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TORTUGA LODGE – A LITTLE PIECE OF PARADISE IN THE HEART OF THE JUNGLE
By JG,
On arrival (at Tortuga Lodge), looking like drowned rats with big smelly backpacks and muddy clothes, we were greeted with big smiles, relived of our bags and shown to the terrace overlooking the river before being handed a delicious fresh fruit cocktail. Curling up on the squashy sofas, drinking steaming hot coffee, munching on freshly baked cupcakes and watching the rain pound down on the river, Mark and I started to feel slightly smug about the decision we had made. The hotel manager came to welcome us, talking us through the services & then showed us to our room after handing us an umbrella each, as it involved a pretty walk through the tropical gardens and past the crescent shaped pool with a hammock house in the middle.

Walking into our room was magical – it was set in a chalet style building, all clad in beautiful polished hardwood, on the first floor and with a 360 degree veranda featuring hammocks, rocking chairs and cushions. The room opened up onto the front balcony offering a beautiful view of the river & gardens and also onto the back where you were on the edge of the 146 acres of private virgin rainforest. The room had some thoughtful features such as a bookshelf teaming with interesting reads, photographs depicting some interesting history of the lodge, such as when the owner caught a Bull Shark just off the river pier, and lots of information on the efforts the lodge is making to be ecologically friendly – most of the furniture is made out of local wood or coconut shells giving interesting shapes and dimensions to the room. The atmosphere was very serene – huge bed with crisp white linen, squashy pillows, fluffy towels, immaculate tiling in the bathroom, low lighting and lots of candles, which contrasted exquisitely with the dark hardwood – it looked like some kind of heaven for our weary bodies. The best thing was the lack of phones, TVs, even glass in the windows (only nets) really making you feel a million miles from anywhere. Although the lodge has wifi in its office room, it is your choice whether or not to go in and use it, so it gives you the opportunity to totally switch off from the outside world and really get back to nature.

For lunch, we sat on the restaurant veranda and enjoyed a beautiful 3 course meal with an excellent bottle of cabernet sauvignon, the rest of which we finished on our balcony lying in the hammocks and listening to the sounds of the jungle. While Mark snoozed, I read my book, although I kept getting distracted by the 15 or so howler monkeys that decided to jump around the trees right next to the balcony putting on quite a fun display for me – the sort of disturbance which is a pleasure to receive. Later, Mark and I decided to go exploring on some of the many trails through the rainforest which belong to the lodge. They lent us a pair of wellies and off we went. Tortuguero national park is famous for its turtles which come to the protected beach to lay eggs every year. It is also one of the largest national parks in Costa Rica and has the widest expanse of rainforest which is inaccessible by road – the only way to navigate the jungle is through the intricate network of canals which exist in certain areas. Subsequently, the variation & richness of wildlife in the jungle is impressive – jaguars are known to be spotted on the beach looking for the turtle maternity unit, monkeys wander around like tourists in Leicester Square & there are more iguanas sunbathing by the pool than teenagers desperate for a tan on Brighton Beach. On our little stroll through the jungle, we spotted the vibrant red poison dart frogs having fun in the puddles, lots of monkeys, big spiders on glistening webs, many butterflies, especially the big vibrant turquoise and black variety & cheeky leaf insects trying to unsuccessfully blend in.

Tortuga Lodge also has a games room with ping pong, chess, connect four, etc, so Mark and I had fun messing around with a healthy dose of competition. For dinner we had booked a special meal to celebrate a year of being together, which was to be held in the tropical garden by candlelight. On arriving at the bar for a pre-dinner cocktail & homemade appetisers, we discovered to our delight that everywhere had been candlelit – the restaurant, pool area, & along the river making it look magical. Considering that we were the only ones in the hotel, & it had all been done for us, it was an amazing effort on the part of the hotel staff. Receiving very personalized service from our waiter, we were escorted to our table which looked so beautiful. It is hard to put into words how happy I was…picture a balmy night, tropical flowers lit up by dozens of candles placed on the ground twinkling like magical glowworms, lanterns hanging from the trees, fire torches along the river, songs of cicadas filling the air, the occasional waft of wild jasmine, and there in the middle of it all, hundreds of miles inside the exotic rainforest, a table beautifully set for two. The meal was delicious, with the waiter remembering all of our personal tastes. The only interruptions were the iguanas plopping into the river next to us, and Mark and I pondering over whether the red dots on the river were envious crocodile eyes licking their lips at such delicious fare. The meal was topped off with a cake specially made for us, brought out by the chef Valentin. As if the meal was not amazing enough, when we retired to our room, a little fairy had been inside to put fresh towels, turn down the bed and light candles all over the place. There were even two flutes of coffee liqueur placed on the side table – the whole experience was the most romantic thing I have ever seen.

The following morning, where an alarm clock was provided in the form of toucans and monkeys, we dined on a scrumptious breakfast of fresh fruit, granola, bacon, etc, and of course, delicious Costa Rican coffee. A double mattress with fresh towels had automatically been laid out by the pool ‘in case’ we wanted to go for a swim – so typical of the hotel, always anticipating your needs before you even have to think or ask. Therefore, alongside the huge iguanas we lounged around before bumping into the gardener, who very kindly took us on a walk around the grounds. This proved to be very interesting with him pointing out a snake, the tree to look out for the resident sloth (which happened to be next to our balcony), places to look for toucans, the sunbathing spot of the resident Caiman & all sorts of kingfishers. Later on that day, the manager came to find us to show us the sloth which was only metres away, clumsily falling from one tree to another. We also found a big tarantula in a hole and about 10 colourful toucans that were all munching on palm dates. Lunch and dinner provided more three-course mouth watering delicacies & then it was time for the piece de resistance – the night time turtle watching.

The hotel took just Mark and I to the place in their boat with a guide and we went to our allotted space on the beach (it is timed as it is a national park and they need to restrict the number of visitors). We were a little disappointed to discover that there were about 6 other groups, some with up to 8 people all to see the same turtle, which meant taking it in turns to watch them. Perhaps this was a result of the exclusivity we had been spoilt with over the last few days, or maybe there were just too many people, who knows?! This small annoyance quickly vanished at the sight of a 300 pound trying to dig herself out of her nest, obviously exhausted from laying all her eggs. The ranger gave her a helping push and then she dragged herself down the beach, back into the pitch black sea. We watched another turtle come in shortly afterwards, dig a nest and then could see her popping out the eggs like ping pong balls in quick succession – I think she would give the girls in Pat Pong a good run for their money. It was quite special to watch & definitely worth waiting around for.

We left our little paradise the next morning, quite sad to be going on our way & returning to the backpacker lifestyle, but armed with some amazing memories & a great incentive to work as hard as possible to stay in boutique hotels again! (From: J&M's Big Adventure at http://jandmbigadventure.blogspot.com/)

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Turtle nesting in Tortuguero (July-Oct)

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