Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Mr Aventures' perspective on the robbery

Mal Pais: Bad Country or Bad Luck?

Mal Pais means 'bad country' in Spanish. For surfers, tackling a surf spot with a name like that sounds cool. I first visited Mal Pais on Costa Rica's Nicoya Peninula 11 years ago this month.


I set out there with a hand drawn sketch of where the beach breaks were and places to stay from a mate of mine in Sydney.

I eventually ended up staying in a tin shed split into two rooms out the back of Frank's Place. Frank's son slept in one room and I had the other. Frank's was one of the few places to eat and had literally the only telephone in town. Arroz con Pollo – rice with chicken - was basically my staple diet for a month.

In between surfing and Frank's, I hung out with other surfers who were camping down at the beach.

Life in a hammock beachside was idyllic. The local farmer asked for a few colones every now and then for being on his land and no one bothered us at all. It was no worries to leave your stuff unattended anywhere.


Saturday nights were fun. We'd wander down to Santa Teresa past the church to the local dance hall where surfers would gather at the bar and local Tico girls would come up and ask for a dance.

11 years on and Mal Pais and Santa Teresa have changed radically.

Bridges have replaced shallow creek fords – the whole area is much more accessible. Loads of people get around on ATV's – all terrain quad bikes. There're two banks (!), shops (small malls perhaps a better description), beauty salons and spa treatment, and holy smoke, even couple of sushi restaurants. Sure, Frank's is still there at the crossroads, but rebuilt and now includes a two storey office block. The good ol' Mal Pais Surf Camp-Resort also still there but now there're are hotels, cabinas and resorts galore catering to all tastes all the way along the main road.

Click here for Mr Aventures full story on the robbery

Mal Pais lives up to its name or why I will never learn the difference between Imperfecto and Indefinido

When I started off with Petites et Grandes Aventures – and bascially up until yesterday – the word „adventure“ actually always had a rather positive connotation. Well, as I said, up until yesterday December 23rd.

6.07 am. Mr Aventures is an early riser. I'm not. It's our second morning in Mal Pais, a surfer's paradise on the southern tip of the Nicoya peninsula. We've booked into a very cute little cabin right on the beach.

6.10 am. Mr Aventures nipps out, checks the weather condition, the waves and decides to go for an early surf.

6.15 am. He waxes his surfboard on the terrace and takes off. I decide to sleep in a it longer.

Between 6.20 and 6.30. I've just fallen asleep again as I suddenly feel a presence, very close - actually right next to my head. Instinctively I think this can't be Mr Aventures, he's out surfing. A fraction of a second later and the shadow is out the door. I'm storming behind, adrenaline pumping, brain on auto-pilot, blind without my glasses... and only wearing my undies. I'm just racing behind the guy, yelling trying to draw attention to the thief. I don't remember how I got around the hammock blocking the way in front of our cabin, I'm just running, screaming and shouting. 100 meters. Then it strikes me, what if he has an accomplice? What am I doing? The guy disappears in the bushes – I have two options, now quick decision Barb, I dart back. The beach is empty, no one has heard me, not even the fisherman at the end of the beach. F***. I'm angry, scared and really pissed off. I am in such a shock, I don't even remember a single detail of the thief – what did he look like? What did he wear?

6.35 am. I'm back at the cabin. I assess the damage, lock the door and go to find Mr Aventures.

6.45 am. I get Mr Aventures out of the water. It was such a peaceful morning and he seems to have a great time. Bummer.

6.50 am. We're back at the cabin, shell shocked, calling the manager.
My brown Marimekko bag is gone. And also the G10 Canon with all our holiday snaps. Damn. This stupid f***** he's probably thought he'd cracked the jackpot with my heavy bag... I would have loved to see his face when he opened it and saw: Spanish Level 1, Spanish Level 2, Spanish-German dictionary, Latin American Short stories in Spanish and German translation, Spanish vocabulary, Spanish grammar, plus a Gala and Vanity Fair magazine, along with my extensive collection of miles and more cards... Lufthansa, Air France, Qantas, British Airways, Air Berlin.

Shortly past 7 am. The very sweet manager arrives, and the night guard - who had left at 4 am.


7.30 am. Local police arrive on the scene. No one speaks English, great. I describe the facts for about the fourth time in broken Spanish, plus do a pantomime of the robbery. I'm clearly struggling with my Spanish verbs and the various past tenses that I was determined to learn during these holidays.

Well, so much for my good intentions, I will now certainly not improve my irregular verbs, nor my imperfecto nor indefinido, but I've managed to make a police statement in Spanish. And I think they told me there's a place in San Jose where I'll be able to claim my valuables and get reimbursed. That sounds too promising too be true, but I'll check it out.

For now we've moved up the hill, hopefully a safe distance enough from the beach, and I'm trying to stop scanning everyone suspiciously and looking for my brown bag and my yellow Spanish books.

Saturday, 20 December 2008

El Cafe Quiz

Today we've visited the headquarters and roasting facilities of Cafe Britt - the most famous coffee roaster in Costa Rica. We've learned everything about coffee - from its history, varities, harvesting, drying and roasting process. And of course I'm still shaking with so much coffeine after tasting all the coffees.

By popular demand the PGA FOOD QUIZ is back.

How many coffee pickers are needed to pick the Costa Rican coffee harvest every year?

Whoever comes closest to the correct figure will receive a packet of delicious Cafe Britt - which apparently is fairly difficult to get in Europe.

Friday, 19 December 2008

Pura Vida on the Pacuare River

Rafting into the Pacuare Lodge was easy, but wait until you raft out we were warned. Our expectations were high, but the experience surpassed anything we could have ever imagined. The river runs fast with huge waves and rapids class III and IV. From October through December the water is at its highest - great, good timing!



I've never paddled so hard in my life. I clung so strongly to the raft that my muscles still hurt three days later. But our raft led by the indefatigable river guide Pascal was lucky. Down one shallow class III technical rapid we watched another raft lose its entire crew, almost capsizing. Plenty of chuckles from us as they floated by in ones and twos.

All that amongst a breathtaking rainforest: waterfalls right, left and centre. Deep spectacular canyons, wildlife galore probably wondering what all that screaming is about and the jungle so high it's touching the sky.

It definitely ranks as a TRES GRANDE AVENTURE.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Another day in paradise


5 pm Pacuare Lodge. It's quickly getting dark here in the jungle of the reserve Rio Pacuare. The mist is coming down from the top of the canopy, it's humid and cooler than the past few days.

The staff is lighting hundreds of candles throughout the lodge. There's no electricity here - apart from the kitchen which is powered by a little water turbine.

Yesterday we rafted into the lodge, along with the supply raft that carried everything from our bags to food supplies - including dozens of cases of Imperial beer and as many trays of eggs. I think this made the eggs and beer taste even better knowing the effort it takes in getting it there.

As I sip my beer at the bar, the sound of the wild Pacuare river rushing by, the hum of insects and birds make a great evening sound track. It's paradise - a word I seem to be using everywhere in Costa Rica.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

The Punisher

The Lonely Planet had warned us, in its Top Ten of Costa Ricas Worst Roads Carate-Puerto Jiménez is ranked second and is called "The Punisher".

To save a few colones we decided to catch the bus, known locally as the "collectivo". For the equivalent of eight dollars your one way ticket gets you a place on a bench seat in the back of a cattle truck.

With a quick call of all aboard for any stragglers around the pulperia in Carate the driver locks the back gate and we were off.


The comfort of our thinly padded seat lasted about two seconds. I watched the agony as the man sitting across from me whack his head against the wooden side panels of the truck, but grinning like this was fun. He certainly had fun in Carate. Despite the bumpy road he whipped out a little plastic bag from his wallet and handed it across to me. At first I thought here we go, I'm being offered drugs, which wouldn't be surprising for a guy wearing a bandana emblazoned with marijuana leaves and lyrics to Bob Marley songs, but no he was just showing off the gold dust he had collected on the beach in Carate and in the surrounding creeks.

There are not really proper bus stops along the way, people just flag down the collectivo.

There was the Costa Rican cowboy who leaped on - light blue jeans, big belt buckle, leather hat and neat mustache. A real tough Tico. Later down the track the truck really filled up. There was the old woman trying to counter the impact of bumps by steadying herself with her umbrella. Across from the old lady another woman was also struggling with the bumps. While looking after her children the woman was clutching her enormous boobs with both hands to try and well... do you get the picture? Poor thing, the two and a half hour trip through the jungle and over several rivers was certainly arduous. Upon arrival in Puerto Jiminez the woman with the big boobs fainted in the truck. Maybe it was the heat... maybe mammary distress?

Monday, 15 December 2008

Cabo Matapalo to Corcovado

Our next stop is up the coast at La Leona Lodge. The only way you can access this tent camp right on the border to the Corcovado national park is by hiking the better part of an hour along the pristine beach. Our lagguage is following in a quaint little horse cart. The camp is sitting right by the beach, hammocks scattered around the property inviting us to a long lazy afternoon. There's no electricity, but open air bathrooms at the back of the tents and amazing views out onto the pacific. The National Geographic described the Osa peninsula as the „most biologically intense place on earth“ - I don't know about that, but I've never seen so much mammals, birds and insects in my entire life.

Dolphins, sea turtles and whales as we're sitting in front of our tent gazing out onto the ocean. And the next morning is even more prolific: spider monkeys, squirrel monkeys, white-throated capuchins and howler monkeys, oatis, squirrels, bats, golden orb spider, poisonous frogs, scarlet macaws, tucans, woodpeckers, honeycreepers, manakins, tanagers, herons, vultures, hawks, caracaras and pelicans – all those in only half a day hike through the Corcovado. I wish we'd have more time to spend here... but we'll be back – next time for some serious hiking in the Corcovado. Maybe we'll then also spot some tapirs, crocodiles and pumas.

Saturday, 13 December 2008

It's a jungle out there


The day starts early here at Lapa Rios on the southern tip of the secluded Osa Peninsula – and not only because we're still a bit jet lagged.

As dawn breaks an ever growing ensemble of jungle sounds reminds you where you are and what lies beyond the moskito net and the exquisite open air wooden hut.
The howler monkeys are still on patrol in the canopy – the gutteral woop echoing across the valley. I can hear tucans, scarlet macaws and flocks of other birds above the constant hum of insects. Across the Golfo Dulce the lights of Golfito twinkle and long corduroy-like lines of swell sweep across the azur blue water.


With a cup of fresh brewed Costa Rican coffee that has just been delivered on our door step I tip toe to the comfy hammock on our private wooden deck to watch the sun rise.

So begins another day in paradise.

Monday, 8 December 2008

I would love to go to Le Web but...

I'm going to Costa Rica for a well earned break!

I'll try to follow what's going on via #leweb on twitter. I interviewed Le Web's founder Loic Le Meur recently for Network Europe Extra



It sounds like it's going to be really interesting. Thanks Loic for sparing some time so shortly before the start of Le Web.

Monday, 1 December 2008

The visionary Don Pepe

I read an interesting article in the French daily newspaper "Libération" this morning. Costa Rica: Pays sans Kaki. 60 years ago, on December 1st 1948, José Figueres Ferrer also known as "Don Pepe" changed the fate of Costa Rica. After winning a short civil war, Don Pepe nationalized all the banks of the country - but more importantly he abolished the Costa Rican army. Instead of buying arms, Costa Rica hired teachers and doctors. Money saved on military expenses went straight into improving the country's education and health system.


And while the neighbours experienced conflicts and wars, Costa Rica soon became the most stable and most democratic country of Central America. It's certainly not a coincidence that Costa Rica today ranks 48th on the world development index, while Nicaragua and Guatemala lag far behind on rank 110 and 118.

Mr Aventures' Snapshot 2008

Fieldreports has been out and about much more than me this year.

Here's his snapshot 2008:


snapshot '08 from Guy Degen on Vimeo.

"It was a busy year through the lens...

Sometimes the most interesting stories aren't the ones you were sent to cover.

What's that saying - the kindness of strangers? Believe me it rings true. Many people, in all manner of circumstances, were patient with their time to tell me a little of their lives.

This is not a 'Year in Review' - just a tiny snapshot of places I visited and people who shared their stories with me over 2008."

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