July 2003
La Tortuga Verde - Costa Rica
Mitch Madigan

Saludos de La Tortuga Verde!

Hey everyone!! Greetings this time from Costa Rica. I am sitting in a small Internet place in Santa Cruz in the northern part of Costa Rica, so please bear with the punctuation and grammar. The weather is decent - hot and humid but not unbearably so. It rains a little here and there but not too bad. A couple of months ago it was really dry and now everything is green, so it's a great time to be here.

The trip started on Saturday, and the first thing the guide said was "Flexibility is a Green Tortoise trait", which translated into "the bus is broken right now, and we are going to go with plan B". We all took it in stride as we boarded a rental bus, and checked out some really neat waterfalls near San Jose that we would not have seen with the original itinerary. That night we got the bus back and boarded it toward the evening.

Riding the Green Tortoise bus is truly an experience. There are about 33 of us and it is a very diverse group. The youngest is 2 and the oldest is (guessing since I haven’t asked her) probably 60. The 2 year old belongs to one of the two families from Australia. There are 5 kids total = 2, 5, 7, 8, and 12. They are pretty nice and friendly .... so far.

There are probably about 7 or 8 people in the young 20´s, there are about 10 in the mid-20´s to early 30´s, the eldest member is an Irish fireball who works as a nurse in San Francisco. She is really funny. There are several people from England, another person from Australia, and most everyone else is American. Many are from California. After the first day I was able to remember everyone’s name and where they were from. Many people have already accused me of using my teacher skills. There’s a woman and her sister both from Atlanta who are school counselors, as well the 17 year old son of one of them. Several people are involved in education, and several are traveling for over 6 months.

There are maybe 4 people in the group who can get by speaking broken Spanish, there are another 10 or so who can understand a little, and the rest only get the tourist stuff like meals, how much, etc. I have become the translator and basic middleman of the group. The first night we had to camp by the side of the road near the restaurant where we ate dinner. The Green Tortoise paid for food, but we were on our own for beverages. When the dust settled and the bill was passed around, we ended up being a couple drinks short. I went around and got some donations from the group as well as some beer money for the night. I talked to the owner and she forgave the couple of drinks we owed, and she sold us a case of beer at a discount because she liked the fact that I was honest and spoke Spanish. The group got a kick out of that (and I ended up not paying for beer!)

The bus has two tables in the front where four people each can sit - much like a motor home. The whole back half of the bus is one platform with pads on it - essentially one big bed. We kind of rotate around between destinations. There is a lot of card playing going on. The first night, we were all excited to be on the bus, and we had loaded up some beer (I was part of that transaction as well, but we didn’t get quite the deal like last night). We were all sitting on the common area in the back of the bus wondering what to play, so I told them about the game "Animal" that we used to play at Lake Siskiyou as kids. Only we played with first names. By the end, most people knew everyone’s name and it was a great ice breaker.

Yesterday we traveled to the beach somewhere in the north on the pacific side. I tried to follow along on the map where we were going, but it was impossible and i am just going to ask Shawn, our guide, to highlight on my map where we have been. We stopped at a refuge place for wild cats and animals. It was ok - kinda touristy but good. Then we camped out last night near playa panama. there is a new camping resort that isn’t even open yet, but they opened it for us. We broke in the new bar in style with salsa dancing (the wife of the owned teaches dance lessons and we worked up a sweat). We did the limbo and everything. This was after a great pasta dinner that we cooked.

The food is awesome: fresh everything and we set up the kitchen with chopping, slicing and dicing. We are totally self contained with dishwashing buckets, etc.. , everyone except maybe 2 or 3 folks have been sleeping in tents outside versus on the bus. After the games and dancing, about 15 of us went for a midnight swim. The water was so warm, we didn’t need our suits...! The water had these luminescent creatures that would light up when you moved the water, so you swim and they glow around you. Other people had seen this before but I hadn’t and it was great. We tried to get a drum circle going with various kitchen utensils but the insects scared most people away.

The two guides are great - laid back, knowledgeable, etc.. Today is a town day before we spend three days at a secluded place; then we go to Arenal. There are going to be some beach activities the next couple of days, then possibly a canopy tour, rafting option, and other cool stuff.

The next time I will have Internet access will be next Monday. I have enough money to hold me off, so I did not have to wait in the long Monday lines at the bank. I am taking lots of pictures of street signs for class and other stuff that I am going to try to use in school. I saw some tica school girls in the uniforms and talked to them for a while. I interviewed one of them and I will show it in class. One of the guys last night at the camping resort was from Nicaragua and we talked about politics, history, etc. he also fought for the Sandinistas and has war wounds. Very nice man and he really enjoyed talking to me about it.

I better sign off and grab a bite to eat before the bus takes off. I haven’t taken a lot of photos or video inside the bus and with the people since we are all still getting to know one another and I don´t want to be too dorky about it. I will try to write more, but please forgive me if you don´t get the full trip reports until later. There is a lot more to say and tell, but I need to go (and create some more stories:)

Talk to you all soon!



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