I’m a Rocky Mountain girl. Although I love living near the ocean in this chapter of my life, I have loved the mountains of Montana for twenty years. But even better, here I have both. I just wouldn’t be happy in flat land. The other day I did one of my absolute favorite things to do in Costa Rica. I grabbed a friend and took an afternoon mountain drive through one of my favorite places, the Talamanca mountains, up behind my home in Puerto Viejo. Driving with the top down and soaking up the incredible views with my Salsa music blasting puts me in a state of bliss. Life just doesn’t get any better. Come on along, I’m going to show you all about it!
My friend and former guiding client, Ed, was visiting and wanted to see Bri Bri. It’s a little town nearby, named after the local indigenous. It’s just a small town, not much to see. “There’s the bus station.” I said. “Over there is a really good bakery. That is the way to the waterfall. The bank is up the street.” And that was about it. Then I got an idea. “How would you like to go to Panama?” I asked Ed. “It’s fifteen minutes away!”
We’re on our way! There are many rivers and streams running through these jungle mountains.
The first one we cross is the Rio Carbon, at the edge of town.
We’ll take the first left here at the vocational school after the river and we’ll end up coming back from the opposite side. We’re going to make a huge circle. Within a few minutes we catch our first glimpse of the sprawling Sixaola river. This river flows from the Talamanca mountain range out to the Caribbean Sea forming the border between Costa Rica and Panama.
Next in our series of bridges is an old Bailey Bridge (above).
We passed a local kid on horseback, still wet from swimming in the river. He invited us up to his house. We thanked him but declined and traveled on.
Lots of people live up in these hills. Everywhere we went, we saw the new government homes built for the indigenous Bri Bri, often right next to the old ones (photo above right).
Nature in Costa Rica is vast and dramatic. Everywhere you look is another awesome sight!
The magnificent tree in the photo below is across the river in Panama. The blue spots in the photo are the bags used to cover and protect the bananas growing on the banana trees in the background. Mature banana trees are about 15 to 20 feet tall. By comparison, that would make this giant tree stretch 60 to 70 feet!
After a fifteen minute drive we come to the town of Chase. Why do they call it that? I don’t know. It is not a Spanish word. Maybe because that’s where the chase begins, for illegals crossing from Panama.
Did you know you can cross here with no customs or border officials to bother you? That is just what we’re going to do. We’ll turn by the bus stop and drive down to the river. We can park the car and hop on the old wooden boat.
Our “ship” is called El Titanica de Gran Piedra -The Mamouth of the Great Rock (center photo below). I asked the “captain” if he knew the story of the Titanic. He assured me we wouldn’t sink.
I asked the kid if there are crocodiles in this river. He confirmed it. Definitely, there are. “And you swim in here?” I challenged. He grinned an enthusiastic yes!
After the short ride across the river we arrive in Panama at the town of Las Delicias. Well, it’s hardly a town. It’s a cluster of shops, existing for the sole purpose of selling cheap electronics to Costa Ricans. Computers, TVs and all other imported gadgets are very expensive in Costa Rica. These items are priced lower in Panama, although they still cost more than in the USA.
Before the perilous floods of 2008, there were four well stocked stores, packed with electronics and everything else you could imagine. But these stores are on the banks of the great Sixaola river which is prone to flooding in rainy season. Flood damage takes its toll on these businesses. Today there are three stores, some with meager inventory.
These businesses are owned and run by Middle Eastern families. In ninety degree weather, I was astonished to see the women behind the counter wearing layers of traditional Muslim clothing, with everything covered but their faces and hands. That is devotion!
On this trip I met Mari, a very sweet shopkeeper. She told me her story. She is a Tica (Costa Rican). Her husband is from Jordan. They met in another part of the country and they decided to settle, with their four children, in Las Delicias, Panama. The flood of 2005 brought four feet of water into their store. They cleaned up, bought more stock and started again. The flood of 2008, which I lived through here in Puerto Viejo, inundated them with six feet of water and ruined almost everything once again. A year later, Mari’s store is far less full than when I saw it before. Much of her merchandise is water damaged, as well.
Mari was so helpful and kind, talking with me as I browsed around. No, they did not have a machine to take credit cards but if I found something I wanted she would be happy to give it to me, on my promise that I would deposit the money into her bank account in Costa Rica. I was amazed.
“Ed,” I exclaimed, “She said she’d let me walk out of here without paying, as long as I promised to pay later!”
At that point I had to find something to buy – but honestly, there just was not much that I needed. I gathered together a pretty crystal drinking glass, a ceramic planter, two decorative bookshelves and a cracked candle holder. She gave me the candle holder for free and charged me $20.00 for the rest, which I paid for on the spot.
Mari converted to the Muslim religion when she married her husband. The family is devout. They send their children to Jordan six months out of the year, for religious education. I wanted to take her picture, but her religion would not allow. We talked for a bit longer about family and life in Costa Rica, while Ed and Mari’s son struck up a conversation about his iPhone. The handsome teenager was well dressed in regular street clothes like most Muslim men. He loved his iPhone and was lamenting its recent demise. Ed is going to find a new chip for it and send it from Florida when he gets home.
How many more floods will they endure? Mari doesn’t know. They like living here, in this isolated place by the river. But every time the river begins to rise, she gets very nervous.
Time to head back to the Costa Rica side and continue our drive, we’re not even half way through the trip. First we drive through the mountain. The tunnel was built in 1914, over 100 years ago. Should we risk it?
There’s lots of pretty little mountain homes along the way, many with dramatic views of the river. We are miles from the town of Bri Bri now. A bus comes through occasionally, but not many cars. People are often seen walking or riding horseback into town for supplies.
The road takes off, away from the river and into the jungle but soon a new river view bursts through the greenery, warm in the afternoon sunshine. We pass through the tiny indigenous towns of Bambu, Bratzi and Suretka.
As I slowed down to take a picture, a woman approached the car. “You like horses.” she said – in Spanish.
“I do.” I replied. “I love horses and I love this place where you live. It is so beautiful!” She agreed and thanked me.
Ed was having a wonderful time. “That’s what I like about this place,” he said, “People are so friendly. They just come up and start talking to you.”
Yes, they do. The people of Puerto Viejo are quite nice. But the campesinos (country people) are truly endearing. Young and old all smile and wave as you go by. A moment’s stop for conversation can last an hour and may end up with a dinner invitation as well. I don’t know why but it seems the further from the tourist towns the friendlier the people.
At the end of the day when the evening cools down, the futbol players come out. Even the tiniest village has a field.
It’s getting dark now and time to head back to Puerto Viejo. It has been a magical day in Paradise and I’m so grateful to be here!