It’s done. Gio is working for Voice of Nosara and I am on the Caribbean coast one the other side of the country.
My last few days were an odd mix of nostalgia, excitement, limited sleep and booze. I tried to pass on everything I’d learned in six-months to my replacement Gio and at the same time we spent each night drinking and getting to know each other. It’s funny, though we’d never met we know many of the same people back home. To give you and idea of how small the photojournalism community in Canada is.
My trip here was epic, and started when Gio drove me from the Voice of Nosara office, where I’ve lived for the last six-months to a friends house a few kilometers down the road where I was spending the last night. I had a bag with me and he had his gear bag so I had to sit on the luggage rack and face backwards. I watched Playa Guiones and all the places I’ve come to know so well fade into the night as we sped away. It seemed like the most appropriate metaphor.
Saturday morning was early. I didn’t get to sleep until about 12:30 and I had to be up at 4:30 to meet the bus in time, shortly after 5am. Tired and nursing a small hangover I set out for Nicoya, then San Jose. When I arrived in San Jose I realized the last time I had been there had been in late February to meet my girlfriend Yamina at the airport when she arrived for her first visit. It was only five months ago but it feels like a lifetime ago.
I transferred bus stations, the Caribbean bus station was about eight blocks away, had some lunch and boarded the final bus to Puerto Viejo de Talamanca in Costa Rica’s eastern-most province. I arrived shortly after 7pm and took a taxi to Rockin’ J’s hostel, which is sort of like a warehouse of drunk tourists. I plan to take it easy and enjoy the chill vibe during the day though. I’m on a very tight budget now.
In addition to the standard dorm or private options, this place lets you rent a tent or pitch your own.
They also let you rent hammocks or hang your own. Aside from camping with your own tent or hammock renting a hammock is the next cheapest option, so I jumped on it.
The different warehouses border a central courtyard which is nice and relaxed
Did I mention the gaudy mosaics?
The next photo was taken just inside this entrance.
Before I went east everyone told me the Caribbean was a very different place from the west-coast. I’ve been here less than 24 hours and already know they’re right.
When I said, ‘warehouse for drunk tourists,’ I meant all of it. I woke up around 9am and walked to my locker where two girls were drinking a litre of wine, their conversation was mostly about how they’d been drunk all day the day before too. I left for an hour to buy groceries and when I came back they were gone, but the empty bottle (which had been full) was still there. Then I went to the beach.
I miss Nosara already, the people, the place and the beauty. I haven’t travelled a whole lot around Costa Rica, but every place I have been to palls in comparison. Still I am excited to be coming home, though not excited to be coming home broke and in debt. However, with five months in Guelph before I need to go back to school hopefully I can save up some coin and make a dent in the debt.
Ultimately it was totally worth it though. And I know I’ve left the paper in good hands with Gio there, if you want to keep up with his travels in Nosara check out his blog.
On Tuesday I will catch a bus back to San Jose I hope to stay in the same hostel I stayed in during my first two nights in Costa Rica back in January. Then on Wednesday I’ll taxi or bus to the airport and leave for Canada.
Until then I’m going to take it easy on the east-coast, where reggae pours out of every bar, black guys with dreadlocks cruise through town on beach bikes and every other place sells Caribbean style fried chicken. Not a bad place for my retirement from Voice of Nosara.
It’s the final stretch for me in Nosara now. A week from now I plan to be in the Caribbean town of Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, in the eastern province of Límon. Until then I’m finishing up a few final stories and assignments and rounding out the things I wanted to do here.
So, last weekend I finally got to Samara, some 25km from Playa Guiones where I live, I left Friday night and returned Sunday. Without a functioning quad I had to take the bus though, which requires going about 30km out of the way and transferring buses.
I stayed at a place called Las Mariposas. Their dorms, at $15 a night, were expensive for Central America but affordable for Samara. The place was nice and the people were good.
Overall I prefer Nosara, the big thing is the beach. Samara’s is crowded and the sun doesn’t set over the ocean. From Guiones to Ostional, 6km north, there is a turtle refuge for the Olive Ridley sea turtles who lay their eggs there. So there is very little beachside development, save for a handful of lots who have concessions from the government.
I also saw the biggest land crab I’ve seen yet. It crawled into the hostel grounds and ended up trapped in a case of empty beer bottles. We tried to help it free but it freaked out, fell down and ran off.
He was big enough to arract the attention of people walking by.
Sunday morning I was up at 5:45am to meet one of the editors. When I told her I was going to Samara, she asked if I could come on a finca tour Sunday morning to take pictures for an article she’s working on for next print issue. Samara is close enough to Nosara that we cover events there too.
A finca is a plantation basically, as well as a colonial status symbol brought over by the Spanish, they exist all across Latin America. In this case this one is overgrown, with some small-scale logging. The owners, who bought it a few years ago, want to use the jungle space they have as an eco tour business.
So we were given a short version of the tour and walked for two hours, mostly through a river because they haven’t cut many trails. We saw lots of cool stuff, but there was only one pictures I really liked.
Rewinding a little bit, earlier that week on July 4th I helped shoot another wedding. I’m not really going to post pics here though. Instead i’ve made some site changes, the navigation bar at the top now links to my twitter account, my new facebook page, and two new blogs I set up and linked here, portfolios and weddings.
Check them out they’re part of my effort to expand my online presence and commercial photography business. However, I will include one picture from my most recent wedding, it’s not in the album on my weddings page though. It’s what I would call wedding B-roll, but I really like this photo.
Ok so it’s been a month since my last post. April was a bit of a slow and weird month, I spent a lot of time working out the details for my return home and my replacement in July.
However, that’s neither here nor there. I spent most of the month working on a feature about the volunteer firefighters here in Nosara. Aside from that it was the odd assignment for the web. There has been some reorganizing of the staff internally and it’s been a somewhat confusing to say the least, but everything is starting to straighten itself out.
So going in chronological order…
Early in April I stopped by the Nosara Yoga Spa for a trippy little concert featuring three very talented guitarists. One of them, Bill McPhearson, is credited with starting the live music scene, more or less, in Nosara, with a Tuesday night acoustic set at the Gilded Iguana, a popular bar/hotel in town.
Tuesdays at the Iguana have now become an iconic part of Nosara’s nightlife. McPhearson has also left Nosara to take up a teaching post in California. However, he is married to a Tico (slang for Costa Rican) so he plans to return once a year at least.
About a week later I went to the animal rescue centre for a web feature on adoptable pets. It was fun, the animals were cute and the woman who runs it is incredibly dedicated.
Plus I shot all the portraits at f/1.4 it’s the newest coolest thing in photojournalism (I say that somewhat sarcastically). Basically it means shooting with the shallowest depth of field you possibly can, hence in this photo, literally only one eye is in focus. More and more photographers are paying big bucks for lenses that open to f/1.4, 1.8, 2, and I guess the logic is, if you’re paying for it why not use it? This was one of the first times I found it useful for an assignment that wasn’t a portrait.
I’ve also been getting into shape somewhat. We’ve been running a blog-style post a week on the web about fitness options in Nosara. What it means is I get to take a variety of free classes, ask some questions snap some pics then write a brief first person perspective on it.
So far there’s been Crossfit, which defeated me (I’m picking words carefully here), a Zumba/Bootie Fit class and today Tai Chi, my favourite thus far as been Tai Chi. although Crossfit made me feel like the hulk and Zumba/Bootie Fit left me feeling like a back up dancer in a rap video…
Anyway the photos weren’t anything special from any of the classes, but I like this one because I’m visible. I never ‘see’ myself at work, and after looking at this photo I think that’s a good thing.
So this will mark the third post I have with rodeo pictures. This time it was in the beach town of Garza, about 10km outside Nosara. It was pretty cool and it operated the same way as the Nosara fiestas, after two of which, I had a system down.
The big thing at this fiesta was this psychotic bull called ‘Malacrianza,’ which I was specifically asked to get a picture of. Talk about pressure, the rider lasted 7 seconds. At three frames per second (5D Mk II) that gives me a max of 14 photos. I had 8 useable ones, these two are my favorites. It was crazy though the arena was sparsely lit with these flickering floodlights, every photo the white balance is a little different then the last. Also Malacrianza was bucking in he part of the arena where my placement counter to floodlights left my pictures washed out. For those familiar with Adobe Lightroom, these photos have the contrast and black toned tab turned up 100%, and even still the photo lacks contrast…
I like that he wore a hockey helmet, it’s the second one I saw in Costa Rica, the first one was on a motorcycle driver…
These fiestas are crazy… people in and out of the ring.
Over the course of the month I’ve been meeting with the Nosara firefighters, speaking with their funders and founders, and other towns nearby about their situation for a feature on the underfunded and overworked volunteer department here. The feature sprang from an idea I pitched in March about a series of portraits of the firefighters with bios and their opinions on what they needed to better do their job.
The idea was based off a project I saw by Canadian Photojournalist Louie Palu, he worked in Afghanistan for a while and shot a really stunning series of portraits of the soldiers he was with. More pics shot at f/1.4. Palu’s work is here, check it out, I still don’t have anything on it, but that’s how painters in the renaissance learned, first by painting work done by masters before them, then developing past or outside that.
I’ve never been to or photographed an orchestra before, so this past Saturday was cool. In March I wrote a preview story about a group of parents at the local Montessori school, they were planning to bring an orchestra from Nicoya comprised of high school music students to perform in Nosara. It was big, more than 400 people turned out to see it. Most of whom had never seen a show like that before.
The conductor was great, he was so emotive I had a hard time filing down pics.
I shot a bunch of regular photos of people playing instruments but to be honest, just a straight photo of someone playing a violin is boring, unless they’re really emotive or flamboyant. So I was looking for something different. Because they were kids most barely saw over their music stands, I decided to play around with that, this was my favorite.
This one falls outside the chronological order of the post as I shot it on the 24th. I looked outside my window and saw a strangely bright star, I looked it up on Google and it turns out that night Venus was going to rise with the moon and be visible to the naked eye. I set up a tripod and took a photo, I haven’t done much astrography, but I want to try more. It’s more accessible than I thought, I mean this was taken at a 270mm focal length, nothing huge, you just have to know when and where to look.
On the 5th of May there will be what’s called a ‘super moon,’ basically based on the Earth and Lunar orbits this will be the closest the moon comes to the Earth all year, making it look much brighter, bigger and visible.
I think I’ll bust out my medium format, which by the way works. I had this old 50’s folding 6×6 shipped to me and I processed the first roll of film, some expired TriX a friend gave me. Camera works great and it felt badass to process film in Central America. #imanerd
Anyway, that’s it for now.
Well, it has been a long time since I posted. Mid February was a little slow I was working on a few different stories but not much too exciting happened.
Then the last week of February my girlfriend Yamina came to visit, we had a pretty excellent time here, lots of beach time and seaside drinks. Then suddenly she was gone. Although I didn’t really have time to miss her right away…
There were long walks on the beach after sunset…
And a trip into the jungle on ziplines…
The guides were pretty awesome people.
Complete with a sarcastic sense of humour…
Our last night was so romantic, they should make a movie.
The day after she left I had to go to Nicoya, the capital of the province Nosara is in. The paper wanted some stock photos of the of the members of town council there for future stories about their decisions. It was nice and easy, I was also asked to shoot some stock pics of key places in the city.
The next morning rather than going back to Nosara I had to leave the country because my visa had expired. When you enter Costa Rica you’re supposed to get a visa good for 90 days, however, mine was only good for 40 days, although I’m not sure why I think it was because I didn’t have a return flight booked.
So I left Nicoya at 6am for Liberia in northern Costa Rica then caught another bus to the border town of Peñas Blancas. I walked across the border and hit two snags: first I got screwed changing money, I changed $50 and the guy that did it took a $20 commission, then I left Costa Rica, at the Nicaraguan immigration booth I was dealing with my visa, just before we were finished the border guard became somewhat sketchy and quiet and told me I need to pay extra because my passport was dirty. While it is true there’s a coffee stain on it, that hasn’t been an issue for Canadian, American, Costa Rican or Peruvian authorities, this ass was soliciting a bribe. So I made him repeat himself then said I didn’t understand and asked him to explain exactly what he needed. It’s a technique I used in Cambodia to minimize or limit bribes required for border officials, making them state loudly and clearly, “I want you to pay me $X because your passport is dirty.” The idea being, the guard won’t want to be overheard by superiors or coworkers, the tactic worked and he growled at me, stamped my passport and I was on my way having only paid the prerequisite $12 for a tourist visa.
I got into the town near by and looked for a bus, I found a brightly coloured school bus headed to the capital, I hopped on board and we pulled out. The town of Peñas Blancas on the Nicaraguan side was like the wild west meets shanty town, people selling stolen watches, wallets and homemade food.
The bus dropped me off on the side of a highway about a kilometer from the hostel I was staying at. The hostel was located in the village of Poste Rojo, about 10km outside of the larger town of Granada.
Poste Rojo is a series of tree houses in the jungle. They rent small cabinas, private rooms, dormitory beds and hammocks, the latter was only $4 a night so naturaly that’s what I took.
Some of the areas were accessible via bridge.
I slept well enough. In the mornings though between the sun, Howler Monkeys and Cicadas it was hard to sleep in past 7am. The sound made by thousands of Cicadas during the day is completely deafening and I had a mild headache by the end of most days, thankfully at night they go quiet.
The day after I arrived was free rum night, yes all you can drink free rum… Everyone seemed to either black out, vomit or both… I didn’t though, I know how to drink without making an ass of myself. The party included a cow costume with a hole in the udder to feed rum out of and a visit by the Nicaraguan police… The cops, however, were dissuaded from doing anything when the hostel owner offered them beer and rum and a pack of cigarettes, they then joined the party. We took turns wearing their helmet and holding their shotgun for photos, then the cops sorta joined the party for a little while, I’m still not sure what to think about this.
My last full day in Nicaragua I joined a few other backpackers, two girls from Tilsonburg a guy from Germany, a guy from Sweden and a Nicaraguan-born Canadian, headed to a dormant volcano. The volcano, now called Laguna Apoyo has become a huge lake and is one of the deepest lakes in all of Central America. The water was beautiful, bath-tub warm and didn’t have salt! After a month and a half of the surf and salty pacific, a fresh water lake was amazing.
The walk down and up the crater was killer though…
The next morning I headed back on what became one of the most epic single day treks of my life. By the numbers: it was eleven hours, six cities, five buses, 2 countries and about $5. I also had trouble at the border, again, the Costa Ricans wouldn’t let me in because I didn’t have a copy of onward travel. I explained I only had a confirmation number for an electronic plane ticket, I couldn’t find an internet café to print out the number so instead I purchased a bus ticket from San Jose to Managua good for one year and then they let me in. I’ll need to leave again in three months to renew my visa anyway, so now at least I have a ticket direct from San Jose to Managua, next time I go I’ll bring a copy of my itinerary with me.
Interesting point too about Nicaraguan buses, they’re recycled school busses from North America, the one I rode from Poste Rojo to a town near the border actually said the words “Canadian Bluebird” in it and the emergency exit signs were in French and English (neither of which is widely spoken in Nicaragua). I wondered if maybe I’d been on the bus before, perhaps headed to a field trip as a young kid?
When I got back to Nosara I had dreams of a quiet beer and Skype with the girlfriend, however, that was not to be. My boss and the other reporter were at the office. Voice of Nosara has set up something big in August and she wanted to celebrate, so we got a bottle of Glenfidditch and went to a bar in town, bought some pizza and got a little silly.
This morning it was back to work, preparing an article about an upcoming surf competition and looking into some confusing rules relating to the Nosara airport terminal.
I promise I will try to update more often.
For now though that’s it.
I spent the last Thursday to Sunday with the Red Cross unit here in Nosara. Here is some key background about healthcare in Nosara: Healthcare in Costa Rica is universal, provided by the state. Doctors and hospital services are allocated based on population size and density. In Nosara, a town with a fluctuating population (due to tourism) health service are few. The Red Cross (a non-governmental organization) set up to provide basic, essential, paramedic and emergency services. However, due to the lack of adequate healthcare in the region they have slowly become the main providers of health services in Nosara and surrounding areas. They cover everything from pregnancy, injuries, illness, even hospice services. The government only reimburses the Red Cross for emergency services and the organization itself survives on donations and volunteers. As a result, the Red Cross in Nosara has had to cut back on non-essential services in recent years. The people of Nosara put the blame on the Red Cross, in reality the government has failed to provide adequate healthcare to the people of Nosara and are content to let the Red Cross shoulder their blame.
Thursday: A simple affair, I followed Victor Hugo, a full-time paramedic, as he went about his evening shift. Thursday’s are typically slow. He dealt with a dog bite and a sick infant then made dinner and relaxed.
Friday: A quiet day for most of it. In the evening I hoped in the back of a local’s SUV with Hugo. The Red Cross has limited ambulances and on Friday they were all out (one was in repair, two were making trips to the nearest hospital, 60km away and the fourth was on a call). The SUV took us to a house in Santa Marta, a neighborhood outside Nosara, inside a family’s matriarch was dying of emphysema. Hugo told me after she had a week, maybe less. He hooked her up to an oxygen tank, explained its use to the family and left. I didn’t shoot a single frame, something about it seemed wrong, as there were 15 members of the family standing around me watching. Although I had permission to take Hugo’s picture, I did not have the matriarch’s permission, I chose to respect her privacy.
Saturday: Another slow day, the crew at the office busied themselves with maintenance and cleaning. At dusk I followed David Perez Montiel, a volunteer paramedic, to the Nosara soccer field. The Red Cross sponsor’s a kids soccer team as part of a community outreach effort, he brought pop to give out to the kids at the end of the game. That night the Red Cross had six different calls and had to make two trips to the hospital in Nicoya, 60km away.
Sunday Morning: I was offered breakfast, consisting of fried pork and fried cheese in a tortilla, as well as a trip home to Guiones beach in the ambulance. On our way back, as we rounded the second to last corner, the road was filled with police and firefighters. I realized this was the fire my boss had texted me about earlier that morning. Because there hadn’t been any injuries the Red Cross wasn’t called, I asked them to stop and I hopped out and started shooting. Unfortunately, I missed the flames, which had been doused by 8-8:30, I arrived at 10:30 and was only able to catch firefighters dousing hotspots.
This one was my favourite because of the faces.
I also saw the paper copy for this month; I have about 90% of the photo credits in it… Now its back to work.