Round the World 2003

Travel time: January 2003 - January 2004  |  by TatiMatthias FreirePetri

Costa Rica

We are now in San Jose... 1 week of Costa Rica exploration... summary... great time!!! But this is another story! Now we have to pack and leave for the day!!!

We know... we know... we told you almost 3 weeks ago that we would write our Costa Rican experience.... well... .... "time flyes when you are having fun!!!"

The "problem" was really that Costa Rica, despite its little area... it's an amazing place to travel!! There is so much to see.. and the bus system does not quite help... hi hi hi... but this is another story... let's start by the beginning!

(This gonna be long
grab yourself a cup of tea and enjoy:

We arrived in Costa Rica and went directly to Alajuelas, the city near the airport, smaller than San Jose and easier to get arround at night. Hotel ok, and... despite our roomate who was sleep walking and ended up peeing in one corner of the room ... well...

Our first breakfast was funny: our first contact with the Costa Rican culture!! "Gallo Pinto" is what they have for breakfast... explained us the owner of the restaurant next door of our hotel.
Which means: rice, beans and eggs!

The eggs you can choose the way you want, but the rice and beans for breakfast is something that you have to learn to like, if you are to stay in Costa Rica for longer.

The thing is that it is not only breakfast, but rice and beans are present in all the meals... basically three times a day! OF COURSE... with different names!!! .... Costa Rican (or Ticos, how they call themselves) ARE creative! So, the very same rice and beans in the morning is called Gallo Pinto... and at lunch and dinner is called "Casado" (which is... of course.. rice and beans...hi hi hi.... plus fried bananas, salad and a meat of our choise)!! The difference between casado and Gallo Pinto?? The first is rice and the beans come on the side, and Gallo Pinto they simply mix the beans with the rice, probably from the dinner of the last night..

Brazilians would feel at home... or maybe a HOME Overdose!!
But foreigners really have a hard time to face it every day! But if you want to eat cheep... no way out my friend!! Gallo Pinto and Casado every day!
Now you can imagine that Matthias and I have eaten rice and beans for three full weeks now!! We managed to escape from the morning one buying some bread, musli and fruits.. but at least one meal a day... Rice and Beans!

Now that I gave you, Dear Reader, a rice and beans overdose...

Let's tell you our second culture shock here in Costa Rica!

In our first day in Costa Rica we decided to go for a day trip in a volcano near by... Volcan Poas. So, after collecting some info of how to get there... bus schedules and everything... we packed and went to the bus stop. Easy? Not quite!! In Costa Rican cities there are lots of bus stops or bus terminals... depending on the bus you want a take... you go to one bus place. How do you find it out? Sometimes a miracle... other times asking around and after some three or four different answers you kind of make your own bet and go for one! Then you get there and get your bus right??? ... Not that easy my friend!!! First you have to ask around which bus goes where you want.. there is no sign or logic.. is a mass confusion of people asking around which bus goes where.. and.. God knows how people manage to get the right bus in time! But the buses leave in time!!! That is for sure... English clock!

After asking around in two bus terminals which bus would go to Poas... we finally got in one little bus. This bus left exactly the time people said it would and it should take us directly to the Volcan Poas Park entrance. We left Alajuelas.... beautiful landscape during our way... straight up hill.. the little bus had to really negotiate its way up along the coffee plantations and the full tropical mix.. banana trees, papayas :0), ferns.... beautiful!! After one hour uphill we have made to the little town of San Poas, 13km from Alajuelas, where the bus simply stopped and the bus driver said.. end of the line!! The thing was that... the bus, was going to Poas, but not to the Volcan Poas, which was 34km away!!! We had picked the wrong bus!!! Instead of asking for Volcan Poas we have asked for Poas!!

Second lesson in Costa Rica... BE PRECISE... many cities have the same name.... or almost the same... %

What to do? well... we were at least in the right direction... what means that things could be worse and we could have taken a bus to the totaly wrong direction. The bad news was that the right bus we could not catch anymore, and it is the only one of the day!! So, we accepted the suggestion of the bus driver and got another bus to Poacito... that would leave us 10km away from the Park Entrance but was better than nothing.

And so we did... the bus driver left us in the road 10km away from the Park and while we were still discussing if we should hitch-hike or not... a pick-up van stopped and offered us a ride.... not to the park though but he would leave us 4km to the park... well... better than 10km! Matthias went in the back and Tati went with the driver.... using her full super poor spanish... but the guy was so nice that they started to talk and wouldn't stop! He was working for a German company and was all interested in Germany.... meanwhile he was explaining what people were planting in that region... strawberries, flowers, "cows", etc... really interesting. Meanwhile Matthias was in the back of the truck almost colapsing of so many photos he was taking. He got a full view and VIP position for his picture section! Well... when we realised, the guy took us to the park entrance. He was really sweet and gave us one of our first impressions of Ticos... sweet and extremely friendly!!

At the entrance the ranger warned us... Sorry, for three days it has been cloudy, you will not see a thing! But well... he was telling this to two stubborns that had taken two buses and one ride to get there.. we wouldn't give up that easy. He gave us the super reduced rate, usually only for locals, and there we went. Up hill half an hour and we were on the look out of the vulcano... 2700m high... looked down and... clouds!!... of course! Just as the ranger said!

Our surprise came 5 min later when the clouds started disappearing and we began to see the crater... and it was clearing and clearing and... after some minutes.. the full baby blue of the crater lake was clear in front of our eyes!! We couldnt believe our luck!! Pictures, thousands of them, just to try to capture the mix of the blue water and earth colors... red, black, yellow, orange..... just unreal!



Twenty minutes later... the clouds came again and all our vision disappeared in a single white courtain. It was when we decided to climb up to see the second crater, as Poas is unique for having two craters, one older and one younger and active. The older one is basically a green lake, full of vegetation but still too acid to have any living creatures in its water. And we also learned that the Baby Blue lake of the active crater has water with Ph value of 1!!!.... Dammm acid!! Who would like to go for a swim on this one? hi hi hi

But the funny thing was that we were feeling super exausted... every step on the trail was a hurdle... we thought.. well....getting old!!!

By the mid of the afternoon we took the RIGHT bus back to Alajuelas and sleept at least 2 hours! Afterwards we red in the book that it is common for people to get up the volcano too fast, to feel altitude symptoms. As we went from Alajuelas... at 900m... straight up to 2700m... we imagined that that could be a good explanation.... or at least a good excuse

- Have I told you that in Costa Rica they don't use street names??? )
This is also funny! They give addresses based on reference points... e.g.: 200mts north of the National Bank.

I guess it should be easy if you know the reference points... but you don't have a clue of where the National Bank is located... it really doesnt help you much!!! And if you ask for the Calle 2 (2nd street) or Avenue 5???? They will make a funny face such as... what are you talking about?... and will ask you where you want to go. Then you have to understand that every 100mts is one block, even if it is not a-100mt-block!!

In Alajuelas it was not difficult.... after our first shock asking the bus driver which street we were (of course there is no street name signs!!!) he answered me with a funny face... "You are in the Plaza Indepencia. The plaza Central is 300mts to your right."

That I should take as a really precise address.... I guess....!!!

After that we got used to it, no more asking for streets! To get somewhere we should ask for places near by. And even if the reference point name is related to something that does not exist anymore.. bad luck of you! The locals know where it was before!

For example.... one of the San Jose's bus terminal is called "Coca Cola Terminal" .. as it was a Coca Cola plant some years ago... that simply does not exist anymore! Or.... in Fortuna, the soccer field was renewed into a beautiful Plaza... but the reference point is still the soccer (futbol) field!!

- You must be thinking... no addresses.... weird bus system.... rice and beans everyday.... nightmare to travel in Costa Rica, right?

No no no!!!!
Ticos are so nice and friendly and this country is so full of beautiful things to see that traveling in Costa Rica is a very pleasant experience!!

We went from Alajuelas to Fortuna, to see the Arenal Volcano and its night firework showing its activity. But what we liked most was the idea that it is feasible to swim in a 40-Degree-river!!! Its just great!! Tati finally found a river with a temperature adequate for her Brazilian system!!!

Shower - vulcanic heated

Shower - vulcanic heated

After spending a full day and almost getting into prunes we went to Monte Verde in a bus, boat, bus ride throuhgt the Arenal Lake. This avoided a 8 hour bus tour around the Arenal Lake in order to get to Monte Verde. It was worth the US$17 they charged us for that!! We arrived in Monte Verde feeling as a milkshake!!!

Ooopppsss... I forgot one more detail about Costa Rica... they have 2 paved roads in the country.. the rest is just dirt! And Monte Verde is even worse... on the top of a mountain, the road is a nightmarish combination of hills, big stones everywhere, dust and curves!!! It took us 2 hours for the 23km from Monte Verde to the next paved road! It is quite a thing when you are in a hard core bus... no fluffy seats... no shocks in the bus also! hi hi hi

But Monte Verde is beautiful!!!! It is a reserve created by the Quakers and it has grown as international funds have financed buying more forest lands. It is an impressive example of private reserve and sustainable development. Until today they ask for the government NOT TO pave their roads in order to prevent the mass-tourism to get there!

There in their forests we had our Canopy experience... basically you have cables betwwen one tree and the other and you go with a hanging-roller, flighing as a bird along the top of the forest! It's great. We went in a 19 cable canopy which last cable is 570m-long and 180m high!!! It is FUN!!

We chose this one because they also have a sky walk (brigdes in the forest), that took us a LITTLE bit slower around the forest top!! Canopy is fun but in the bridges you can realy walk having a total new perspective of a forest... not on the bottom but on the top of the trees. There we could see birds and to realize how perfect the Mother Nature is as a gardner!!! WOW!!! It is such a mix of greens and shapes and textures.... hard to describe how a green forest can be so colorful and perfect!!!

>From Monte Verde we faced the hard core bus to San Jose, big city.

It was a little difficult to get to the hostel as we didn't know what was the reference point for it was... and by name the taxi drivers didn't know!!! Name of streets only served to make our taxi driver more impatient, and after 10 min trying to explain where we wanted to go... the taxi driver said... sorry, and we had to get out of the taxi... not having moved 100mts!!!! Quite funny!!!! We ended up trying to get a reference point in our map, ask for a bus that would kind of go in that direction, and voila.... nice Hostel with swimming pool and clean bathrooms!! ;0) Good for a relax!!!

But not for long.... as we realized how time consuming to travel around this country is... we decided to go to Chirripo, a national park with the highest vulcano at 3800m altitute.

One cool thing here in the Ticoland... if you want warm... you go to the lowlands, warm and humid really tropical like.... if you want a break from this heat... just climb to the highlands... with European climate!.... really sunny though!

So, that was the idea... go to Chirripo!! We left the Hostel after much asking which bus terminal we should go. We reconfirmed with the taxi driver and there we went.... Coca cola bus terminal! Only to get there, start asking where the bus to San Isidro would leave and to find our that we were indeed in the wrong bus terminal!!! No time to go to the other bus terminal to catch the single bus of the day that would go there! By this time Tati was quite mad!! She just couldn't understand how this bus thing worked here in Costa Rica!!! But Matthias...simply said... ok, let's see which buses leave from this terminal!!!

Brilliant!! We ended up going to Manuel Antonio National Park, in the lowlands, a beautiful mixture of beach and green tropical forest!!! Quite impresive!!! And it was there that we spoted our first Sloth (bicho preguica in portuguese, Faultier in german), sweet and SLLLLOOOOOOWWWWW little baby sloth!!! And it looks so happy with an ethernal smile on the face, is hard to find words to describe it!

Manuel Antonio is a peaceful beach town, with increadible red sunsets!!!! We took pictures, but if you see its hard to believe that there is no red filter on it!!! And it is on the entrace of the National Park, which is basically a wonderful wet forest with 4 amazing beaches!!! Tough to beat!!

Interesting creatures are to be found here:

Who am I?

Who am I?

From there we went to Dominical, passing by the palm plantations and palm oil production plants!!! It's impressive to see the huge trucks loaded with palm nuts going around that unpaved road with such narrow bridges that would make us sick only to look at..... We were there on the bus only praying for the driver not be a beginner!!!! PLEASE!!!

We spend the night in Dominical, which can be well described as Surfer Paradise!! If not by Surfer's Land also!!! Which means that if you are not a surfer... you will not feel welcome and you won't be able to understand this I-want-to-be-so-cool way of them.... that make them just forget to try to be friendly... not only with you, non-surfer-lower-class but also among themselves..... )))

But the ocean is really something!! Beautiful waves!! Long brownish coloured sand and full of palm trees as a frame! Quite something!!

>From there we got finally our bus to Chirripo.... one week later than expected... but we made it to get to San Gerardo the Rivas, the little and charming village at 1400m of altitude and surrounded by a beautiful hilly nature and increadible amounts of water of its river!!!

We spent the first two days just exploring the region and going for a swim in the cold river... (got spoiled after our 40 degrees river experience!!!. Meanwhile we made reservations on the mountain lodge at the Chirripo National Park and got the info of how to get there and what to take.
At 5am of our third day in this region we started our hike to the Chirripo National Park. This means a 14,5km-long hike straight up to go from the city's 1400m to 3400m at the Base Lodge! This in oder words means... quite steep!!!!

At 5pm, everything was dark and we started our walk with a weird feeling of not having found the trail. The ranger told us that it was really easy, super well marked... no way to miss it!! But still... after 1,5hours walking we came to a dead end!!! No trail further... only option, come back!!! So, we realized that in the dark we could have missed a turn.... AT THE BEGINNING OF THE TRAIL... that was the worse part!! Hard work to put all our optimism together and try to find where we took a wrong turn... and we found it... after 3 hours of walking... there it was, at the very beginning of our wrong trail... a HUGE sign... Telling you to turn right to get the trail, and 50 mts after... another HUGE sign telling you to stop because you have missed the trails entrance!!! Well, we missed these two HUGE signs and the result was that after 3 hours of hard trail to get only to the beginning again!! %&*^*$*$(
Not really funny though if you have more 8 hours trail ahead!!!

But, instead of coming back and trying the next day, we decided to go for it! We arrived at the Lodge at 6pm after a 13-hour hike, quite exhausted but happy to be there!!! And the trail itself... wow!! What a trail!!!! We've never seen such a forest in our lifes!!! It is what they call a Cloud Forest, as the Clouds brings humidity enough to the plants that grown on the top of the trees. So, you end up with a scenery that is of such a beauty... almost unreal!!! These huge trees loaded with red bromelias on their branches.... and covered with a beige Lyme (Musgo port., Moos germ.) layer, just falling from the brances and making such a nice combination with the bromelias!!! You add to that a ever-cloudy environment and a misterious bird (which we suppose to be the Quetzal, symbol bird of Costa Rica) which sounds like a fine and constant flute!!! Negotiating our way up with this mystical flute and clouds and red bromelias all over.... was simply worth the efford!!

When going from 1400m to 3400m of altitude there in the Chirripo Park it is a gradual but constant change in vegetation... always green, but starting with fields with cows (like in the Alps), going to dense tropical forest with palms and ferns (samambaias in portuguese, Farn in german), and then to higher trees, not so dense and then the Lyme starts to get more strong and the bromelias get from green to red and when you are at 2800m, more or less, 9km from the start of the trail, it is the most amazing view of these tree-bromellias-lyme combination. And the bird... is always there... as if following us... or there are so many that they decide to announce our presence throughout the trail..
And if you still get bored... some brown monkeys and some white headed ones will make you company!!!

After the km 12, the forest had a fire and the trees are all burned, so all you can see is mother nature working hard to reconstruct!! And near the lodge, at 3400m, altitude vegetation, small bushes, beautiful little flowers, really outstanding!!!

We slept in the Lodge... facing minus-2(!!) degrees at night.... which is very funny as nobody that goes to Costa Rica would ever think of bring a strong jacket!!!.... And woke up with the warming sun in this beautiful valley crossed by a river, huge and freezing water!!!.. And went to explore the site!!

The cool thing about this Lodge is that it is in the center of many trails and beautiful rock formations!!! To the peak, 3820m, it is a 5km hike. And there are so many interesting trails that... if it wouldn't be so expensive to be on the park... US$20 per nouse a day with Lodge and Park entrance... we could have stayed easily weeks.. just walking around! And the temperature during the day is great-26degrees.... full steam sun... which gave us a biig sun burn.... but at least gives you energy to face the ice cold shower of the Lodge!!! Water almost solid..traumatizing!!

On the top!

On the top!

After two days on the top.. time to go back.... hike down to San Geraldo and then bus to San Jose!! Just in time to find out that we had only more 4 days of Costa Rica!!! :-O

No time to rest... of course... next day we faced the 4,5 hours bus and and 2 hours-boat to Tortugueiro, on the Caribean side!!! It's worth the trip!!
Caimans (Jacares, in Portuguese, Kaiman = Minialligatorin german), many kinds of colourful birds... beautiful rain forest.... to arrive in the small village of Tortugueiro with it's simple houses standing on the top of poles (palafitas), and with a nice combination of rustic, rain forest, river in one side, beach on the other (full of sharks... a local told us!! But it is indeed not swimmable as the waves and currents are too strong)... we just hung around.. making our last Costa Rican relaxing day...

Tati has cut Matthias hair... and he still looks good!! Amazing!!! And... believe it or not... he has cut TATI's hair!!! Her curls are happier that ever!! )

Now we are back to San jose... and will start packing to get our flight to Chile!!!

It was a great time here in Costa Rica!!! So much still to see!!!.... but Patagonia is calling us!!!!

You are here : Overview The Americas Costa Rica Costa Rica
The trip
Our dream trip
Start of journey: January 2003
Duration: 12 months
End of journey: January 2004
Travelled countries: Mexico
Costa Rica
New Zealand
The Author
TatiMatthias FreirePetri is an active author on break-fresh-ground. since 15 years.
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