Costa Rica 5: Tortuguero

Tortuguero is on the Northern part of the Caribbean Coast and is accessible by boat and air only. We drive from Punta Uva to the tiny settlement of La Pavona where we leave our car and catch a small boat, half an hour down the river to Tortuguero.

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We arrive at sunset and walk through the small settlement to Cabinas El Icao where we will spend the next four days. It is right on the beach but the currents are strong and swimming is not advisable. I didn’t read that in the brochure! Luckily there is a small pool around the corner as it is very hot and humid here.

My scope of story telling has really narrowed lately, and in my head, when I sit down to write about a place it goes like this…….

fight fight, lock the door, poke someone with a pen, swearing, door slamming, fight fight, I’m hungry, Get out, No you get out, I was in here first, actually kids, it’s all of our room, shall we have a beer Jude, fight fight, punch, scratching, Oh my god, you didn’t just draw blood did you?, I knew you were a biter at creche but you’re ten now, I just want some space, me too, I miss my lego, I miss my friends, you don’t have any friends CAN WE JUST STOP TALKING ABOUT FAMILY DYNAMICS FOR A MINUTE AND LOOK AROUND AT WHERE WE ARE!!!!!

Roger “I’ll put the kettle on (in the bathroom)”

Jude “OK darling, that would be lovely”

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I think I’ll just take more pictures of animals and less of the kids.

There are Green turtles hatching here in Tortuguero, except we only see one nest while we are there and there are so many people crowded around it that it’s hard to see what’s going on.

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On our second day, we hire a small boat and  guide and paddle around the waterways that can’t be accessed by motor boat and therefore, better places to spot animals and birds.

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Almost immediately, Louie spots a sloth trying to move from one tree to another. It’s determination is very admirable and at several points, it looks as though it may put too much weight on the branch and fall out of the tree. The male three toed sloths have these strange markings on their backs. It is a real treat to find a sloth being so vigorous as usually, you’re lucky if they move their heads very slowly to look at you.p1230650

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The sheer volume of wildlife that we spotted is amazing and back at the Cabinas, there is a green vine snake hanging out on the fence.

The lack of cars and a small community of about 1500 people, make for a very tranquil place where animals cohabitant with their human neighbours quite happily.

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p1230817 At first, I didn’t notice this howler monkey’s huge testicles. I did briefly consider photoshopping them out but that wouldn’t be an honest representation.

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Costa Rica 4: Punta Uva

Punta Uva
It’s quite a long drive but amazingly there seems to be very little visible Hurricane damage on the way. As we pass around San Jose and head towards the Caribbean, the landscape becomes more and more lush.
To the right of much of the drive is densely forested national park. This is the main banana growing area of Costa Rica, with the port of Limon, being the main point of export.

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The Caribbean coast has a very different feel to the Pacific Coast. We play our reggae playlist to get into the swing of things. Playa Cocles which is the closest town to where we are staying, is full of chilled out looking Rastafarians and hippies on bicycles. Our accomodation, at a less populated beach nearby is a simple open air house on the beachfront.
It promises sloths, iguanas and birds ( and comes with a fairly wide variety of bugs I’d wager).

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There’s a lovely caretaker called Gustavo who lives next door. It’s not long before he is introducing us to Violeta, the two toed sloth who lives around the property. The next morning we meet Mikario, a three toed sloth, making his way down a tree. It seems that we have caught him going about his once weekly pooh trip. Sloths don’t pooh from trees, they come down to the ground especially.

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The sea gets a little clearer and calmer every day, having been fairly high and murky straight after the hurricane.
The place is paradise, although it’s close proximity to the sea and the rainy season, make it quite damp. Costa Rica is the most humid place we’ve been on our travels. It means that we live with the smell of clothes that have been too slow to dry on the line; like sweaty socks. I dedicate an entire day to washing everything and hanging it in the sun. I spend an increasing amount of time thinking about owning a washing machine again. Funny, because I thought that travel would broaden the mind!
The days are generally sunny and hot and we spend our days on the beach or reading on the deck which is just about on the beach anyway. Louie looks for ways to use his machete and has started harvesting coconuts and preparing fire wood for fires on the beach at night.

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There is a pair of large iguana who live in the trees in front of the house. Their foreplay seems to be slowly following each other from tree to tree. We never see them in the same tree but they’ve obviously produced a beautiful bright green baby who sits in a papaya tree.

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In our own family, there is some pretty extreme behaviour going on and the managing of this is becoming quite harrowing. Having a machete in the mix is not helping. Jasper is very adept at finding the object that Louie is most attached to and running away with it. Whilst we are mostly happy to spend our days writing, reading and swimming, Jasper spends his days trying to get Louie’s attention in what ever way possible.
There’s definitely an increasing focus on home and we decide to change our flights to leave Costa Rica a few days earlier. We had planned to stay in LA on the way through, but our experience in US customs put us off. Now we will transit through LA for three hours before flying home.

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We all really want to see a toucan but they are quite elusive. Roger, who is always up early in the morning, has seen two, high up in the trees and wakes us all up to have a look. Somewhere in the distance is a roaring, which we think might be a jaguar.
Costa Rica is very cool!

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It gets quite wet during our last night and we are ready to move on from our damp beds and wet towels.

I try to keep at the front of my mind that our time away is all about choice; and at least we have beautiful things to look at whilst we’re being driven to total distraction. It has certainly been true of our time here in the Caribbean. It’s a bit like a holiday we had once in a remote Island in Fiji, when Jasper had an OCD issue and washed his hands every two minutes and threatened to punch us all in the face repeatedly. He had only just started school at the time. It was a very strange time and what I still remember most about that holiday was looking out to sea, trying to appreciate the beauty, but hearing the sound of the kids in a perpetual struggle.

It is always good to move somewhere new when things start getting a little crazy. Soon we won’t be able to do that anymore because we’ll be back home. I wonder what will happen when we’ve stopped running?

 

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Costa Rica 3: Monteverde and Arenal

Our next destination in the Monteverde cloud forest which sits on the continental divide of the Pacific and Carribean and is often shrouded in cloud because of its fairly high altitude.The road into Monteverde is so bad that it’s hard to believe that that this is a major tourist stopover. At some point on the journey, we are listening to music and Roger starts crying. We are both feeling quite beaten down by the disharmony in the family and perhaps the realisation that our trip is is nearly over is highlighting the fact that travel has bought about change, but not the kind we were hoping for.

It is windy and wet and when we arrive at the Mariposa lodge where we will spend the next three nights, we realise that the temperature has dropped from somewhere in the thirties in Ostional, to about fifteen degrees here. We are all in shorts and singlets and immediately get so cold that we need to go in doors and hop under the blankets.

The Monteverde area has an interesting history. In 1951, several dozen Quakers from Alabama,seeking to live as farmers moved to and purchased land in Costa Rica] This was primarily to avoid the Korean War draft, an obligation which contradicted Quaker pacifist ideology. They chose Costa Rica because it had just abolished it’s army three years earlier. In 1972, a biologist joined one of the Quakers to promote the establishment of the natural preserve now known as the Monteverde Cloud Forest.

It seems that the weather in the cloud forest is fairly unpredictable at this time of year and the next day, while it is cold and windy, the sun is out. Dressed as if we were walking the Milford track in winter, we pay our admission to spend the day in the park. It’s like a winters day in the bush at Piha and about as exiting from an animal spotting perspective. Ie, we’ll be lucky if we see a bird, let alone any animals, frogs or snakes.

Before we leave the guesthouse, we see some beautiful hummingbirds in the garden.

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The Monteverde cloud forest is hyped as being the place to see a lot of wildlife but from the reviews we’ve read, we’re more likely to animals on the way to the park. Perhaps the wind is putting them off. The four hours that we spend walking through the forest is really magical. Partly because we whisper for most of the way in order to surprise any animals that may be on the track. We walk to the point that is marked as the Continental Divide, where the clouds and mist drift past bellow us and obscure any view, and we spend quite some time jumping up and down on the swing bridge.

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At the entrance to the park is a gallery and cafe where there are multiple hanging bird nectar feeders and at least twenty humming birds buzzing around them.
Trying to get a photo of a humming bird is very difficult. I stand so close to the bird feeder that the buzz of their wings in my ear is like a low melodic hum. Louie, Stella and I have a competition to see who can get the best photo.

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It sounds as though a hurricane is on it’s way to Costa Rica which is quite unusual, particularly so late in the season. In fact, there hasn’t been a hurricane here since records began in the late 1800’s.

All of the Monteverde conservation area is set up as a financially self supporting industry. There are few things to do that don’t cost at least $70 US and having paid that the day before as park admission, we look for free activities. So we go back and watch hummingbirds. Today there’s a kinkajou there too but it looks so much like a NZ possum that it’s hard to get enthusiastic.

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Louie spots a machete for sale in a shop and for some reason, we decide it’s a good early Christmas present. Really, the last thing we should be adding to the family dynamic at this point, is a large knife but Louie has been admiring all the men in Costa Rica, who carry machetes on their hip and wants to use one back in Aotearoa. 

It is really getting quite stormy by the end of the day but we head out to watch the sunset before heading home for noodles in a cup.

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Costa Rica is a lot more expensive than we were anticipating and having got our currencies slightly confused the night before, and spending as much as we would on an average restaurant meal at home, we have spent our weekly budget and more. We are all enjoying the challenge of living very cheaply and Roger has developed such ingenuity in the kitchen (or in many cases, the bathroom) that he can prepare a whole meal without a stove. We bought a kettle in Turkey so that we could make coffee. Now he cooks noodles, heats up sachets of refried beans and soup and can even boil an egg. 

I must admit that I thought it was ridiculous to carry a kettle from country to country. At one point he was filtering coffee through an old shirt, until we upgraded to a coffee filter. 

Now the kettle has become invaluable and there are many nights when we are too tired to go out and we opt for a kettle cooked meal! I’m looking forward to having a fridge and a stove again and am very thankful that Roger had risen to the challenge of providing food out of virtually nothing because I have lost my cooking mojo. ( not that I had a very strong one in the first place).

Arenal

We travel what should be about 27km from the air, but ends up as a four hour drive, 137 Km right around Lake Fortuna to Arenal Volcano.
Costa Rica appears from photos, to be a land full of Sloths and we are sad not to have seen one yet. On the road into Arenal, we come across several car loads of people staring up at the trees. We stop too as a crowd under a tree usually means something interesting. There is a sloth!

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Our cheap hotel is a bit of a dive and there’s a hurricane about to hit.
We are offered a day in the local hot pools for $300 NZ including dinner. We are finding it increasingly hard to explain to people that we have been travelling for the year and are running out of money for extravagances like hot pools. It is low season still, with the rainy season ending on the 1st of December and there are very few people around. Now we’re whipping up food in our bathroom, we’re not really the tourist cash cows that the hotel are probably hoping for. We only have one full day here unless we are stranded due to road closures. The hurricane is shaping up to be quite a big deal for both Costa Rica and Nicaragua. The projected path takes it over the Caribbean Coast where we are heading next and just above where we are currently.

Hurricane Otto is the only tropical storm or hurricane whose centre has ever moved over any part of Costa Rica. It is also  the largest forming hurricane ever recorded in the region which is probably the result of exceptionally high sea surface temperatures of around 29C.

We have terribly intermittent wifi and phone reception but it seems that my sisters are worrying about where we are. Every single news report is in Spanish which makes it slightly hard to work out what’s going on.

As the Arenal national park is closed due to the hurricane, there is little else to do but sit in a hot pool or watch storm footage on TV.
We do some research and find that there is a hot spring that runs into a river near by, but acknowledge that perhaps a river is not the best place to be sitting in a hurricane with heavy rains forecast.
Watching the TV becomes quite entertaining and Roger and I take turns translating the Spanish titles running along the bottom of the screen. Roger makes his up. But hold on……. as well as a hurricane, there seems to be a Tsunami warning.
Obviously we are not in imminent danger as we are inland on a volcanic plateau but a tsunami and a hurricane. What is going on? We finally manage to connect to the wifi for a minute and in searching for Costa Rica Tsunami, learn that there has also been an earthquake off the coast of El Salvador and a Tsunami warning has been issued for the Pacific Coast.
After watching the news for about two hours it becomes apparent that the same footage is being replayed over and over again. Palm trees blowing in the wind, some choppy waves on the Caribbean coast and lots of people with umbrellas in San Jose. Umbrellas in a hurricane?
It seems that perhaps this Category 2 hurricane is less ferocious than expected.
In Arenal there is some wind and a very steady amount of rain but it seems that the worst is passing.

Later we find out that the nine deaths in CostaRica were all about 100km north, where in the Upala region. Because of Costa Rica’s steep terrain, a slow moving storm like Hurricane Otto, can casue very heavy rain and a lot of landslides.

Because we all have cabin fever, we head out to explore.

We pass the point on the map that is marked as the free hot spring but can’t really see an obvious place to get down to the river when we look. It is likely that with a higher volume of water, the river will be fairly cold. We decide to give it a miss; but on the way back we pass a German couple and their small child who have just been in the river and haven’t been washed away.
They point us to the path and we get into our togs and head down to the river where we are the only people. We trust that there are no snakes in a thermal river but the water is fairly murky from the heavy rains and we just have to relax and hope for the best. It is still raining but the water is warm and for a moment it feels as if we really are having the adventure of a lifetime.fullsizerender

We’ve been waiting all day to hear from the Airbnb where we are supposed to be heading tomorrow on the south Caribbean coast, to ascertain whether the house or the roads have sustained any damage.
It seems that the area around Punta Uva, South of Limon, is fine although no one can guarantee the state of the roads so we decide to take a chance and head off anyway.

We even catch a glimpse of the Volcano on the way out.

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Costa Rica 2: Ostional


Parts of the road from Montezuma to Ostional, further north on the Pacific Coast, are fairly rugged in places and the rain doesn’t help. There are so many potholes in Costa Rican roads that you are forced with the choice to either drive very slowly and carefully or drive as fast as possible in the hope that you might just skip over all of them. Roger chooses the latter and I wish I had invested in a sports bra for the trip.

As we near the Pacific Coast again, having gone on a big loop further inland in order to avoid a number of river crossings on the coastal road, we come to a river crossing anyway, coming from the other direction. Because it has been raining for much of the day, the river is  fairly high. We ring the owner of the guesthouse where we are staying and she suggests that we stay somewhere else for the night or hang out in a nearby town until the tide goes out and the river goes down.

We’re pretty determined to get to our destination before dark and having watched a couple of locals traversing the stream fairly successfully, we decide to give it a go.

Roger, who is normally quite confident at river crossings, seems to have lost some of his nerve and spends quite some time reversing back and forwards before taking the crossing at a ridiculously high speed. In order to save money on our rental, we have minimal insurance which probably doesn’t cover being stuck in a swollen waterway. The car however, is momentarily invisible but we all cheer as he comes through the other side.

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Ostional Beach is the main nesting beach for the Olive Ridley turtle, with lesser numbers of Green Turtles and Leatherbacks nesting here too. A few times a year, the adult turtles arrive on the beach in enormous numbers of around 100,000. This is called the Arribadas or Arrival. I didn’t know much about Ostional before we came but I had hoped that we had timed our stay with the hatching of the baby turtles.

As it turns out, there are adult turtles nesting here regularly over this time and babies hatching too.

Stella and I head to the beach just before dark and excitedly bring back a hatched turtle egg to show Louie. In actual fact, the beach is littered with egg shells that we can’t see in the fading light, but this being our first experience of turtle nesting, we are very exited.

We have a bit if a situation later at dinner, at Ostional’s only restaurant. When we were in Egypt, staying at the crazy Red Sea resort with the free food and alcohol and unlimited slushies and ice-cream, we all had to wear a plastic bracelet as proof that we were guests and therefore entitled to all the free stuff. This being one of Louie’s absolute favourite places; he has treasured his red plastic bracelet for months and vowed that he would only cut it off once he gets back home. Louie particularly, clings on to memories from the past months of places that he has enjoyed and attaches huge importance to the little pieces of memorabilia that he has taken with him. Perhaps it is about finding familiarity in his constantly changing environment.

The significance of this, seems to have been a bit lost on Roger, who gives it a good tug at dinner, to see if it will come off. It breaks, and Louie, after hitting Roger over the head and swearing at him loudly and publicly, walks home in the dark.

Roger wants to go home.

The owner of the restaurant takes us down to the beach to show us a nest that his dog discovered earlier. There are babies crawling out of the hole in the sand and it is a magic moment, except that Louie, who has been looking forward to the turtle beach for such a long time, is not here to share the experience.  From out of the dark, a guide appears and asks us if we’d like to watch an adult turtle further down the beach, who has just come out of the sea to nest.

We decide that tonight is not the best night for a tour and we go home to try and rectify the situation with Louie who is thankfully, pretending to be asleep.

The old saying, never go to sleep on an argument, is a thing of the past for this family.

The next morning we head down to the beach before it gets too hot, to see the babies heading in to the water. A lot of them hatch during the night and have made their way into the sea by morning, but for many others, their arrival is badly timed.

Crawling out of their nests into the sun and being picked off by vultures is a fate that meets many who hatch too close to sunrise.

In order for the turtles to develop their lungs and establish a sense of direction, they must be left to walk most of the distance between their nest and the water, on their own.

However, as they start to dry out in the sun on the way down and get caught up in drift wood and sticks, it seems that unless they are carried further down the beach towards the tide line, they will die.

There are vultures everywhere, waiting to pick off the turtles who are left unprotected on the beach so we take turns scaring off the birds and shepherding the individual turtles into the sea.

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That night we pay a local to take us to see a nesting turtle on the beach. We are not allowed on the beach at night without a local guide. It is quite stressful in the dark with just a red light torch as there are newly hatching turtles everywhere and we are terrified of standing on them as we make your way across the beach.

The adult turtle has almost finished digging it’s nest by the time we arrive and we are able to watch from behind as the eggs pop out.

We are joined by another group of tourists who seem less concerned about standing on turtles and more focused on getting the hatching on video.

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Nearby there is a whole nest hatching.

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Locals are actively encouraged to come out and assist the baby turtles in the morning. Scaring away the vultures is an important job.

We spend at least two hours carrying babies from the water line back into the sea, only to have them washed back up on the beach, floundering around in the sun. We each work in a fifty metre area which seems to be close enough to put off the vultures. However, they still swoop down and make quick work of any that we haven’t  spotted, and in the end, Stella is in tears from the pointlessness of our efforts.

The odds of the turtles surviving their first years is about one in five hundred. I convince the kids that if we are able to get five hundred turtles into the sea, perhaps at least one adult turtle will make it back to Ostional in the future, to lay it’s eggs.

When we walk further down the beach and find an adult turtle dead on the sand, with what looks like a length of nylon wrapped around it’s flipper we are rather discouraged.

All the same, it is very special watching them move their way down the beach and if they do hit the sucking out of the wave, and are not too exhausted from their trip across the sand, their little flippers paddle frantically and they swim out of sight.

The groups of sea birds waiting further out are another story, but we have done our part on land at least.

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Behind the scenes of our conservation work, is the crazy family dynamic that is the five of us sharing a small, fairly dark room.

While we can spend parts of each day out exploring, it is important for us all to have a home base where we can relax; but unfortunately, the concept of relaxing in a room is not one that we have been familiar with for quite some time.

We decide, in our desperation, to grant Jasper’s wish of unlimited computer time. He has a theory that if given more freedom, he will feel more relaxed and in control of his behavior.

Who knows, perhaps reverse psychology will work. We urge him and Louie to get straight on the computer and we head out to the beach. Louie, who really enjoys the turtle interactions, is still keen to spend some time at the beach but Jasper passes an entire day playing mind craft. The next day is fairly much the same. Hmmm.. when do the positive results of this experiment kick in? NEVER is the answer.

It is quiet and relaxing but underlying the peace is a sense of tragedy that if given a choice, the computer wins every time. Not baby turtles.

We go for an explore to a nearby beach  where we have to traverse another three river crossings and a reggae bridge.

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Costa Rica is an interesting mix of progressive and third world meets plastic product, in their environmental practices.

The cool thing about Costa Rica are some really ingenuitive practices around environmental management. In the 1940s, over 75% of the country was covered in indigenous woodland, mostly tropical rainforest.In the following decades, extensive logging ensued as the nation’s valuable forest resources were transformed into cash profits. By 1983, only 26% of the country retained forest cover.

Today forest cover has increased to 52%  and the government has set a goal of further increasing this figure to 70% and achieving carbon neutrality by 2021.

Twenty five percent of the country is National Park land and there appears to be a big focus on the discarding of rubbish responsibly.

So it’s really surprising, the amount of plastic all over the beaches here. There is every kind of plastic imaginable and much of it is washed up as tiny little fragments. Obviously, a lot of it comes from out at sea, but being rainy season, much of it is washing down the rivers.

Locally grown produce here, is much cheaper than imported packaged goods, but still, most of what we see is non biodegradable inorganic waste.

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Back at Ostional that evening, we do some more turtle rescue and spend quite some time picking up rubbish. Here, the locals clean the debris into big piles and remove most of the rubbish as it impeded the progress of the turtles up and down the beach.

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We have a very disturbed sleep on our last night, punctuated by a car driving up and down the road with a siren and loud speaker at about 4am

There has been talk about the turtles being due for another arribadas in the next week or so but we thought that was perhaps what they tell the tourists to make the place seem more exciting.

Whilst the announcement on the loudspeaker is in Spanish, I think I hear the word Arribadas. It’s either that or a tsunami. Soon, there is a knock on the door and we all rush down to the beach as it’s getting light, to see the first turtles coming onto the beach

Ostional is the only place in Costa Rica where the harvesting of turtle eggs is legal. For the first day of the Arribadas, the locals are permitted to dig up the fresh nests and collect the eggs, which in theory, would be damaged by the onslaught of turtles who come in the days following

How wonderful, we think, that the eggs are perhaps relocated to other beaches where they can hatch safely.

It turns out that they are sold to restaurants!

This is the trade off for the locals protection of the beach for the rest of the year. Clearing debris and rubbish, guarding the beach day and night and protecting the newly hatched babies on their journey to the sea.

Down on the beach, there are already many people several hundred metres away, where we can also see several adult turtles on the beach.

Having read about an Arribadas here last year where so many people came to watch that the turtles couldn’t even come up the beach, and the horror story of a couple of people getting their children to pose on top of a turtle, we decide to sit down quietly where we are and wait.

Out in the waves we can see dozens of heads popping up out of the water. There are turtles in the shallows too, looking as if they’re coming in, then disappearing again.

Right next to us, a nest of babies start climbing out of the sand. As there are so many people on the beach, we stay near them while they make their way to the water as they camouflage with the dark sand.  An American family come past and their daughter is so busy filming with her phone that she stands right on top of a baby that I’m sitting next too. She looks distraught as we both wait for it to move. It doesn’t.

Another busybody American comes along and says to Louie and Jasper who having been aiding the turtles for four days now, and have a system for helping them down the beach. “Oh Sweedie, Sweedie, down’t touch the baby turtles honey, you have to let them walk all the way down to the owcean.

We all look at her and say “piss off” in our minds. The sun is already out and the turtles are tired.

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Then we meet this guy, from Taiwan.

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We’re quite intrigued by people with enormous lenses and find that invariably, their photos are terrible because their lense is so heavy that it wobbles around while they’re using it.

He looks terribly professional in his safari suit. We call him and his adult son over to see the babies hatching as there are not many nests to see after the sun is up. He turns out to be a bit of an environmental disaster zone, standing on a couple and then throwing his drink bottle over to his son, only for it to land  on top of a baby and crush it instantly.

We sit in stunned silence. He looks surprised to find the turtle dead.

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When we’ve seen all the surviving babies from the nest, safely into the sea, we walk up the beach where there is a larger concentration of adult turtles already up in the dry sand, digging or covering their nests. There are people everywhere, many carrying sacks back down the beach which we presume is a coordinated rubbish clean up. We watch one turtle for at least fifteen minutes and are so impressed with the amount of care she takes in covering the whole area in dry sand so as to create the illusion of an undesturbed patch of sand.  As she turns and heads back down towards the water, a local moves over to the nest and starts digging it up.

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We are horrified. We hadn’t really put two and two together with the large sacks coming down the beach, but suddenly it clicks; they’re chocka full of eggs, not rubbish. Louie looks like he wants to cry.

There don’t seem to be enough turtles to justify taking all the eggs lain this morning.

 

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We hear a couple of days later, that there were around 98,000 turtles on the beach during the arribadas .

It is still a mixed bag of emotions over our four days in Ostional. Obviously custodial rights over the turtle breeding grounds are beneficial for the locals and the turtles but still, our time in Ostional is a mixed bag, spending so many hours assisting a few tiny little lives.

 

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As we are leaving the beach, we see the Taiwanese safari man wreaking more havoc. If the locals weren’t so busy harvesting eggs, someone would probably stop him but he’s having a national geographic moment so close to the turtle that it’s a wonder she keeps moving up the beach.

 

Eco tourism is a funny concept.

We got a nice review as guests at the airbnb …………“Jude and family are described by local people as real angels, people out of this world, visitors who dedicated their vacation to really care for the locals, to save the baby turtles, and picking up the plastics. For people like Judes is that we operate our lodge . For the marine turtle lovers who care for nature. Also they visited our neightbords San Juanillo fishers beach and Nosara Surfers beach. Thank you we really like the friends like you who understand our work as guardians of the sanctuary with community that we are. ”

Nice.

Costa Rica 1: Montezuma

Arriving in Costa Rica is so easy and relaxed and everyone is so friendly. The airport has everything we need to set ourselves up before we even walk through the exit and the trollies are free! Although we are all really tired from the night in the airport in New York, we have arrived at mid day which gives us lots of time to get organised.

Roger and I generally get a sim card each so that we always have some kind of wifi and communication with each other, although coverage is not always the best.

There is a no commission money changer and several transport and car hire agencies. Within about half and hour, having checked out the price of buses and local vans and concluded that the price is the same as hiring a 4WD  for the month, we have organised a car and are ready to go.

We have noticed a pattern that coincides with our arrival in a new country. Louie goes into ‘New Country Psychosis’ which usually concluded with a full scale physical fight and us leaving him and eating dinner while he locks himself in our room for a bit of time out.

His mood is often brought on by Jasper who bugs him incessantly until he can no longer stand it. The customs line is the perfect place for Jasper to work on Louie’s patience; perhaps that is why, after a long flight and in this case, an overnight delay, Louie usually arrives in a new place in a rage.

We drive from the airport into central San Jose to our hotel, the Don Carlos. It is the perfect place to begin our month in Costa Rica and luckily, they were able to change our booking by a day after the Volcanic ash delay.  It is rustic and homely and we are given a welcome cocktail on arrival which helps to dull the stress of the arrival meltdown.

The best thing about the Don Carlos, is that we can store luggage for $1 per bag. After offloading two lamps, a suitcase full of ceramics and a large duffle bag full of things we don’t need in Costa Rica, we are able to pack the car quickly and easily and travel without any bags on our laps.

We are heading for Montezuma, on the Nicoya Peninsular, which is on the Pacific Coast.

From San Jose, it is easiest to take a car ferry across to the Peninsular from the mainland. Whilst there are enormous heavy clouds in the sky, it is very hot and humid and it is nice to sit on the open shaded deck of the ferry and spot birds and animals. The boys are looking for crocodiles, although we don’t see any. There are however, flocks of brown pelicans everywhere.

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The roads from the ferry landing to Montezuma are very rough and we are pleased to have hired a 4WD even though it seemed a little unnecessary at the time.  Costa Rica is very beautiful and the landscape reminds us of my sister Ruth’s farm, in Northland, with densely forested hills behind lush farmland. Instead of giant puriri dotted around the paddocks, there are other types of tree which are very large and tropical. The cows are similar to the ones we saw in India, called Zebu cattle, with a large fatty hump on their backs and large droopy ears.

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Google maps tries to lead us down a number of very questionable looking roads but we eventually arrive in the small hippy surf town of Montezuma. Our beach front family room is just $70 per night, which for Costa Rica, is very cheap. The room is very basic and doesn’t have mosquito nets but this is exactly the reason we have been carrying around our pop up mosquito nets all this time. Zika Virus and Dengue Fever are fairly common in Costa Rica not to mention a large number of other very intimidating insects.

We have a little table on the shared balcony and we can sit and look out to sea. I find it quite difficult being in close proximity to other people. Living directly above and beside other travellers is difficult when there are five of us but at least our kids sleep in these days and don’t get up and start fighting at 6am. They usually wait until 8am for a fight.

Our first night is rather torturous as it is extremely hot and humid and the local nightclub next door, plays music with a live MC until 3.30am. We are reminded of our four nights in Koh San Road in Bangkok but then, there were four nightclubs in operation simultaneously so it could be worse.

 

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Our first full day is spent watching animals from the balcony whilst doing school work. We start with brown and black striped squirrels who run up and down the trees, jumping from one palm frond to another,  then visiting magpie Jays who are a bit like raptors with their head turning and clicking.

We then have a white headed capuchin monkey visitor who looks very interested in jumping from the palm tree on to our balcony, but luckily stays put. We’re not so keen on close up monkey encounters anymore.

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When the school holidays came while we were in Morocco, we took the opportunity to have a little break; not that anyone deserved one but school work gets difficult when we are moving around a lot, or have bad wifi. We then had our whirlwind tour through Paris, the UK and New York and got nothing done then either.

So now, it is imperative that we get on and at least submit the beginning of term ASTLE tests that are required for maths and english.

It is a pretty amazing place to do school work, especially when we see a fairly rare Agouti running across the garden, followed by a Coati (more like a badger) which looks as if it would also like to join us upstairs.

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There is a pretty amazing beach around the corner although the sea is quite murkey which I suppose is a rainy season thing, but it looks as though it could be harbouring crocodiles. Crocodile attacks are uncommon on the Pacific Coast but there was one was recently as July.  For some reason, I don’t feel particularly keen to swim!

We have all discussed our desire to make our last month of travel, really count, but it seems that we really are on our last legs.

We have survived most of our fourteen years of parenting so far, on bribery and incentives. It seems this is no longer working. Having moved on more recently to threats and punishment has proved pretty ineffective too. It seems that in waiting for Jasper to grow out of what seems to be a twelve year stage of obsessively bugging other people, he has passed into early adolescence with a rush of testosterone that is now playing havoc with his emotions.

I’m bored…..stupid family…..yeah i’m just your stupid kid…………fuck you mum……….. you’re abusive parents…………  do you love me?………….ding………….do you even love me?……….why don’t you just send me to a foster home then…………..I’m already a failure……………stupid dumb bitch cow sister…………….I love you Louie………….I hate you Stella……………I love you mum…………..ding…………..I hate this………………I might just go and hang myself………I hate all these stupid insects……….I miss my lego……………I miss cousin Chris

The moods in the family are very up and down and soon there is a battle over the door of our room, with Jasper locking us all out and laughing maniacally from behind the door. There is perhaps nothing more frightening, other than you’re children being in actual danger, than having lost control as a parent.

A friend of mine recently pointed out that ten months in the family pressure cooker was a personal choice  and one that we get to experience in exotic places with a different view everyday. This is true and I try to feel comforted by the idea that we are still in control of our own destiny in a way that perhaps other people sharing a room for months on end, are not.

It does not lessen the fact however, that as five separate individuals, we are not all behaving in the way that we would if we were amongst  other people more often. When Jasper starts punching me and walking away smirking, we wonder if it’s time to go home. I have been until this point, the last bastion of discipline in the family but I seem to have lost that position too.

We don’t seem to have many resources at our disposal for dealing with unruly kids. When you’re a family that trade in bribes and you’re already doing what you believe is the ultimate for your kids,  i.e. a trip around the world, where do you go from there?

We take them to the beach and let them beat each other with sticks.

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One morning, the guy who works in the garden, brings up a baby squirrel that has fallen from a tree.

We have arrived in Costa Rica at the end of the rainy season. At one stage, we were going to start our trip in Costa Rica and work around the other way, which would have seen us arriving when it was dry. It would however, have landed us in India during the July Monsoon which would have been worse. There have not been many sunny days here yet, although it is very hot.

When the sun does finally come out, we’re down at the beach in a flash. Stella and I swim while surupticiously maintaining a distance from Roger who is out a little bit deeper and therefore, the most likely to be eaten first by a crocodile.

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We have a really lovely Spanish couple in the room next to ours who we get talking to after a couple of days. Sometimes, we get so absorbed with what is going on inside our room that I, particularly, shy away from befriending our younger travelling neighbours as I imagine they have already witnessed all kinds of bizarre noises and altercations.  Of course, when we do get talking, it is such a relief and I think that people genuinely understand the concept of being sick of your family.

Louie and Stella are bonding a lot on this trip, which alienates Jasper even more. It is however, understandable as Jasper has very few moments in the day where he is genuinely himself. One of our travelling games is Monopoly. Of course, any family already experiencing disharmony, should never play Monopoly, but it seems that many of our days start off with an ill fated game which tends to set the tone for the rest of the day.

The fact that we’re supposed to be making up for lost time on school work, is a bit lost amidst the struggle to keep things on an even keel.

Stella, does still do some homework in the rain.

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New York

At Heathrow, we are reminded that we need a visa to enter the USA. We’ve become quite blaze about skipping between countries but you would have thought that acquiring a US Visa would have been a priority, considering their strict visa status. The check in staff are very helpful and advise us on how to fill out the forms online. After half an hour, sitting on the floor frantically completing five separate forms, we are given a visa status pending. It seems possible that we might have mucked up this leg of the trip. However, by the time we reach the counter again, our status has upgraded to approved. Phew! I thought we might be calling on the services of Cousin Chris and his sports car again!

Once through customs, we muck around trying to spend the very last of our coins in the most creative way possible. Jasper suddenly remembers that he has a little purse full of pound coins that Aunty Rachel gave him for his birthday and we spend even more time trying to help him with his decision making in the souvenir shop. In the process, we forget that we’ve been warned that our gate is a fifteen-minute walk away and by the time the last call for boarding comes across the loudspeaker, we are running as fast as we can with our lamps, instruments and hand luggage. I have a coughing fit because I really can’t sustain running any distance with a lingering chest infection. Roger and Jasper go ahead and a series of attendants reprimand us as we get closer to the gate. As we near the gate counter, Roger shouts, “Where is Jasper?”

You are kidding me?! He’s not with you?

Somehow, Jasper has gone ahead and taken a wrong turn.

No one has patience for us by this time and even though I could probably do with a ventilator and some medical assistance, no one pays me any attention. The staff have already implied that they are about to unload our bags from the plane when they put out a call to find the missing child. Roger goes with one of the attendants and they return shortly afterwards with Jasper who looks like he may be permanently affected by the experience.

Luckily the flight is about half full. We sheepishly stumble down the isle with our crazy hand luggage which we then have to store away with everyone watching. The plane takes off and I am finally given a drink of water by the air steward who can obviously see that I’m close to collapse.

The flight from London to New York is quite luxurious compared to some of our recent flights. We even get alcohol, food and movies.

Arriving in New York Customs takes a long time but as we stand in the queue we watch pre election coverage on the TV. It wasn’t the plan to be in the USA for the election but it will be very interesting.

We are shunted back and forwards from line to line by a helpful customs assistant who is obviously trying to speed up our waiting time, as after an eight- hour flight with a five- hour time difference the kids are losing it a bit. We are literally the last people through customs and when the line at the booth next to us, clears, we move into that one.

For some reason, I thought that a USA woman customs officer, would be kind and welcoming. Maybe like Martha Stewart.

For some reason, this woman is not channeling Martha Stewart today, or any day I imagine. She is more like an officer from “Prisoner”.

Angry Customs Officer: Is there a reason why you changed lines three times?

Jude: Sorry, was that a problem? (stupid question).

ACO: Why are you in the United States

Jude: We’re just passing through on our way to Costa Rica.

ACO (now shouting): You are not just passing through; you are here for three nights. So this hotel is your address?

ACO: Your form specifies that you are carrying food, what food do you have?

Roger who starts giggling: “We have can of Baked Beans from England and Sardines from Portugal”.

(At this point, Louie who is fiddling around with the door on her booth sort of falls through into where she is sitting).

ACO: Get behind the line.

HANDS IN THE AIR WHERE I CAN SEE THEM (I just added that bit for dramatic effect but it felt like that was where we were heading).

authors note: Here is a picture of the angry customs woman,  (thanks Facebook). It seems that she may be naturally aggressive. If you see her whilst entering New York Customs, do your self a favour and change lines.

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At that point I decide that I’d like to take a note of her name as in our ten months of travelling we have not once been greeted with such hostility and I thought I might write a letter of complaint.

In the absence of a pen, I get out my phone to take a note.

Angry Customs Officer: “Put that phone away now. There are signs all over this area. PUT IT AWAY NOW”.

At this point Roger is giving me the eye. The family have been doing this a bit since my run ins in Paris and I think he’s worried I might be arrested.

I can see that this woman may have a real issue with our jet set bohemian lifestyle and I keep quiet.

We make it to baggage claim where the trolleys are US$6 each. We need at least two at this point and we are now on a tight budget, so we haul our gear through to the exit.

It does put a bit of a dampener on our arrival but soon we’re in the extremely expensive taxi, travelling in to Manhattan with a crazy driving, warm hearted woman, originally from Ghana, who talks non stop about the Constitution and how we need to stand up for our rights at Customs next time. In that scenario, I can see us being deported.

Our hotel, the Paramount, is just off Times Square but we are so tired by 7pm that we all go to bed.

Tuesday 8th November: The weather is beautiful the next day. There is a positive voting day vibe in the city and after breakfast in a crowed corner café, we head to Central Park.

What a beautiful time to be in New York, in Autumn, with all the trees in yellow, orange and red.

Our destination is of course, the Egyptian Obelisk near the centre of the park.

We make our way through the ramble where we stop to watch the squirrels.

We spend some time by the Obelisk, talking to a long time New Yorker who looks as if, after a long hiatus in the Peruvian Andes, he’s stepped straight out of a beat poetry session, who talks about Central Park as the lungs of New York.

I could just about live here if I could come here everyday.

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We catch the subway to the Empire State Building, which is surprisingly quiet. Voting day is an awesome time to be here.

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I love the way the furtherest building has the illusion of being half submerged

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Roger wants to catch up with his friend Brent in the music shop where he works. It’s like a drop in centre for musos, selling used instruments, amps and pedals and there is a steady stream of people in and out of the door.

It’s a small shop for a mingling family of five and ten or more customers, so we head downstairs to Brent’s studio where he produces for other bands but also recorded the last couple of Bailterspace albums.

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Our last date for the day is in China Town where we are meeting our old friend Mei-Ling, and Zara, who I have not met, but Roger has worked with many times in the film industry.

Mei- Ling has been here for ages now and is happily ensconced in creative advertising and documentary making.

The kids are really tired, after having walked around all day and the time difference is hitting by the time we sit down for dinner.

As always, we are desperate for company and it’s so nice to hang out with some other likeminded adults, even if two out of three kids have their heads on the table.

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We say goodbye to Zara and head to the Subway with Mei-Ling. She gets off along the way and we come out at Times Square where the atmosphere is very strange.

Projected on to the giant screens around the square, is election coverage. And Trump appears to have a significant number more electoral votes than Hilary.

People are standing on every street corner, staring open mouthed at the commentary. ABC news is broadcasting from a podium in the middle of the square and there are armed police everywhere.

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It feels dangerous and unpredictable, like a disaster movie when the President comes on and announces that this is the end of the Civilised World. “Go home to your loved ones and God Bless America”. Shortly before everything turns to Chaos and people start looting shops and shooting each other.

It doesn’t help having the Church of Scientology right next door to the Hotel.

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An outcome is predicted at about 1am and back in our tiny cramped hotel room, with Jasper asleep on cushions on the floor and Stella and Louie asleep in their shared bed, we fall asleep with the disastrous commentary on the TV. When I wake at 1.30am, the results are inconclusive for three states and I give up and go to sleep. The results seem fairly inevitable and it will be a strange day in America when we wake tomorrow.

It is a dark, grey day and there seems to have been a shift in our perception of the city. Trump has won and everyone looks depressed. Just as well we’re not in Kansas, although the mood would be a bit brighter!

Several people have recommended that we walk ‘The Highline’, the 2.3km disused West Side Line of the New York Central Railroad.

The railway has been turned into a kind of art trail and wildflower garden and although it maintains a grungy urban feel, it is a strangely beautiful place for a walk.

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We head to the One World Trade Centre. Having visited the Empire State Building the day before, whose aesthetic I much prefer, we have spent our budget for climbing tall buildings and we spend our time walking around the memorial site which is comprised of two enormous square water features which occupy the same footprint as the original towers. The water pours from all four sides into a cavernous hole in the middle. The names of every victim of the attacks, is written around the outside and there are white Roses on the names of the people whose birthday it is that day.

Having never been to New York before, the experience of being at the memorial is quite overwhelming, probably amplified by the sense of the world being on a bit of a precipice. That the reaction to 911 brought about so much fear and anti Muslim sentiment that essentially led to this crazy election.

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We walk down Wall Street and down to the Ferry Building where we catch the free ferry to Staten Island where we can see the Statue of Liberty on the way. There have been so many Facebook memes of the statue already today that it is strange to pass by and see her out the window.

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On the way home, we pass through Union Square Subway station where there is an ‘express your self’ post it note wall, of anti Trump statements. There are already hundreds of notes stuck to the wall.

Coming out at Times Square at the end of the day, we get caught up in the first Anti Trump protests. It feels defiant and positive but that’s because we’re in a democratic stronghold and it’s hard to ignore the fact that at least half the country is happy with the election outcome.

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Our flight to Costa Rica the next day, is at 4pm so we have plenty of time to get out to the airport. We really have too much stuff to travel on the subway now and we are forced into the next cheapest option of a $115US trip in a shuttle, to the airport.

It seems that half of New York are flying out today. Perhaps everybody really is evacuating. Apparently it’s twice as busy as normal.

It seems that nothing is particularly easy or cheap in this town and the check in process is confusing and difficult. It seems however, that every time we enter our passports, some kind of alert comes up on the screen and we are directed to special assistance. We make a friend at the counter who thinks our whole trip is just crazy. We give her one of our 1000 business cards and she flips through the blog while her partner checks us in.

“Y’all are crazy!

Jude: “Why thank you”

After the disastrous check in of our last flight, we get to the gate about two hours early just to be safe.

About an hour before boarding, an announcement comes across the loudspeaker that the flight has been cancelled because of an ash cloud from one of Costa Rica’s active volcanoes.

Being stranded in New York might sound cool, but not when money is running out and you’ve just spent $120US on an airport shuttle, then battled through enormous customs lines, you want to stay put.

I have a mental picture of us living at the airport for the next week, eating people’s leftovers and washing in the toilets.

We get a bit more information and it seems that whilst the plane can’t land, in the dark with ash in the sky, it can leave the next morning.

We purchase some Wi-Fi so at least we can complain on social media about our airport stranding and I can write my blog.

This is what travel insurance is for surely?

We ring the insurance company to ask what we are entitled to in the case of a cancellation. It seems that we are able to claim up to $150 on food. It’s like a pizza party.

We make friends with some lovely women who all live in Costa Rica; by chance, all three are called Miriam and that’s not even a Costa Rican name!

We find a spot where we can all spread out and we settle down for the night. Of course it’s a terrible sleep but the kids think it’s exciting.

The plane leaves the next morning at 7.30am, although there is a tense moment when it seems as if we may have filled up too many overhead storage lockers with our things and more and more people are pouring onto the plane with bags. It seems that it is standard practice for United Airlines to oversell tickets so that there are always more people than seats. Bags are squashed all over the place and we take off. It is a bumpy five-hour flight and we’re happy to finally arrive in San Jose.

Flying around the world …