That Time Our Boat Left Us in Tortuguero, Costa Rica

In the months before Costa Rica, I agonized over our itinerary. I second-guessed my decision to schedule travel to another town on my husband’s birthday. He reassured me that it’d be fine, so I stuck with my plan. After all, the whole week would be his birthday celebration. On the morning of his birthday, we hiked, ate breakfast, packed our belongings and said goodbye to the lovely staff at the Tortuga Lodge. Other guests were checking out and making their way to the boat heading for Tortuguero that morning, and we joined them. The lodge has a boat scheduled to go into town every day at 9:30 a.m., and our reservation for our boat/shuttle to Puerto Viejo said to be at the dock at 9:45. I was a little nervous about cutting it close, so I called Caribe Shuttle at 9:30 to ask that the boat wait for us if we weren’t there in time. They seemed to be confused by my call, but they assured me that our boat captain would not leave without us. Fifteen minutes later, we arrived in Tortuguero to see a boat next to us boarding. It seemed that it would be full of about 15 or so passengers and their bags. I wondered how we would fit on it. With my reservation confirmation in hand, I walked up to the captain and asked if this was the boat to Moin. He looked at it confused. He told us he didn’t hear anything about us (under our name). I wondered if there was another boat departing to Moin. I showed our lodge staffer the confirmation and he called Caribe Shuttle, who said the boat was departing at 10. Meanwhile, the captain was saying his boat was full and that no one called him to let him know. In 5 minutes, the boat was fully loaded and departing with Graham and I standing on the dock with our bags.
I called Caribe Shuttle repeatedly and was told that they didn’t know why the captain said that and that another boat would be sent to us. I was asked to call back at 1 p.m. if a boat had not arrived for us. Breaking the news to the birthday guy that we would have to sit with our things for three hours was tough. I felt guilty, angry and confused. We decided to make the most of our situation by grabbing him a beer and myself some fries at the adjacent restaurant. We met a German 20-something woman who was traveling by herself. She shared her itinerary with us, and she was heading to Puerto Viejo as well. It was nice to chst with such a nice woman over a snack. After about an hour and a half, we moved to the courtyard near the dock to wait. At long last, 1 p.m. arrived, but there was no sign of a boat. I would have no idea which boat was ours either, because no one seems to be looking for their passengers. At 1:05, I called Caribe Shuttle back. They asked me to wait on hold while they called the boat captain. Then they told me he was in Tortuguero already, and that once we arrived in Moin the owner of the boat (or shuttle company?) would drive us to Puerto Viejo in his personal vehicle. I could hear the dispatcher on the phone asking the captain what time we would leave and that I had already waited three hours. This is when I lost it. I just didn’t know what to say anymore. The frustration came out in the form of uncontrollable tears. I wasn’t even responding anymore. Five feet away from me, another Lodge employee was on the phone with them asking them what was wrong and trying to get us a ride out as soon as possible. Partly because I was touched by his kindness and partly because of frustration, the tears just intensified. Finally the boat captain motioned to us that he was taking us and we could board. I walked over wiping away tears that would not stop. Now they were tears of relief, maybe, I don’t know. As I boarded, everyone seemed to be concerned about the crying woman who wouldn’t say anything. The captain turned around and asked if I was OK, telling me he would get us to Moin in 2 hours. He had just returned from Moin and was going to take a lunch break but instead skipped it to take us. His kindness again sparked more tears. For the first 20 minutes I couldn’t let it go. We were on our way but I wasn’t enjoying myself. I wasn’t looking around. Then, finally, the captain turned around and gave me a thumbs-up to again ask if I was OK. It was then that I decided I needed to instead by grateful that we were on our way; we would be OK. He asked if we wanted to sit in front of the boat to see the flora and fauna better. I was hesitant; it seemed dangerous. I agreed anyway, and it was the best decision of the day. I will never forget the sights: Howler monkeys just overhead, caiman jumping in the water, birds flying toward and above us, and even two crocodiles. I will never know how, but he spotted a sloth hanging out in a tree, staring at us. He stopped each time we saw something so we could take photos and look around. Best of all, we had the boat to ourselves instead of being on an overcrowded boat. I realized that what started as a frustrating situation turned out to be the most amazing ride through rainforest on canals and rivers. We stopped to see where the rivers flowed into the ocean, we watched as angry white-faced monkeys threw branches toward us and we waved as packed tour boats floated by us. We spotted and said hello to locals fishing in the river. We arrived in Moin that afternoon, where the owner was waiting with his friend. He apologized profusely for the mixup and said he would take us to our hotel, which was an hour car ride away. The day was adventure made better by all the helpful people we encountered. I appreciated them tremendously that day.
Scenes from the ride:
A river flows into the Caribbean Sea. We rode on the Tortuguero and Pacuare rivers, along with some canals.

What difficulties have you encountered while traveling? Did you ever have a negative experience or one that taught you a lesson?

P.S. Get Costa Rica tips in Lonely Planet’s guidebook, which I used in my own planning.

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