18 – Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica

I am burnt to a crisp, and not just your regular ready salted or cheese and onion. I’m talking fifty shades of full Worcestershire sauce, from forehead to ankle. Despite my plenteous application of factor five hundred, it did little to tame the crimson tide. Turns out the sun in Costa Rica is pretty darn strong folks – who would have known?

Due to my prior foolishness, I deemed it best to delay a visit to Cahuita National Park until tomorrow, in order to conceal myself from my molten nemesis. Although, it actually gave me the opportunity to catch up on typing some tales and planning the next leg of my journey. I left the shaded safety of the hostel only once, for liquids and nourishment, before returning to my murky lair. An ice-cold shower has never been more gratifying.

Day 19 – Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica

A new dawn, a new shade of scarlet. Although, enough improvement was made to be able to survive a hike around a nearby national park. After a partially successful breakfast of ‘debateable meat in salsa sauce’, my accomplice (Jonas from Germany) and I entered the park through the free back entrance (avoiding an eight-dollar charge at the front) and began the ten-kilometre hike through the Costa Rican rainforest.

Cahuita National Park straddles a stunning coastline, and every break in the jungle led to an incredible view of the adjoining palm-tree-laden beach. Howler monkeys did their best to interrupt the serenity, as they argued over the Irish border predicament, but not even dozens of bellowing Nigel Farage’s could diminish the tranquillity here.

The diminutive Capuchin monkeys were also out in force, displaying an imprudent lack of concern over human contact – oh how ignorance is bliss. Whilst the elusive sloths remained concealed from view at the zenith of the verdant canopy. We were thoroughly enjoying our jungle expedition when, as occasionally happens in rainforests, it began to rai… absolutely piss it down. The Capuchins, iguanas, crabs, toucans and Farages all sought shelter, leaving us to find our sodden way back to civilization.

Day 20 – Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica to San José, Costa Rica

So, it was time to say sayonara to the delightful Caribbean coast and begin my journey towards the very heart of Costa Rica – here lies its capital: San José. The five-hour journey from Puerto Viejo wouldn’t have been too dire, was it not for the unscrupulous ‘singer’ and ‘guitarist’ who capered up and down the aisle of the bus ‘performing’ Bob Marley classics. After three and a half hours of Redemption Song, I sure as hell needed some, but he continued on his merry way until we had pulled all the way into San José bus station. I grew to admire the guy, for sheer obstinacy alone.

I had not heard the most positive stories come out of travellers from San José, and I was eager to keep on shuffling once I arrived in the city centre under the cover of darkness. There I was greeted by Adrian and Pia, a Costa Rican brother and sister who were very kindly putting me up for the night. Not only that, but (on arrival) I was offered plentiful hors-d’oeuvre, a barbeque platter, enough beer to keep Gascoigne quiet and an unlimited supply of the infamous Chiliguaro (a local shot made with guaro liqueur, tomato juice, lemon and Tabasco) – it certainly cleanses the palette.

It was one of the liveliest mealtimes I have had the delight of experiencing, and once again proved that Central American hospitality is as warm as just about anywhere else you could imagine. During our chaotic conversations, I discovered that one family member’s favourite TV show was Hinterland (filmed in Wales), whilst another had not long returned from a trip to Pembrokeshire National Park – quite staggering! This was from a family in the suburbs of San José?! The world we live in can be a remarkably small place sometimes.

Day 21 – San José, Costa Rica

Just as the big man rested on the Sabbath, I too take my respite. A lie in and my first hot shower in over a fortnight (ah the joys of Couchsurfing) – recuperation was the order of the day. After penning my journal, it was time to leave one host for another – as I hoped across the city to meet fellow traveller (now San José resident) Mariel.

Having been mugged at gunpoint in San José (a tale she told as if it were the dullest story conceivable), she was the perfect person to take me around the local watering holes at night – without getting a cap bust in my ass. A round of Chiliguaro’s in the dingiest bar that San José has to offer (adhesive floors, broken stools, not a single functioning lightbulb) signalled the perfect ending to a third week on the Gringo Trail – and the lord said: “bring forth number four!”


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