Welcome to Punterenas, Costa Rica. Well, welcome to a container port somewhere near Puntarenas, Costa Rica. Huzzah. P&O strike again! I’m going to have to write that book soon. You know, Container Ports of the World that P&O have Dumped Me In. At least it’s only 20 minutes from town, not like the 45 minutes we had in Singapore.
Anyway, the heat is ludicrous. I wish I could think of another way of describing it. It’s not the hammering down on your head hot we had yesterday, but it’s humid enough to make breathing hard work and you do not want to be standing waiting for a shuttle bus with no shade over you, you really don’t. Even my insect repellent somehow cooked on my skin into white lumps. Very attractive.
The twenty minute drive into Punterenas was very enlightening, not only taking us past corrugated iron shacks with holes instead of glass windows (better ventilation, less greenhouse effect), which later gave way to brick buildings with glass as we got nearer town, but also odd-looking trees that seem quite desperate to get away from the ground and up to the sun. They don’t seem to bother with lower branches. It’s almost as if, when they burst through the soil, they realise how hot the ground is, and immediately start trying to get as far away from it as possible. There is some scrubby grass and brush, but for the most part the first couple of feet are bare. In fact, it was all rather stark and dry-looking. The rainforest proper is about an hour and a half’s drive inland, but what with there being over 34,000 species of insect, I was glad to give it a miss.
Costa Rica is (apparently) famous for its ecology. Anyone interested in stuff that grows should come here. Never mind Galapagos, this is the place to be. Over 1000 species of orchid, 900 species of tree, 9000 types of plant, 850 types of bird, the aforementioned 34000 species of insect and so on. It has three different kinds of terrain, I think: rainforest, cloudforest and dry forest. Cloudforest is exactly what it says. Rainforest at an altitude that puts it up IN the clouds. It doesn’t rain there – there’s a permanent mist instead – which makes for a completely different ecosystem, or so I understand. Although Costa Rica has 0.05% of the World’s land mass, it has 5% of the world’s species. That’s a lot in a small space. It all sounds rather crowded to me, frankly. How they fit in all the coffee and fruit as well, I have no idea (there were about a dozen Del Monte artics lined up on the quayside ready for work on Monday morning). Funnily enough, we didn’t drink any coffee at all. I think the heat was a bit much for coffee, myself. I know people say that hot drinks cool you down, but when it’s over 30 in the shade, there’s no way you’re getting me near a steaming cup of anything!
And then there are the beaches. Miles of them, by the looks of it. It’s not pretty, white, coral sand, like the Caribbean, and it’s not black sand like the volcanic places we have been (although Costa Rica does have an active volcano), it’s sort of dirty grey, sort of pigeon-coloured, not even as golden sandy coloured as British beaches. But a beach is a beach, frankly, and the sea looks beautiful. They were also utterly deserted. Maybe less than a dozen people in sight. Which surprised me, bearing in mind it’s a Saturday. Maybe this isn’t hot enough for the locals?
Those familiar with my ‘thing’ for public art will be pleased to know that there is a series of white stone sculptures dotted along the beach for a couple of miles. They were part of the International Festival of Sculpture in Stone which took place in Punterenas in 2006. I also spotted a steam locomotive in the middle of a roundabout, but I couldn’t get a picture in time.
The shuttle bus dropped us in town, ironically and not a little cruelly, right next to the cruise ship pier we were supposed to have parked at, which was instead occupied by the Infinity, which we followed through the Panama Canal locks. They even got a little white train to take them down the pier to their gangways. There were dozens of lovely stalls and cafes along the front, one of which was showing the Royal Wedding on the telly! So we wandered and browsed and browsed and wandered and when we got the end, a lovely taxi marshal with one arm hailed us a taxi, which took us up the coast about a mile, to the “posh” hotels. We stopped at one called Las Brisas (not THE Las Brisas, just A Las Brisas – THE Las Brisas is at our next stop, Huatulco), where we had a lovely lunch at a restaurant between the pool and the ocean. My request for vinegar caused some brief consternation, but was eventually resolved successfully. The food was superb and cost very little. Then we grabbed a taxi back to the shuttle bus and the shuttle bus back to the ship. There is a small terminal building with more souvenir stalls, some free wifi, and The Most Efficient Air Con In Central America. Unfortunately, it is right down the other end of the quayside, which makes for a surprisingly long walk!
And when we got back, there was the usual gangway struggle. The security lady allowed mum to go on the ‘off’ gangway, which was shorter and less steep. We normally have to have a blazing row first, but this time, she just caved as soon as she saw us coming. The rest of us had to climb the ‘on’ gangway, which was at probably more than 50% to the horizontal with no steps or frets or anything. It was quite frightening and people with bad knees were having all sorts of problems. I took a run at it, because I figured if I lost momentum, I’d be in trouble, so I waited til Dad got to the top before I started my climb. One woman tried to overtake me, but soon regretted it!
I’m not telling them again. We’ve already had this row at least twice and, frankly, they’ll do what they’re asked as soon as someone gets hurt.* If I had to listen to a security person give me that drivel about the ship isn’t configured that way round again, I would be forced to hurt someone. So best avoid the whole thing and just wait for them to figure it out for themselves. It’s 30 degrees in the shade – I imagine there will be a few fairly short fuses around, other than mine …
So, to sum up, Costa Rica is delightful, the people are friendly, everyone speaks Spanish and everything is cheap. I can see why people would come here for a short break, but it is not yet “developed”** enough for a long stay, I don’t think, unless you’re going into the rainforest to stare into the canopy for lengthy periods.
* Post script – at 4pm, they changed the gangways. Which they wouldn’t have done if they didn’t know PERFECTLY WELL that there was a problem.
** read “touristified”