Bahía Drake

15. – 19. November
I had made my way south to the Osa peninsula. I was going to Bahía Drake, or Drake bay, where I would do my main Costa Rica activities. I would spend three days doing the PADI Open Water Scuba Diving certificate, and then I would hike into Corcovado national park, a park renowned for it’s thriving, biodiverse wildlife. I had big hopes for otherworldly experiences under the ocean surface (no sharks included), and my fingers had been crossed for a long time to see a puma in the jungle. I therefore uncomplainingly spent a day riding busses, and waking up at 4:00 the following morning to go to Sierpe where boats go to Bahía Drake only twice a day. The remote beach location is mainly for tourists who wish to explore the national park. The boat there took an hour, first winding through a river where crocodiles lazed on the river bank, then out on the open sea where salt water splashed into the boat. In the bay we had to wade the final two metres from the boat to the shore. Our captain jumped into the sea and held the boat steady against the waves, letting us know when we could climb down the small ladder from the boat. You become extremely aware of what fragile an art balance is when you are wading knee deep in water with a all your possessions strapped to your back. Thankfully I made it to (relatively) dry land without submerging anything but my flip-flops. When I found the hostel I was the only one there.

My first day was a quiet day, one for moving slowly and collecting energy. I went to the beach with my camera to look around. I went to the dive centre to ask about my course tomorrow. I handed my clothes in to get laundered. I spent way too much money on a tuna meal, caught fresh that very day, which I ate in stillness while reading Jonathan Safran Foer. There were some other tourists on the island, but in my hostel it was only me. I had a big room for six all to myself. It felt nice, to spread out. To know I’d be here for a few days, to not have to pack up again the next day. I sat in my bed and wrote and watched youtube and gave myself a total time-out.

When I woke the next morning it was raining hard. I had intended a walk to a beach before my diving course began, but immediately put it out of my mind. There was no way I was going out in that rain. The rain kept raining down, it rained for days. It rained energetically,  vigorously  and continuously for days. It rained so much the diving course was cancelled. It rained so much my shorts got soaked by running 30 metres to the grocery store (I only had a rain coat). It rained so much that on my third morning we woke up to a power shortage. A tree had fallen over the power lines. Even then the rain kept coming, so much water that the river took the truck down when they tried bringing it over on the roads to fix the electricity. The boats didn’t go between Sierpe and Drake for two full days, there were too many waves. It rained so hard that tourists who had gone for a day trip to Corcovado, only equipped with a small bottle of water, a packed lunch, wearing only shorts, a t-shirt and perhaps a raincoat got trapped at the ranger station for days, and had to eat only bananas found in the trees around them.

The hostel had filled up a little bit. I was still alone in my room, but in addition to myself was now four other girls and a Costa Rican guy: Elias, who was meant to be my guide for the Corcovado tour. The first dark night we lit candles and drank wine and we all became friends. We weren’t sure what to do, we knew that we could not leave. I was waiting for my tour to Corcovado, one of the girls, Teresa from Portugal, was living in San José and was just here for the weekend, and the other girls (Celine from Belgium, Pia from Germany and Zarah from México) wanted to snorkel or hike. We all waited for the rain to cease, but even when the rain stopped it just came back again right away. I went to run one day, when it had been dry for almost an hour. The rain returned in full force only 2 kilometres away from the hostel, and by then I might as well just accept I’d be wet through and through. Mostly we sat staring at the tops of the trees at the balcony, listening to the drumming of the rain that was beginning to sound like white noise.

The electricity came back the day my Corcovado tour was supposed to have begun, but we had heard the day before that the station was closed. The other girls declared that they were leaving on the first boat, and after some debate I decided I would go with them. I had fallen out with Elias, and I knew that I would not enjoy a minute of the tour with only him and me. He was too Costa Rican, I was too Scandinavian – maybe it was that. But he had this way of saying things, of looking at me, of always being close that left me uncomfortable and frustrated. He threw around him words like corazón and cariña; he had said Costa Ricans were affectionate, and I had said Scandinavians are not. Whatever his intentions, they completely clashed with mine. Another of the guides and I spent a few hours talking at the bar the night before, and when we returned to the hostel him and Elias looked at each other with competition in their eyes. They were silently hostile, they ignored each other, and they pulled me to the side and told me contradiction things. Maybe they spoke the truth as they saw it, maybe they both straight out lied. But neither seemed to get that I was totally uninterested in them both. It was a strange situation and I still feel incredulous today that this really happened. When the other girls declared their departure I gave up all intentions of getting any adventure out of the peninsula, and decided that I did not wish to stay here – alone – with any of these two men. We packed our backpacks and went as a group down to the beach to wait for the boats. Slowly other tourists trickled down to the beach too, and I wondered if any tourists at all were staying on the island. As the boat took us out of sight of the small bay around a small islet I overheard two Germans behind me talk about a second storm heading straight for the bay.

A moral afterthought
This part of my trip was a week where I had massive plans. I had prepared for days to do my diving certificate, already I had paid and completed my theoretical course online. I had left my Canadian friends up in the north to do this, and I had sacrificed volcano hikes in favour of Corcovado. In the end this turned out to cost me a lot of time and money for very little adventure. In fact, the last few days were perhaps some of the strangest I’ve had, with these men competing for my attention when I didn’t want to be attentive to either of them. So this experience became, more than anything, a lesson; that life will never go exactly as planned, even when you’re taking a break from your life, which is often the intention of travelling; that a positive attitude is an extremely valuable thing to nurture, with the time and money spent on these days if is easy to become frustrated and pessimistic, so it’s important to look for the unexpected blessings like the new friends gained. I spent the rest of my stay in Costa Rica with these girls, and in two weeks Celine is coming from Belgium to spend a weekend at my family’s cabin in the mountains. That is something to be grateful for.




12. November
Tommy and I arrived to Montezuma just as dark fell the day before. It was a long day of travelling, as we missed our first ferry by a few minutes. We encountered a group of Americans studying abroad in Costa Rica, and they were in the same hotel as us. It poured down as the bus slowly made its way through pot holes, heavy tropical rain.

On the morning the 12th we bought some bread and eggs from the supermarket and ate breakfast at the hotel. While we were eating a white faced monkey suddenly appeared in the trees, and it was the first of these iconic monkeys I saw in Costa Rica. Birds also arrived soon, boldly making moves for my bread crumbs. After we’d fed ourselves we went to hike up a river to some waterfalls you can jump off from. The first waterfall was pretty high, and Tommy knew from his sister that this was the kind of waterfall the locals only jumped off. We looked around, and it didn’t seem like many people were heading up to the second waterfalls. We didn’t even really see any trails. But I did see two guys follow the trail we had been on earlier, it wasn’t a proper trail really, but we decided to follow them. I came upon them a little later; they were from San Jose, and for a while I actually did pretty well communicating in Spanish. They came up to the swimming holes with us, and Elias, the one of the two who spoke English too, jumped off it first. Then Tommy went a couple of times while I got pictures, then it was my turn.


Standing on the edge I felt a lot more anxious and hesitant than when I bungee jumped. For some reason I trusted the man-made elastic from the bungee a lot more than I trusted myself to jump into a pool and survive the impact of the fall. I felt myself shake, and I knew I had to jump before I had time to think it over too much. I don’t remember it, it’s like the moment was too fast to grasp, but I remember flailing my legs and trying my best to pull them together so I would hit the water with my legs together. As I hit the water I had my knees bent a little, so I felt the impact on my bum too, and it hurt. The water was so muddy I couldn’t see through it, and I always panic for a moment when I don’t know how deep I am. That I won’t make it up before I need to breath, and I can only hold my breath for half a minute. But then I broke the surface and I gasped, and I shook, and my bum really, really hurt. I felt weak as I swam to shore and the pain felt like it wouldn’t ever diminish, but it passed almost as soon as I climbed out of the water.

A group of people came with a local guide. A beautiful man who did not look Costa Rican at all, but who were from here and apparently jumped the tall waterfall all the time. Tommy decided he would do it too. So they jumped the shorter one, swam to where the tall started and then climbed to the left of it out of my sight. I was talking with Elias and Bryan, and I kept saying ‘if he dies it will ruin my vacation’. And for a moment I thought about that; I don’t even know him at all really, but if he died I would be the closest to a friend or family he would, and that felt incredibly strange. How would that have affected me beyond just the hardship of someone you know dying? Would I need to talk with the police? It is also one of those things about travelling that will never cease to amaze me, that trust or even dependence you put in a person that you hardly know. I went over to a few people who had seen them jump, and they told me both of them were okay, but that Tommy had looked a bit askew and he was probably hurt. When he returned he was a little shaken and said he had chipped his tooth and almost hit the rocks. He almost had injured himself severely jumping off it. I felt a little mad at his irresponsibility, if he had hurt himself he wouldn’t just have done it to himself but also to me.

The Americans came up in a bit, and they had all seen him jump. They also all thought he was crazy. We stayed for a while while the guys jumped a couple of times. The whole day I was the only girl to jump. After a while we went up these stairs a short hike to where an abandoned canopy park lay, and we climbed a platform for a nice view. Then we hiked down, and found that there were some stairs that were so much easier than the route we had taken.


13. November
We had to check out from the hotel, and I went to a hostel across the street where I probably could have stayed the whole time. There were a few different hostels in Montezuma, but only one of them were online. I left my bag there and went to see what Tommy was doing, since he was checking out the hotel where Marko and Olivier had booked in. They were arriving later in the day. He got a room there, fully equipped with kitchen and two rooms. After that we just sat at the beach for a time, and I went for a few swims. The waves were strong, and as I swam back to shore I understood fully for the first time in my life how strong the riptide can be. I had to make an effort to get back in to shore. It wasn’t scary, it wasn’t that strong, but I felt it. We went for a smoothie, and then for a walk on the beach. The light grew low as we walked, and shone onto the beach in a haze.


Marko and Olivier arrived at 5 – 6 ish, and we had pizza again. Then we went to Tommy’s palace and drank for the rest of the evening. It was our final night together, for me, at least. They would continue up north together, while I was heading South to do my Scuba Diving and Corcovado tour. It felt bittersweet, these guys have been such great company for the past ten days. Yet a part of me is also looking forward, a little, to being totally independent again. To focus on my diving course during the day, and read or write or simply sleep in the evenings. I left them at 11, when the rum was gone and the city was dead and the beach was totally empty. It was supposed to be the biggest and brightest moon in 68 years that night, but we saw it far off as just another regular full moon. At the floor in the hostel I almost stepped on a cockroach that had turned on it’s back and was struggling to get up. I left it there, not wanting to touch it.

Puerto Viejo

8. November
We had a really early start to the day, since we were being picked up at 6:30 for the drive to the Pacuare river. On the way we drove past one of the volcanoes, and the view was surprisingly good from the road. The light was kind of harsh, so it was just silhouetted against the sky, and from the top a stream of clouds rose from it and blew to the west. I also slept, it was early.

We got breakfast at the place, so I ate a lot of fruit. Then they drove us up for 30 minutes to where we got on the boat, and the guide, Jefferson, was telling us about positions, what to do if we fell out and other significant information. It made it seem kind of dangerous and I was imagining myself rushing down the river after falling out of the raft, my head hitting a rock and that would the end of my pura vida. We were divided into teams, and our team was me and four Canadians and our playful guide Yepe aka Jefferson.

We got onto the boat and after a moment we were white water rafting. The river was brown and blue at the same time. It looked like a muddy version of the glacier rivers in Jotunheimen, and along the bank the rainforest towered. We were accompanied the whole way by the humming of grasshoppers and other insects. At one point we floated through a canyon, and the steep walls on both sides added a cool and quiet atmosphere. It still was that Costa Rican green, despite the rock walls.

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Photograph by Exploradores Outdoor

In the beginning it was very easy. We just practiced our paddling, following the commands of our guide. It was fun; we would twirl around, get splashed from big surfs, the boat would bounce up and down, and we splashed the other boats with our paddles and had a sort of war fare going on. It was not as fast and wild as I had imagined it would be, but it was still a great time. Twice we were able to jump off the boat and float in the river. Despite not being a massive fan of swimming and bathing, I always end up having these amazing, tranquil and content moments when I am floating in temperate water. We stopped at a point for lunch, and they cut up large amounts of pineapple.

Towards the very end of the rafting one of the guides on another boat grabbed my life vest and pulled me into the river. Melissa, my rescue partner, came to pull me up, and as she grabbed my vest, the guide that had pulled me into the water grabbed her too. She got helped up by her boyfriend, and our guide grabbed me, twisted me around so I was sitting neatly on the boat. Then he pushed me back in again.


Photographs from Exploradores Outdoor

It lasted 4 hours, but it still felt like a let down when we ended. Like it had gone too fast, but also since I had not felt that rush of adrenaline that I had expected to feel. It was, nonetheless, an amazing experience and I felt totally fine spending $100 on it. We all changed, and then we got on the bus to Puerto Viejo, which, I just realised, is almost at the border of Panama. Our boat crew were all going to the same hostel, Rocking J’s, a place where you can stay in hammocks for $7 a night and do mosaics that they put up in the hostel.  Our Quebecan friends, Olivier and Marko, had travelled all the way from Arenal to Puerto Viejo, and were here when we arrived. We booked in, I bought some tomato sauce and ate cous-cous with tomato sauce for dinner.

Olivier came over from the hostel they had booked, and we sat by the bar. On the TV in the bar the results from the election in the US was being counted up, and terrifyingly Trump seemed to be winning. To relieve the stress, a rastafari band came and played live music for us. We had a few drinks, chatted, listened to music, and Tommy even did a solo karaoke which we all enjoyed in a way despite his voice not exactly matching that of Queen’s vocalist.

9. November
We rented bikes, and we went into town to get some money and breakfast. I bought yoghurt and fruits, and made myself a little fruit cocktail and ate some of my crips breads with avocado. Olivier and Marko came with their own bikes, and we went to find Anna who is staying down the beach somewhere. It was a nice little ride, maybe 5km, and the soft breeze felt nice. We found her, and went to the Jaguar Rescue Centre where we had a tour. It was quite interesting to hear about how they slowly introduced animals back into the wild. We saw baby sloths, a baby monkey, owls, hawks, ant eaters etc.


Then we went back to the beach a little bit south of the hostel. It was a much nicer bit of the beach that what is in front of the hostel, the hostel has a reef, but that beach was clean sand and clear water. A small island was there too, adding something extra to the horizon. We stayed there for a bit, went for a quick swim. The water was so salt! Then went back into Puerto Viejo for lunch. I had a passion fruit smoothie and it was amazing. We returned to the hostel and I showered, but after I still smelled like sun screen. I feel like all of my things are wet and full of sand.

They made a party at the beach that night. The rastafari crew brought their drums out, made a fire, got the BBQ going. We bought vodka and coke from the local shop and drank together, then we joined the people on the beach. Marko and another guy from Canada was playing the drums, and they were jamming along like it was the easiest thing. I tried too, but they took it away from me. It was such a great night; the haze of booze, the smell of food cooking on the fire, the constant beating of drums. All these new people. It was so easy, and fun, and the energy was relaxed in a way that it never, ever is at parties in Europe.

10. November
I was moving on to San José again later in the day, so in the morning I checked my stuff out, rented a bike, intending to go to the national park of Cahuita. I cycled, and cycled, and cycled, and after like 50 minutes and a considerably sweaty back, I checked the GPS on my phone and had to admit defeat. It was too far. I could have made it, but adding together the time to go there and back on the bike I’d only have like an hour in the park. So I went back to Puerto Viejo and found where they guys were surfing on the beach. Joppe, another friend from our Cerro Chato tour in Arenal, arrived to show the boys how to surf. The Canadians went for lunch, but I stayed on the beach with Joppe. He surfed, I napped. By the time I had to leave to cook my lunch before the bus I was completely covered in sand. I am beginning to thing that my skin has a sticky quality to it that is particularly perceptible for fine sand.


Tommy joined me on my bus back to San José, and we both fell asleep. Almost at the city I went into my bag to get my book out, and realised I had left it in Puerto Viejo with my journal, postcards, and the CDs with photos from white water rafting and the bungee jump video. At the hostel I immediately texted Olivier and Marko, and Marko declared himself the hero of the day and fetched it. The plan is now to go to Montezuma tomorrow and in two days go south to wherever Marko and Olivier will be, and get my stuff back and also be able to reach Drake Bay on the 14th.

Arriving in Costa Rica and Arenal

3. November
As I stepped off the plane in Panama City and into the hallway-chute I felt the humidity so strongly. My immediate thought was: what have I done to myself? I found the gate to Liberia, CR, and read until I boarded. The Cubs won the baseball game, so I can wear my hat with pride. I slept/read my way to Liberia. There I picked up my massive backpack, walked around for five minutes before I found the bus to Liberia, paid $1 and  in 30 minutes I was there.

Liberia was undoubtedly a stop over town. There was nothing to see. I walked around, but there were no cool buildings, no statues, it didn’t even seem like a city to me. It was just blocks, squared blocks, with sodas and fruit vendures etc. I felt the eyes of the men on me, staring, just like they do in presumably all of Central America. I felt exposed, regretting the shorts despite the heat. I missed people, I missed everyone that I know and trust. I missed Clara, who had been through this with me in the Dominican Republic. I missed a companion and the comfort of numbers.

After learning about a bus to a beach I went there. I arrived just in time for sunset. I went for a swim and the ocean was a warm embrace. I drank the biggest margarita and wrote in my journal. I waited for the final bus for almost an hour, feeling once more my solitude as a burden and not a blessing. It always goes in waves like this. But then Adrien from Cananda that I had met in the hostel came along, he had also come to the beach, and now he was going back. I instantly felt more relaxed. It is a beautiful thing to feel how the closeness of a stranger can make such an impression of your state of mind. Just to know that we were in the same boat made us instantly friends, and my stomach unclenched. It also helped a lot when the bus came.

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4 . November
I briefly entertained the idea of Nicaragua: there was a volcano that was active, you could see lava, and another that you could volcano-board off. But I decided that I was in Costa Rica to see Costa Rica, and got on the bus to Arenal. There I met Tommy, another Canadian, and my company for the next seven weeks. He leaned over to ask if I knew where I was going. I said I hoped so, and then we figured it out together. We navigated from bus to bus: Liberia to Cañas to Tiláran and made the one and only bus to La Fortuna at 12:30. The road there was gorgeous, all green rain forests and a beautiful view of the lake. The sky was semi-cloudy, and in the distance we could see most of the Arenal Volcano towering, it’s summit crowned in clouds. This was the only view we got of the volcano, and if I had known then I would have taken pictures, but I was convinced we would get some great views.

In La Fortuna Tommy booked into the same hostel as me, and we grabbed some food at a Soda. I ate my first Casado, a typical Costa Rican dish consisting of rice, fried beans, salad, fried plantains. It wasn’t spectacular, but it was cheap and filled me up. We also booked a trip to hike Cerro Chato, a smaller, dormant volcano with a lake at it’s crater that we could swim in and a nice view of Arenal Volcano, the next day. We also went to these natural hot springs that the hostel offered free transportation to. It was more a river than spring, but it was so nice to just lay there and soak in the hot water for a while.

5 . November
The hostel practically boiled during the night. We only had two fans in the room where 12 people slept, and I was sweating so bad. I eventually fell asleep, and when I got up to have breakfast at 8AM I was the only one eating breakfast –everyone else had already left.

We got picked up for our hike at 10:30, and drove to the trailhead. There we signed a waiver etc. and Tommy made 5 new friends in the space of a smoke. Our group actually turned out to be really cool, and we made a lot of new travel friends. The hike was also really cool. It was cloudy still, so the rainforest was shrouded in fog, and now and then a rainfall would catch us. The trail was quite steep, and the dirt turned to mud from the water. We often had to climb using both hands and knees, and the underside of my backpack was entirely covered in mud. The rainforest was lush, green, and humming with life.


At the summit we saw nothing. No Arenal Volcano, no crater at the bottom of Cerro Chato. We hiked down to the crater, and the trail was almost vertical at times. Ergo, more mud. I had my legs thoroughly smeared in mud by the end of the trail. We reached the crater and it was so foggy we didn’t see the other side (apparently you should be able to swim across). Although we didn’t see the green water, the massive volcano, it was beautiful in it’s own way. All hues of grey, and we did still swim. It was a little cold, but how many times can you swim in a volcano crater


Then we hiked through some hanging bridges, to a waterfall, and did a small trip to a frog pond to see some frogs. It was dark by then and we were going by flashlights. We saw the red eyed frog. Suddenly this guy from England shouted and jumped, and on the snake in front of him was a small snake. It had fallen from a tree onto him. This made me very jumpy, so I was quite happy to get out of there. The bus took us the hot spring we had been at yesterday, but they also provided us with a mixed drink and some mud for a facial mask. It was really nice to end the day off like that, we all felt really relaxed afterwards.

A lot of us went together for food, and two of the guys, Olivier and Marko from Quebec, as well as four girls from Germany, were going to be on the same boat as Tommy and I heading to Monteverde tomorrow. Back in the hostel we got the AC going, thankfully, so it was almost cold to sleep. I’m getting to realise how much of this trip is ruled by too hot or too cold sleeps.


This is the view we were supposed to have.