Category Archives: Costa Rica

Day #61 Headed Home SJO to SFW to YVR

3:57AM and we were both awake. 3 minutes later and the alarms started going off. Maybe we might be rested enough to make this a less torturous day than originally anticipated. Our flight was to depart in less than 3 hours, so best to get our things together and out the door ASAP. By 4:50 we were out the door and an Uber had us on the way to the airport before 5.

5AM traffic was not so bad. 10 minutes to the airport where we stepped out and into the airport with ease. Not much excitement through this leg of the journey as everything was going according to plan. We found the counter, had an agent give us real boarding passes in exchange for our hotel printed versions, then made our way through security to find some breakfast. American has been known to not offer any meals on their flights to Latin American countries, unless they are directly competing with a Latin American airline. Instead of relying on cookies for breakfast, we splurged and spent the rest of our Costa Rican cash on two breakfast sandwiches, a fruit bowl and bottle of water…$30CAD. They wanted $4USD for a bottle of water! Atrocious pricing at this airport and probably a long time before we are back.

We boarded and the flight actually departed a little early. Surprising how sometimes enough people can get their acts together quick enough to warrant an early plan departure, especially in a country where time seems to have a little less respect than elsewhere in the world. A full flight, the captain came on the intercom and indicated we had to change runways because our overall load was a bit more than expected. We departed, we cleared the mountains and had smooth skies all the way to Dallas.

On landing, we were 20 minutes early as well. We got off the plane and had 5 hours to kill, so we figured we would check out Terminal D for a little while. Open air, maybe some arty sculptures we could browse and a different selection of restaurants than what we saw in Terminal A on our way down. We had a look at a few places to eat, then settled on a spot with a burrito on the menu. As we sit down, Candice’s brother comes over to say hi. Here is a guy that lives in Bermuda full time. He too just happened to be having lunch in the same place and was 10 minutes away from having to run to his flight. Amazing how these little coincidences happen. We caught up as much as we could over the course of 10 minutes…then let him run off to his flight.

We hung out at that corner table. Melanie with some blue coconut margarita thing and me with a beer. We got chatting with the waitress, a soccer mom by the sounds of it, who just enjoys serving. We appreciated the service with a smile and enthusiasm because a couple months without seemed to be a bit much. We really will appreciated well priced food and the excellent table service Vancouver offers.

A couple hours spent sitting and sipping drinks worked well to eat up that layover, but we still had a few hours to burn up. A train ride to our terminal and some wandering amongst the shops helped. We found our way to the correct terminal, then to our gate and did some people watching. Airports are good to see who also might be flying. The remaining 90 minutes passed and we boarded the plane.

A gentlemen sat down next to us, David. Apparently he was flying back from a 5 day fishing trip down to Jaco. He spent much of the flight pouring over land lease documents and on asking what he was into…mineral exploration was the response. Apparently he is in the process of assessing and developing a couple properties to then sell off to a larger operation. He successfully sold off his stake in an operation a couple decades ago…spent the money…now figures he can do it again but this time respecting the money a little more. He figures 8-9 million in the bank should be sufficient because 1-2 just gets spent too quickly. To each his own.

We arrived back at YVR unscathed. A soft landing and alert from the pilot that we were entering 10 degrees, dark and cold. The airport, beautiful…but empty. Being not even 8PM, it seems there should be more people and flights departing from this lovely airport. Not tonight. We made our way through customs and home in a taxi.

So, it seems there should have been a bit of excitement that could have created something more interesting to write about, but when travel plans go all according to plan…there really isnt much to add. Excitement comes from the random, the unexpected events that arise. Now that we are home in the familiarity of our own little place there will be much less to write about for the next few months.

Unless anyone needs some more bad advice…anyone??

Back to Costa Rica and Puerto Viejo

Must have been an early start for the neighbors in Bocas del Toro today since the music seemed to stop sometime past midnight. Somehow Melanie and I drifted off before then and I only noticed the music was off during a nighttime pee. We slept up until 5:58AM…and two minutes later our wake up alarm went off.

Finishing off the last of our cinnamon loaded oats, we added some black tea to that and packed up the last of our items. By 7:20 we were ready, dropped off the keycard with our landlord Frida, and were off to the Coconut Hostel. The guy at the desk was saying we had to be there for 7:30, but when buying the return tickets…it was written on there as 8:00. Better early than late, so we headed out into another overcast morning…heavy with dew in the air which felt almost like rain. Dry enough for us.

We made it to the hostel and there were those kids from Melbourne again. I kind of expected them to be on this shuttle, only because they mentioned they were returning to Puerto Viejo the same day we were. We chatted a bit more than our day together on the tour to Zapatilla and were able to piece together a bit more of their story. All three of them spent the last couple years in Fernie, and now are headed home to move back in with the parents. Money is exhausted, so resuming normal Australian life is their plan. It doesn’t sound like a super plan…but after a couple years away returning to some familiarity can be nice. With now all the bodies rounded up, we departed for the water taxi.

A boat loaded to the maximum. We thought we might have wised up to the best spot in the boat to minimize the bumps and spray, but with a boat loaded up thus much we were one row too far back. As soon as the throttle was opened and that first wave hit, we got a nice splash in the face. An early salty start to the morning. 25 minutes later we arrived in Almirante to some eager kids looking to help with our bags in exchange for change. Aggressive kids too, muscling their way in to grab your bags and help you from the dock to the road all of 20 feet away. Highly unnecessary, but everyone is looking for ways to eek out a buck or portion of one. We stood waiting at the roadside for another 20 minutes before our shuttle arrived. 5 minutes of loading bags to the roof and we were off to the border. 12 passengers packed into this little van and the engine struggled to get us up some of those hills. Melanie and I were stuck in a couple of little fold down seats with no cushion, back support or legroom. Over the course of an hour and a bit, we bounced around in the hot little van just waiting for it all to be over.

We arrived at the border. So far the day has gone as scheduled…just a lot of waiting up to this point. Waiting at the hostel, waiting for the boat, waiting for the shuttle at Almirante. At the immigration office for Panama, again no line so no waiting for us. We walked right up to the window, offered up our passports and got our stamps. Perfect. Just a quick walk across that Sixaola bridge and come Costa Rican entrance stamps will speed this right along…or so we thought. As we got off the bridge you could see the line was a bit longer than the first time we encountered this crossing. No matter, we just line up and wait a little more.

Well, we waited. The line would inch forward a little every 5 minutes. The overcast sky cleared and sun started beating down on us. The line grew longer and longer with very little movement. I commented on our way down on how this was a very inefficient crossing with only a couple of officers dealing with both entry and exit stamps. Those inefficiencies were magnified today with their computer system going down and now everyone having to fill out paper forms in addition to the rigorous interviewing of foreigners. After an hour and 45 minutes…the line started to move quickly…and we made it in the office. The computer system came back online and they didn’t even bother asking for outgoing itineraries. Everyone got 90 day visas just to move people through. All told a 2 hour wait for this border process and we were off.

We hopped in our shuttle with the Aussies and departed for Puerto Viejo. 45 minutes later we were dropped at the door of Hotel Pura Vida and ready for checkin. By this point we needed lunch, a pee, and really big bottle of water. We dropped our bags and headed into town to visit some of our haunts from a week and a half ago. Tuesday, and of course many of the places we would have gone to choose today as their day of the week to be closed. We did grab a couple greasy empanadas from that beach spot though. No smoothies though as for some reason there was no power along the beach.

That no power situation also messed with the guy selling bus tickets. No electricity stopped him from selling and printing out any tickets, so we would have to swing back a little later. Back to the room for us. An early start to the day and terrible sleeps meant a nap was a great option…we also shifted back a time zone if we needed an excuse to justify a nap.

On waking, we headed down to the water for a few minutes of splashing around in the Caribbean. It will likely be quite a while before we make our way back to these waters, so a swim was in order. Suits on, we wandered back through this stinky town to the ocean and Playa Negra. There is a certain beauty about the fine black sand on this beach. Everyone seems to be in search of white sand beaches and yes, we will agree that the white sand is pretty and makes it really easy to see the clarity of this Caribbean water…but white sand gets littered with dead leaves, logs, all kinds of dark debris that makes that pristine white sand look dirty. A black sand beach kind of hides all that debris. I also like the clean blackboard look of that freshly deposited sand with each wave. This is a pretty spot with some gentle waves.

We spent a couple hours out there on the beach. Watching the waves. Striking up a conversation with an old Air Force pilot from the Gulf War…something about B52 bombers is what he did. When we saw there was no chance of a sunset due to the clouds rolling in, we headed out for dinner. Bikini Restaurant again, after a 10 night hiatus, and Melanie ordered another green curry. I added a chicken dish and we dined before the tour groups arrived.

Now that we are in for the night, I can outline a little about our accommodations here at Hotel Pura Vida. This seems to be a bit of a compound on the back streets of town. Certainly much less traffic noice than our last place here in Puerto Viejo. We have a freshly oiled wood floor, wood paneling on the walls, no windows…only screened openings to the outdoors, and private open air bathroom. We had to pay a little extra for the private bath…we had no idea that it was a stand there and shower while looking out that the world kind of bathroom though. A neat place and it looks like tonight we will be sleeping under a mosquito net while listening to the geckos yell at each other and large critters scamper on the roof. Jungle music.

Tomorrow, we have tickets for an 11AM bus to San Jose. A single bus ride which should be a whole lot simpler and faster than our ordeal today. Let’s hope so anyways.

Blue Sky in Puerto Viejo

We still have the wind here, but this morning we woke to blue sky. Excellent start to the day and a great opportunity for more pictures. At this point though we have already grabbed all the photos we need from this place, so a few more with blue sky might be overkill. We had our breakfast and while checking email i ran across a note suggesting I had some work to do.

A couple hours of document editing in the darkness of our room, with occasional internet connectivity, and we both needed to get out and see some of that blue sky. We still had some details to figure out, like confirming travel to Panama and how to pay for it. Lucky for us, next to the stand that sells bus tickets was one of the many vendors in town selling return tickets to Bocas del Toro via their discounted shuttle service.

This one was a tough call. We could do the bus, border, bus, ferry our way over. The price of handing over the reins to someone else that will ease the process both to and from Bocas del Toro seemed worth it at this point. It has been a whole lot of travel coordination and setting up the two and from reduces the planning exercise to almost zero. We need that now.

We headed to the Megasuper in town and pulled out USD from the Scotiabank machine, then gave the guy cash in exchange for a ticket and couple of neon orange wristbands. When we are on the other end of this route, we can inquire as to what we should do with the wristbands. With that complete, we crossed the street for a couple smoothies and empanadas. Not near as tasty as yesterday, but an inexpensive and greasy lunch that will probably be digesting in our guts for days to come.

More window shopping in the afternoon. A dip in the ocean with me getting into some pretty big waves. Waves frisky enough to nearly strip my shorts off, which Melanie found to be quite amusing. I was 50 feet away and I could see she was nearly doubled over with laughter at seeing my white butt in broad daylight…with another big wave headed towards me.

It did seem like there were more people around than normal. It is only Friday, so maybe a few more bodies are in town for the weekend. Those cars all seem to park in a tiny lot at the tip of town. The occupants of those vehicles spilled out on onto the narrow strip of sheltered sand. One lady was laying in the sandy parking lot trying to get some browning underway. Why were these people not heading down to the black beach just a 5 minute stroll westward? Almost nobody over there, nicer sand…no trees for shelter, but there is a beach. Many things that we will never understand in these parts.

After some intense sun exposure while watching the pelicans dive for fish in the afternoon daylight, we headed back. Fine black sand will likely be travelling home with us now as it seems to be stuck to everything. With the sky almost clear today, it also gave us the opportunity potentially for a sunset. We dried off, changed and headed back out to a windy spot to wait out the end of the daylight…watching the pelicans continue to dive and feed on small fish brave enough to hang around the surface.

Dinner was again at the Bikini Restaurant. The staff now recognizes us and smile when we walk in the door. Another blended mojito and green curry for Melanie. A passion fruit daiquiri and what they considered to be chicken fajitas in some mango cream sauce. Interesting, sweet and tart…very nice with the rice. After that…a walk back through town and some window shopping before calling it a night.

Not much more to report. Should be an early start tomorrow and by noon we will be in hopefully a very new place. A place without a faint hint of sewer in the windy air.

The grey side of Puerto Viejo

Construction starts early in these parts, shortly after daybreak. Melanie sleeps with earplugs, so it wasn’t until 7 that she rose. Breakfast was a simpler offering of sugary cereal cut with rolled oats and a dash of milk. Now that we are in the final 2 week stretch of this trip, we are starting to crave simpler foods. Dining out every day does get exhausting.

We had a few accommodation planning details to work out, and in short order we found what we were looking for. We now know where we are staying in Bocas…for the first 3 nights. We can figure additional days out after being there and learning the lay of the land. With that minor success for the day, we headed out for a dip in the ocean. No pool, and nothing better to do…so why not swim?

Another grey, overcast day here. Great for us whities looking to avoid the evil sun. Not so great for pictures, but maybe some blue sky to poke through in the afternoon. The wind was warm, water even warmer and whipped up into a nice froth with choppy waves…perfect for some bobbing. I spent a good 20 minutes out there before feeling guilty about leaving Melanie on the shore. This was also a bit of a test to see how rough the water might be for the more proper of us two to brave. It is a nice beach, with barely a soul on it…so more swimming is in our near future.

Rejoining Melanie on shore, we wandered along the black and tan sand to the point here in Puerto Viejo. A quaint little stand was offering up smoothies and empanadas which we happily ordered. Watermelon smoothie with chicken empanada for all of $4 Canadian dollars. When asking about what she had for empanada options…she mentioned a platano version. I had to get one of those…just to try it out. A baked crust, a little sweet, with some sweet red doughy concoction inside. A third world pop tart…but likely much more nutritious. This was the completion of our second breakfast…so lunch wouldn’t be for a while.

We headed back to the room for a change out of my damp clothes, although that spot right on the water was really tempting to hang out at all afternoon. A lack of beverage options and sunshine had us explore other things to do in town. We had a look at other things to do in town, like walk down different residential streets, check out which restaurants might be closed on Thursdays, and excite shop clerks by window shopping during the off season.

We found the lunch place from yesterday and sat down again in an empty restaurant for a couple all day happy hour mai tais. A couple like snacks of ceviche and chicken satay skewers turned out to be more food than we were used to and we left there over stuffed. We must have attracted a few tables of people too, because by the time we left the place seemed almost half full. Maybe we could find jobs down here just sitting in empty restaurants.

An afternoon ocean dip was in store. We suited up and took the shorter route to the black sand beach. This took us to the edge of town where we were immediately propositioned for some cheap coconut water, and drugs. Tomorrow I will come back for the coconut water, but now we know where the sketchy characters hang out. We skirted those guys again with our perfected “No Gracias!” and made our way too the beach. Again, very few people other than some kids fishing from the rusted out barge washed up on the old reef. We splashed in the waved for a bit, then sat on a big log and let the water wash over our toes. The fine black sand looking like both a dark pudding when wet and a freshly cleaned blackboard when the water seeped away. A perfect spot to wait out the remaining hours of sunlight…then a couple bloated fishies bounced off Melanie’s toes and we were packing up. Nature is both beautiful and gross.

A costume change into something drier, then we headed out to the same place for dinner again. It seems that in our search for variety on a day to day basis…that enthusiasm seems to have reduced a little. We now seek food that is tasty and agrees with our intestines. Tonight, another curry and different tempura roll. Bocas del Toro will be our destination in a few days and we will be forced into finding new sources for dinner. In the meantime, we will continue with the options we are happy with here.

The night is now winding down and it is time to start outlining how the rest of this trip wraps up. Two weeks will go fast. We really need to start browning up in time for those Christmas photos. Maybe I could check with the coconut water guys if they also have some coconut oil.

Puerto Viejo, the Caribbean side of Costa Rica

We slept through the night and in the morning Melanie bumped up the AC from 28 degrees to 29. Maybe she was cold. This side is a bit chillier than the Pacific side, so some adjustment might be necessary.

We readied ourselves and headed out for breakfast, and to complete the return on that rental car. When dropping the car off 5 minutes before close, the staff wasn’t too interested in completing the paperwork…especially if it could all be done in the morning. We popped into the Alamo drop point and quickly signed a couple papers to complete the rental. Just as we were about to leave, the guy looking over the car comes in to say the hood is broken. He can’t open it. I couldn’t open it, the guy in Samara where we picked up the car also said he couldn’t open it. Best for this gal to call the office at the pickup point to clarify. 5 minutes later we got the OK and departed. Extra insurance not needed, but should have kicked in for something like this if it were an issue.

Breakfast was at a little place across the street called Bread and Chocolate. It seems that almost every place in this town has at least a 4 out of 5 rating for eats. This place had a couple extra dollar signs, so the hope was the breakfast they offered would be darn good. Sure enough, tasty but it seemed like they needed a little more variety. Pancakes, waffles and French toast all seem like cake-like sweet offerings. Eggs on a plate with toast, or rearranged into a breakfast sandwich…also kind of the same. A lack of added meat options, but we filled up on eggs, hashbrowns, fruit and a baking powder biscuit before departing for a walk.

The town is not all that big. 4 decent sized grocery stores, but no barber. I mentioned yesterday no gas station. A couple bakeries though and lots of restaurants. We discussed over breakfast if we needed more time here or not. One more day might be sufficient but we need to know where, when and how we are making our way to that next spot. We have a semi-quiet room here and it is clean…which are two key needs on our end. We weighed a few options and opted for adding two nights. This will allow us to more fully research Bocas del Toro and how to easily navigate the border.

We spent a bit more time wandering the beaches. Tomorrow will be a swim day, today the clouds just seemed a bit menacing, ready to unleash a torrent of water with only a moments notice. Lucky for us, none fell. We checked out the black sand at Playa Negra and the smaller sections just off the main part of town. What is neat about this place is that it sits on a reef. All up and down this coast there are sandy beaches. Between the beaches are rocky outcroppings, but they aren’t rocks, they are pushed up chunks of reef. Gorgeous brain coral textures in what we would normally consider to be just rock. Mix in vast swaths of light sand and you have some pretty scenery. We just need some blue sky and sunlight to brighten up our photos.

We found a fusion place for lunch and split a jerk chicken burrito over a pair of mai tais. The afternoon slowed and we could have easily sat there people watching for hours as pedestrians, cyclists and vehicles of all types dodged and weaved each other on the newly paved strip. We opted for the more proactive grocery shopping and some research on our next destination.

After sunset, dinner back at the same spot as last night. The cocktails were good and we didn’t want to chance a meal tonight. It was a lot of eating out today, and tomorrow we will start the day eating in the comfort of our place. Nothing exciting to report, just another day in Puerto Viejo. More exciting stuff seems to happen when we are regularly on the move…that will need to wait a few days.

Maybe tomorrow we can make some new friends and learn a little more about where we are. Life is better with friendly conversation.

And On to Puerto Viejo

Not sure if it was the excessive rain pounding on the roof all night or the excitement of a new day. I didn’t sleep past 5:30 this morning, which was likely going to make this a very long day. I tossed, turned, read a couple news articles just to stay up to date on what might be going on in the world…and when 7:00 hit it was time to tap and tug at Melanie like a cat that needs to be fed. I was hungry and the buffet style breakfast was starting to be served.

She sleepily agreed, and started preparing herself for the day. I opened the curtains to the central courtyard and people were all milling around out there with phones pointed in one direction. I knew there were sloths around, could they be out this early? I slipped on some shorts and a shirt, then slid open the patio door to exit the room. Outside was not wildlife, but a clear view of the elusive Arenal. Melanie opted to get ready first before leaving the room, something about only being a few minutes and needing to get her hair under control. In a few minutes…the volcano was shrouded in clouds once again. At least I got one picture of it while in La Fortuna.

We were ready to sample the buffet breakfast our host Alejandro, from Puerto Vallarta, had hyped the evening before. We arrived to many of the tables already filled with German and Dutch travellers. I grabbed a couple of plates and headed over to the table of food to find…everything picked over. Scraps left and it was only 8:00. Tired watermelon chunks mixed with papaya that nobody wanted. Fried sausage-like chunks that didn’t belong on anyone’s plate. A few scraps of egg left stuck to the sides of the chafing dish. This might be a lean morning meal for both of us. The coffee and juice was plentiful though and we did load up on that. We sat and enjoyed the cloudy volcano, then packed ourselves up and into the car.

On checkout we did get to see a sloth perched high in the tree outside reception. Poor lighting conditions, and the fact the animal blends in so well to the tree eliminated any chance of a decent photo, so we just stared at its butt for a few minutes. Eventually there was some activity as the treed creature looked over its shoulder and down at us with what I figure had to be a bit of a disgusted look. Daytime is for sleeping. The chatter we were making below was not helping with any snooze.

We hopped in the car and started out on our way to the east coast. 9AM on the road. A missed turn at Tanque was quickly corrected and we found our way down the 4 to Guapiles…and then on to Limon. This is a fairly busy corridor as everything in this country seems to be shipped into Limon, then transported by truck to San Jose. We have not seen a train or set of tracks anywhere on this Central American trip yet. That is probably also why so many goods end up being expensive here. We got to Limon and thought we might have lunch, however the traffic was crazy and venturing into just the suburbs of the city was enough to turn us off of heading in further. We opted to just head south to Puerto Viejo.

Lunch was in the little town of Cahuita. We grabbed a couple photos, then sat down at a restaurant that had a couple TVs showing the Hungary vs. Costa Rica friendly football match. People were glued to the play. We sat and chowed down on a very large plate of chicken nachos…with no interest in the game. The waitresses also didn’t seem to have much interest what was on TV…or their jobs…because the nachos showed up quicker than the beer, and much quicker than the watermelon smoothie which almost arrived in time for dessert. We asked for the bill and quickly departed the restaurant and town. A cute spot, good for lunch, but we had to move on.

We arrived in Puerto Viejo at 3PM. We checked in painlessly, no need to show passports or fill in useless registration information. We got the keys and wifi password, then were off. Being as we still had the car until tomorrow morning, but no where to park it, we thought we might just as well try to check out some of the recommended neighboring towns suggested to us by others we had met along the way.

We headed down the road towards Manzanillo. Punta Uva and Cocles were first and we found lots of little restaurants and cabinas for rent all spread out down the road along the coast. So many tourists on bicycles though, and mixing these casual riders with the vehicle traffic was a bit of an obstacle course. I understand the need for bikes as all these businesses are so spread out, they would be difficult to visit on foot. The lack of lanes for the bikes, or even lines on the road, meant extra attention had to be paid by both myself and other drivers to keep everyone alive. No bikes for us.

We made it to Manzanillo. We expected more, but other than a few desolate restaurants and beach, this really didn’t look like a place we would want to stay. This was the end of the road, so we turned around and decided to check out Punta Uva. Again, a pretty little beach set up against palms blowing in the steady breeze off the Caribbean… but the dead coin sized fishes all washed up on shore were starting to make the place smell a bit like a fish market. Add some midday sun to those little corpses tomorrow and we probably wont be back there. In Cocles, we found three horses just hanging out on the beach. A nice stretch…but Puerto Viejo has easy access to a couple decent beaches which we will have to check out tomorrow.

With no place to park, I still had the option to return the car to National before 5. I just needed a little gasoline. The closest station around here is in Hone Creek, a good 6km away, so we booted it up the road to get fuel and return. We found the drop point for the car, stashed it in their gated yard and headed out for a beverage.

Right next to our accommodation is a funky looking place called Outback Jack’s. Tuesdays mean tequila is on two for one, so margaritas it was. We sat down at a table and within a minute our feet started burning. Tiny little ants were very unhappy with our location and began biting. We opted for the bar, which was a better viewing spot anyways. Jack was our bartender and it gave us a chance to find out a little about his story. Here was a grizzled old character that has collected a lot of junk over the years. That array, or disarray, of signs, old projectors, lab equipment, dead espresso machines, and painted horn instruments was strung up everywhere. Jack washed up a couple mugs for us in a greasy sink of water, then handed over a tiny pitcher of margaritas. Sitting at the bar demonstrated the less than stellar cleanliness practices. We crossed our fingers there was enough tequila in that pitcher to sterilize any bugs, and drank those limey beverages. No salt rim though. Either he had forgotten, or couldn’t find a scuzzy sponge to wet the rim. We paid and left. We didn’t want to chance food.

We wandered in the dark to try and find something to eat. Many places are closed on Tuesdays, so we ended up at the Bikini Restaurant. Sorry, no bikinis in the place. The waitresses did have skin tight dresses on though. We ordered a deep fried sushi roll and Thai curry that was so spicy we instantly broke out in the sweats. Maybe not the best of meal choices, but it has been a long day and we were not interested in more rice and beans. Melanie had a blended mojito which was fantastic, and I a reasonably priced caipirinha. Bellies full, we headed back for the night. We can explore more tomorrow in the daylight.

We covered a lot of ground today. We should sleep well tonight, especially if the neighbors stop screaming at each other. Earplugs will solve that. Tomorrow, we will see more of this little town…unless those dodgy margaritas come back to haunt us. So far so good.

The Road to Fortuna

Up at 7 and when checking my phone for the time, there was a message asking if we were OK. I unlocked my phone and there were additional notifications from friends and family sharing a story of a 6.5 earthquake in Costa Rica. I had to do a little googling to see what the story was and where exactly. It turns out the main quake and aftershocks hit around 8:30 while we were in our room last night. Epicentre was about 100kms away. Probably while I was writing yesterday’s post. We didn’t feel or hear a thing from our second floor room. No creaking, no rattling…nothing. I know the power went out for a while last night starting at around 12:30, but that was 4 hours later.

As if everything was the same, Melanie got ready and I did a little research to understand the bigger picture. Negligible damage. Many people felt it. Nothing to be really worried about since this entire part of the world is regularly hit with earthquakes. Tonight we are staying in the town at the base of a recently active volcano. It seems that the news can focus on a few details at times, and leave it up to the public to envision the worst. I was only curious to know if any of the roads were affected for our drive today. All roads were fine, so our day was to go ahead as planned…which was good because we now have 3 non-refundable nights booked.

 

Breakfast was quick, then I was off to pick up the rental car. This was a 10 minute walk across town which gave me a chance for one last look at Samara and the daily specials across the street. Happy hour at Lo Que Hay has been one of the better experiences on this trip, especially every day. Let’s hope we can find a few spots on the Caribbean to match that fun. I grabbed the car after adding a little extra insurance…just in case…and returned to pick up Melanie and the bags. We were on the road by 10.

Google maps outlined a couple options for us to skirt the nearby town of Nicoya and shave a good 20 minutes off our drive. We enjoyed the scenic greenery of the hills taking us inland and found our turnoff point. Nicely paved road lead to potholes, then no pavement…and a minor river crossing. Hmm…where was that highway? We didn’t go for the compact 4×4, mainly because it didnt seem as comfortable as the Yaris, and we were sticking to only main roads. The Yaris probably would have done fine with the 6-8 inches of water. We didn’t chance it though and backtracked to the other shortcut. This second shortcut took us down to what appeared to be an illegal garbage dump and shallow river crossing that only a real 4×4 should be doing, especially on the other side where the exit was a bit steep for any vehicle leaving the river. Two shortcuts shot down, we made our way through the city and the long way around.

We drove through Nicoya, then on to Pueblo Viejo de Nicoya, Quebrada Honda, and to the Pan American Highway. These are all 2 lane roads with no shoulder. Traffic was very light, so it was hard to keep to the 80km maximum and watch for the 60, 40 and 25km per hours zones. We got off the PanAm highway at Canas and followed a road that took us to Lake Arenal. All of these roads have numbers on Google Maps. The roads are not signed in the way that we might be used to though. At intersections you need to know what town is in the direction you want to go, then just point your car that way and drive. Keep your eyes on the road because people drive fast and there are no guardrails to keep errant vehicles from plunging down the hillside into either a house or the lake. Good roads, but not wide like what we might be used to.

We twisted and turned our way to a spot close to the lake and stopped for lunch. A microbrewery that claims to be the first in Costa Rica, therefore the most experienced. I am not sure if they think that makes them the best, or just the oldest. Regardless, I did have an IPA to test out their claims. It is the first microbrew beer I have had down here and I can say it is better than the macro brew options usually offered at happy hour. We washed that beer down with a bowl of chicken chili and another rice and beans Casado dish while taking in the lake view. A pricey bill for some OK food, but they likely need to pay a few staff that keep this place open. We wrapped things up and hit the road.

A couple hours later we arrived in La Fortuna. We stopped a few times to get some pictures from the side of the road. We detoured up an access road that leads you to the base of Arenal Volcano, but the number of potholes made driving the 2km in a bit tough on the suspension. Considering this is the biggest draw for people in the area, a few dollars can probably be diverted from replacing the arterial road (which seems to be in decent condition) to fixing up that mess leading to a national park. We arrived in town in one piece, 5.5 hours after departure, and checked into Hotel Secreto for the night. After dropping our stuff in the room, we made our way into town to see what makes this place great.

La Fortuna literally translates to The Fortune. Now I dont know if that means that someone at one time discovered buried treasure here, or if the tourist agencies realized all the money they could make by jacking up the prices on any kind of excursion by calling it eco. There is not much to this town, and all touristic restaurants seem to encase the Central Park. Prices are higher, food is the same, and not one place is advertising Happy Hour. Traffic is split between touristic buses, rental cars, and vehicles in serious need of emissions controls. I guess this is what city life is like, and is something we will have to adjust to for a few days.

On the plus side, we were able to find a Japanese place for dinner that wasn’t too expensive. A bowl of ramen with salmon and soba with shrimp was just different enough to satisfy our bellies. Ice cream from a shop tucked away down a street next to our hotel was also a nice treat. Walking back we could see lightning flashes in the distance, with a downpour of rain a few minutes after we got back. We will breakfast here and head to the east coast in search of a little solitude…and maybe that beachside happy hour.