With many places left unvisited in Nicaragua, we reluctantly boarded a bus bound for Costa Rica. July is getting ever closer and various sites and sounds in South America are beckoning. Wth time pressing, this has meant skipping through Central America now a little faster than we would have ideally liked. However, as we heaved our bags into the bus luggage area and settled ourselves in for the journey to Costa Rica, we were leaving with many good memories of this wonderful country.
We arrived at the border by 10am. Leaving Nicaragua was a breeze. 20 mins later, a few dollars lighter and with a bunch of Costa Rican currency we were back in the bus travelling through no man's land to the Costa Rican customs.
Stepping off the bus into scorching hot temperatures - without shade initially - we waited in line outside. The queue stretched out in front of us, around various people selling drinks, food and money and into the road where it then wound back round alongside a small building and then round the corner and off out of sight. And it wasn't moving. We waited and waited, drank some water, inched forward a little, waited some more and moaned about the country we were about to visit.
Eventually we entered the building and passed over our passports. Having heard a bunch of stories about people getting refused entry or needing onward tickets we were mightily relieved to be handed them back complete with a Costa Rican stamp seconds later.
It seemed as though we could be on our way.
Everyone's luggage came off the bus. About an hour later having waited outside all this time a fella came along and rifled about in some of the bags (not ours) and then told us all to leave. And so, 3 hours or so after leaving Nicaragua we eventually entered Costa Rica officially.
Arriving into San Jose around 6pm we caught an overpriced cab to Gaudy's Backpackers in the La Sabana district of the city. Dinner at a Colombian place served to us by a Costa Rican who seemed very proud to be working in a Colombian restaurant!
San Jose is a very westernised city. We knew this before arrival and so weren't disappointed at the way in which it has embraced McDonalds, Burger King and Pizza Hut for example. In fact, we set out to enjoy a day doing 'normal' stuff in a big city. Nothing too much to report on but it was great visiting bookshops and sitting in cafes etc... We even spent a couple of hours in the cinema in the afternoon.
Back at the hostel by late afternoon we lay about in hammocks and planned for a few days ahead. Oh, and we ate some sort of American fast food round the corner.
After breakfast at the hostel and visiting a few shops we boarded a bus, then boat and then bus again to the Nicoya Peninsula and the beach town of Montezuma. The boat ride provided great views of the Pacific inlets as the sun went down.
Montezuma is small and touristy. Cafes and tourist agencies offering various tours line the main street. We found a lovely place to stay just past the centre - a hotel that as far as I could see called itself 'Hotel'. Fair enough, nothing flash for the name I suppose, but I'm writing this now sat on the verandah. Marsha is reading in a hammock and the Pacific Ocean is pounding the dramatic, rocky coastline at the bottom of the garden. Very peaceful.
Dinner at The Cafe Bakery. Overpriced for what it was. We had used a recommendation out of the Lonely Planet. Since being recognised by LP it has obviously attracted many more customers and have hence felt it necessary to hike up their prices 4 or 5 times over. This is not the first time we've encountered this....
An early morning walk on the beach. We clambered over rocks and reached sand. The waves noisily thundered in off the world's biggest ocean. Even at 7am the air was warm and we soon built up a sweat. After a shower and eggs and bacon round the corner we walked out of town and then turned right in search of the waterfalls we'd heard about. The 'path' involved jumping from rock to rock up the river, scattering the crabs as we went. Howler monkeys loudly (and aggressively we felt) announced their prescence in the trees above, roaring to each other as we passed. Apparently they poo on you from above to let you know they're there as well - as if the massive roaring every half minute or so wasn't enough.
The 1st waterfall was hardly noticeable but the 2nd was over 20 metres high and swimmable in the pool below. And so, we swam, got splashed on, took some silly photos and relaxed.
On the return down the river the howler monkeys became so loud we armed ourselves with sticks - remembering the unpleasant incident in Emei Shan. But, they left us alone. Back on the road we continued down the coast road. It really was very dramatic - we sat and watched for a while as some huge waves crashed against the rocks and sprayed everywhere.
The waterfall in Montezuma
We were on the hunt for a particular place but after 4km down the road we turned around and eventually found that it had closed. So, a quick swim in the sea - the waves were churning up the sand so much that I was pulling grains out of the trunks for ages afterwards.
Back in town we had a late lunch. After that, well, it was siesta time. We also took the time whilst relaxing in hammocks on the verandah to book up our Machu Picchu tour - exciting!!!
We must be approaching nearly 100 books read between us now since July. It's lovely. Some more serious reading time was only interrupted by a vege wrap at a cheap eatery in the main street for dinner.
A very leisurely morning in Montezuma. The weather improved as the morning went on and I enjoyed walking along the beach and reading and watching the waves crash around me. Marsha caught up with some of her writing. By the early afternoon we caught a bus back to the ferry and then to San Jose. The ferry ride gave great views over the Nicoya Peninsula:
Sunset on the boat from Nicoya
We checked in again at Gaudys in San Jose.
A strange bunch of people there. A group of blokes sat around whilst one of them strummed various Britney Spears hits on his guitar as the others earnestly sang the lyrics. Undeserved applause from the singers greeted the end of each song. It was late and I was taking advantage of a couch and a tv and watching a film, but it was difficult with this weird bunch tunelessly bashing out poor songs just around the corner.
Gaudys is a nice place, despite the fact that a community of bizarre people seem to be staying there. Today we again did normal things. Watched tv, went to shops, even cooked!!!
Like I say, a good day, the only complaint being some Americans loudly proclaiming their brilliance and superior knowledge throughout the evening back at the hostal. 'YEAH, I'M REALLY GOOD AT THIS, VERY GOOD AT THAT. I'VE BEEN MOST PLACES IN THE WORLD, BUT DON'T REMEMBER ANY OF THEM CAUSE I GET TOO DRUNK, YEAH'. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.
A 5.30am bus delivered us 5 hours later down the Pacific coast to a town called Quepos. A 2km bus ride then allowed us to check into the Serena Vista Hotel half way between Quepos and the beaches further along the coast. The views were great from the little terrace.
We walked to the beach stopping off at Cafe Azul for a pricey lunch. The beach was beautiful. Palm trees lined the edge of the beach, sand stretched down to the very swimmable water. The water was the warmest we'd been in this trip. We lay down for a few hours eventually having to grab our things and scamper out of the way of the encroaching tide. An ice cream and drink in a beachfront cafe was a perfect end to the day before we returned to the hotel to watch the evening close in over the ocean.
Next door was a tiny eatery which we entered later. He offered 3 dishes 1 of which was off. Anyhow, it was alright. Then an elderly Texan fella joined us and we discussed various issues. I felt obliged to put him right about how he viewed the late Princess Di. Sadly from there the conversation degenerated slightly as he expressed his somewhat bigoted views regarding non christian white people. I was tempted to stay and discuss his racist prejudices but in the end really couldn't be bothered.
Rain beating down on the roof and distant thunder awoke us both early. We had hoped to go to Manuel Antonio National Park for the day and so this was a little disappointing. But, as we ate breakfast on the terrace overlooking the forest in the foreground and the Pacific behind, the rain cleared, the clouds scattered and blue sky appeared.
The National Park was only a few km away and a bus took us most of the way. A coastal jungle with tall trees, dense undergrowth and immaculate beaches. The place was alive with wildlife and shortly after entering we encountered 2 sloths hanging in the branches above. Both were successfully managing to confirm their reputation by steadfastly refusing to do anything other than sleep. After 10 minutes one scratched himself which was greeted by oohs and aahs below.
We continued on and passed loads of Howler Monkeys and White Faced monkeys swinging athletically from tree to tree. A Humming bird zipped by, once again too quick to capture on film. The imaginatively named Jesus Christ Lizard appeared as well – (they walk on water!). All the time the path weaved its way through the thick jungle.
By the time we’d reached the beach it was almost afternoon. The beach was gorgeous and we spent some time in the sea and lying on the sand reading. Occasionally a large iguana would come scuttling across the sand and then abruptly stop and stare off into space for 2 or 3 minutes as though deep in thought. It was as if it was trying to appear deeply profound and intelligent. An iguana wouldn’t look out of place curled up on an armchair in a waistcoat, wearing slippers and spectacles, smoking a pipe and reading the Times.
We tried snorkelling but it wasn’t up to much, and so we went off for a walk instead. Again the wildlife was abundant – a wild deer, hundreds of crabs, lots of small mammals called agouties, many more monkeys along with wonderful views from high on a hill out over the ocean. Our search for whales was in vain.
Later on, as we left, we spotted a third sloth in a tree – and this one was moving! We watched for 15 minutes as it scaled a tree seemingly in slow motion. Hanging upside down it slowly reached out for food in the branches above us. It was great to see.
We went looking for a cheap place to eat and eventually settled upon about the most expensive place for some reason! It was called Pirates and was very tasty.
Back at the hostal, as we were getting ready for bed, Marsha yelped, screamed, stepped back and gave it some, ’Oh my God, oh my God – look at that – the size of it!!!!’, etc etc….. It was a justified reaction though. Sitting on the bed was a humungous cockroach. It was – honestly – the size of my palm. Well, I spent a rather undignified 20 minutes attempting to catch it and eventually did, throwing it outside – greeted by wild applause from Marsha!!.
A short bus ride brought us to Uvita, a small coastal town further down the Pacific coast. A hostal owner met us off the bus (reasonably aggressive tactics we thought) and convinced us to stay at her place by the beach called Flutterby. Marsha bought up some food in the supermarket before we went.
The place was new – and looked it – and very overpriced. But, it was close to the beach and we wandered down and spent the afternoon in the sea and on the sand amongst the crabs.
Later on after returning for a shower, we ventured back to the beach with a beer and enjoyed the sunset. It was beautiful – the spray from the sea glittering in the sun’s reddening rays over the sand, surfers riding huge waves on the golden ocean.
Back at the hostel, Marsha cooked, we ate outside, and then chatted with various others over some beer and wine. All very pleasant.
Feeling a little worse for wear, we collected our things together, paid, left and walked to the bus stop early in the morning. Before too long it became apparent that we’d missed the bus. Still, we caught a different one, and then another and finally a taxi and eventually made it to Sierpe in time for the boat we’d booked for 2pm. We shared the taxi at the end with an American girl who insisted on a detour to see some large ‘spheres’. These turned out to be just big round stones in a park – probably the most rubbish thing I’ve seen all trip.
We boarded the little speedboat with several others. The driver then took off at breakneck speed – probably in an attempt to impress us all. Impressed we were not. Clutching the sides in terror we thundered through the narrow mangrove lined channels. At one point I was busily trying to calculate my chances of survival if we were to crash when we spotted a crocodile, slipping ominously beneath the water as we passed. The chances of survival, already low, suddenly halved.
But of course we made it from the river out onto the ocean where it actually became even more terrifying, and finally to Jinetes De Osa on the Osa Peninsula of Costa Rica. A hotel on the water’s edge for which we’d paid ludicrous amounts of money for – but what the hell… It was in the famous Corcovado National Park. We were booked in for 3 nights – food included – and were looking forward to it.
We took an afternoon/evening stroll along the beach having checked in and had a look around. The jungle came right down to the beach and at high tide the sea almost reached the jungle – it really did feel like the middle of nowhere. The thick jungle surrounding the hotel was alive with the sounds of birds, crickets, monkeys etc… It was fantastic.
Several of us spent the morning diving. 2 dives with a couple of hours on Cano island inbetween. As usual, as we set off Marsha and I apprehensively appraised our fellow divers in the boat and – as usual – adjudged ourselves to be probably the least competent.
The coral was almost non-existent and the visibility wasn’t great. But, after a few minutes under the water we rounded a rock and came face to face with about 10 white tipped reef sharks – all lined up on the seabed as though parked. As the dive progressed we came across countless more. For some reason we felt totally at ease and safe, although at one point I noticed a shark getting a little too close behind me.
The island was stunning and we spent most of the time swimming (getting very sunburnt as we later discovered), and then wandering along the sand exploring the rock pools. Up near where some food was provided for us, the beach seemed to be moving. Thousands of tiny crabs, dressed in a colourful array of shells, busily trotted back and forth.
The second dive produced further sharks and a Sting Ray. Pleased with our shark sighting efforts in the morning, after we returned to shore we walked for a couple of hours up the coast and back. Seemingly around every corner another tiny deserted sandy cove would appear. The sea lapping the sand only yards from the jungle behind. Again, we felt as though we were on our own in the middle of nowhere – until we’d turn yet another corner and stumble into another hotel. Monkeys played in the trees above, competing for our attention with parrots as they noisily chattered away.
A great day, and the food at the beachside restaurant at the hotel was also good.
An hour’s boat ride took us further down the Pacific coast to an area called Serena in the Corcovado National Park. The coastline as we bumped along in the boat was stunning. The thick jungle swept down from the hills like a carpet and hung out over the ocean from jagged rocks as huge waves crashed below. The park was famous for being one of the most Bio-diverse places on the planet. We were hoping to see some of its residents. It was also famous for being wet. Well, it is a tropical rainforest I suppose…
Almost immediately after stepping off the boat and into the jungle we encountered a puma. Unbelievable – only the second time one has been spotted by our guide this year.. It hung around for 10 minutes (apparently protecting some cubs). We scrambled around the dense undergrowth trying to get sightings and photos. It was very much like a mountain lion, lean and strong but not too broad. Eventually having had enough of us she walked off into the jungle. An amazing start to the day – none of us had really expected to see the large wild cat.
And the day got better. Essentially, we walked through the jungle to a ranger station and then back out to the coast before heading inland again and then out to the boat. Along the way we sighted the 4 types of monkeys found in the park: Squirrel, Spider, Howler and White faced. The jungle was so thick and they were playing in the canopy high above us that at times it was hard to make them out. But, then we’d go further and come across some swinging about lower down to the ground. 2 more sloths hung about doing absolutely nothing. Giant locusts and crickets and grasshoppers. Toucans, parrots, makaws , humming birds and various other large birds appeared.
We came to the coast and where the river meets the sea, Bull Sharks allegedly appear. Sure enough, after a few minutes of patient waiting a couple of fins appeared above the water flashing back and forth. Apparently these sharks attack humans more than any other shark. We stayed well back from the water’s edge. Then the rain came down. In torrents.
We ate lunch by a river, the jungle surrounding us. A pair of crocodile eyes surfaced in the water and this dangerous reptile and us watched each other warily until we finished. Our guide controversially told us that crocodiles weren’t dangerous, and this dubious claim made me question a little as to whether perhaps we weren’t safe from the puma earlier as well.
Returning to the boat we surely used up all our luck by coming across another puma. This one quickly scampered away, but again, fantastic to see a big cat in the wild.
As the boat was being packed up we managed to complete our tick list – a tapir had wandered into our area. This cow sized hippo type creature with a large snout simply stood and gazed at us. The only drawback on the day had been the difficulty in taking photos. Marsha’s camera was playing up and I was struggling to capture the animals in the darkness of the jungle – especially as most darted around the place.
Back at the lovely hotel by mid-afternoon we did nothing but rest our legs, listen to the sqwarking of the parrots, lie in hammocks and read our books until dinner was served.
We had decided to prolong our stay in the Corcovado National Park by another day and night. It really was such a stunning area of natural beauty. After breakfast Marsha and I set off down the coast. We followed a path with the sea and sand on our right and the rainforest on our left. Shortly after setting off a dog joined us and later on another one too. Again, it was stunning. Photos simply can't do it justice. Sublime beaches - completely deserted - sparkling water and waves crashing in off the Pacific. Behind, towering rainforest, so thick it was impossible to see in more than 10 yards. As well as 2 dogs, a couple of parrots joined us for the walk. At times several other parrots took to the sky as well. They are magnificently coloured birds - the sort I thought I'd only see in picture books or National Geographic Magazine. We came across monkeys playing in the beachside trees.
After several hours of walking we turned around and came back, making it back to the hotel by 5pm. There was a map up in the hotel and we managed to calculate that we (and the 1st dog who'd stayed with us the whole way) had walked about 25km in total. No wonder we were so weary - but also so exhilerated by the day.
We sneaked some food to the dog - who was still with us! - at dinner and then gratefully sank into our bed.
Reluctantly, we departed the Osa Peninsula, the jungle, the lovely hotel, the beach - even the dog who had stayed the night outside our room! As we thundered away again on the boat and the junglefied coastline retreated into the distance, we realised yet again this trip, that we had found a place that we could easily have spent a considerable amount of time...
But, we were off to Panama...