Border crossing! I left the last story at the beautiful beach of Popoyo in Nicaragua. Today Mike, Lyndsay and I are going to cross into Costa Rica. It’s still a bit of a drive to the border. We heard Costa Rica is going to be way more expensive so we wanted to stock up on food and gas. Surprisingly the last gas station and supermarket are quite far away from the border so we missed it. The Nicaraguan side of the border is pretty quiet. We assume a waving guy is a helper so we drive past him. Turns out he was official. He gets really mad at us and starts yelling for our papers and passports. We calm him down and everything turns out to be fine. The car import permit needs stamps from a gazillion different people. One of them is a cop, we find him sitting in the shade on the floor, he doesn’t look at the car or the papers and just signs/stamps it. The Costa Rica side of the border is a big surprise. A big modern building, bags have to go through x-ray machines and there are five trash cans for recycling. Weird after all the dusty, falling apart messes we had before. But surprise surprise, this is still Central America so we still need to get copies at a copy shop and it turns out the power has died. A simple comment written on our forms “copies will follow” is deemed sufficient. Not sure where those copies are going to come from. Well now I’m officially in country number eight! Mike and Lyndsay had picked a campsite at Playa Hermosa which was close to the airport so they could pick up their friends visiting from the US. Talking about visitors…. I was going to get a new visitor too, a bit more than 24 hours after I dropped off my parents and Jasper. Maarten (yes, another one) was going to join me for a bit. I hadn’t talked to Maarten for maybe 10 years until I saw him again last June at the Anne and Alex wedding. About a month ago I get a message from him saying he is going to travel for 6 weeks in Central America and likes my travel stories. So would it be OK if he came travel with me for a week or two. Sure! In all the chaos of travelling with my parents and Jasper; changing plans to travel some more with Mike and Lyndsay and crossing a border, Maarten and I hadn’t really clearly decided where we would meet. But surprise surprise he just walked up to my van! Just in time for a sunset swim. On the campsite we also meet an American couple who just started their trip cycling from Costa Rica back to the US. Good times exchanging stories over a beer.
As I said, the last few days had been pretty chaotic. So I could really use a empty day to clean out my van etc. Luckily Mike and Lyndsay were driving to the next town for the day and were happy to take Maarten along with them. When they came back they had some big fishes that went on the BBQ that night. Mike’s friends’ flight was delayed so now we had to stay awake until 1:30. Insane! But playing cards and drinking beer made it easier.
New day, new surf beach. We could either take the long boring road inland or the short pretty road along the coast. Only thing we didn’t know was that this road was mostly unpaved, very steep and included multiple river crossings. This time it wasn’t just a bit of water that spilled over the street. This looked serious. We stopped to go spot how deep it was and what would be the best way through. If I would be by myself I would have turned around. But with a 4×4 pickup in front of me and 5 extra people to push, we decided it was a go. Well… in the end it was a bit of a anticlimax but it felt like we were on a real expedition and once again the van showed no problems whatsoever. A bit further down the road a big cat ran across the road. It was to big to be a normal cat plus its run was weird. It was followed by another two which we could see a bit better: Jaguarandis! So cool! We found a great camp spot directly at the beach. It all looked pretty underdeveloped and not too touristy until we found the ultra modern and ultra expensive restaurant next door. At the back of the restaurant was a big fence around some trees. From a distance I could see two pigs standing there. Until when I walked closer it turned out to be one ginormous pig, the size of a small hippo, listening to the name Lola. Since it was probably the last day we would all travel together we went out for dinner (not at Lola’s place but a cheap spot down the road). That evening had one of the best sunsets and starry nights I had seen in a long time.
Because Maarten and I don’t really surf and because the other guys mostly only surf, we decided to say goodbye and head into the mountains in the direction of the famous Monteverde park. We hit some more dirt roads with some more small river crossings. Now more confident about what the van can handle we quickly check them and pass them. Near Monteverde the roads aren’t paved either and get pretty steep up and down. We camp in the garden of a little restaurant in the middle of nowhere on the countryside. The garden is really nice with big grassy fields. The lady that works at the restaurant loves the van and wants to check the inside. Once she’s inside she yells at the other ladies in the restaurant that she isn’t coming back anymore. They all come over and want to take pictures with us and the van.
The road continues steep and unpaved to Monteverde. The entrance to the park costs a whopping 20 USD. Costa Rice really isn’t cheap. It’s really windy all day and because this is a cloud forest it’s cloudy too. So once we get to a viewpoint there isn’t much to view. Until we wait a few minutes and the clouds clear up and we can actually see the Pacific Ocean from up here. The main hiking trail is really well maintained and almost wheelchair accessible. That doesn’t make it a very hard hike. So we decide to walk all the other trails too. We get to cross a cool suspension bridge and see loads of birds and some raccoon-like animals. Once we’re done with Monteverde it is time for scenic driving. Down the mountains and almost all the way around Lago Arenal. Even though our hostel for tonight is only 15km away from Monteverde it is a 150 km, 3 hour drive to get there. At some point when were almost there we have been driving behind a single car for a few minutes. All of a sudden the car stops and when I overtake them they start waving at us. Turns out they were a Dutch couple and the guy got slightly confused when he looked in his rear-view mirror and saw a Dutch license plate all of a sudden. They want to know what we are doing and invite us for a drink at their hotel which we of course happily accept. While we’re having a drink it starts getting darker and looking like it might rain a lot. Our hostel is only a few minutes drive away but I don’t want to drive that in a storm. Well it’s dark now anyway and the road is really steep and really bad. Interesting driving but we make it and are allowed to camp there. The next day some of the other guest are surprised we made it, they had 4x4s and had a hard time driving that road when it was light. 100 points for the van!
Next to lake Arenal (and our hostel) is volcano Arenal and on the side of the volcano is the smaller Cerro Chato volcano, with another crater lake. Time for a hike. The hike is wet and muddy, but the landscape is really nice. There are mud slides and large parts of the trail turned into deep trenches after all the rain. Once we make it to the top we look over the edge to see the lake… and only see clouds… Even inside the crater it is too cloudy to see anything. But while chatting with some people there we find out the same trick as yesterday works: wait for a bit and there will be small gap in the clouds. The lake is good for swimming and since we’re wet already anyway we decide to head down the steep cliff with a group of other hikers. It’s pretty muddy but we make it. When we get to the bottom it starts raining some more so we hop in the water. The water is actually warmer than the rain (which doesn’t mean it’s actually warm) and the clouds/fog give it a nice spooky feeling. The way back up the cliff is pretty fast as we can use the roots as a ladder system. The downhill from the volcano down to the car goes pretty quick too. Sadly enough it doesn’t stop raining. We head to La Fortuna where Maarten knows a nice hostel where I can camp and he can sleep on a couch. Let’s hope it stops raining soon…