Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Costa Rica part 1

We've made it to Costa Rica, our 6th country in Latin America!! We would say the past 3 months have flown by, but in reality when we look back, Mexico seems like ages ago! I (Mallary) have an old favorite saying that goes something like this, "time seems to go by faster and faster every year, as we age our days become very similar to one another, without something to distingish one from the next... whereas in our younger years we were easily excited and constantly exposed to new people places and experiences. Here lies the key to slowing down time." And with that being said, I feel like I have been gone forever!

In 1948 Costa Rica abolished their military, and instead invested some of that money into buying up land for the purpose of making numerous national parks to protect their flora and fauna. Not long after crossing into northwestern Costa Rica, we found ourselves at the entrance to one of their protected gems, Rincon De La Vieja National Park. (N 10°46.375 W 85°20.993). It was a little before sunset, and we began setting up camp in a desolate parking lot at the park entrance. It wasn't long before a ranger approached us and said "What is your intention here?" looking kinda surprised by us. We explained we are camping for the night and going to enter the park in the morning. "Well it is dangerous here, there are lots of animals, and you are in the open. It is your choice, but it is dangerous" he said, and walked off. Hmm, we thought about it for a few moments and said screw it, we camped our way through Mexico and Central America and were not going to be discouraged by some animals. As predicted the night went well, great camp dinner, our first attempt at stovetop popcorn (without our partners in crime at least) and plenty of oldies pumping out the jam box speaker while stargazing. Aside from a highly annoying posse of flying roaches that almost made Mallary forgo the rest of the trip, it was a grand first night in the country!

Looks like a good camp site to us... And the flying roaches!!
We may have added too many kernels... Some lucky animal ate popcorn too after we went to sleep!

Paying the entrance fee the next morning was a big ol You-Aren't-In-Cheap-Countries-Anymore slap in the face! $15 a person for one open trail that took around two hours (unfortunately volcanic activity had closed their more noteworthy trails).Costa Rica is somewhat bogus on their park fees, and we had known that ahead of time, hence why we stuck to our guns on the camping... Free camping kinda makes it a little more bearable. We made the most of the admission robbery and walked along and oo'd and ahh'd at the Yellowstone-like bubbling mud pots, boiling water holes, and smoking caldrons around the trails. It really was a cool trail, weaving through dense forest, to hot scrub brush, all the while interspersed with spooky backdrops smelling of sulfur, very unusual to say the least.

Eerie smokey jungle
Looks and sounds like an angry pot of boiling gravy on Thanksgiving
Curious Coati along trail
Always appreciating cool trees!
Bubbling mud or water or something behind us

We left the park and headed back down to Liberia, the only town of any size, to run errands. And although it was a very productive day finding a bank, hardware store, RadioShack, and grocery, walking the aisles almost gave us heart attacks! Water for $6, six pack of beer for $10, a pair of pants for $80! However, they have quite the tactic to make you forget about money by giving out free shots of rum in the liquor aisle!

Erbody in the grocery store gettin' tipsy

While crossing the highly annoying border from Nicaragua to Costa Rica, we had continually referenced our friends', Travis & Amanda aka FreedomWithBruno.com, very detailed blog post on this crossing, and remembered that they were a bit ahead of us, and also that they were settling for 6 months in Costa Rica. Way back in Oaxaca, Mexico, when we met these lovely Canuck-Gringo folks they had extended an invite to stop by and see them on our way down. (Now who knows if this was just one of those friendly things that people say or what, but we took them up on it ;)...) Being flexible and gracious hosts, with 1 days notice Travis and Amanda told us to come on out! Without wasting any time, we booked it towards the coast, having no idea how rough the ride was to get to their joint in Nosara, on the Nicoya Peninsula. Well, lets just say it was ROUGH! Chris, hellbent on not spending much time driving after dark, pushed Lola like he stole it. The disregard to the rutted out roads rattled her in places we didn't know she could rattle! But, we made it, and boy was it worth the drive! Travis and Amanda's rental house was a sweet little bungalow just a minute walk from the beach!

FreedomWithBruno's pad
One of the Nosara beaches

The next 3 days were what Costa Rican dreams are made of... Sweat, sand, walks on the beach, incredible sunsets, poolside lounging, getting thrown around in the waves, and bike rides around little towns full of cute ex-pat run shops and restaurants! In addition we were spoiled with our own room in the bungalow, great chats with fellow overlanders who absolutely get the ins & outs of all the quirkey things that overlanding in a 4Runner brings to life, and heaps of stories and laughs over delicious food including fresh fish, veggies, monster burgers, and BACON! Thanks Travis and Amanda, for a sharing a bit of your paradise with us!!

Rainy season brought moments of low morale, and between the rain, and the bouts of bugs, we desperately needed some additional living space. Living in a car is not always easy, and to write this blog and pretend that its all peachy keen would be laughable, cause there are definite moments of "holy crap what am I doing right now." Luckily, the great moments outweigh these questionable ones, having a compact 4x4 is totally worth it to us, and we realized that we just need to make a few simple adjustments to help out day to day life. Fortunately for us, some research yielded an ARB affiliate in the capital city of San Jose, and they had exactly what we were looking for: a side mounted awning with detachable heavy duty tarp walls! ARB is a worldwide 4x4 parts, performance, and accessory store that's exciting enough to make even the most smug Smartcar owner switch over to a beefy fuel drinking SUV. Energetic like kids before Christmas, we shot up to San Jose and met with the manager who set us up with the necessary gear and an installation appointment. We had to kick it at a hotel and around the city for a few days waiting on the installation, but our free upgrade on an already stellar Expedia deal kept us very content! We thanked Neils Cruz 4x4 specialists for their services, and headed up to the neighboring towns of Monteverde and Santa Elena to check out their prized cloud forests.

The Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve is a park protecting a large area of primary cloud forests, which are home to an extremely biodiverse range of plants and animals. The actual towns of Santa Elena and Monteverde are idyllic and cute with their little cafes, ice creams shops, bakeries, and even a tiny craft brewery. The continual mist in the air only adds to its charm. It's just such a shame that everything in these towns is crazy overpriced, and most of the locals are down right rude. I dont blame them, tourism has swept through here in the form of bus loads of American high school Spanish classes on a field trip, and travelers and vacationers passing through for a mixture of man made adventure among some of natures finest forests via zip lines out the wazoo. It must get old. We managed to still have a great time though, and while waiting out the rain, found ourselves on an expensive little cheese factory tour, led by the great niece of the Quaker founder of the cheese factory in the 1950s. The tour was pretty neat, and the cheese and ice cream was even better! We also indulged in some strong local craft beer, which was the culprit of possibly the worst food choice we have made in Central America... late night hotdogs! Gross, we are so ashamed!

Cloud forest
Our misty camp site
Cheese factory

While the ziplines enticed us, our main perogative was the cloud forest experience. These forests harbor many cool things, sloth and quetzal sightings are the most hyped up of them all. We were on a mission to spot our own, and despite the weather trying to rain on our parade, we headed for the park, feeling lucky. We practically tiptoed around this place trying to be as perceptive and unintrusive as possible... But 3 hours later we still hadnt seen much wildlife! The flora of the forest was stunning, with layers of epiphytes upon more epiphytes, creating intricate systems to oogle at as we meandered through the pathes. The $17 per person park entrance wasn't a complete bust, but we were slightly disappointed in our lack of animal sightings... afterall, this was Costa Rica, expectations were high!!

Standing on the Continental Divide
Hot lips flower
Cute, but Yea right!
Canopy view
Rainy hiking

Ready to move on from the rainy little mountaintop, we made plans to leave and of course, the next morning was sunshine! We hurrily made one last stop, in hopes of finding more wildlife at Childrens Eternal Rainforest. If you have ever donated some change or a couple bucks to school kids doing "save the rainforest" campaigns, then it's possible it went to a place like this. 55,000 acres were purchased by school kids fundraisers from across the world, and is now set aside as a protected park. Even cooler, only a small part of it is open to tourists, the rest is just for the animals and plants to not be invaded by humans! We invaded what we could for the afternoon, and other than plenty of playful White Faced Capuchin Monkeys, the only notable critter we spotted was the odd looking Three Wattled Bellbird. It is supposed to be somewhat rare, and boasts one of the loudest birdcalls in the world, that sounds like a high pitched bell followed by a weird metallic robot sound. We left the park, and the cloud forest, bummed about no sloth or quetzal sightings. However, excited about the rest of the country! (N 10°18.164 W 84°48.579).

Sweet Fu Manchu (pic stolen from google... Our camera couldn't capture it)



  1. Hot dogs? You should be ashamed of yourself. ;-). You may want to try to start a store when you get back and use that free liquor sales technique.

  2. Enjoyed your writing and photos. Looking forward to Costa Rica part 2. Enjoy your cruise to Columbia. Love, Lou & Carol

  3. Hey, I went to that cheese factory! Somehow I missed the local beer, though. Safe travels!
    - Lauren Rossi

    1. Thanks Lauren! The local beer was just okay, I wouldnt say you missed much. Thats funny you went to the same cheese factory though!

  4. We loved having you stay! Excited to hear about the rest of your travels down south. Xox