So into our second Central American country......
We were headed for Costa Rica's Caribbean surf Mecca of Puerto Viejo, and when we arrived we realised a very popular spot with our North American buddies. We spent 2 nights wild camped on the beach which was absolutely stunning. Definitely postcard material with white sand, coconut palm fringes and azul blue water which was a very comfortable temperature even for a early evening dip. This is then all surrounded by lush green jungle vegetation being Costa Rica's trade mark country side.
Moving on down the coast about 50km we stopped at Playa Negra and hired a surf board as the beaches were empty and the waves good for beginners. The rest of the day was spent lazing on the beach or attempting to surf. Yes a hard life I know!!
A long day's drive followed into the centre of the country toward Volcan Poas, an extinct volcano with an amazing pale blue crater lake in the middle. After paying the park entrance, and being warned, we were greeted at the edge of the crater with visibility of about 15m, shrouded in cloud with occasional light rain. As the volcano rises out of the warm humid jungle, most of the year the summit is covered in cloud. This was proved on our day up there.
We then back tracked past the capital city San Jose, west to Volcan Irazu where we arrived late in the afternoon, in thick cloud and camped for free in one of the small craters near the park entrance. The altitude ensured that the temperature did not go above 7 degrees all night. Nice and chilly for us. Up early the next day we were the first tourists through the gate and were fortunate enough to have a clear hour where we had panoramic views for 10's of km in all directions and managed to get some beautiful photos of the green crater lake.
Heading south along the Pan Americana towards the Pacific coast we camped the night in a National Park where at certain times of year whales can be seen breaching off the coast of the main beach. Guess what we were there to do. Although not the height of the season, an Alaskan couple driving to South America said they had seen whales breaching that very morning. Kerry with binoculars taken to bed was let down and did not see a sausage! We did however have an amazing sunset over the beach which was given a lot of justice by Kerry and the camera.
Continuing along the coast our next stop was the National Park of Manual Antonio, allegedly Costa Rica's most beautiful beaches, after passing the very touristy town of Quepos we found a campsite, well a free car park in a small bay right on the beach next to a restaurant. Stunning setting with the sun set taking place directly perpendicular to the beach over the water and Kerry doing more justice with the camera.
We then spent the following day walking around the Manuel Antonio national park with its huge iguanas, cheeky white faced monkeys, even cheekier racoons and unbelievable picturesque beaches and bays. (running out of adjectives here!) Needless to say it was very over run with tourists and locals alike, but a definite worthwhile stop.
Continuing along the coast our next stop was Jaco, a very popular surf spot, full of gringos and therefore very cool shops, restaurants and bars. Here we went to hire a surf board for a couple of days and then agreed Santa should come early. Instead of wasting money hiring boards all the way up into Mexico and the US, Santa came early and got us a surf board. We were both very excited with our new toy and tried it out 3 times in the next 2 days. James also had to work with a local welder and has made a lockable rack on top of the tent for the board. We really do look like beach bums now.
Grudgingly leaving Jaco our journey continued back into the mountains towards the small tourist town of La Fortuna where the ACTIVE Volcano Arenal is located. Arriving late in the afternoon we were just driving through some back roads looking for a secluded spot to camp when we stopped at a nice view point overlooking Laguna Arenal,….. yes you guessed it Kerry saw an unmissable opportunity for more sunset photos. Anyway as she was clicking away a 4x4 with a guide and American couple arrived and we got chatting to them about our trip. Can you believable the father actually knew who we were. He had read one of our articles in a Landrover magazine in America! Small world. Rolando their guide said they were about to go for a night walk to an old lava flow and get a good view of the volcano erupting and the red hot lava rocks rolling down the side of the volcano.
Unfortunately this is another volcano that spends most of the time with its summit in the clouds, but we heard the occasional explosions some 12km away of the gas and lava being released and saw a lot of the molten rocks tumbling down the side of the volcano. Camped beside a stream next to the road that night we had an excellent view of the volcano the next morning when the clouds cleared around 8am. Unfortunately during the day you cannot see the red hot lava so we decided to stay another night and hopefully the view would stay clear.
That evening we took up our camp spot next to the stream and started cooking dinner before settling down for the volcano night show and were slightly embarrassed as this particular spot is where all the tourists are brought on tours from the town to see the volcano. Yes this very spot! So we had a dozen or so tourists watching us cook and eat during the lull of volcanic activity. We should have charged I reckon.
Just after 11pm the clouds finally lifted and we were able to view Volcan Arenal in all her splendour, unfortunately the photos don't do it justice. To tell the truth the night time photos were rubbish (Santa can't afford a new camera this year) but the spectacle was amazing to witness.
The next day James had to attend to puncture number 5, in total number 4 on the same rubbish Dunlop tyre and number 3 in the same spot! We headed back to the Pacific coast to Playa Grande where we were told we may be able to see the Leatherback turtles (about 5ft long) come up on the beaches to lay their eggs. Oh the beach is also a very popular surf beach. After setting up a wild camp on the beach we were informed that the only time to see the turtles is at high tide (currently 4 am) and you need to book a tour with the National Park authorities….. so the surf the next morning was awesome and we are both getting better and better!
Setting out on some very rough back roads towards the Nicaragua border we were totally shocked to bump into the French family we had met in Ecuador when we were shipping Lodzi to Panama. After a couple hours of catching up we bid them farewell and said we would probably bump into them again sometime.
Not wanting to reach the border too late we found a quiet beach to wild camp on and started mentally preparing ourselves for our border crossing the following day into Nicaragua. Up at 6.15am we were packed and on the road just after 7am arriving at the border a little after 8am when it opened. Well we were greeted by hundreds of trucks, even more people and coaches all running around like lost farts trying to get through the border. Surprisingly NO SIGNS anywhere so we tacked onto the back of a private vehicle and fortunately he knew where he was going and what he was doing so we got the Costa Rica formalities out the way in about an hour and then there is 500m between the border posts with utter chaos, people walking between the borders, money changers, street vendors and pick pockets.
However arriving on the Nicaragua side we once again followed a local car and sort of bumbled our way through the formalities in an hour and a half.
As the date of entering Nicaragua is already the 18th December we have a week to till Christmas. Where will we be!!!! We really want to try and get to El Salvador to spend Xmas with an ex Zimbabwe classmate of ours, who is actually waiting for us there but will we then be skipping these countries too quickly!! We also need to cross 150km through Honduras where we have heard a lot of horror stories of 5 hour border crossings and having to pay every man and his dog for "obligatory paperwork" as well as the corrupt police between the borders who have fined people recently for not wearing shoes while driving and also smoking while driving.
Only the next instalment will tell.
MERRY CHRISTMAS to everyone. We miss you all. Wish you were here!!!!