Perils of Polly: Making good time - wrong way!

Posted: Friday, March 18, 2011

Editor's note: Polly Crawford was a reporter and associate editor of The Peninsula Clarion from 1985-1988, when she wrote "Perils of Polly." She also wrote a series of "Peril" columns in 1998 about her Australian adventures. Her perils continue in Costa Rica and Nicaragua.

Photo Courtesy Polly Crawford
Photo Courtesy Polly Crawford
Manuel Antonio's swimming beach has a sparse tourist population in the off season.

I floated on my back, relishing the warmth of the sun mixed with the relative coolness of the water. The water was just slightly cooler than the air. It was my last non-traveling day in Costa Rica, as tomorrow I would make the arduous drive back to San Jose.

I loved Manuel Antonio National Park, as it had given me all my wildlife desires except the coati and the toucan.

Suddenly, I spotted it: the huge long bill of a toucan! It was flying from one tree to another on the beach. Then I saw another. As I watched, I realized I was watching a pair feeding the babies in their nest. They weren't the huge toucans. The adults were probably about 10 inches, without the bill.

Back on the beach, my friends were having some fun. An iguana was trying to get some bread out of their backpack. Then a raccoon actually sneaked up from behind and stole the whole backpack. They screamed and jumped up, and he dropped it.

Finally it was time to head back, and once again, I found myself alone in the jungle. I started out on the trail, but some howler monkeys intrigued me, so I headed straight into the jungle to see if I could find them. The howlers kept me going, and then I saw some squirrel monkeys right above me. I quietly videoed. I was thrilled. I kept creeping forward. There was no mud -- just solid ground, trees and shrubs. The monkeys took me deeper and deeper into the jungle. After about 10 minutes, I realized this was really stupid. There are more than monkeys in the jungle. I thought about the many poisonous snakes or spiders that could be lurking behind the next bush. "Nature" episodes flashed through my mind. I turned around.

Back on the trail, I saw one more sloth, and then headed to my hotel. I was satisfied with Costa Rica. But I'll have to come back for a coati.

The next day, I headed back to San Jose. The roads were steep and narrow through the dense, jungled mountains of central Costa Rica, and the drive was long. In reality, I wasn't going back into San Jose. I was headed to Alejuela, a fairly large city about 10 miles from San Jose, which is where the airport was. I had searched Lonely Planet and found a fairly cheap hotel where I could spend the night and get a free ride to the airport the next morning.

I was planning to return my car this evening, after checking into the hotel and leaving my bag there, and they would deliver me back to my hotel.

I went through a whole bunch of city before I finally reached what I believed to be the downtown square of Alejuela pictured on my Lonely Planet map. I was looking for Hotel Los Volcanos. I pulled over to study the map. I'm a good map reader, so had no doubt that I'd be able to find it. I found the central square, and from there, it should have been easy. It was only two blocks away. I drove to where the map said it should be, but it wasn't there. Confused, I drove around the blocks again. I went in circles for quite a while, unable to find Hotel Los Volcanos.

Finally I parked the car, took my Lonely Planet guide, and looked for someone to give me directions. The first few people spoke too fast for me to even begin to understand them. They tried, but it just wasn't happening. I finally found someone who spoke slow enough, and was patient enough, that I could understand him. The direction he told me to go was opposite what the map said. He looked at the map and shook his head. I listened closely to his directions, translating them in my mind, and trying hard to memorize them. I got back in my car and drove right to it.

Once inside my antique-furnished room, I took the map back out and had a sudden epiphany: the map had been printed backwards and upside down. With that knowledge, I went out and easily found the restaurant that the book had recommended.

One more "gotcha" had to happen before I left Costa Rica: I had used up all my Costa Rican money, and the airport required a tax -- I believe it was $26. They wouldn't accept American money, and I was out of colons, so I presented my credit card.

I didn't find out until I was home that they charge it as a cash advance, costing me instant credit fees. No amount of talking to the Visa card would reverse the charge. Another cost of travel.

I was glad to be back in the cool Alaskan air after my adventure, and the first thing I did was throw out my tennis shoes. They hadn't been dry in two weeks, and their stench was embarrassing.

What's next? We'll see. As this "Peril" goes to press, I'm in Guatemala, experiencing new perils.

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