Day 31 to 35 – Costa Rica – Pura Vida and… Rain!

2016-10-12 – Day 31 – San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua to La Fortuna, CR (Costa Rica) (275 km – 6:00 hrs)
2016-10-13 – Day 32 – La Fortuna, CR
2016-10-14 – Day 33 – La Fortuna, CR Monte Verde, CR (118 km – 3:30 hrs)
2016-10-15 – Day 34 – Monte Verde, CR San Jose, CR (152 km – 2:40 hrs)
2016-10-16 – Day 35 – San Jose, CR

After a bit of a short night in a youth hostel, I left early (October 13th) in direction of the border between Nicaragua and Costa Rica tying to avoid long line ups, and it worked. I did not have to wait very long at both places and here is a quick overview of the procedure.

Getting out of Nicaragua: locate the customs office, go in, pay $1 for the municipal tax, go a few steps further, se the immigration officer. Pay $2 for the privilege of getting out of the country.

Cross to the other side of the building in a large room with a small desk and a lady not very happy to be here that morning, and start the cancellation procedure for the temporary import permit. She hands me 2 forms, but no place to fill them out and no pen available for travellers (I was prepared this time!).

Then go back to the lady and to be told that the vehicle must be inspected by another officer of the same service that is standing outside.

Find the agent, hand in the the form, being told to get the motorcycle and park it park in front of him, move the bike, he then signs the form without even looking at the bike (!).

Return to the smiling lady to be told that now, the bike has to be inspected by the police.

Back outside to find the policeman. Asked many asking unnecessary questions by the officer who takes himself way too seriously.

Return to see Ms. smiley, this time she signs the papers and tells me off with an almost visible smile!

Pass a line of hundreds of trucks stopped and make it to the Costa Rica!

Entrance to Costa Rica.

Be welcomed by 2 friendly and smiling officers who examine my passport and point me in the right direction after a series of question regarding my trip and the motorcycle!

I must begin by immigration, which is located in a large building impossible to miss. No fees.

I go back outside. In a small hut, a woman begins the import process of the bike giving me a form to fill out and told me to go a kilometre further to make copies and present them to another officer.

I go to a first booth, filled the papers and the agent directed me to the other booth, located outside, a hundred feet away, for photocopies. I then have to go to contract insurance and submit photocopies ($1). The place is right next to the first office, in front of the photocopy spot. Insured for 3 months, $12.

For this crossing, I strongly suggest having Costa Rica Colones.

After 60 minutes, I’m on the bike contemplating the Pura Vida in Costa Rica !!!

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But After a few minutes, the biggest change occurs since I left Canada.

Rain!

In fact, after about an hour in this new country, I take a road that leads me to the mountain region of the Arenal Volcano, and then, it doesn’t take long for the hot and sunny weather to become the rainy season!

What a shock …

I had not rained steadily for past month. I got a wet nose once or twice, but never for more than a few minutes.

Here, we’re talking about steady rain, at times heavy rain.

Being cold on a motorbike is not so bad, because I can put on my hated jacket and gloves.

Being hot is a little less pleasant, but with the wind, and my BMW jacket that I can soak in water to keep me a little cool, it will still not be that bad.

But the rain …

I know, I should embrace all types of weather, but I hate the rain on a motorcycle.

First, you need a raincoat. In my case, I have solved the problem with the GS Dry suit. Then, the gloves. You either add a waterproof layer or have wet hands. In my case, I wear trekking gloves, completely sealed, that I can wear alone or over my heated gloves if required.

But the most unsettling for me is the loss of visibility. First, it usually is darker when it rains, then I have to lower the visor of my helmet, which is, even in dry weather, a torment, but it is also full of raindrops, falling by the fact even my ability to distinguish certain route details, it’s downright torture!

Then there is fogging. Despite all the efforts from the helmets manufacturers, who added mechanisms such as openings for airflow and anti-fog layers, it is almost impossible not to have a bit of fog that forms in front of our eyes, especially when it is 200% humidity!

Finally, I must mention that the road conditions, that normally deteriorate with rain, does so in Latin America, but it must be multiplied by a factor of 10! It sometimes becomes very slippery when it’s not parts of the road that are partially or completely gone.

The 3 hour drive to La Fortuna have therefore not been the most pleasant. But I think the lack of practice is part of it and a and I must adapt and practice as this rainy season is in full force in Costa Rica, and also in Panama and Colombia.

Only one photo before the flood, because my camera is not waterproof!

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One last thing I don’t like the rain, but my iPhone like it even less! I have to either store it or protect it with a protective layer, which has two consequences. I am no longer able to charge it, or manipulate, ie, to search on Google Maps!

When I arrived in La Fortuna, I could not look directly at the iPhone sitting on the bike. So I had to stop and find a dry place.

Finally, I decided to get out of the village because it, and the hotels that I saw did not inspire me at all.

I noticed a place with small cabins just outside the city, but also a long sidewalk that ran along the road, so even from there, it would be possible for me to get to the village to go shopping on foot. Since the beginning of the journey, once the bike is parked, I prefer not to use it to go to town.

William, des l’hotel Villas Vista Arenal warmly welcomes me with many questions about my trip, which is always a good start to the price negotiation process!

I ended up with a small cabana for 2 nights for a relatively good price. I am happy as a child, despite the rain falling incessantly! What a joy, my little home for a change couple of days.

Some nights in Central America have not been easy. The rooms were very small and noisy. Not easy when you have to undo your big backpackbag to dry things up. Tonight, I feel like in the most exclusive hotels in my superb almost private (I am the only customer!) mention.

I walk to the village in the pouring rain, but with a large smile in my face.

I also met a white fellow just like me. He does not chatter much, but still we made friends.

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I decide to shop for food for 2 nights because I’m frankly tired of eating out. It will not be too complex cooking as the cabana is equipped only with a refrigerator, but as I have my burner, I’ll cook myself great pasta! My pasta!

What joy to spend the afternoon listening to the rain fall, doing nothing else but relaxing and enjoying the moment.

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On Thursday morning, it still rains. I wake up early, but took my time to go eat breakfast and then go for a 11 km race in the mountains, in the pouring rain. As it is quite warm, it’s not bad at all.

Around noon, to my amazement, the sun becomes visible and I can partially see the Arenal volcano.

I also went for a walk back to the village and then spend some time at the beautiful and refreshing pool. When the sun comes out, it gets hot fast!

The rest of the afternoon and the evening is a copy of yesterday and that’s fine as well. I needed a quiet day.

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Small note for travelers. Costa Rica costs a fortune! For example, food prices are higher than in Canada. Then when I went jogging on the trail that goes to the Cerro Chato, which has a small lake and offers a beautiful view of the volcano (when the sky is clear), the walk to reach it is 2 hours, but the fee to enter the park is US $12! And if you want to see the falls, which are 300 meters away, you have to pay another fee!

As I did this hike few years back, I passed my turn this time.

On the 14th, I left to the region of Monte Verde, which is around the city of Santa Helena. My friend Francis repeatedly suggested me to go there.

The morning started in bright sunshine, which encourages me to go get going, because much of the route is on gravel. I hate rain on asphalt, imagine on isolated dirt roads!

Santa Helena is only 28 km in a straight line, but the road to it goes around Lake Arenal, which is still imposing, giving a path filled with curves for over 125 km. Unfortunately I have to redo part of the road I drove a couple of days ago, but the return is more beautiful pleasant under the sun!

Once in the town of Arenal, the fun begins! The road decreases in size and becomes made of dirt and gravel.

It’s been a few weeks since I have driven La Gorda in such conditions and it takes me a few minutes to adjust. I take my time, because the road is quite isolated, so not really a good place for a fall, and also because the landscape becomes really bucolic as I gain more altitude.

Unfortunately, Costa Rica has a mind of its own and decided to welcome me in this beautiful area with … Well yes, rain!

Some spots are quickly becoming slippery, but I managed to continue my journey by slowing down a bit.

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I arrive at Santa Helena an hour later. The village is really not very nice, but I decided to stop anyway because I did not plan b.

I parked and looked on hotel.com to find a hotel. The prices are relatively high and hotels appear to be mostly outside the city. Unusual for me, but I do consider these options in Costa Rica, because small towns are not very attractive, and because it is nature that is really the purpose of these areas.

I’ll see a few places without much appeal.

I decide to go to a place that fits my budget, but that is little more remote.

I have to drive on a few steep gravel streets and then down (I mean really down!) a long hill leading to a large parking lot.

My first thought is that the place is too far from the village and it will not be easy to walk back in the evening for dinner.

While I look at other options on my GPS, a man comes over and introduces himself as the owner of the place and explain the concept. He also mentions that he has a KTM 990! We discuss a bit about my trip and he invites me to come in and see his establishment, which, in fact, is not just a hotel with a building and rooms, it is a huge property with several buildings and also a large natural park where it is possible to hike.

Jona (I hope his name is written correctly) is from Boston and is obviously a good lad. Sold!

Since this is the off season, I end up in a great room with a view (for the moment, at the clouds) that supposedly is amazing. Apparently, you can even see the ocean on a clear day. I’m a little hesitant to believe him, but hey, I cross my fingers that the clouds dissipate and make me wrong!

I am greeted by birds and animals that I cannot even name! Impressive!

As the place is a bit isolated, I decided to go to the village to purchase sauce, pasta and wine to cook myself dinner again. Note that there is a good restaurant on site. The walk begins with the long slope that was going down a few minutes earlier but now is going up! Quite a challenge.

There is a table in front of my room and I want to sort my photos, take one or two glasses of wine and have a nice relaxed evening! But just before the sun sets, I noticed that the employees are out of the main building and taking photos.

I join them and discover that the clouds have dissipated enough that you can see … well yes, the sea!

What a spectacle. Unfortunately, this photo does not do justice to the scene, I have the chance to admire the sunset while sitting at my little table, preparing my meal.

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The next morning I have a simple but satisfying breakfast and talk a little with Jona. Just before leaving, he mentions that I have to walk his trails. I’m a little perplexed, again, but my day will be dedicated to getting to the capital, San José, which is only a 3-hour away, so I decided to put on my boots and go.

What a good decision!

The hike is 2.5 km, and the property tour and takes about 60 to 90 minutes. The show starts immediately when you enter this lush forest, completely covered with vegetation and full of life. There are countless birds and other animals (I can not even name them!) that sneak between the branches, with as a result, a solitary Canadian who is jumpy more often than not!

A little further on, the trail leads to a set of falls from a dizzying height. A platform was built to better observe it. I must say, I do not know if I’m more impressed with the view, or the work made by Jona and his team, to build and maintain these trails and such metal and wood structures, perfectly built, solid, straight and giving you enough confidence to venture on them.

Several platforms are well located along the trail, and the views they offer are worth the visit, without any hesitation.

Congratulations to Jona and your whole team of the Monteverde Inn / Valle Escondido .

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I left around 11:00, hoping that would help me make an easy entrance in a big city.

I briefly visited San Jose 10 years ago. My only memory: it was a horrible town! But I need some action so I am willing to give it another chance.

The road to get down the mountain is again in gravel and very damaged, but the landscapes are really worth the trouble. Everything is green on one side, and on the other, it is possible to see the ocean and several islands.

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Unfortunately, right after getting out of the road from the Monte Verde region, the road becomes a highway and the traffic is very intense and rapidly contrast with the beautiful nature left behind.

The entrance to San José is chaotic, difficult and unpleasant. People outright drive like idiots and my only objective is to get to my destination in one piece. Good thing I have a little experience in this kind of situation in Montreal. But here, everything is multiplied by 10!

I go directly to the small hotel I had booked the day before. I am greeted in the language of Molière (the place seems to be run by French people ). I parked, undid my things and went on an urban adventure!

Whew, this city is downright ugly, dirty, congested, noisy and crowded. It’s as if the streets, the buildings and the parks compete with each other’s to be the ugliest.

I just love it!

I am a city boy, and sometimes, I need the confusion to get me back on track!

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In this type of situation, I always challenge myself to find a little oasis in this human mess and San Jose did not defeat me!

Although it took hard work, Calle 33, in Barrio Escalante neighborhood is full of interesting restaurants and bars that allowed me to finish the day well, although I have again exceeded my daily budget by a lot. Did I mention that Costa Rica is expensive? Anyway, one evening in a nice restaurant from time to time, it’s not so bad (but not too often!).

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Sunday the 16th is a day of mandatory rest, because it’s raining all afternoon. I still had the opportunity to go for a walk in the morning. The city is completely different, and deserted! A stark contrast to yesterday. This is a perfect time to quietly visit and take some pics.

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Marc Ouellet

Adventurer at heart. Travelling on 2 wheels to South America soon!

0 COMMENTS
  • Geoffrey Parsons
    Reply

    Wow. Lots of writing this session!!
    Loved the border situations. You’re become an expert.
    Nice that the bike is holding up. Guess you didn’t have to worry as much. You did plan well before you left. Good looking ties!!
    My favourite photo is the fabulous lake photo. Absolutely beautiful.
    I’ll be parking my bike in Dunany this weekend while you are a day or two away from leaving Central America for South America!!!!
    Calling for a bit of snow in Dunany this weekend. Not much but it’s coming.
    Have fun.

    1. Marc Ouellet
      Reply

      Hi GAP

      Nice to have you reading my looooong stories! I did becaume somewhat of an expert but my only technique is just to smile like an idiot and beg them to let me in their country, in their language… Seems to work!

      It’s hard to grasp the fact that winter is on its way in Québec. It’s so hot and wet here!

      I would sooooo much have a great autumn meat night at your place with Nadine, Julie, Tim and Eva (and Peter/Gaye if they could make it)!

      🙂

  • Francis Derome
    Reply

    wow les photos !!!! Heureux que tu as apprécié le spectacle de la nature a Monteverde, et très daccord avec toi pour les villages totalement non urbanisé et trop cher du CR !….encore une fois je dois dire que tu es un excellent photographe, merci de partager

    Francis

    1. Marc Ouellet
      Reply

      Salut Frank!

      Merci encore pour le conseil. Je prends quelques jour de répit sur le bord de la mer au Panama. Ensuite, c’est le grand saut vers l’Amérique du Sud! Peux-tu croire!

  • Stephane
    Reply

    Ça prend toute une patience pour traverser leurs douanes. Ça doit faire parti du voyage… Les 2 policiers en moto à San José roulaient sur quelle marque et cylindrée?

    1. Marc Ouellet
      Reply

      Je crois que ce sont des Suzuki 650 si ma mémoire est bonne! Merci!

  • Chris Cheston
    Reply

    Hi Marc, Are you enjoying the Panama ride? I seem to have lost all the info on my computer between Costa Rica and then it jumps to Rio Hato area in Panama. You have passed our area in Las Lajas/San Felix and the Volcano/ mountain region near Boquette just north of David?
    I see you are in Panama City now so enjoy the huge differences in areas, even though they are right next door to each other. Check out the new museum on the causeway beside the canal Pacific entry point and the Casco Vieja area that is being rebuilt but in the old style. ( My Spanish spelling is terrible. Sorry.)
    Enjoy and hope the rain does not dampen your spirits.
    Chris.

    1. Marc Ouellet
      Reply

      Hi Chris

      The rain made it quite a lot less enjoyable. It was worthless to drive to Boquette, and considering I had visited the place a few years back, I just stopped in David! The City is indeed quite a contrast.

      On me way to Colombia on a sailboat! Quite an experience.

      I’ll post about it next weekend.

      Thanks!

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