Monday, 26 December 2016

Puerto Viejo

Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica

Ganja mon? Cocaine? Pussy? I had left the restaurant for a smoke and stood on the beach about five meters from what I assumed was the outer premises. The smoking law in Costa Rica is one of the strictest in the world and there are no smoking in any public areas, indoor or outdoor. So I stood there and enjoyed my cigarette and the smoke drifted back into the restaurant together with the smoke from the huge joint my neighbor fellow had lighted. It was an outdoor restaurant and if I had gone to the other side of it and lighted my cigarette, nobody would have been annoyed except for my wallet that would have been a bit lighter from the fee I had to pay. The open grill in the middle of the restaurant laid a carpet of smoke over the whole place, but that was probably legal.
The law includes that it is illegal to put up a smoking facility inside or outside the premises. Therefore, there were no ashtrays anywhere because an ashtray is synonymous to a smoking facility. So the beaches and streets outside hotels and restaurants were full of cigarette butts. Maybe they think it is better that way…

Sign on the wall on the outdoor beach restaurant. 

The country is so highly regulated that it reminds me of Australia. Do not speed, put your helmet on, wear a reflecting jacket and obey the law! But feel free to smoke a joint on the beach.
I am in Puerto Viejo in Costa Rica, very far south on the Caribbean side of the country, close to the border of Panama. I came here to relax a week or so before heading onto the road on a motorcycle. I searched the internet and asked the local Costa Rican tourist agency for the best spot to relax in the sun, have a good time and get rid of the jet-lag and let the Holiday season pass by. Puerto Viejo! Wikipedia and other internet sites told me the same: “The "summer" or dry season goes from December to April, and "winter" or rainy season goes from May to November”. It has been raining for 6 days now. Not constantly, but often enough to stop you from planning anything. When it rains, it rains. It is pouring down! The concept of a rainy season and a dry season don’t apply to the Caribbean coast – here it rains non-stop throughout the year. I've been told that it is maybe, but only maybe, a little drier in August.

Google also told me the following (this one is from Lonely Planet, but most pages says the same): “This burgeoning party town is bustling with tourist activity: street vendors ply Rasta trinkets and Bob Marley T-shirts, stylish eateries serve global fusion everything and intentionally rustic bamboo bars pump dancehall and reggaetón. The scene can get downright hedonistic, attracting dedicated revelers who arrive to marinate in ganja and guaro.
I am not sure if the writer has ever been here. This town is f#*king boring! Nothing happens! There is nothing to do! Unless you are a surfer or if you want to hike in a national park. It is the most sleepy tourist town I have ever visited. "Pump dancehall and reggaetón"? The loudest music around here comes from outside the 3-4 supermarkeds in town. They even have a DJ outside and the music is so load that you have to scream to each other going into the shop. I am not familiar with the idea that loud music for some reason will attract people in need of groceries.

Supermarked DJ; play it loud!!
I could have lied on the beach and got a tan if there had been any sun, and if the hotel had provided there guest with beach towels. “Sorry sir, there will be sand in the towel so you can’t take it to the beach”. Like it will on most beaches all over the world, but still the hotels provide you with beach towels other places. I think the washing machine was invented for this purpose. Maybe i'm wrong.
I was told that there was a great beach only 10-15 min walking distance from the hotel. I went there, but it was not great. Nobody maintains the beaches. They are dirty and dead palm trees just lies where they once fell. Maybe it is not allowed to do so, but what about some entrepreneurship encourage? Allow somebody to build a little shop on the beach. They can sell beer and water and rent out sunbeds or chairs. In return, they would have to maintain their stretch of the beach for everybody’s benefit. It is a win win. Or maybe it's because the people here just don’t care...
No chairs or sunbeds, no water-skiing or banana boats, no seller of food or cheap tourist souvenirs, no nothing! Just the empty sand field with almost nobody on it. Some surfboards and that's it! You can't take your small children here either because of the rough sea and you should be a more than average swimmer to head into the waves. 

Some surfboards and some people in the distance

The other direction shows a couple dipping their toes in the Caribbean sea and nothing else

Nothing is maintained here. The buildings were once build (poorly) and that’s it. Everything is the cheapest solution. It looks like the society ran out of paint and nails about ten years ago and nobody has ever bothered to do anything about it. They just don't care!

Take my hotel for example, The Lizard King Resort. Resort! What a joke! Here is from Wikipedia: “resort (North American English) is a self-contained commercial establishment that endeavors to provide most of a vacationer's wants, such as food, drink, lodging, sports, entertainment, and shopping, on the premises. The term resort may be used for a hotel property that provides an array of amenities, typically including entertainment and recreational activities. A hotel is frequently a central feature of a resort.” 

My hotel fail to fulfill all of these points accept for the lodging part.
The hotel, sorry, the Resort, is not a building in our definition of such; it is a shed with many rooms. The top 50 cm on both side of the room is open and just covered with mosquito nets for ventilation. Every sound from the outside; people talking, cars, construction work, dogs barking, children crying and music from nearby restaurants and bars are as loud as if I had been sitting on outside. The walls and ceiling are one layer badly customized woodwork that creaks walking on it and I can hear all details from my next-door neighbor’s conversation or hear what TV-channel they watch. The toddler in the room above runs around all afternoon and make it impossible to take a nap. The next-door woman with an OCD woke me up this morning with her exercise next to my room at 7 o’clock. 1, 2, 3, 4, …50 fast jumps with her jump-rope, then 20 slow and then 50 fast again. It was like a whip hitting the floor 4-5 times a second constantly and repetitive like a hypnotic chant. I would have felt sorry for her if it hadn’t been for the insane time of day. Now I just hate her! I had just felt asleep after I had been woken up by a barking dog both 5 and 6 o’clock.

I have breakfast included in the room rate. I had breakfast the two first days; the second day was just to confirm that it was as bad as the first day. It was. The “fruit juice” is a red colored, saturated sugar solution. I got nauseous half way down in the first glass. Then they cook you two eggs (fried or scrambled) and toss it onto a plate together with a mixture of fruits. I just love fruit swimming in egg and fat! Then there is a couple of sliced bread included, but no butter and no jam. No ham, bacon or cheese either. That’s it! I told the woman in the breakfast room the fourth day that I was heading for the bakery next door when she asked me if I wanted breakfast and she just nodded her head. I still have to pay the breakfast-included rate. And the coffee? For a coffee producing country the coffee in the hotel is amazingly bad. For some reason it is luke warm 5 minutes after it is made. And it has a hint of detergent that leaves you with an unpleasant aftertaste in your mouth.

The rating system at is a strange ting. The Lizard King Hotel, sorry, resort!, has a score of 7 point something out of 10.
Location gives them a high score. A parking lot can have a good location, but that doesn't make it a good hotel.
Nice and friendly staff. Saying: No sir, sorry sir, sorry we can't help you sir, no again, sorry again etc. in a friendly tone with a smile doesn't make it a good hotell.
Cleanliness. It smells clean. They use so much perfumed detergent that I have to air the room for at least an hour before I can enter it. Is it clean? I don't know. What I know is that for the first time in my life has experienced that they don't wash the glasses. If you have used the glass in your room for wine you have to clean it yourself.
The sad thing is that I don't think that the hotel is an exception, it is the rule of the mentality. I had a burger for lunch the other day and I ordered chips on the side. That costed extra off cause. The chips was so salted that I couldn’t eat them and I told the waiter. He said ok and I had to pay for it all. I had expected one of two things to happen: not to pay for the chips or that they made me another portion with less salt. Nope, just accept it and pay. No sorry, no nothing. Nobody does anything extra. Average is the goal. They are not miserable and rude, but they are not the opposite either. They all just do the minimum of what is expected of them. They just don’t care!

I saw this bottle at the beachfront outside one of the restaurants/bars. I took this picture
5 days after I spotted it the first time. They just don't care...

Is this typical Costa Rica? I don’t know. I will see after Christmas when I hit the road. Maybe it’s only the Jamaican legacy. When they built the railroad to bring out coffee and bananas more than hundred years ago, the labors died in thousands. They came from all over the world and everybody succumbed to the harsh conditions from snakes and other poisonous wild animals, sickness, landslides, heat and hunger. Until the Jamaican was shipped in. They had no problems with the conditions and when the railroad was finished a lot of them stayed and built new homes in the area around Puerto Viejo. I’ve been to Jamaica and I didn’t like it. There are some of the same mentality here as it was over there. Just do the minimum you can to survive. Doing nothing is the mantra. Just chill and smoke some ganja, peace, love, and reggae. The influence is more than noticeable.

The Rasta Bar. One of many Jamaican influenced places in Puerto Viejo. 

Did you know that there probably are a reggae version of every f…ing song ever made? Come to Puerto Viejo and listen! By the way, not the Christmas tunes. They are the same as all over the world. Rocking around the Christmas tree and Driving home for Christmas.

Everything is Pura Vida. A proper answer to How are you? is Pura Vida. It is painted and written it all over the place and on half the T-shirts on sale whatever the rest of the message. 

I brought my camera with me one day and strolled the 15 minutes it takes to walk from one side of the town to the other. I wanted to take some pictures of things, fine things, ugly things, small or large, peculiar things or funny things. Something special from the place and area. I came out nearly empty-handed. It’s all just average. Not nice, but not ugly either. It is just boring. As they all just don’t care!

I found one thing though. It is common all over the world to have a plaque with inscription next to buildings of significance to the community. Signature buildings where the involved people want to ensure that everybody are informed about their contribution to the greatness. I found this plaque:

Figueres Olsen on the upper plaque was the president of Costa Rica from -94 to -98 (I just love the fact that Costa Rica has had a president with the name Olsen!).
The lower plaque tells that this construction is a collaboration between the local community and the ministry of transportation. This will indicate that the construction is related to something that has to do with transport.

And the great masterpiece it stood next to?

Wait for it.

Wait for it…

Farmers makes better bridges than this to their barns in Norway for their tractors to drive on. If a ten meter, one-lane bridge is worthy a plaque you get a little understanding why there is a lack of greatness in this society.

I come from one of the most expensive counties in the world (the most expensive maybe). If you go to a restaurant in Norway, the building itself is probably of high quality. Lots of regulations add cost and plumbing and electric systems are made following strict standards. The farmers and fishermen has been scrutinized by the Health Department and all the seafood, meat, fruit and vegetables have been double and triple checked before it reaches the consumer’s table. The people working in the restaurant are well paid and both the employer and employees are heavily taxed by the government.
If a health inspector from Norway had visited any of the kitchens down here, it had been closed down immediately. Cash is king most places and I can only assume that it is related to the taxation of the income. You can get a hamburger on a roadside restaurant in Norway for less than USD 10 and you pay the same here. This is the most expensive country in the world! When it comes to value for your money I have never visited a country that are worse. It cost USD 5-7 to rent a rusty bicycle for one day. You can rent a 110 cc motorcycle in Thailand for the same amount. The oranges in Norway have been shipped from the other side of the world; down here, they grows in the gardens. A glass of orange juice still cost the same in both counties. Again, I am not sure if this is valid only for Puerto Viejo or if it is like this in the whole country.

I’m not the only one that feels this way. I met three Swiss girls that constantly tried to argue with the hotel (sorry, resort!) staff until they realized the same as I have done, the staff just don’t care!
A Swedish couple traveling the world in their 7th month just can’t believe what they are experiences here. The price level, the indifference and the lack of quality and service. They were robbed on the beach when they were out swimming and they were taken to the newly formed tourist police’s office building. It was far from the road, nearly inside the jungle and nobody had even bothered to put up the sign “Policia Turistica” on the wall. It just laid in the vegetation, already overgrown and faded. They were told that this was normal and that it happened all the time. They should be glad they were away when it happened because it was common that these gangs was robbing tourists with knifes. The gangs hides in the forest beside the small remote beaches and takes their opportunity when the tourists walks away for a moment, believing they are alone. They stole their money, camera and mobile phones. It was the first time since they left Sweden that this had happened. Maybe the tourist police has their hands full punishing smokers. One must obey the law!

Is everything here bad? Luckily there are always something good.

1. The restaurant Koki Beach. What a cool spot! Excellent food, cool and friendly staff, beautiful decoration made of portraits taken by a local photographer, a pleasant and cool sound-mix played not too loud and the restaurant front to chill with a drink before or after the meal. Did I mention cool?

The coolest spot in town. You can sit at the front an sip a mojito and watch people pass by. 
Some of the interior in the bar area. 
The coolest rock chairs in front of the restaurant

2. Mojitos. The best drink ever made from rum and in Puerto Viejo they all know how to make it. In big glasses with lots of green stuff that makes it the closest I come to a vitamin drink.

2 in 1 picture: the good and the bad (the ugly is behind the camera). The good is the mojito. The bad is lack of  maintenance. This is a restaurant table badly in need of a new plank, some paint and some fresh nails. Maybe they just mix the concepts rustic and degraded- 
3. The temperature is great even in (especially in?) rainy weather.

4. I have not seen one Russian tourist! Kudos to Puerto Viejo for that!

And if anybody wonders; I declined all the offers from the guy on the beach. 

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