Talamanca, Maps, and Why Everything Here Has at Least Two Names

Courtesy Moon Travel

Courtesy Moon Travel

As long ago as the 1700s, fisherman plied the southern Caribbean waters because of the abundance of turtles that came every year to lay their eggs. These fisherman took the meat and sold the valuable shells. These would later be transformed into European hair brushes, combs, spectacle frames, guitar picks, and countless other items made from what we called “tortoiseshell.” tortoise shell

Sea turtles were hunted until near extinction, but, happily, they are making a slow comeback due to conservation and volunteer efforts. My old friend, John John, was a “turtle striker” in his youth, and he told me in order to land the monsters, he had to swamp his boat, lowering the gunnels into the sea, float the turtle inside, then bail the boat to raise it once again.

turtle conserveMany of those fishermen originated from the Bocas del Toro region of Panama, but paddled as far north as Bluefields, Nicaragua, when the turtle season was on— March through September.

They were Afro-Caribbean and Indigenous men , and they built provisional camps along this southern Caribbean coast line; they planted coconuts, yucca, yam, and other crops that would help them survive during the season.

Then, in 1828 one of these seasonal fishermen decided to settle permanently. William Smith, along with his family, settled at one of the camps located just north of the current town of Cahuita. I don’t imagine they had much when they first came. Perhaps their rudimentary huts looked something like this. leaf hut

Other settlers followed: the Hudsons, who settled just north of William Smith; The Dixon family, who settled south of Cahuita; the Sheperds, in Puerto Vargas; Ezequiel Hudson and Celvinas Caldwell, both of whom chose to live at Monkey Point; Horacio MacNish, north of Old Harbour, and Peter Hansel, in Manzanillo. Many came with families, but others formed connections with indigenous people of Talamanca. Thus began an interracial population that is characteristic of this region. In fact, it’s fair to say that this coastline has the most diverse population of any part of Costa Rica.

Beach Grape

These original settlers often settled next to small streams and creeks and those landmarks still bear their names. These pioneers also christened areas along the coastline with names like Little Bay; Hone Creek, whose name comes for the plentiful palm of the same name; Grape Point, where beach grape is plentiful; Manchineel, named after a huge tree of the same name that died back in the 1940s. Some of the names originate from the indigenous people. For example, Cahuita ( “where the Sangrillos grow”) ,and some are leftovers from another time: Old Harbour, from the pirate days and the likes of Horatio Nelson and John Davis.

Tourists who come to this area today are often confused because there are two and sometimes three names for locations along this coastline: Spanish, English, and the indigenous names given by the various ethnic groups in the area.

The original settlers were native English speakers, and in the map you can see the names of the landmarks as I knew them when my husband and I arrived in the late 1980s. As the area has gained notoriety, and Spanish-speaking Costa Ricans from the Central Valley have begun moving to the area, the names have changed to Spanish. But I like the old names, the Afro-Caribbean names.The REAL names.

And here is a recent tourist map. ¡Que diferencia!





Vive El Arte~

There was an art festival scheduled for Puerto Viejo last weekend. The posters were printed, musical groups were hired, and reservations at hotels and cabins made by countless people from the Central Valley.

It didn’t happen.

The Arts Festival was supposed to celebrate,well… The Arts. What that means here in Talamanca is a bit nebulous, though. The fliers said there would be live music, “Arts”, and “discussions and workshops about Alternative Medicine.”

According to the poster I saw the other day, the events started on the Wednesday prior to the weekend. Mostly it listed the musical groups playing at various bars throughout the area. There was mentioned an arts display on Saturday and Sunday, one basketball game, and one Indigenous dance on Saturday during the day, but the rest of the five-day “Arts Festival” happened at night. In bars. Music.

Puerto Viejo loves to party.

In fact, this area is famous for its partying. It’s a beach town. It’s a Caribbean beach town, and it’s wide freaking open. Don’t get me wrong. I love music and I love Reggae in particular, but this place is so totally out of control as to warrant an inforced police curfew.

In the past two weeks the English speaking newspaper, The Tico Times, carried frontpage spreads on the ever-increasing violence here. The murders and other criminal activities have been on a climb that would make Wall Street slack jawed with envy.

We can’t take it any more!

The police complained to the municipality that they have only four officers on duty and one motorcycle. No plans were made to increase their numbers for security. The police are unable to control the area in non-arts environment, much less with an influx of revelers here to drink, do drugs, and party through the night.

Puerto Viejo has no sewage treatment center and relies on open drains to the sea. A life-long resident we spoke to the other day said, “There seems to be something in the air.”

“What do you mean?” We asked.

“Well, it smell like someone pee. Everywhere.”

It has been especially dry here for the past few months and I imagine Puerto does smell like a dehydrated latrine at this point.

Port also has no regular supply of drinking water. Instead people rely on rainwater catch or a miserable system cobbled together that regularly dries up after a week or two of no rain. Any added stress and the town runs out of water. Restaurants and no water to wash hands make for a bad combination, in my opinion. We don’t eat out often.

So, last weekend’s planned Arte Viva Festival was canceled after a court challenge, which left the municipality unable to issue permits for events. Good, I say.

It was this entry on the planned activities that I found the crux of the issue:

Saturday, Sept 26. 9:30PM-ON– everyone is invited to Jonhy’s Place to continue the celebration.

Jonhy’s Place is a bar on the beach. It’s had a less than stellar reputation in the past. It’s open most of the night.

You know… The Arts!