Ballena -> Palmar Norte -> Sierpe -> Palmar Norte
We drug ourselves away from Ballena National park and headed to Pamar Norte, and on to Sierpe to visit the mangrove swamps at the mouth of the Terraba river.
We weren’t exactly sure why.
Most of the natural areas we visited in Costa Rica were incredibly diverse and you never knew what you might see. I had seen mangrove swamps all over the world, and had always found them to be rather mundane, monochrome places. Perhaps it is partly because it is impossible to walk through a mangrove forest.
In any case, when we started talking to one of the locals about hiring a boat and guide to tour the mangroves, he insisted that “the manglares are very big” and that it would take quite some time to visit them. We explained that we didn’t want to see every tree, just a representative area and compromised agreeing to a four to five hour tour.
It still sounded like way too long to be sitting in the blazing sun, in a boat, watching scenes pass by that could each have been printed from the same rubber stamp… two herons, turtle, crocodile, bamboo, and a million mangroves.
We were right, it was too long. We spent literally hundreds of hours wandering other ecological zones and still weren’t ready to leave, but the mangroves are much more interesting when compressed into a half hour National Geographic special. It was the only time we were disappointed in Costa Rica.
The only way out of Sierpe was back the way we came to Palmar Norte, where we would turn south to head to San Vito. From the trip down we knew the road to Palmar was the worst kind of round rock nightmare and decided to catch the once daily bus at 5:00 am, and give ourselves a 15 km head-start on what we knew would be a long ride.
Although you can travel almost as fast by bike (sometimes faster) as by any other vehicle on a round rock road, the bus could leave before sunrise and get us to Palmar a half-hour earlier. In the tropical sun, sometimes a half hour head start can make a huge difference.
We could cover 20 or more kilometers in a cool early morning half-hour, but might only make 8-10 in the early afternoon heat. Every hour earlier we got started saved us two hours under the scorching tropical sun later in the day, and the sunburns we had gotten floating around the mangroves were screaming at us to make an early start.
It was a good plan, but the old bluebird school bus thought 5:00 was a little to early to go to work and wouldn’t start. We got ready to take off on our bicycles, but the driver insisted he could find a jump-start within a few minutes. By 5:30 we realized that in a town with 15 buildings and a dozen vehicles, it wasn’t going to be any time soon before someone happened by with jumper cables and enough juice to jump a bus.
The sun was up and getting higher by the minute, but by this time I think the driver would have taken it personally if we had given up on him and started off on our bikes. We decided to try a push start and half a dozen manly men lined up behind the bus.
Heave as we might we couldn’t get the bus moving on the rocky street. People started wandering off…apparently the plan was to get the bus repaired and try again the next day…or the day after… We didn’t want to be stuck in Sierpe (ever been there you’d know why) so Sue recruited the other wives and women to help push (over the protests of the macho men). We got it rolling, the driver popped the clutch, and the bus roared to life as all the pushers choked in a huge cloud of black diesel smoke.
We all piled back on board and were in Palmar a bone jarring hour later.