Nothing starts a day off better than a boat ride. The girls at the front desk booked us a spot on Jungle Crocodile Safaris. When we pulled up to the expansive dockside compound with gift shop, restaurant (closed) and bathrooms for a hundred visitors, we were the only patrons for the morning river tour. Hansel was our guide and he walked us down to the dock and along with Jose, the sailor, we set off for a private tour.
We started out going up river. The breeze was nice and the day was cooler than it has been lately. Hansel was good at picking out wildlife along the banks and we saw a wide selection of birds, some green iguanas and of course, the ever present crocodiles. The tide was too low to motor up to the bridge but there were several decent sized crocs along our section of the Rio Tarcoles.
Besides a smattering of smaller reptiles basking in the sun, there were a couple of larger crocodiles with nicknames like Mike Tyson and Lady Gaga. We slid up onto the sand within a foot or two of eight to ten foot beasts. They were really mellow and tolerated our musings for as long as we checked them out.
When the waters got too shallow further upstream, we turned around and went a little faster down the brown river towards the point where the delta meets the ocean. Mangroves dominated here and the birds were a bit different featuring frigates, gulls and in the branches overhead, roseate spoonbills. Hansel was pleasant and easy to talk to and he kept up a steady banter as we went along.
There are Crocs in this part of the river!
We raced back up to the docks, really opening the throttle, throwing spray and putting our faces into the wind. Small swifts that had built a nest on the boats awning chased us for the entire trip. We were giving their wings a good test on our homeward passage. We thanked the crew, PJ loaded up on souvenirs and we sped back to Cerro Lodge to load up our gear and hit the road for Jaco.
Today’s drive was short and before too long we were pulling into the bustling beach town of Jaco in the early afternoon. This is where I spent the bulk of my four years in Costa Rica in the nineties. I was excited to see the town and maybe run into some of the old faces from back in the day. The place has exploded since I was there. High rises, strip clubs, souvenir shops and bars. It was completely unrecognizable.
“Welcome to our Paradise”
As we arrived at Hotel Los Ranchos, I was anticipating catching up with my friend Erick who is still managing the hotel. I held that position 25 years ago and was looking forward to stopping in. Unfortunately, it appears he contracted the Covid bug and is on quarantine at the moment. The owner Chris was on property and we stood around reminiscing about the old days and like old curmudgeons are apt to do, we bemoaned the changes and paving of paradise. Los Ranchos hasn’t changed much. They traded in the palm thatch roofing (ranchos) for easier maintenance corrugated roofs. Some nice upgrades, but you can’t escape the giant five story monstrosity that was built inches from the property line on the beach side overlooking the hotel.
PJ and I unloaded the car into a nice bungalow that Erick had arranged then set out on foot to have a look around and see if I could get a blast from my past. Not exactly a rousing homecoming. They often say that you can’t go back and this little rendezvous with days gone by proved it true. I went to the cabinas where I lived and repaired surfboards when I first arrived in Costa Rica in 1992. They are now monthly apartments. A girl saw us trying to peek through the fence and asked us what was up. I told her my story so she let us in and let me wander around. I asked about friends and people I knew. My abuelita had passed three years ago and most of the family of my generation had moved to the states.
My old workspace redefined
Chuck, who owned the place when I was his whipping boy, had opened the supposed biggest surf shop in Jaco. We had been told that it had just shut down and that he’d given up surfing to move to the country and become a cowboy. The shell of his shop was across the street so we strolled over to see the reconstruction going on.
A other Jaco original lies in the dust bin of history
Having missed lunch, I was ready for a bite to eat so we crossed back over to Emily’s which is now Las Olas. I thought she might still own it, but the waitress said the establishment is owned by a Russian guy named Vladimir. She was a little snotty, but the food, when it made it to the table, was actually pretty decent.
Tons of bars, shady characters and open air drug deals. We walked as far as Ekono just past the Central doing bits of shopping here and there. My mind was boggled at the evolution of Jaco. The day was drawing to a close so we returned to Los Ranchos, dropped off our goods and headed to the ocean to rinse the sweat and grime of the city from our bodies. We rinsed in the pool when we got back then headed inside for the night.