Thorn Around the World

"Flocks, Crocs And Oches"
Oh, I slept well that night. Filled to the gills with Pilsen, Flor de Caņa and Coke the night before, making new friends and playing darts til two in the sleepy surfer town of Dominical, Costa Rica, certainly had its effect. But, waking up late to the thunderous sound of rain on the tin roof-drowning out the hum of the air conditioning and ceiling fan-reminded me of my rainy home in Portland, Oregon, and I snuggled into my pillow for an extended snooze. Jules and Thekla, my Australian and German travel pals, must have woken earlier and were down at the Tortilla Flats bar enjoying a fresh breakfast. But suddenly, I woke with a start, both bleary eyes popping open, realizing what time it was.

The day before, I reserved a trip with Dominical Surf Adventures, a local tour company, to paddle the mangrove forest swamp. Fortunately, the company headquarters was just a couple dirt roads and a dozen palm trees away. With five minutes until nine, the meet time, I jumped up still dressed from the night before in tye-dye and shorts, zipped down to steal a cup of coffee and say hi to Jules and Thekla, and do the hungover-speed-walk-coffee-chug to try and catch my tour before they left.

In typical island lifestyle fashion, my panic was completely undue. I was five minutes late, and so were the crew, the van, the gear, and the four other guys signed up to go-just the owner was there to greet me. "Hey, no problem, everyone will be here in a few and we'll get going," said the man with the mellow Spanish accent. I had time to buy a couple bananas and a pancake across the street from a chubby old Tico with a small market stand. It was good to get a little food in the stomach.

Before long, the van arrived, topped with hard flat water kayaks, and the rest of the crew did too. Soon, we were bouncing along the dirt roads and beach to the edge of the inlet where we'd put in. Several beautiful birds were spotted along the way, hiding in the coconut trees or sunbathing on driftwood from the Pacific.
My fellow paddlers were a couple of local guides, one in training, and an equally hungover quartet of German and Swiss surfers taking a break from the waves. It didn't take long to gear up and plop into the still water and practice paddling on the tipsy plastic boats. Soon, we were forging across the water into the mangroves like a little band of explorers. Right away, white egrets and colorful herons were spotted, while the guides kept a sharp eye for any sign of crocodiles. The locals knew all to well about why Domicial's stray dogs would go missing, permanently.

It was a wakening experience, paddling silently into the maze of mangrove trees, roots spreading everywhere, a perfect environment for plenty of creatures to hide, above or below the water. Green herons, tiger herons, red herons-and dozens of other tropical wetland birds I couldn't idenitfy-slowly lifted their feet from branch to branch, hunting for fish or tiny tree crabs to stab. Others would flock off with an annoyed squawk at our intrusion into their world.

After an hour or so, we turned around, backtracking toward the entrance to the mangroves, where the river inlet met the ocean in a brackish lake of a lagoon. Following our guides silently, we all stopped and lifted our paddles when one of them raised his hand in a halting motion. Slowly, he paddled toward the lush root filled shore, and began poking in the greenery, a moment later, reaching in, and pulling out a crocodile skull. With a little bit of awe, we passed it around inspecting the teeth and eyeholes: it was about two feet long, enough to hold the prehistoric brain of ten foot reptile. Unfortunately, or should I say fortunately, we never spotted the living version.

After our float, we enjoyed a late breakfast spread of fruits and breads on a log by the swamp with a banana leaf table cloth. It was a lovely tour with Dominical Surf Adventures that day, a perfect cure for my tired body. The company dog joined us for the bouncy minivan ride back to Dominical.

Back at Tortilla Flats in Dominical, I must have taken a nap after a little lunch. The next pictures I have are of a wonderful sunset over a surfer filled beach. Of course, me and my friends returned to the San Clemente Bar and Grill that evening to play more darts on the two weathered Harrows boards. I bumped into some of the guys from the kayak trip, and they joined in for a few legs. But, overall, it was just a fun night of practice with a lesser quantity of potent potables involved. After all, it was my last night in Dominical, and I wanted to save myself for tomorrow's travels.

In the morning, a bright blue and partly cloudy day, we enjoyed one more meal in the ocean breeze. I took a few parting pictures of Tortilla Flats, including their newly finished skateboard halfpipe in the back. Jules had to decided to join me for my next destination-to the CloudBridge eco-reserve hidden in the misty forests below the volcanic rim of Mt. Chirripo, a place a friend had told me was a must see. Thekla was heading back to San Jose for a flight home to Germany-she had already caught a bus early that morning.
Meanwhile, Jules and I decided to rent a private driver instead of the local chicken bus. Not only would the bus be slow, uncomfortable and arduous, but Cloudbridge is so high in the hills that you need a four wheel drive just to get there.

Excited for the next leg of our adventure, Jules and I sat outside the Tortilla Flats bar with bags in tow, waiting for our driver to show up. We hired him the night before, and he was already a half hour late.

Over and double out.

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