Saturday, 12 September 2015

What bad roads?

Arriving at Rancho Burica
The Costa Rican Border was fairly quiet. The queues were low but the humidity was high. Staying still for longer than a few seconds, without the breeze working through my jacket was uncomfortable. I’m used to this now but with each border, rather than getting easier, I find it more and more difficult not to show my frustration with ridiculous processes. Go to window 1 - show your paperwork -  get your stamp - get sent to window 2 - get sent away as you dont have photocopy of stamp from window one! Cross busy road - find place with photocopier (despite the fact there is a perfectly good photocopier right next to the official in window 2) - go back to window 2. Now there is a big queue. Mutter under breath - wait in line and feel the drips of sweat building up and trickling down your back, neck and forehead. Get to front of queue only to be told you need insurance paperwork. Why did they not tell me this the first time around? Find insurance office - pay money - go back - wait in line - get stamp… goes on for about 2 hours before someone comes out and checks your bike. If you’re lucky, they just check the reg and vin. If you’re not, they take your bags apart. Patience is wearing thin. These days I feel like making suggestions on a smarter system. I don’t. I mutter occasionally, then catch myself and remember that my life could be a lot more difficult if they feel my intolerance! All I’m saying is that sometimes it’s hard to smile at red taped incompetence! There is probably a wise Dalai Lama quote for just this instance, but a fan and an ice tea would work far better. Common sense would be another option!

It’s like they WANT to make it as long-winded as possible. 

Anyway another border done and dusted, and so I find myself in Costa Rica. I have no phone this time as my attempts to buy a sim card failed. Actually I did buy one but it doesn’t work.  It WAS fun trying to make myself understood to the 5 guys in the shop though, who seemed to enjoy it too. 'Give us a clue' Costa Rican style! Their willingness and sense of humour was a tonic, and that time I ignored the tidal wave of sweat that had reached my waist band, which was now acting like a damn! 

Where the jungle meets the sea
My destination was just an hour away, and soon I left the tarmac and headed through the jungle towards the coast. I was told the roads were bad. The moto of the place I was headed for was “Where the bad roads end and the good life begins”. To me, the bad roads were good trails. Nothing too tricky, just fun dirt with wooden bridges every now and again. I passed the odd local biker or 4x4’s who pulled over and let me pass as I came up behind them. It seemed a friendly kind of place and non too busy. I liked it already.

I was heading for Rancho Burica. I had found them whilst searching for something useful to do on my way through Costa Rica. This place seemed just the spot. A little hideaway, literally at the end of the road, nestled between the beautiful beaches of the Pacific coast and the lush green rainforest. Rancho Burica is practically ON the beach and yet sits under the canopies on the edge of the jungle. Step out of the trees and straight on to the sand. Both areas are teaming with wildlife. The trees are full of monkeys, sloths, birds and butterflies and the area is home to tapiers, deer and many types of snakes. There are also many creepy crawlies, scorpions, rats and the usual things that I like to ignore on these occasions! The sea is full of whales, dolphins and turtles. Turtles were the main reason I was here. 

My very own Tipi for a few days
More than a third of Costa Rica enjoys some type of environmental protection. Here lies an eco-gem!

Rancho Burica was set up by 21 dutch surfers around 20 years ago. They bought the place as kind of club for themselves. It is still run today as a not-for-profit hideaway for the weary traveler who finds himself away from the surfer crowd further up the coast. Any money made goes back in to the upkeep of the building, the community or the conservation.

My mission here was to help Astrid and her willing volunteers who were on a mission to protect the turtles from poachers. The beaches have hundreds of eggs hatching all the time. The problem is that poachers know about it too and many are lost every year. Destined to be sold on the black market. One nest can fetch up to $100 (usually $10 an egg) so the fact that it’s now illegal has made little difference. Many of the locals have taken to helping protect the turtles but there is always someone willing to take their chances with the $500 dollar fine if they get caught. 

Eggs being taken to the hatchery
A regular patrol is organised every night. This is when the turtles come on shore to lay their eggs, and rain or shine the area is watched. My shift will come in a couple of days when I will join some of the guys to walk the beaches. Torch and walky talky in hand. Any nests we find will be moved to a hatchery where they are safe, later to be released to the ocean. This is the only way to secure their safety. 

My first day here and I decided to borrow a push bike and go for a ride. This ride turned out to be a lot more than I bargained for. About half an hour down the track, a young man jumped out of the trees, having just come off the beach. He was trying to tell me something about a dolphin. I followed him in the hope of seeing a school playing just off shore but sadly what I found was a distressed young dolphin stranded on the sand. It was bleeding as it had clearly been thrown against the rocks a few times. We dragged it back in to the water but it was rough and the dolphin was clearly exhausted. I got the feeling it was sick and not just tired. This was probably why it was beached in the first place. After the first attempt we realised it was pointless and waved down a passing pick up truck to see if we could move the dolphin to calmer waters just a few hundred yards away. 

The dolphin hits the beach again
The dolphin was put back in the water and guided out to deeper water. At first it swam out further and seemed to get stronger, but soon it was being washed back up on the shore. I wasn’t holding out much hope but there was always a chance and while we still had a chance it seemed everyone wanted to give it all they could. By now the locals had gathered and someone turned up with a surf board to try and swim the dolphin out further. 
I left after an hour and a half and there was no sign of any real recovery. It was clearly a very sick dolphin. 

We tried but sometimes you just can’t have the happy ending you want. Nature can be cruel. However, it was heartwarming to see everyone coming to help and working together to give the dolphin the best chance possible. 

I headed back to the ranch. After dinner and a game of cards with the dutch guys, I settled in to my MASSIVE tipi overlooking the ocean, and fell asleep to the sound of the  spider and howler monkeys who took the opportunity to play and chatter, as I drifted in to restful oblivion. 


  1. Gr8 stuff Steph! Thanks for sharing.

  2. you write very well. It's always a joy to see what adventure you are up to:-)) Happy Travels. Ogi

  3. what a beautiful experience you seem to be having although I'm sure its not all fun - borders etc as you say - thanks for sharing it with us