24th July -
I have to say this was a day I was not looking forward to. This was travel day and we had to leave our, erm, watery paradise of La Fortuna in the North West of Costa Rica and travel to Ostional in the South. And when I say “travel” I mean a long, arduous and hectic slog through the heart of the country in order to reach our community group project. This would entail five buses and a hell of a lot of dashing around, but, like a good Hollywood movie, this one has a happy ending.
The day started with yet another display of La Fortuna’s ability to lash more rain down on us than is usually seen at Wimbledon Centre Court. The 04:30 rise to ensure the troops were plied with enough porridge to brave the day ahead was doing little to brighten my mood as it was, so the prospect of packing away my tent and kit in order to be ready for the 07:30 march to the Bus Station made me blacken like the skies above me; I also couldn’t find the coffee. Grr..
Anyway, like a well drilled marine corps we ate, packed and strode off with purpose to get our first bus to Tillaran at 08:30. The rain had, by this time, somewhat abated. Thank Goodness. The group loaded up with supplies from the “Supermarcado” and loaded up the kit on board. I have to say that the buses so far had been comfortable and spacious and certainly preferable to the Megabus journey we had endured from Teesside to London - which now seems a lifetime ago.
This area of Costa Rica is beautiful it has to be said: the cloud spewing forth from the top of the mountain like a witch’s cauldron, the lush green vegetation and the expanse of lakes (which do look a little like a Scottish Loch, I have to say!). It does have six months of rain though and we had arrived in the middle of this season, so the prospect of the warmer southern climes was a vision to cling to throughout the day.
The first journey to Tilaran was fairly uneventful and the two hours were passed in relative quiet by the Billingham gang as they dozed, read or laughed at the photos they had took over the last few days. A half hours wait in Tilaran which was akin to the Easington Services on the A19, except with more stray dogs, and we were on the way to Canas. Here we leaped off the bus and lumped our bags more or less straight onto the connecting chariot to Liberia. It was at this point that the need to lift the backpacks over the automatic people counter whilst loading up saw me turn into an Olympic weightlifter as I heaved and lifted bags to a cheery Cliff, whilst he laughed at my discomfort. I knew I shouldn’t have come here with a makem...
The next stop was Liberia. Now this was an experience. As soon as we arrived the atmosphere was less Caribbean and more wild west. It’s difficult to say what it was, but you felt the need to be on your guard here. Thankfully little of note occurred except the driver of this bus deciding our bags now cost $1 per item extra for the privilege of using his boot. A bit of a scam, but we had little choice and coughed up. We loaded up again and packed onto a fairly “full” bus and I have to say it was a relief to get the hell out of Dodge and onward to Santa Cruz.
The President was visiting Santa Cruz when we disembarked after another hour and half of humid travelling, which was nice of her, but I didn’t feel we needed such a grand welcome despite the long journey... Here we met Emilio our contact for the Project Phase and he and his compatriot Gilbert (pronounced “Heelbair”) loaded up the dreaded bags onto vans before pointing us towards our final bus. And here is where it got interesting...
This was the final bus out of Santa Cruz and to Ostional and they pack them in tight here. So in scenes reminiscent of an old fashioned football terrace we set off on an American School Bus style wagon and started the final leg. Now despite the slight worsening of the quality of the vehicles, the roads remained fairly similar – before we hit the dirt track that would take us home. By this time it was about 17:30 and the dark hits quickly here. The bus rattled, groaned and shook along the never ending track in the dark and it felt like we were aboard an army aircraft carrier about to drop troops into ‘Nam. Speaking to the person next to you was almost impossible such was the vibrations from the windows and suspension system. We passed through Marbella (no carbs before marbs!) and continued deep into the south.
Finally to our right we saw the glistening of the moon on the Pacific Ocean and we knew we were close to home. With a final push through the dark we pulled up outside our project with Emilio grinning and ready to welcome us. We are housed in a picturesque hostel right on the Ocean – finally a bed! We met another World Challenge team from Sunderland (booooo!!) and ate a welcome tea of pasta and rice. A tired team had one final surprise – a late walk along the beach with experts to see a turtle lay its eggs! This was possibly one of the most amazing sights I have ever seen – and one I’d need another 1,000 words to describe, which I probably don’t have here!
We have had an amazing day, but a very long one. I can’t wait for the project to start.
Mr A. Taggart.