Our first day in Costa Rica, Boxing Day, dawned overcast. Apart from the beautiful modern Cathedral in Puerto Limon, where we were disappointed to find we had just missed an afternoon recital of Handel's Messiah, there was not a lot to see in the city.
The next day we had booked 4 hours horse-riding a 30 mile bus ride away in Cahuita. Cahuita is on the Caribbean coast with black sand, palm-fringed beaches and, beyond the palms, a lush coastal rainforest. Trails lead from the beach into the rainforest where sloths fill the trees and the sound of howler monkeys fills the air.
When asked if I was an experienced rider, I probably wouldn't have said 'yes' if I had known that I would be given a very fresh 3 year old to ride, particularly with no hard hat. If I am planning to go riding, I normally travel with riding gear, but this was a last-minute decision. The idea of galloping across extensive sandy beaches was enticing , but I hadn't reckoned on a bucking, skittish horse, combined with the hardest saddle I have ever sat on. We spent a good hour cantering and galloping, with my horse dashing in and out of the waves and bucking for joy. With a rope bridle which had no bit, I had very little control.
Torrential rain started an hour or so in to the ride and we all got completely drenched. My new ebay Prada 'raincoat' turned out not to be fit-for-purpose, unless that purpose is running from a shop across the pavement to a taxi, as I was soaked to the skin within minutes. The guide seemed keen to gallop back as quickly as possible, despite me saying that I would rather trot back regardless of the rain. I was concerned about getting bucked off, particularly as I was only one week into a five week trip, the longest 'holiday' from work I have managed in the last 20 years.
I ride every week at home, but after this ride I had some really serious bruising and it was not a riding experience I would want to repeat. Riding along the sands and into the rainforest was undoubtedly beautiful, but the horses, tack and management of the ride were definitely not of the standard I would expect.
After a delicious fish soup in Cahuita, Mark and I were glad of a break in the rain to explore the Cahuita National Park. The National Park is a biological corridor which extends to over 100 hectares of virgin forest. Just a stone's throw from the sea, the sandy path led us through a forest teeming with creatures. Sloths were everywhere and we had seen a few mothers with babies whilst riding, but our first sighting was of a sloth right next to us on the path who very very slowly crept away down the tree into the cover of the undergrowth. A couple of capuchin monkeys were playing in the trees and underneath, well disguised on a branch, was a snake with a big egg-sized lump half way down its body - dinner. Then at the very furthest extremity of the tip-top branch of a tree we spied an iguana. He was certainly getting the sun up there but I'm not sure how he was planning to get down. Howler monkeys made their presence known vocally, but were too far away to sight.
Then the rains returned and we ran dripping to the bus stop, sat soggy and sore for the hour's bus ride back to Puerto Limon and side-stepped muddy lakes in the road and splashing vehicles to arrive sodden and squelchy back at the boat.