Trip Start Jul 31, 2005
Trip End Feb 18, 2007

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Flag of Costa Rica  ,
Wednesday, August 16, 2006

We are going to dedicate this entry to our friend Manuel Lopez, who died in a tragic swimming pool accident on Saturday 5th of August.
Patty has written a special message in Spanish on a website set up by Manuel's friends. If you would like to view this message, please click on the link below:-

Link to messages for Manuel

So Manuel, this entry is dedicated to you...

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Get in line for touristy Costa Rica.

As we arrive at the Costa Rican border, we gasp at the size of the queue for immigration. Either, Costa Rican immigration is severely short of staff, or the country is overloaded with tourists, or maybe it's a bit of both.
After a two hour wait in line, as opposed to 5 minutes at all the other borders we've crossed, we just make the bus to our next destination, Playa Tamarindo.
What's the first thing we notice, how much everything costs, especially compared with cheap Nicaragua. After refusing the first few hostels because of the price, we eventually realised that they were actually the cheapest places and had to swallow our pride and go back to one of them.

Playa Tamarindo is on Costa Rica's Pacific coast, and is a surfers paradise, it's not a bad place, but after some of the beaches we've seen so far on our trip, a beach has to really be something special to impress us, and Playa Tamarindo didn't quite make the mark.

Costa Rica is supposed to be one of the wealthier Central American countries, however, the public transport is not up to scratch, so rather than spend a entire day to travel just 150 kilometres by local buses, we pay the extra for a tourist shuttle to our next destination, La Fortuna. Both our trip from the coast and our trip up to La Fortuna has convinced us that Costa Rica would be a strong contender for the worst roads of any country we have visited so far.

So what's there to do in La Fortuna that brings so many tourists here? A visit to Volcano Arenal, Costa Rica's most active volcano, where at any time of the year, you're supposed to be able to see red lava flowing down the side. So as we jump in our shuttle and hike to the nearest permitted point to the volcano, there is so much cloud that we can't even tell that we're actually staring at a volcano, and not a normal mountain. So we walk back to the van and the driver takes us around the other side, we sit there patiently for an hour, but the stubborn cloud refuses to budge. This is where the guide admits that on average, only 15 percent of tourists are lucky enough to visit the volcano on a day when it is clear enough to see the lava flowing out of the top. So why don't they tell you this before you make the trek up to La Fortuna? What with the state of Costa Rica's roads it's hardly a quick side trip. I suppose, then nobody would come and they'd loose a lot of tourist money. Our trip wasn't a complete waste of time though, as not only did we see monkeys whilst hiking to the volcano, we also took a nighttime dip in some of the best thermal pools that we have ever seen. Baldi Thermal pools, which have loads of pools at various temperatures between 32 and 67 degrees C. Two of the pools have bars in the centre, so it's really cool to swim up and cool down with a cold beer in these sweltering wonders. We must say though, you'd have to be absolutely crazy to want to bathe in the 67 degrees pool. Marc stuck the tip of one of his toes in and almost screamed in pain. No wonder nobody else was bathing in it.

After La Fortuna, and to again avoid an 8 hour jaunt along Costa Rica's roads, we opt for a jeep, boat across the lake "Arenal" followed by another jeep, to get us to our next destination, the Monteverde cloud forest, in just 3 hours.

Monteverde, is between 1,200 and 1,800 metres above sea level, so it's cool climate made for a nice change from the heat and humidity of the lower lands.
The famous thing to do here in Monteverde, is to fly through the air on zip lines, which both skim the tops of the trees in the forest and occasionally cross over from one side of the valley to the other, giving you the sensation of flying, some hundred or so metres above the ground. It certainly was an exhilarating day and Patty only had to be rescued twice, when her zip line harness came to a stop before the end and left her dangling high above the valley floor.

We followed an energetic morning by an energetic afternoon and took a hike up to Cerro Amigos. The track was both steep and of pure red clay, so we were praying that it didn't start raining or walking back down would have been treacherous. The top of the track afforded us great views over the cloud forest.

We board the coach to San Jose, and start to think that maybe we're a bit paranoid when the coach stops for a lunch break, and we are the only tourists to take our day packs with us. However, when we got back on the bus, the day packs of two tourists had gone missing. The driver didn't seem to give a shit, and just told them it's their own fault for not keeping an eye on them. Then on the outskirts of San Jose, another tourist's day pack went missing from the rack above the seats. Apparently, Costa Rica's buses are notorious for the theft of day packs, so if you're visiting, you've been warned, keep your eagle eye on them.

San Jose is a lot more orderly and laid back than we were expecting, though it doesn't really have any exceptional tourist sites. At night, we visited a great entertainment complex called El Pueblo. The complex has been designed like a traditional Spanish Village and it is full of bars, restaurants and nightclubs. Certainly one of the best Central American spots which we've seen for nightlife.

Our next destination, Parque Nacional Tortuguero, is billed as Costa Rica's answer to the Amazon Rainforest. There are no roads into this national park, so we board a boat which follows a river up to our resort.
That evening we take a trip out to see some marine turtles who every evening appear out of the sea, and come up on to the beach to lay more than 100 eggs. After which, they stroll back to the sea exhausted. We only got to see one turtle, but even still, it was an amazing sight. That evening we drink in the bar with a large group of Catalans, who we met on the turtle trip. Today is exactly a year since we left Barcelona, so that deserves a drink in itself!

The next day and we're up at the crack of dawn, to take a boat trip around the many rivers in the park, and watch the wildlife in the rainforest wake up. This is truly one of the most dense, lush, interesting rainforests we have ever seen. There is a slightly eery feeling when staring into the rainforest, about what might lie behind the tall think layer of bush and trees which line the river bank. We saw dozens of monkeys of several different breeds, endless colourful birds, spiders, snakes and a bright green Iguana, which is supposed to be really difficult to spot. Unfortunately, half way into our boat trip, it started hammering it down with rain, so our photo opportunities were limited. However, the jungle, even with the heavy rain was still beautiful.

The next day we hitched a lift with two of the Catalans who we met the night before, down to the Caribbean coastal town of Puerto Viejo. Puerto Viejo looked nice, but unfortunately, it bucketed it down with rain our whole time there.

The scenery in Costa Rica has been outstanding, as has the amount of unusual vegetation and wildlife which we've spotted. We would definitely one day like to come back here, to see more of the country. However, as it's the rainy season and the seemingly endless rainfall has quite literally put a dampner on our visit, the other sights will have to wait till next time, when we'll make sure we come in the dry season.

So with the stubborn rain refusing to stop, we miss the rest of our planned sights in Costa Rica, and decide to move on early to Panama, our last Central American country.
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