So this is my attempt to provide an alternate view of Puerto Viejo than the one written by Hannah. In all honesty, I fell in love with Puerto Viejo eight years ago when I missed out on it due to a poorly planned lack of food and abundance of alcohol and marijuana, and it’s hard to change a first impression. I loved Puerto Viejo from first sight, with its sparkling coastline and slow-moving Caribbean pace. The streets are full of locals and tourists on bicycle or on foot, with the majority of motor vehicles being shuttles rather than private cars. I love that everyone greets each other on the street and locals are happy to point you in the right direction if you have any questions. The town is small enough that you recognize the same faces day after day, with a constant flow of tourists coming and going through the town. Staying at Rocking J’s Hostel was fun, although I had my doubts in the first day or two. We arrived on a Tuesday, which is a fairly slow day at the hostel, so there were only about ten or fifteen people there, rather than its maximum capacity of around 250 spaces (99 hammocks, 99 tents, and 30 or 40 dorm rooms). The thought of it being full in the peak seasons like Christmas, spring break, or summer is totally overwhelming. By the weekend, there were closer to fifty people at the hostel, although it fluctuates so much it was hard to tell.

I have to say, the hostel improved with the passing of time. I liked the way new travellers arrived and were accepted into the groups that formed, cooking meals together and sharing the cost of food, beer, and rum. Hannah and I had to be careful about sitting around the table when they brought the pot of food out, or we ended up with a plate of food and a bill for our portion from the person who purchased the supplies.

As a lover of languages, I couldn’t stop listening to the mishmash of languages being thrown around the dinner table. Most hostellers were speaking English as a common language, but there were always little side conversations in Spanish, German, French, Swedish, or Norwegian, as those whose English was less than perfect required an explanation of a word or an idea, or simply a private moment without being overheard by others.

One of my favourite things was listening to the conversations between hostellers with different levels of Spanish. Sadly, most of the native English-speakers hadn’t bothered to learn Spanish regardless of how long they had been travelling in the region. They always blamed the eagerness of locals to practice English and suggested that there was no need to learn Spanish if one spoke English. It is totally hypocritical of me, but I always felt a little surge of pride in these moments; I knew that I was going to learn Spanish and so I had the right to feel superior, despite speaking barely a word of Spanish all week, much less conducting an entire conversation.

But it was great to listen to the French-Canadians switching with ease between Spanish, French and English. It reminded me of the times I needed to explain something in German because I had only ever learned the vocabulary in German, or the times I acted as translator for Hannes, who spoke with such a strong Swabian dialect that the Bavarians he was studying with couldn’t understand what he was trying to say. At any rate, hearing the Germans and French at their various stages of learning Spanish was encouraging, since you can imagine what your Spanish might sound like in a few weeks or a few months.

On our last two nights we discovered the fire pit, which appears to be an attraction that the hostel offers its guests, as the fire and wood materializes by nightfall without any sign of the person who starts it or collects the wood. Fire is something so uniquely human, and like music it is a binding force across all nationalities and languages. Sitting around the fire with drums, guitars, and an accordion, groups of people from around the world share a common language that we all connect over. Of course, I preferred the traditional folk songs from other cultures, and I was slightly disappointed that the majority of songs sung around the fire were American or British pop songs instead of folk songs, but the world is a small place now, and Rocking J’s is certainly the epitome of an Anglicized Caribbean culture.

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