Costa Rica in 5 days

Trip Start Sep 06, 2010
Trip End Sep 04, 2011

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Where I stayed
Casa Tranquilo

Flag of Costa Rica  , Puntarenas,
Monday, September 20, 2010

One country off, 26 to go.............. Here I come from country No. 2 on my RTW list.

Right after having the last cheap lunch in the Nicaraguan boarder town Bena Blanca, I entered a dusty Nicaragua-Costa Rica boarder line area. The boarder procedures and paper workp went well and promptly.

As it was getting late (I crossed the boarder line at 2.47 pm), I had to quickly figure out how to get to my first stop in Costa Rica, cloud forests in Monteverde and Santa Elena. Fortunately, and unlike in Nicaragua, English is not such unknown language here. Therefore, the guy selling bus tickets was able to easily explain me how to get there. But here a dose of my luck for this day was used up. The guy also told me that my destination is not that easily reachable, as it is located in the mountains. To get there, he advised to take a San Jose bound bus, to get off in Las Juntas, to stay there overnight, and to take a local bus to Santa Elena in the next morning.
It seemed to be a fair solution, so I went for it.

After paying approx. $7 for a ticket, I got on the 3.30 pm bus to San Jose. The bus, by comparing it to those taken in Nicaragua, was very luxourious. It was resembling those high long-distance couches with suede seat which cruise throughout the whole Europe. The road to San Jose leads on so called central american highway, or Interamericana. Ok, here they call it the main logistic vein in the region. In Luxembourg, it would be the same 2-lane road, as the one from Remich to Luxembourg city. The bus was stopping in all major towns on the way, therefore it filled in quickly. However, the most enjoyable element of this 3.5hr trip was the driver. He was one funny guy. Quickly, I stopped counting how many phone calls he made or recieved (thanks God, he was using hands-free) during the whole trip, how many times he shouted at his acquantainces from the bus window. But the best was to come. In one town, he apologized to passangers that he must buy bread in a bakery (judging by the fact that he really went there), parked the bus on a side of the road, left the engine idling and just get off the bus. I could not believe my eyes :-)). Anybody could drive away with the bus during those a few minutes.
After my previous experience with central american bus drivers, I stayed alert during the whole time in order not to miss my hop-off station. Around 7 pm, the bus drive really shouted, Las Juntas, so I got off the bus fully of hapiness by reaching the place....yes, I was wrong. After the bus left and I looked around, I noticed a road sign ¨Las Juntas - 6km¨. Nobody told me that the bus is not going directly through Las Juntas, bus just passing by. So there I was standing in a darkness at the bus stop in the middle of nowhere, hoping that some Las Juntas bound bus will show up. The first who showed up was a "greedy" taxi driver who wanted $6 for a ride. I, being used to Nicaraguan price level, strongly rejected thinking that I rather walk than pay this kind of money (I am really becoming pretty mean overhere ;-)) ). Luckily soon after, a nice elderly man driving an SUV stopped by, and offered me a ride. Then, I was facing another problem - to find an accomodation, as Las Juntas was not stated in the lonely planet guide. Everybody who I asked directed me to a place called Las Juntas Cabinas. Over there I almost got another  "price heart attack" , a night for $16.....for this money, I could have a bed for 3 days in Leon!!!

I did not have almost any time to look around Las Juntas, but there was a descent number of pubs and restaurants opened at night. As I was tired after the whole day travelling, I went directly to the bed. In the next morning, I took the first bus into Santa Elena. And here came another complication. Unfortunately for me, I was waiting for the bus at the wrong street corner. Luckily, I was saved by the locals who told me that my bus is just leaving the bus stop, and showed me in which direction to run to catch the bus on a different street.....I succeeded, but it was a nice morning excercise.

Santa Elena is a small town in the middle of a cloud forest (similar as the one on the slopes of Mombacho volcano) well know for its amazing biodiversity. Nevertheless Mombacho and Santa Elena substantially differ in one aspect, a touristic crowd. Monteverde and Santa Helena cloud forest reservations, and everything related to them, has been turned into one money-making machine. Both those 2 reservations are privatly owned with admissions of $14 or $17, respectively (gosh, so overpriced!! I do not remember paying that much for a natural reservation admission in Europe!!). Then, there are other attractions you can go for, such as a canopy tour ($40), a cable-line ($50), hanging bridges ($30), a frog pond ($10), an orchid garden ($15) etc. Plus, a lot of locals owns a few sq km of the cloud forest, in which they run their very own reservations, and offer different tracking possibilities, including night walks. At the end, you have a pool of 20 night walks  you can purchase for $20. As mentioned, and it was not just a mine impression, everything is badly overpriced there with only one aim - to got as much from tourists, as possible. You can not do anything for free here, except of walking on the public roads.
I decided to visit Santa Elena reservation hoping to see a bit of the advertised abudancy of a wildlife. Unfortunately, I did not see almost anything (except for a deer, thousandlegs, and some birds). Suprisingly, the hike trails in this park were also a bit neglected. To summarize, the thickness and the overall impression of Mombacho cloud forest was many times better. I must say that it was not worth visiting Santa Elena.

Not to be only critical, there were some positive sides of visiting Santa Elena. I met  a bunch of really cool guys at the hostel. An Izraeli, US, Dutch and German one. On Saturday, after pre-drinking (a few Cuba Libre drinks), we went to the local disco to meet some Ticas. The night started slow and ended soooo soon. The most of the crowd was leaving around 1.30 am. Tica girls appeared to be tougher than we thought  - you danced with them a dance or two, but then they mercilessly returned to their girlfriends. Anyway, we still had a great time. The next night we went to the same place to play a few pool games.

On Monday morning, our Casa Tranquilo group split. I headed to La Fortuna to check on nearby volcano Arenal, while the rest of the guys went south to San Jose. Eventhough Santa Helena and La Fortuna are not that far away, the whole bus trip took around 7 hours. As there is no direct bus connection between those 2 towns, I must have had wait in Tilaran 3 hrs for the connecting bus. Tilaran seemed to be sleepy and inconspicous town, but to be honest, I have never enjoyed sitting on the bench in a park so much as overthere. There were plenty of kids playing or teezing each others, a few packs of teenagers singing or listening music from their cell phones, and one teenage girl who spend approx. an hour by putting a make
-up on. I am telling you, those 2 hrs spent in the town´s main square park was over in no time. There is actually someting I have wanted to share with you already in the previous posts. The population in central america is much younger  than the one in Europe. It is crazy and so noticable how many kids and teenagers you can see on the streets. To me, it is one thing I like to most about central america (brrr, I do not want to even thing how old people we had/have in Luxembourg).

Similarly as in Santa Elena, La Fortunas` vendors sell  tons of trips (hiking, horse-back riding, canopy, etc) to make you happy and a bit poorer. The town by itself is approx 500 long, and without any exeggaration, there is a trip selling booth every 20-30 meters!!  I have decided to spend $25 on a guided hike around Arenal Volcani, which is still very active with frequent explosions and related lava flows ( a few hikers were killed in past years by rocks, or poisened by gas clouds). Just 10 minutes ago, while I was writing a draft of this blog entry, I heart one of those explosions and took a picture of the dust cloud generated by it (see the pic attached).
I must honestly say that the hike was pretty awesome and enjoyable. Much better than the Santa Elena cloud forest hike. The guide was one big fun! He told us many interesting stories about the last big volcano eruption in 1968, showed us craters created in a ground by huge rocks thrown away by the volcano during that eruption (rocks big like a shed exploded at a distance of 1.5km from the crater!), explained a lot about various ilness curing plants, stopped at a seismic detector, etc. Unlike in Santa Elena, we also saw some wild life, such as a small snake, hawler monkeys, birds. The most momorable moment of the whole hike was when he broke a bit into a termite nest, put his finger into it, let termites to crawl on his finger, put the finger into his mouth, and eat those small creatures. He explained that termites are blind and do not sting or bit. I follewed his example and eat alive termites as well. They actually test a bit as a carrot. As I said, the trip was a big fun, eventhough from 3 hrs of hiking, 2 hrs were in a heavy rain. From that reasons I could not take more pictures, especially those big rocks exploded out from the volcano.

A few hours after the Areal volcano hike, I was already sitting on San Jose bus. The trip took around 5 hrs, and the road lead mainly through a hilly countryside, so typical for the central Costa Rica. San Jose was just one night stop on my way to Panama, therefore there was no much time to look around. What I heart from other backpackers, San Jose is really not worth visiting. I went just to the city down-town, which has a lot of nice shops and places to eat. To me, it looked very westernazed. However, right after those stores on Avenida Central closed, tens of street sellers showed up, spread those black plastic covers on the street, and started selling burned DVD/CD and other cheap stuff. The hostel staff told me that the streets are safe up to 10 pm, afterwards you can get robbed or end up in some kind of troubles. 

I will come back to my stay in Costa Rica shortly in my next blog entry, but .......the country is nice, but highly overrated. Very touristic with prices easily reaching those in the western hemosphere. I did not feel here so great. On my ranking scale, 40% (Nicaragua, 75%), not more.

Tomorrow early morning, I am catching a bus to Sixaola on the Panama boarder, and from there travelling to my final destination, Bocas del Toro. THE PARTY TIME IS HERE!!!!!

Cheers from Bocas del Toro, Panama
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Benjamin on

Ouh man, after the last sentence I'm right off to the next blog entry... ah, no, don't be so mean to Luxembourg, and elderly people, like you and me, also have to be respected somewhere. It was our own mistake that we ended up in that very place.

And keep up the ranking, the percentages, in the end we're going to have a world ranking of 26! But I don't wanna see any other immature ranking, ok?!

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