When I left the next morning, it was rainy. I had to walk to a good place to hitch, but had to spend some of the time hiding under bus shelters. Other times I got somewhat soaked. I decided to take Juan's suggestion to take the coastal road to Panama. Hitchhiking was fast at first. It was Sunday morning and lots of Christians gave me rides on their way to church.
In the afternoon I found myself further from local villages and in a more touristic area. I saw signs for adventure tours, ziplining, and rafting. And nobody was picking me up! I wound up walking many kilometers before a Canadian couple stopped for me. The husband had traveled across the country by motorcycle when he was younger, and now had brought his wife there on vacation. He advised me to avoid Limon, or pass through it quickly, because it was dangerous. "The worst kinds of scum live in Limon," he said. I wondered if something had happened to him there, but didn't ask.
With a little luck, I finally arrived at Puerto Viejo. Some gringos who'd let me ride in the back of their pickup dropped me off on a crowded cobblestone street when it got too packed to drive through. I thanked them and they wished me "Pura vida!"
I walked through the town. It was a resort town for rich gringos. There were plenty of locals selling seashell jewelry on the streets, and lots of shops selling souvenirs, renting surfboards, or advertising seaside yoga. I did not belong here, and could not afford it. So I kept walking, all the way through the nauseating town. It never seemed to end, as I just kept passing hostels and yoga classes and bicycle rentals. There weren't many cars, but I managed to thumb down an SUV with some Frenchmen. They weren't going to the border, but could take me to Manzanillo.
Manzanillo was also a resort town, but much smaller, with a few streets and very spread out hotels. I walked down the road along the beach until it ended, then doubled back and tried another route. It ended too. I needed directions.
There were some muscular foreigners standing around in a circle, and I approached and asked for directions in English. They didn't know, and directed me to a seaside bar. So I asked the bartender in Spanish. She had a thick African accent, but explained that there was only one road, back toward Puerto Viejo.
"That can't be right," I said, showing her my map. "Look." I showed her the coastal road to the border. And as I did, I noticed that between Manzanillo and Gandoca, the line was dotted. I checked the legend. Dotted lines mean 'no motor vehicles, pedestrians or bicycles only'
I had to look up the word "trail" in my dictionary to ask the woman about a trail to Gandoca. She said there was one, and I would find it if I followed the beach. I asked how far it was to Gandoca. She said it was maybe six or seven kilometers. "But you can't! The jungle is thick. And it's very dangerous! There are thieves. And it will be night soon." I tried to reassure her, but she wouldn't have it.
Behind me, I could hear the tourists talking about me. I don't think they could hear our conversation, but could probably tell, based on my tattered backpack and map that I was involved in a bigger adventure than money could buy. There must be a point when people have enough money that life doesn't offer any more challenges, so they go out to spas and on treks and adventure tours in the jungle. It's ironic, but it's easier to have a real adventure with a tight budget. If money was no object, I could have flown to Brazil or Argentina, no problem! But I would never have found myself in as many crazy situations, such as this one, where I was considering hiking through the jungle because I didn't want to walk back through Puerto Viejo.
So eventually, I started to cross the beach. Darkness was falling and I knew I would have to camp soon. I met some other locals and, with some help, was able to find the trailhead. Everyone gave a slightly different estimate for how long the trail was, and universally tried to convince me that it was too dangerous. I am not the type to be discouraged. People had told me that what I was doing was dangerous for so long, it didn't mean anything to me anymore.
The trail was a little more rugged than my map had implicated. Soon it was too dark to see the path. I camped on the beach. I had trouble starting a fire and wound up using most of my bug spray as fuel. But everything was a little wet and I eventually realized that I was putting too much work into the fire to keep it alive.
The moon was half full, marking a month and a quarter that I'd been traveling. As I fell asleep watching the waves crash, I remembered that before a tsunami strikes, the ocean recedes. What would I do if the waves suddenly drew back? Clamber in the dark through the jungle in search of higher ground? I would be fucked, and the thought scared me.
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