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Dave and Jan's travels, day 276:
Playa Grande

19th February
Our first day in Costa Rica was a refreshingly easy day. It all started with our easiest border crossing yet. The outbound office on the Honduran side was a brand new building with remarkably straightforward procedures, so straightforward that the authorities had actually banned the normally essential "guides" (see our earlier article about border crossings for more details of what we missed this time).

Not only that, but when we arrived in Liberia (first town after the border), we visited the tourist office where the person on duty actually knew about something other than the town of Liberia. Fifteen efficient minutes later, we found ourselves equipped with telephone numbers for reserving our next stop, a map of the country, and a critique of the relative merits of three or four national parks. After the last few months, this knowledgable and efficient office reminded one of some of the good things about "western civilisation". OK, they aren't as sociable as the Nicaraguans, but at least stuff gets done. Which approach is preferable depends on what mood I'm in.

Our next stop after Liberia was Playa Grande, which - like most of Costa Rica's best beaches - involves a drive whose last ninety minutes take place on a rocky dirt road. At the end of this, the first hotel from the beach charges $70 per night, the second $35 and the third $15. The last was perfectly fine, although our host - a Russian named Uri - seemed a little paranoid.

Apart from a beautiful palm fringed beach, the main attraction of Playa Grande is the leatherback turtles. Leatherbacks are about 6 foot or more in length, weigh in at up to 600 lbs, and like to come ashore at high tide to lay eggs. Because we'd only booked the day before, we were in the "second group". This turns out to be a nuisance. High tide was at 2am, so everyone has to meet at the park rangers' office at 10pm. At about 10.30pm the first turtle waddles ashore, the walkie talkie message comes through and the "first group" shoot off to turtle-watch.

About 1.30am (yes, that is three hours later) a second turtle puts in an appearance. Slightly punch drunk, we stroll down to the beach and watch this creature attempt to lay some of the 800 eggs she holds inside and will lay in 10 batches of 80 between October and April. The turtle very slowly digs a hole with her rear flippers, without watching, so that if the hole starts to fill in, the first response is to keep digging. It takes a turtle around 30 minutes to realise that things aren't working and try another spot. Still, they are beautiful and strange creatures, and even though ours eventually threw in the towel and returned to the sea without laying any eggs, the whole sleep-deprived experience seemed well worth it. On land, they are huge, lumbering creatures whose enormous flippers can spray sand up to 10 feet. At sea, I suspect they look anything but awkward.