Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Manuel Antonio and Tamagringo

After leaving my travel buddies before Christmas I was feeling a bit lost as far as what to do. My time with others had made me lose my solo travel rhythm, and I had to get it back somehow. That turned out to be a little easier than I expected - all I needed was a goal and some time on the motorcycle.

When I arrived just outside Manuel Antonio, I settled into a hammock and tried to plan where I was going to go over the next few days. I wasn't sure what I wanted to see or not see, how many days to spend places, or where I wanted to spend New Years, so I kept going back and forth between different plans. Should I go for Panama fast, or take my time getting there? Two nights in each place in Costa Rica but see less places, or one night each but not see each place for very long?

As I was going back and forth, I started talking with a Canadian girl I'd met in La Fortuna, Nadia. We'd done the Christmas dinner together and were in the same room in the hostel, but hadn't talked a ton outside of that. She'd talked about going to Monteverde and meeting up, but since I'd decided not to go there, we split ways.

As it turned out, she'd missed her bus to Monteverde, and spur of the moment had decided to take a bus to Tamarindo instead. I'd considered going to Tamarindo, but due to it's reputation (commonly referred to as "Tamagringo"), I decided that I would probably only enjoy it if I was with someone else. Now I had someone else to meet up with there, so it was a possibility.

The only problem was, it was five and a half hours back the other direction.

If you knew me back when I lived in Illinois, you know how fond I was of road trips. I put 120,000 miles on my car in four years, and you really didn't have to give me much of an excuse to drive somewhere. I once found out on a Tuesday morning that there was a concert four hours away, and that afternoon I drove four hours with some friends, saw the concert, drove four hours back in the middle of the night, and then still got up to go to work Wednesday morning.

Five and a half hours in one day? Longer than a lot of the rides I've done this trip, but compared to what I used to do, it's nothing.

I just needed to see Manuel Antonio before I headed out. So I woke up nice and early, rode over to the park, and found a tour that was only a couple hours long and booked it. The only problem was that it was Sunday, which meant that the park was packed. Because of how busy it gets, they have a limit on how many people can be in the park at one time. And since there's also a beach down at the end of the trail that people will go down to and spend the day at with their towels and umbrellas and coolers, there was a big line at the entrance. After buying our tickets, we had to stand in line in the sweltering heat for 45 minutes just waiting for them to open the gate and let a few more people in. But we finally made our way in, and started the tour.

I wasn't sure when I bought the ticket for the tour if it would be worth it. I would almost always rather just wander around on my own and enjoy things at my own pace. But in this case, it was definitely worth it, for two reasons. First, the guide was about 100 times better at spotting animals than I was - even after he spotted it and pointed them out, I often still couldn't see them. And second, he carried around a small telescope which he'd set up pointing at some animal in the trees, and we'd all take turns checking it out. He'd even help us take pictures with our phones through the telescope.

Bats chillin out.

This pic was not through the telescope. And this guy was huge.

More bats.

That little green spot in the middle is a sleeping frog.

The highlight for me. Sleeping sloths still smile.

These guys were all over the trail at the very end, no telescope needed.

One section of the beaches at the end of the trail. It really was gorgeous, and I can see why people were coming here for their Sunday afternoon.
After the tour ended, I booked it back to the beginning of the trail and hopped back on the bike to make my way back to the hostel. I packed up all my stuff and put on my motorcycle gear over my already sweaty clothes, and started heading for Tamarindo. Unfortunately, that meant breaking one of my rules (they're more what you'd call "guidelines" than actual rules) and heading back on the same road I'd taken to get down there. On the annoying, traffic-laden, humid and hot southern highway.

It really wasn't the most enjoyable ride, but I had to make good time since I'd started after noon, so I didn't stop much. I set up the camelback so I could drink while riding (which was necessary - I was sweating like crazy), and just kept cranking for the whole five and a half hours, arriving in Tamarindo just after sunset.

I met up with Nadia there and we wandered around town for the evening. I could clearly see where the name Tamagringo had come from, as the entire town seemed to be absolutely packed to the brim with tourists. But we made the best of it and found a restaurant with good food and some beers that were actually brewed in town, and then wandered through some of the bars to see the scene. Eventually we ended up at the (mostly empty) bar next to our hostel because we could get $2 beers there with our hostel wristband - until they closed down and kicked us out, that is. Apparently keeping three staff on for two people drinking cheap beers didn't seem worth it to them.

The hostel we stayed in was nice - Nadia had stayed in the upstairs room the night before and said it wasn't great because the big windows made it heat up despite the AC, but the downstairs room was amazing. And it turns out the downstairs room was better that particular night as well, because some guy got really drunk in the upstairs room and mistook three different backpacks for a toilet (including his own).

The next morning we looked around at some snorkeling tours, but they all told us the day after would be better, so instead we spent quite a bit of the day lounging at the beach and wandering around town.

Saw this bike parked in the street... I want one. So bad.

We got some dinner at the Shrimp Hole - just this tiny little shack and the guy serves delicious shrimp out of the hole in the front. Like many of the restaurants in Tamarindo, this place would be right at home in San Diego.
That evening after dinner we headed out to a beach a little ways away to see the sea turtles laying their eggs. I honestly wasn't all that excited for it, but it turned out way better than I expected. There's a lot of rules about where you can stand, not using lights, etc., but we got to see two turtles - the first had just laid her eggs and was covering them up and then digging a decoy hole a few yards away to throw off predators, and the second was actually dropping the golf-ball sized eggs as we watched.
(There was a guy there who was taking some of the eggs as they came out and putting them in a bag. The guide told us he was one of the biologists, and he was doing it to put them someplace else where they would be more likely to hatch... but he also told us to not take any pictures that showed him taking the eggs. A little sketch.)

Upon returning, we went back to the new hostel we'd gotten for the night - almost all of Tamarindo was booked up (even at the inflated holiday prices), so we ended up paying more for a private room in a hostel than I'd paid for any hotel or hostel the entire trip. Worse, the windows didn't close well enough to keep out sound, and one of the windows was directly next to the reception desk, where people were talking for quite a bit of the night. Can't say I was happy paying that much and still getting woken up by noise - I'd stay in a dorm if I wanted to be woken up all night long.

In the morning Nadia and I headed out in a kayak with a guide to a small isleta off the shore a little ways, and spent a few hours snorkeling around the reefs out there. There were all kinds of small and big fish, different colors, and a bunch that would crowd around your flippers if you stopped moving for a bit. I even saw an eel hanging out inside some rocks, and followed him for a bit when he took off.

And finally it was time to leave Tamarindo. It wasn't one of the best places I'd visited, and it was certainly one of the most expensive, but having someone to enjoy it with made it worthwhile. And most of all, it helped me get my momentum back. In Mexico I was often spending the morning on some activity or hike, and then riding hard in the afternoon to get to my next destination. Doing that again to get to Tamarindo, and once more when leaving town, helped me get back in the groove.

With that done, I finally decided to make plans for New Years. I booked a hostel in Boquete, a quiet mountain town in Panama, plotted my route to arrive there on the 31st, and got back on the bike for a couple days of riding.

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