Day 1: Journey to Barra del Colorado
While the Central Valley and Pacific Coast were getting more than their fair share of torrential downpours this rainy season, the Caribbean shoreline was bathed in sunshine and seemed the logical choice for our next adventure. We were visiting during the tail end of the green sea turtle's (Chelonia mydas) nesting season, and would hopefully get a glimpse of these giant, fascinating reptiles along the deserted beaches of Tortuguero.
Before traveling to this tiny village named after the turtles that nest there year after year, Vincent (our photographer) and I would embark on an entirely different journey. We were headed to Barra del Colorado, roughly 40 kilometers north of Tortuguero, to fish for monster tarpon in the mouth of the Rio Colorado. This isn't your everyday kind of fishing; the waters around Barra del Colorado have been voted one of the top ten places to fish in the world. It is the only place in Costa Rica where 100-plus pound tarpon can be taken year-round.
Due to its isolated location on the northeastern Caribbean coast, Barra is only accessible via plane or boat. We were advised to fly in, as most fishermen do, and take advantage of the stunning mountain views afforded during the 35-minute jaunt. Never a fan of small rattletrap aircraft or even the mildest of turbulence, I was relieved to discover that the flights were already full, ensuring our travel by means of the slower but less panic-inducing bus/boat route.
In a brief but entertaining phone call, Dan Wise, owner of Archie Fields' Rio Colorado Lodge, explained that we'd have to take the local chicken bus on bone-crunching backcountry roads and would likely arrive at his fishing lodge just before dusk. With his deep Southern drawl and hilarious delivery, Dan was a character, and I knew he alone might be worth the trip.
The voyage to Barra del Colorado was indeed long, but surprisingly simple. It is not for folks hauling tons of luggage, the impatient, or those without tolerance for loud noises and extreme heat. We bought tickets at the Caribe terminal in San Jose for the 9 a.m. bus to Cariari de Guapiles.
If you ever find yourself with a few spare moments at the Caribe bus station and would like to squeeze in some blood work or your annual physical exam, rest assured it is all feasible at the onsite doctor's office. Or, like me, you can use those valuable minutes to gulp down some rice and beans and take your chances on an elusive stuffed giraffe in one of the ubiquitous claw machines.
After two hours on the bus, we arrived in the dusty hamlet of Cariari and had three hours to kill before our next bus departed for Puerto Lindo. Vincent scoured the streets in search of a cool, shaded cafe where we could rest our sweaty limbs and get some lunch. Our chosen restaurant offered such tantalizing meals as "mashed seafood to the butter" and my personal favorite, "the meat barge". I'm not exactly sure what a meat barge is, but am positive that, had my carnivorous boyfriend been with us, I would be describing it right now.
We boarded an ancient Bluebird school bus for the two and a half-hour trek to Puerto Lindo. It was the chicken bus minus the live chickens, but was chock full of villagers on their way home to Barra. They toted weary children, groceries and sacks of chicken and cattle feed. The landscape was dominated by banana plantations and coconut palms which later gave way to rolling hills speckled with cattle ranches. We crawled along the jarring gravel road with bicyclists whizzing past us, the bus's deafening engine on the verge of conking out at any moment.
The bus backed up to the canal of Puerto Lindo, depositing twenty of us on a long, narrow boat for the remaining one-hour trip to Barra del Colorado. We motored through shallow silt-clogged canals, getting stuck every now and again on the river bottom. The captain patiently navigated through a brief rain shower to the broader waters of the Rio Colorado. It was nearly 6 p.m. by the time we arrived at the Rio Colorado Lodge, our home for the next two evenings.
Built in 1972 by tarpon fishing pioneer Archie Fields, Rio Colorado Lodge was the first fishing lodge of its kind in Barra del Colorado. Constructed on raised walkways in a breezy, rustic style, the lodge has a rich history that includes many a clandestine guest as well as Costa Rica's record tarpon catch at 207 pounds.
Now owned and operated by Mississippi native and raconteur extraordinaire Dan Wise, the lodge continues to attract anglers in search of world-class fishing in one of the most beautiful yet remote regions of Costa Rica.
Dan immediately invited us to join the other anglers in the bar. Happy hour was well under way, and the vodka and rum were flowing freely. We were greeted by a sunburned but jolly group of fishermen on their second and third days at the lodge. They had collectively jumped 17 colossal tarpon and boated eight or nine. The fishing was incredible. It always is in the Rio Colorado.
Dan grilled up beautiful thick pork chops, and we dined family-style around a lazy Susan, eating tasty home-cooked fare. We helped ourselves to roasted potatoes, homemade yeast rolls and eggplant souffle, and topped it off with a decadent blackberry cobbler. Hailing from South Carolina, I felt right at home with such rich low country cooking. Sated with food and drink and good conversation, I wandered back to my comfortable room, cranked up the air conditioner and marveled at the lack of mosquitoes.
Tomorrow we would rise before the sun, have breakfast and be on the water by 6 a.m. I couldn't wait! Tarpon fishing is unlike any other, and we were in the best spot to do it, a sort of Disneyworld for big boys, as Dan calls it. This is a place where men (and women) can disappear for a week or two, catch some unbelievable fish, enjoy a cocktail or ten, relax and revel in the entertaining stories of Dan Wise.