Bienvenidos a Costa Rica!
Costa Rica is said to be a great country for adrenaline junkies. We’ve had a few adrenaline rushes since we got to Costa Rica, and not all of them have been pleasant.
The first one was during our border crossing from Nicaragua into Costa Rica. A few days before we crossed, we read about a guy who had overstayed his vehicle permit in Peru by one day - and the border officials impounded his motorcycle. He was in a mess trying to get it back; red tape, fines, lawyers, etc. I said to John, “What a serious and stupid mistake”.
This border crossing would be our 7th and I don't know why, but for some reason we weren’t as worked up about this one as the others. In fact, we didn’t even review all our documents the night before like we usually do. So imagine my surprise, when a few miles from the border on the morning of our crossing, I pulled out our temporary vehicle permit and WE have overstayed our time in Nicaragua by 7 days. Holy crap. We were on the tail end of our C4 visa (we get 90 days in 4 countries: Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua) and we knew we had two more weeks before we had to leave the country. However, this was the first country we stayed in for more than a month on the C4, and Nicaragua only gives 30 days for a vehicle permit. What a stupid and serious mistake! What were we thinking? We both had a little freak out in the truck – would really they take Lojo?!? We decided then and there we needed a helper. This mess would likely require more Spanish than we had in us, and there was certainly no checklist for this situation.
Trucks lined up at the border.
We rolled slowly up to the border and a big group of “helpers” came running at us, but we kept going until we crossed through the first barrier. We handed our paperwork to the first official and could tell from his reaction we had a problem. Then one lone guy approached the truck and asked if we needed help…and we got a good vibe from him. We told him our problem and when he didn’t seem fazed, we negotiated with him to help us for $20. His name was Arlington and it was the best $20 we have ever spent. He told us there was going to be a fine – but no, they were not going to confiscate the rig. (Whew!!) He helped us through the paperwork and paying the fine. He also told us not to make this mistake in Costa Rica (where it is a $500 fine!) or Panama (where they DO impound the vehicle!). We are very fortunate this mistake cost us only $57 in fines plus the $20 for the helper.
Arlington making the rounds with us.
Because we had his help with the rest of the process, we only lost about a half hour of time at the border. This border was especially busy because buses full of refugees from Cuba were trying to walk to the U.S. from Panama, and Nicaragua was busing them from this border to the Honduran border. We sort of realized then we didn't have that serious of a problem - even if they had taken LoJo. But we were certainly a little more thrilled at this border to drive past the Bienvenidos sign for our new country. We dodged a bullet.
As we drove to our first camp spot, the landscape turned lusher, and I don’t know if it’s because we have been here before (this was my 4th time in Costa Rica) but it felt…easier. For Central America this is a rich country (surprisingly though the roads are generally crap) and certainly more developed than Nicaragua. We traveled only an hour across the border and camped at the Finca Cañas Castilla (by the time we left I had renamed it the Monkey Camp). This finca is a working farm on the bank of the Sapoá River, with oranges, tamarind, cows and a fish farm. Oh, and a rescued baby sloth.
My first close encounter with a sloth. Only a year old, he fell from a tree as a baby and his mother didn't come down for him.
Our guy was a two toed sloth. Two-toed sloths have 2 toes on its front paws and 3 toes on its back paws.
We planned to stay one night but stayed three. There are trails all over the property and late one afternoon we did a big hike across the river, into the hills of the rain forest and through pastures full of cows. Deep in the rain forest, a spider monkey came swinging through the trees and stopped on a branch about 15 feet from me. His buddy joined him, and then they both came in for a closer look. And then another, and then a couple more and then more and more - we probably had twenty to twenty-five spider monkeys swooping past us through the trees. They were checking us out as intently as we were them. Little babies hanging on to their mothers with their tails, and big males swinging low. It was amazing…and a total rush. I felt like I was in a scene from the Wizard of Oz. We didn’t get pictures (camera battery died) so we just had to be in the moment – which was perfect.
Spider monkey. photo courtesy of wiki monkey. Very Wizard of Oz, huh?
We met Eva and Juan Carlos (xinoxanolatinoamerica.mi), from Barcelona and Mexico, respectively, and had a very enjoyable time hanging out with them. They are traveling in a VW bus - with three cats. Three. On the morning we were both leaving, we woke up at 5 am to a racket above our heads. We heard a commotion of yelling and barking. A group of howler monkeys were in the branches of the tree right above our rig. It was so loud – John grabbed his phone and recorded them. Then we heard a few bangs on the roof. Were they throwing mangos? We got out of bed, went outside, and then saw the monkeys had been firing poo bombs at both our rigs. And let me tell you – they have very good aim. And they weren’t letting up. They howled and jumped around in the trees above our rigs the entire time while we packed up. They clearly wanted us out of there.
Under the monkey tree at Monkey Camp. John took one for the team and cleaned all the poo off the awning.
Juan Carlos under the Monkey Tree
To listen to what we heard, turn this up LOUD and get a feel for them:
From there we drove out to Lake Arenal, which sits at the base of the Arenal Volcano and hung out in the little town of La Fortuna. We saw the perfect cone of the volcano a couple times through the clouds. But it rained and rained, so our only activity was a hilly mountain bike ride to a beautiful waterfall outside of the town.
After a few days, we moved on to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, a 29,000-acre tropical reserve perched high in the Tilarán Mountains. Four years ago, I had a conference here and John came out and met me. So we’ve driven these rough, rocky roads once before and they are just as bad now. It’s a beautiful drive and a beautiful place though, and we did a gorgeous hike into the cloud forest reserve. We camped in a horse field behind an quaint old lodge called La Colina and had the place all to ourselves.
Camping at La Colina Lodge. It rained hard every afternoon so we holed up in the camper and had perfect sleeping weather.
Hiking in the Cloud Forest
Monteverde reserve runs the backbone of the Americas — the continental divide; Atantic on one side Pacific on the other
We also did a canopy tour with a superman zip line and a huge Tarzan swing. But that wasn’t the real reason we came here again. We had seen a Youtube video of a bungee jump here that looked pretty amazing. We have always wanted to do a bungee jump but were saving it up for the right location. This one is a jump from a platform on cables, suspended in the middle of a canyon 400 feet off the ground.
It was as scary as it looks. Even getting pulled back up, I had the feeling they could drop me hundreds of feet to my death at any minute. While John said he would do it again, I think those few seconds of pure terror, right before leaping into nothing, was enough for me. I had the added bonus of jumping in the pouring rain, too. John went first. Here's the video (with helmet cam!) of both of us:
After skirting death, a far more enjoyable adrenaline rush was rafting the Pacuare River. Located between San Jose and the Caribbean Coast, this is a beautiful river with deep canyons, jungle hillsides, and waterfalls spilling into the river. About 3,000 indigenous Cabécar people inhabit the jungle along its banks. The place is kind of mystic, certainly to the Cabécar people.
Dos Montañas, a narrow canyon on the Pacuare River and the site of a proposed dam that was stopped by the locals.
We went with the Rio Tropicales rafting company and camped in their parking lot the night before the trip. We had a perfect day on class III and IV rapids with constant paddling and lots of water in our faces.
paddling through Dos Montañas
After all that adrenaline, we headed to the beach to relax. We drove over to the Nicoya Peninsula with plans to head to Nosara. We stopped off to check out Playa Samara first and just stayed. Samara is a great beginner surf beach with easy waves and good beach restaurants so we just hung out for the week, camping at Los Cocos. The surf shop was next door, 2x1 sushi on Mondays, and the campground owner Don Jesus brought us coconuts and mangos every day. We made new friends right away when Michael and Becky from Virginia came by to talk about the rig, and then we settled into a good rhythm. We left to explore the other beaches in the area too - Playa Azul, Playa Islita, Playa Carillo, and Nosara, but eventually came back to this one (even though it had shitty bathrooms - see my rant below).
Great camp spot on Playa Samara
Michael and Becky from Virginia. SO great hanging with you guys!
We caught up with Eva and Juan Carlos at Los Cocos too...and their 3 cats. Hope to see you guys in Colombia!!
Sometimes the test for how long we stay in a place is how long I can stand the showers and how long John can stand sleeping in the tropical heat.
John has declared that he can't tolerate sleeping conditions that are, “Like sleeping in a hot bowl of oatmeal.” If there is no breeze outside, we get no air in our sleeping area from our ceiling fan in the camper. We need a quiet, small 12V fan for above our bed but haven’t been able to find one. Thanks to a tip from my dad, we finally figured out how to get a breeze from the ceiling fan. We close every single window, open the skylight above us, and turn the fan in cab on Out. This creates the tiniest of breeze over the bed and allows us to sleep. We can’t leave the skylight wide open all the way however, because when it starts to pour rain (which it often does in the middle of the night) we get soaking wet. So now we prop it open with a can of baked beans, which seems to create the perfect amount of suction for the fan. However, the fan has to stay on most of the night and with our batteries now slowly dying, we don't get much breeze at all.
I definitely underestimated how much the shitty showers would affect my tolerance for road life. I can handle wilderness; going without showering in the great outdoors. And I can tolerate cold showers when it’s this hot (although washing my hair elicits yelps of discomfort every time) but I really hate gross showers. And many times they have been in fact, quite gross in Central America. Whenever I step in one, I often think, "I used to live in a house. With a damn fine shower." We should just whip out our porta privy tent and use the shower on our rig (provided we have enough water) right in the middle of things. Which I'm now much more inclined to do.
In Samara, it did cool down enough for John to sleep. I was doing ok with the showers until the snake and monster cockroach (separate episodes, thank God) showed up around and in the shower. Then it was time to shove off again. So it’s been touch and go on more than a few nights at the beach, which usually makes us move on. Or get a hotel.
Shower at Los Cocos in Samara. I call this one PeptoBismal Pink Cement Coffin.
Another not so favorite. I call this one Jungle Dump. That's a paint can; locals were washing their paint brushes in the morning.
Our next stop is the capital city of San Jose, to get some work done on our truck and hunt down our new camper batteries. Hopefully no adrenaline rushes there. We will however, be checking into a clean climate controlled business hotel, thank you very much.