Friday, July 22, 2011

Adventures while snorkeling and stranded

No, we were not stranded while snorkeling.  Just want to make that clear before anyone panics.

Okay, we were in Sámara on the Pacific coast, about halfway down the Nicoya Peninsula.  (I will add a map, but I can't figure out how to show our route.)  We thought it would be fun to take a boat trip out to the island in the Sámara Bay (or Gulf?), and snorkel by the beach there.

Now, keep in mind that this is a surfing beach.  Not big surfing like many areas, but still - a learning to surf beach.  Probably 2 to 3 ft waves, maybe more - a shallow beach with a long break.  Long rolling waves.

The previous evening we had made arrangements with Alfredo, who has a watersports business with his family - and we were scheduled to meet at 9 AM for a boat trip to the island, with snorkeling.  He was taking out a kayak group, and we'd meet them for the snorkel.  (We're talking an island that was a few miles out, we weren't sure we were up to the paddle out there.)

Alfredo's father. Marcos, meets us on the beach in this little putt-putt outboard boat with a little canopy top, we climb in, and we head out.  My bench isn't really a bench, just a board resting on the gunwales of the boat.  We slide around.  Marcos times our crossing with the waves, so that we go up and down but don't take on water.  It takes us maybe 20 minutes to get out to the island - where there are just as big waves, and there's only one small beach (which disappears at high tide).  I see a turtle swimming and flapping his fins as he dives back down.

We start gearing up - and Richard's mask breaks, right where the strap attaches.  Of course, this is a prescription mask - so he needs the glasses to even see where he's swimming.  We try combinations of two masks together - or his glasses in a mask - or fixing his mask with whatever is on the boat.  It takes a while - the kayakers show up about the time Marcos finally manages to get the mask repaired.  By this time, I'm feeling rather seasick - which rarely happens to me.  But I jump in, Richard jumps in, we head to the island.  Except there is surge - there is current - there are waves - and somehow I'm heading toward rocks, and one of the kayak leaders comes over and says I'm heading the wrong way.  I swim to the side, and a good-sized wave breaks over me, so I end up with a mouthful of saltwater.  Ugh!  Not much worse than that!  It was a really strenuous trip to the island, trying to dodge rocks and waves and end up at the beach instead of out to sea.  Plus once I got over the rocky area (which did have some nice big fish), and hit the sandy area, well, there was zero visibility, and I had no clue how deep (or not) the water was until I scraped up on shore.  Yup, beached in the gravelly sand.  With more waves pushing me over as I tried to take off the fins and stand up.  Richard and I agreed that we're totally spoiled with our very calm Caribbean water in the VI!

We walked around the island a bit, eating bananas and pineapple - the island had the one small beach, then went up in rocky cliffs to the area with trees and plants - and hermit crabs and iguanas skittering down the cliffs to beg for fruit.  It was relaxing, it was interesting, but no one spent much time in the water with those waves.  (Except the two kayak guides, who were kayak surfing on the waves!)

Richard went back to the boat early (and fell in, knocking over poor Marcos) - somehow my snorkel ended up back in the boat, so one of the young guys gave me a kayak ride back - and we rode back in to shore, riding waves for the last bit.  We were both TIRED!  But we wanted to move on down the coast, so we went back to the hotel, showered, packed the car, and left by 1 PM.

Our plan was to head across the Nicoya Peninsula, and cross at the bridge - La Puente da Amistad, the Bridge of Friendship, built by the Taiwanese and Costa Rican governments.  This is a huge, high bridge in the middle of nowhere, which saves a lot of time when going from the peninsula to the mainland, or reverse.  Everything was fine, until our car stopped.  Just stopped.  As if the engine turned off while we were going down the road at about 40 miles an hour.  We coasted to the side, because there wasn't much else to do.  We waited a bit, Richard had a cigarette, and we tried the engine again, hoping things would be fine.  And they were.  Car started, we drove a bit - and then the engine died again.  On the approach to the bridge.  No power.  Just gone.

We again pulled over - at least there was a wide shoulder.  We agreed we didn't really want to risk driving across this huge long (did I mention way high up?) bridge in a car that could just stop in the middle of the bridge, especially since the approach to the bridge is a long curve.  So we sat.  In the car.  We called then rental company, and our man Hugo said he'd send someone with another car for us.  Our first conversation with Hugo was about 3:30 PM.  And there we sat - reading, talking, singing - until close to 8 PM.  Yup - over four hours, sitting in a car by the side of the road.  Because really, what could we do?  There was nowhere to walk, although we did get out and stretch occasionally.  The car rocked with every huge semi that went by.  The howler monkeys sounded their last call about 6 PM.  A dog came by, sniffing the tires - and of course we did what every Baby Boomer would do, we yelled, "Lassie!  Go get help!"  Not that the dog did, but we found it hysterically funny at that point.

So about the time we started on Janis Joplin ("Busted flat in Baton Rouge"), the mosquitoes found us.  We were drenched in sweat, drinking the bottle of water we had, and nowhere to go - and the final indignity, mosquitoes.  I started spritzing them with my asthma inhaler, and that seemed to slow them down for a while - at least long enough for us to stop being bitten and waving our arms around.

Then the stars came out - amazing, gorgeous stars, seen from an angle we don't normally get, and with not even a streetlight around there were more stars than I've seen in a long long time.  (Yes, we turned on our hazard lights.)  And then, the lightening bugs - like little flashing stars among the trees.  Plus a frog who sounded exactly like he was saying, "boing boing boing" until we joined in.

Hugo sent a text message - a road was closed, the guy with the car would be late.  Seriously.  But all we could do was wait, because walking across the bridge wasn't an option.  (We did discuss calling for the police, but our Spanish wasn't up to explaining the situation.)  We had great ideas of monkeys coming to pick up the car and carry it across the bridge - or maybe jaguars with some pulling device, like yokes over their necks - but no, we just sat, and waited, because that was the only reasonable thing to do.

Eventually this nice young guy showed up with another car for us.  He had his wife and their baby - he helped us transfer stuff, we tried to explain what the problem was, he started the car right up and said it was okay but maybe water in the gasoline - we offered to go across the bridge with him, but he said no, just go.  So, well, we did.  We were hot, hungry, tired, and needed a better bathroom than the great outdoors.

So we drove.  And drove.  Stopped for a bite of dinner, and drove.  This entire portion of the PanAm highway has only little towns, and we kept looking for something marked "hotel" without having to go driving through every little town looking for something.  So we drove some more - until we hit Puntarenas, the horrible old sea port that is just dismal and seedy - we had hoped to avoid Puntarenas, we didn't like the area last time - but it turns out there's a Hilton DoubleTree resort there, and, well, by 10:30 PM a posh American chain resort sounded great.  I told Richard we're not paying over X, we drove up, the price was X - $5 - so we booked a room.  It was posh, it was lovely, it was all inclusive, it could have been absolutely anywhere in the world.

We staggered to our room with the help of Luis, we showered, we fell into bed. 

I have to add, the lobby had great mosaics!  And we stayed in bed until about noon, when we checked out and headed down the road again.

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