Rain, Rain, Rain

Trip Start Jan 20, 2004
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Costa Rica  ,
Saturday, May 29, 2004

If you're ever planning a trip to Costa Rica, it might be a good idea to arrange it for a month other than May. Perhaps this year is exceptional, but for the last two to three weeks we've had nothing but rain, rain and more rain! Not gentle spring rains, mind you, but heavy torrential stuff. Rain day and night, with nary a break, starts to get a little depressing! There has been some talk of a low pressure system sitting right over the country now, so maybe there is rather more precipitation than normal, but May to November is the rainy season after all. From the weather data it looks as if each of these months gets over 200 mm on average, with closer to 300 mm in September and October. So if you're coming down for your winter holidays, the best time is definitely from December to April.

Despite the weather, we've still been making the most of our last week or two in Costa Rica. We decided to explore some areas of the southern highlands and central Pacific coast, so after completing a few more chores in San José we headed south on the Carretera Interamericana. Maybe headed "up" would be a more accurate description, as the road kept climbing and climbing from the Meseta Central into the mountains. On a clear day the views would likely be spectacular, but all we saw was the slashing rain through the windshield wipers on high speed. We stopped to make coffee (some of the best in the world is grown here) when we reached the highest point at Cerro de la Muerte at about 11,000 feet in the swirling mist and cloud. After that it was downhill all the way!

Our destination was a visit to a Canadian couple who had retired to Costa Rica from Chesterville, in the Ottawa Valley. Over the past four years Rolf and Lise Zersch have built their home and developed a small Bed & Breakfast business on their beautiful 120 acre property in the Talamanca mountains. We arrived as "friends of a friend", but we were very warmly welcomed, and by the time we left we felt we were part of the family! "Bosque del Tolomuco" has some great trails for hiking and birdwatching, with extensive views across to Cerro Chirripó, the highest point in Costa Rica (of course, we didn't get to see them until the rain stopped on our third day!). During the summer months from December to April the climate at their 5,700 ft location is very equitable with temperatures in the 18 to 26̊C range. If you are looking for a quiet and peaceful retreat on your trip to Costa Rica, we would highly recommend a stay with Rolf and Lise (e-mail them at zersch@magma.ca) - you're sure to get a very hospitable welcome.....as long as you can make it up their long and very steep driveway!

Continuing on down into the agriculturally rich valley of the Río General, we stopped in the small and bustling commercial centre of San Isidro to stock up on groceries and pay our weekly visit to an Internet Café. We had heard that the thermal springs at San Gerardo were well worth a visit, so we again headed up into the hills towards the Chirripó National Park. This was another great area for birdwatching, and was very lushly tropical and green with all the recent rain. The hot springs turned out to be a short hike up a steep and muddy track - after first carefully negotiating a rickety suspension bridge over a raging torrent, that was made even more precarious as it was in the process of being rebuilt - but were definitely worth the effort. We spent two hours relaxing in the steaming pool of clear mountain water at a very comfortable 35̊C, protected from the rain by the tropical foliage and surrounded by a veritable symphony of birdsong. We were kindly allowed to spend the night camping in the grounds of the Hotel Rió Chirripó at no charge, and spent the next morning exploring their nature trails and discovering new birds. This would be another great place for a short stay - check their website at www.riochirripo.com or call (506) 771-7065.

A short drive through the cloud-shrouded hills brought us down to the coast at Dominical and Uvita, and we spent a day exploring some quiet Pacific coast beaches and rocky headlands backed by tropical rainforest. Our next visit was again to some Canadian friends who have retired to the hills above Hatillo with a superb western view out over the Pacific Ocean. Unfortunately, we missed Colette and Robert (previously of the "Market Square Bistro"in Almonte) who had already returned to Ontario for the summer, but were lucky enough to spend a couple of days camped in our van in their garden. What a spot! Totally private, with a swimming pool overlooking the ocean, backed by tropical trees full of amazingly colourful Toucans....what could be nicer? If a room with an ocean view appeals to you, check out their website at wwww.toucandew.com ....again, you may need 4-wheel drive to make it up their road!

Continuing north on the dirt road up the coast we drove through what must have been thousands of acres of oil palm plantations. We passed convoys of tractors with trailers loaded to overflowing with the bunches of orange-red palm nuts on their way to the processing factories belching smoke and steam. A rainy overnight stay in the tourist seaside resort of Jaco, and then we were ready to make the final arrangements for shipping our van out of the port at Puerto Caldera.

Although we are driving our van from Canada to the tip of South America, there is unfortunately a small hiccup in that there is no road connection between southern Panama and northern Colombia i.e. between Central and South America. The Darien Gap, as it is known, is a 200km area of jungle and swamp with no real road, only passable by foot and canoe. It is possible to get through with a 4-wheel drive jeep in the dry season, but this is not recommended as it is apparently very much the terrain of bandits and drug runners. Although we have a taste for adventure, we will certainly not be attempting it in our van! The only alternative is to ship your vehicle across by cargo vessel, so for the past several weeks we have been trying to make the necessary arrangements.

We had expected to ship from Panama, but all our efforts to contact shipping agents there proved fruitless, and we finally stumbled upon a shipping opportunity directly from Costa Rica. On June 2nd our van will be loaded on to "MV Libra Leader", a Japanese vessel that delivers new cars to ports down the Pacific seaboard every two months, and we will pick it up again in Esmeraldas, Ecuador on June 6th. The ship is a Ro-Ro operation (Roll-on, Roll-off), which means that we will also be handing over the key.....with some trepidation, to say the least! The ships do not take passengers, so meanwhile we will be flying to Quito and then taking a bus down to the northern coast of Ecuador to pick up the van. We will, of course, be taking our most valuable things with us, but all the rest of our belongings will have to remain in the van. Although we have heard many horror stories of vans being stripped clean during this shipping process, we are somewhat reassured by the strict security on board the NYK line, as well as improved security arrangements at ports since 9/11. Keep your fingers and toes crossed for us!!
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thebertstriplog on

More on crossing from Canada to Costa Rica...Where do you start in planning a trip driving your own vehicle.....did you meet many others along the way, and would you do it again. If so, what would you change? thanks, :)

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