Sunday, March 1, 2009

Monkey in My Face

By Louise

Dios mios! Cielos! My family has turned into a bunch of whiners. They’re all complaining that they are doing all the writing and I haven’t done anything. If I weren’t stuck with them for the next month... The reality is, I can’t keep up with Andrew’s humor and our kids’ stories. I’m not sure what to write about, plus I’m feeling a tad grumpy.

See, we knew our luck had to run out at some point. Yet the loss of our travel kharma still managed to take us by surprise and has left us all feeling a bit irritated. What happened? This last house we rented was way off from the owner’s description. Before you all start muttering that we’re a bunch of idiots to believe any online rental offer, let me just state that this was not our first rental. It was our tenth and our first dud.

Still, I know some of you are thinking: Why even consider renting in the first place? To put it simply: Kids, convenience, cost.

Before Graham burst onto the scene, we promised ourselves that kids would not stop us from traveling. We’re also realistic and knew that the way we traveled would have to change. No more staying in those, ah, character-building places (to use Andrew’s words). Moving around a lot wasn’t going to happen either. Eating out every meal? Sounds like fun with a toddler in tow. Not. And of course, there was our budget. Can you spell T-I-G-H-T?

So, starting a decade ago, we started renting vacation houses and apartments online. It meant taking a leap of faith and trusting the photos and write-ups. Lo and behold, every single place we rented was just as pictured, until this one.

Last month, northern Costa Rica was shaken by an earthquake. Downed trees and other debris made the Rio Sarapiqui and Rio San Juan un-navigable. Coincidentally, these were the same two rivers we had planned to explore for a week using local riverboat taxis. The boats were no longer running. We needed a Plan B, so we turned to our favorite Internet rental agencies for help.

We had recently spent a week on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast, but we felt that the area was too built up and expensive. We could have spent another week in the area around volcano Arenal—we had a lot of fun there—but it was also beyond our budget. Instead, we decided to head to the Caribbean coast, where we had already rented a house on the beach for our last month. With high season in top gear, most of the rentals were booked, but then we happened upon a place called Mono En La Cara. It promised everything from a fully equipped kitchen to Internet service. The online description said they even had satellite TV and a DVD/CD player. We really haven’t missed TV, so that was no big deal, but it did lead us to believe that the house with ocean views in the middle of a tropical paradise was going to be of a certain quality. We emailed the owners (who live in Allentown, PA) and they responded. They sounded nice, so we made the arrangements.

A couple of days later, we boarded a bus to Puerto Viejo, on Costa Rica’s southern Caribbean coast, close to Panama. I should mention here that a few travelers, including some Costa Ricans, told us we might want to rethink spending five weeks on the Caribbean coast. Their warnings began: “Oh, the Caribbean coast… You don’t want to go there. The water is rough. The place is filthy. Snorkeling? Ha! You won’t see any fish because the reef is dead. It’s like going to Jamaica…” It went on and on. Their comments struck us as strange because all our earlier research suggested just the opposite. We’re laid-back travelers, not tourists, as the kids will tell you, so we pushed these warnings aside. We had our sights set on kicking back in a tropical house while listening to Caribbean sounds as we cooked up coconut curries and drank rum cocktails.

We boarded the bus and headed toward the coast. Arriving on the coast at Limon, the warnings turned to reality. Just 70 miles from our destination, garbage started appearing along the road. Intense rains had caused flooding in some areas and the rivers flowed with murky brown water that poured into the sea. Andrew and I stared out the bus window in horror. What had we done? The area was totally unlike any other part of Costa Rica we had visited. It looked as if we had entered a third-world country, not a tropical paradise.

Trying not to panic (while listening to Graham’s running commentary about the brown ocean and the plastic bags lining the road) we held tight. Puerto Viejo was still miles away to the south. The situation could change.

And so it did. The ocean at Puerto Viejo was clear and gorgeous. The high-tide line was littered with branches and coconuts, not garbage. The town was busy, filled with restaurants, shops, and enough American and European tourists that you couldn’t swing a surfboard without knocking one over.

The problem: the house. Not only was the area around the house not as described (picture a large pile of abandoned construction material in the middle of the yard, and the special outdoor eating area filled with scraps of wood, paint rollers, a rusty wheel barrow, bags of garbage, and two splinter-filled benches). As for the fully equipped kitchen, maybe in PA this doesn’t include pots, chopping knives, cutting board….oh the list goes on. Internet service? In our dreams. And the only music we heard was from the neighbor’s hammers. Follow up emails from an Internet café to the couple from PA were duly ignored. But we did notice that they managed to go onto their website and reword their listing pretty darn fast.

With all this said, we have enjoyed our week — outside this depressing house — in Puerto Viejo. The kids are learning to surf. We’ve knocked coconuts out of trees. And taken long walks on the beach. We are keeping our fingers crossed that the place we’ve rented for our last month is true to its word. Meanwhile, I hope I’ve got my family off my back about not writing. Now it’s time to put a little lime in the coconut and drink it all up.


lizard mail said...

Oh, boy, I am sorry to hear about the house, I imagined that a nice house would be the saving grace...well, it looks like you have made the best of it! Deb

Tu querida madre said...

Bueno ! You receive an "A" for descriptive prose. We can picture your circumstances clearly.
Keep surfing and writing.