Leaving Nicaragua and entering Costa Rica was easy peasy. Maybe we were just getting good at borders. More likely, we had border burnout and neglected to be firm when we told the helper that we needed no help. He was persistent and ended up making things go pretty smoothly. He probably saved us about 15 minutes of confusion. Leaving Nicaragua is a little different than leaving other countries. There is a search and inspection element to departure that is unique. Most countries just confirm that we really do want to leave the country and then just stamp us out. The inspection could have been intense. We had heard stories of people having all of their belongings removed from their vehicle and not everything making it back in. Because we don’t have any luggage to speak of we kind of get a free pass. No x-ray machines for our stuff, just a cursory glance in the back of the truck. Our inspector was very dapper and well groomed. I’m pretty sure he just didn’t want any of our grime to rub off on his uniform. He literally just poked at our stuff with one finger and signed our inspection form. We gave the helper all of the USD (the Nicaraguan border deals exclusively in USD) we had left as well as our random Nicaraguan coins. I think it was a lot because he called his buddy on the Costa Rica side to let him know that a couple of deep pockets were heading his way. We exchanged all of our Nicaraguan paper Córdobas for Costa Rican Colónes and ended up with only about $1.50 left for the second helper’s tip after paying all of the border fees. He offered to help grease the wheels on our entrance inspection for an undisclosed price. We had nothing to hide and nothing but time on our hands so he was unable to sell us on his value-added services. You win some, you lose some.
Once we had cleared all of the border formalities we headed straight to the Nicoya Peninsula. Scott has an old friend who has a beach house on the peninsula. He generously allowed us to stay there and make ourselves at home. By this time, we had been on the road for just over a year and the opportunity to get out of the truck and out of the tent was more than welcome. We recharged our internal batteries and took care of the few obligations that we had. I wrote two blog posts and finished the 14thseason of Gray’s Anatomy on Netflix. Scott edited and published a new video for our YouTube Channel. We also swam in the warm ocean, took walks on the beach, practiced yoga, showered regularly, and drank a ton of coffee. We did eventually peel ourselves away with freshly laundered clothes, an armload of mangos and gratitude for the time to recharge.
From the beach, we headed uphill into the jungle to chase a waterfall or two. Cool misty air welcomed us as we pulled into the less than level parking area for a guesthouse to sleep for the night. We embrace chilly nights as they are the best for sleeping. Morning arrived with a deluge of rain. Luckily, we were able to pass the worst of it from a table at the guesthouse restaurant. Being in Central America in the rainy season has led us to ambivalence about rain. Experience has told us that we eventually dry out (sort of) and we can’t wait for blue skies to go play outside. So we unearthed our raincoats and set out to go for a hike at Parque Nacional Volcan Tenorio. The national parks in Costa Rica are expensive. Each of the parks have an entry fee anywhere from $5 to $25 per person per day. They have no park pass available like we do in the USA. This particular park cost us $12 each. Then we had to pay to park. I hiked in my water sandals. There were booths where people were renting rubber rain boots. A man stopped us to warn me about all of the mud and dangerous snakes on the trail but there was no part of me that wanted to stick my foot in a clammy borrowed rubber boot. The draw at this park is not it’s volcano but a river. Rio Celeste is born where two rivers combine. The differing pH of the rivers causes and aluminosilicate to precipitate. Some of that precipitate drops out of the water column at the point of convergence leaving a white stripe on the streambed. The rest flows downstream causing the light to reflect off the water showing a turquoise color. It is a really fantastic sight. We hiked up to the point of convergence and watched the blue form. It was then that the rain started in earnest. We donned our raincoats and headed downstream. We stopped along the way to see the turquoise water flow over a cliff into a pool below. Swimming is not allowed in the park so we just enjoyed the view. Thanks to the rain we did not have much company on the trail. During peak season there is usually a wait to get into the park. They only allow 500 people in the park at one time and only 1000 people per day. We probably shared the trail with about 20 other people. Not bad.
After our hike, we drove out on a peninsula that stretched out into Lago Arenal to camp for a couple of days. It had been a while since we wild camped. I had not felt really comfortable setting up camp on our own since Baja in Mexico. I didn’t sleep well the first night but the second was better. I was comforted by the proximity of Scott and the giant can of bear spray next to my pillow. We were in a guava orchard (unfortunately the fruit wasn’t anywhere near ripe) on a hill overlooking the lake. We might have had a view of Volcan Arenal too but the clouds never lifted. Locals came by throughout the day to fish in the lake or just park and stare at it. On our second night as we were finishing up making dinner a horde of termites descended upon us. This was not the first time this had happened to us. They don’t bite, they are just super annoying. Apparently, when a termite colony becomes “mature” giant, winged, dark termites start to be produced. When enough of them are present in the underground colony and the weather turns warm they swarm. It is a short-lived swarm and it doesn’t take long for their wings to fall off but they LOVE our truck/tent. We had to hide out in the cab of the truck to eat our dinner without being divebombed by kamikaze termites. I was happy to pack up and leave the termite zone the next day.
That area of Costa Rica is peppered with volcanoes and where there are volcanoes you can pretty much count on having hot springs around. There are many resorts around that take advantage of the geothermal pools but we definitely could not afford to visit them. So, we parked on the side of the road, paid a guy about the equivalent of $2 to “watch the car” and scampered down under a bridge to soak in the hot river. Showers had not been plentiful since leaving the beach house so we welcomed the opportunity to de-grime. On our way down to the water, we were startled by a vulture bursting out of the brush right in front of us. It had been feasting on a giant dead boa constrictor. Still beautiful even in its stillness, but very stinky. It reminded us to keep our eyes peeled for snakes on the trail. We didn’t see any more snakes but were delighted to watch iguanas and one great curassow on the rivers edge.
After our soak in the river, we decided to camp for another night close by so that we could hike Cerro Chato, a volcano with a crater lake that we could swim in! There was a river outside of the town of La Fortuna with a wide forested area adjacent to it that was perfect for camping. The camp was hosted at that particular spot by a petite little gal named Chiquita. She was very skittish and had a couple of ticks on her neck. We tried to ingratiate ourselves to her with tortillas but she remained at least five feet away at all times. There was a small part of me that was glad that she was so shy. I would have pulled off her ticks and those things really gross me out. That riverside camp is a popular turn around spot for ATV tours in the area so we were not exactly camped out in peaceful solitude. We met one of the tour guides who was very happy to share all kinds of information about the area. Information like where the sloths are hanging around. Like exactly which parking lots and which trees in said parking lots. They don’t move around very much so that info had been valid for the last six months. He also let us know that the hike to Cerro Chato was closed. He told us that we could still do it but there are police on the mountain that will give you a ticket for trespassing so we should avoid the police and if we do encounter them it would be best to pretend that we don’t understand Spanish (pretend ha!) and definitely don’t sign anything. Apparently, the police will have you sign a confession of your trespassing that will blacklist you from returning to the country. We had changed our minds about the hike right after he told us it was closed. The whole hiding from the police thing, although exciting, was not an experience we were after.
Since our hiking plans were thwarted by the Costa Rican government we decided to head back to the beach the next day. The drive was a beautiful twisty turny affair through the mountains. We were one of many vehicles stuck behind a stinky truck for miles. At the first straight away we all passed the truck on a double yellow and we all got pulled over. It was an assembly line of ticketing. The cop went down the line of vehicles taking the license from each of the drivers and putting it in his pocket so that nobody would bolt while he was busy ticketing somebody else. When it got to our turn we got a lecture on taking it easy and not making dangerous maneuvers in the road and how we should be content to drive slowly through the beautiful countryside. We agreed. Then we got down to business. He wanted to know if we realized just how much trouble we were in. Did we realize that we might have to go in front of a judge and that this ticket was going to cost us $600 USD and they could take Scott’s license away? He told us that we were going to have to go to the bank in the tiny little town 10 km away to pay the ticket and that we couldn’t pay it until Monday (it was Saturday). We started looking at the maps to see if there was somewhere close by to sleep while we waited to be able to pay for our ticket. The cop was inclined to help us out. He said we could pay it now to him and it would all be over. We told him that we didn’t have enough money to pay the ticket now and would need to go to the bank anyways so we would prefer to get the ticket. He let us know that the price to pay it now would be significantly less. Paying now would only cost $200 USD. That didn’t change the fact that we didn’t have much money. He dropped the cost to 40,000 colónes. Roughly $70 USD. We did have that much money but we were sticking with our poverty story. He told us that he was trying really hard to help us but we needed to help him too. The price dropped again to 20,000 colónes. We said okay. I pulled out our money pouch and started to count out change. Scott and I put our heads together adding up the strange coins. Our hands were full and we were only up to about 1,500 colónes. It was then that the officer gave up on us. He returned Scott’s license and told us to stop breaking traffic laws. We promised to drive safely and thanked him for his time. The rest of the drive to the beach went smoothly and slowly. Just because everybody else is passing slow trucks doesn’t mean we get to.
With time and great patience, we made it to Playa Bochinche. This was a sweet little public beach that backed up to a jungle-covered cliff. Since it was the weekend it was really hopping with local tourists. There were a couple of other groups camping out as well. It was just the kind of place that we could dig into and stay for a while. And it was free! Our only limitation was the lack of fresh water. We parked under a couple of coconut palms with an eye to the likely trajectory of any falling coconuts. I did not want a rude awakening of a coconut tearing through our sun-weathered canvas tent. We spent our days lounging in hammocks, reading books and taking care of a couple of chores that had been stacking up. During the day the beach was busy. A little old man from the capital city of San José came by on his bicycle and liked the look of our rooftop tent. He smiled at us and started setting up a tripod for his smartphone. He wanted to take a picture of himself climbing up the ladder of our tent. Okay, no problem. We posed with him for a couple of shots. It was funny to be tourists with the camera aimed at us instead of the other way around. I guess we kind of had it coming. We have taken a ton of pictures of strangers. Now was our turn to be the stranger.
The fresh water limitation solved itself as well. Each afternoon we would get about two hours of intense rain. We used that time to collect water in our soup pots. The rain was strong enough that we could also get a good shower and shampoo in before it let up. One day I was chilling in the hammock (per usual) under nonthreatening skies when a huge crack of thunder sounded. Everybody on the beach was startled and looking around. There was nothing to see. It happened again a couple of times and we were all getting used to the big sound with no storm. Weird but not unimaginable. We couldn’t see the storm because of the cliff we were nestled against. When the rain came it felt sudden. A blanket of water descended upon us. Scott offered our awning for shelter to the family next to us who had just started enjoying their picnic lunch. They were happy to sit with us while they finished their chicken and rice. That was the last really good day for me on the beach.
The next morning, I got up and made us coffee. Halfway through coffee number two, I started to feel funky. Like I had low blood sugar. So, I made us some pancakes. By the time breakfast was over I was feeling really bad. My head was in a vice grip. I grabbed a big bottle of water and crawled up into the tent with the hopes of hydrating and sleeping my headache away. A few hours later I asked Scott to dig out my last two tablets of Excedrin Migraine Relief. I was laid out in the tent listening to the rain, feeling thankful for the relief it provided from the heat of the day, and hoping/waiting for the drugs to work their magic. Twenty minutes later I was projectile vomiting watery pancake batter onto the beach in the middle of a tropical rainstorm. Scott rushed over and held a beach towel over my head to protect me from the rain as I continued to forcefully empty my gut onto the beach. It was a kind gesture. Like when one of your girlfriends holds your hair for you while you puke. No judgement, just compassion. It was raining so hard that water was flowing over the sand erasing the evidence of my unfortunate purge. Once I was empty, I crawled back into the tent (without even brushing my teeth – gross, I know) not to emerge again for three days. Scott kept me supplied with peppermint tea and plain rice. I tried to sleep and when I couldn’t I mostly occupied myself searching google to see if I could die of a headache. On day three of my headache, we were out of food and needed to move on. I helped pack up in fits and spurts. It was a rough morning and Scott did the lion’s share of the work. Once we were packed up, and on the road, I went back to sleep in the passenger seat with the request that we stop for bananas at our earliest convenience.
We drove down the coast to a campground in the town of Uvita. I was feeling fragile and wanted the convenience of bathrooms that did not involve a shovel and electricity so that we could plug in our fan. As soon as camp was set up I went back to the tent to wallow in my slowly attenuating misery. On day four of my headache, I felt good enough to walk to the store and buy some corn flakes…. And then go back to bed. One more round of corn flakes and sleep and I was me again. With my headache gone the world was nothing but rainbows, unicorns and cool breezes. I was so incredibly happy. Obnoxiously happy. I couldn’t stop talking about how good I felt. There is nothing like intense prolonged pain to lend some perspective on life.
All the while I was deeply consumed with my own misery Scott was contending with a different kind of misery. That armload of mangoes we left the Nicoya Peninsula with had spurted their stem sap up Scott’s forearm. He didn’t think anything of it until it started to blister everywhere the sap had touched. Turns out that mangos have the same compound in their sap as poison ivy. Scott is very sensitive to poison ivy… and mango sap! He developed an intense allergic reaction to the sap. His entire forearm swelled until he looked like Popeye gone soft. His wrist developed fat roll creases that looked reminiscent of a very well-fed baby. Little tiny blisters were covering the swollen area and it was spreading up onto his upper arm. The inside of his elbow on the other arm started to show a sympathy rash. Searching google was comforting in a schadenfreude sort of way. The pictures on the internet of other people’s reactions were way worse than what he was experiencing. Also, a little scary to see where it could progress. He treated it topically with a rotating regimen of anti-itch cream, essential oils, aloe vera jelly, baking soda, Campho-Phenique, and white vinegar. We’re pretty sure it was a combination of positive thinking, time, and three days of oral antihistamine treatment that turned it around. It was a good lesson for us.
On our final day in Uvita the proprietor of the campground, Marvin, came looking for us to see if we wanted to share some of his freshly harvested boiled yuca for breakfast. Absolutely! Some friends of his from Mexico were staying there and we all had breakfast together. While we were eating Marvin offered to take us to a waterfall in town as a gift. No charge. We just had to be ready to go in 10 minutes. That is a hard one for us but I think we made it in 12. We all piled into his van and headed into the hills outside of town. We drove until we came to a river crossing that was too deep for the van. He parked and we made the crossing on foot. After crossing the river, we followed the road a little further until we came to a path. We followed the path until it ended at the river. At that point, we had to swim across and follow a little tributary to a beautiful waterfall. There was a nice pool for swimming at its base. Marvin told us that above this waterfall was 6 more falls. It was flowing hard! We all frolicked in the water for a while. Marvin gathered specific stones from the side of the river and ground them to a paste on a larger rock. He chose stones of different colors and painted our (just the ladies) faces with the mud. We wore our fancy mud masks all the way back to camp. Marvin told me to stop by his house after I had washed the mud off. I didn’t know why, but he hadn’t steered me wrong yet. It was so that he could apply some of his home-made moisturizer to my face. It was made of cocoa butter, coconut oil, and aloe vera. I left that campground feeling emolliated and full of gratitude.
After leaving Marvin’s campground we headed toward the Osa Peninsula. The unexpected waterfall hike ensured that we were arriving at our next intended camp in the dark. Not optimum, but if there is anywhere to be driving at night in Central America this is probably the best place to do it. We neared the wild camping spot I had chosen on iOverlander and then I reread the reviews. They were rife with tales of car break-ins and police harassment. I wasn’t feeling it, especially since it was dark, so we turned around and drove back to the town of Puerto Jimenez to camp at a campground. And eat at a restaurant. We ate a fabulous pizza at a waterfront restaurant and slept the sleep of the secure at our campground.
The next day we made our second attempt to head down to the end of the Osa Peninsula. It was a fantastic drive. The road was in terrible condition but the countryside it crossed through was stunning. We saw wide open pastures with charismatic cattle, tall trees with monkeys jumping above our truck and several quiet stream crossings. We drove as far as we could before we turned around and settled on the best camp spot we had seen all day. Its only downside was its proximity to passing cars but there was hardly any traffic and the locals who wandered by seemed cool with us camping there. Pairs of scarlet macaws squabbled in the trees, tiny monkeys spied on us and armies of hermit crabs assembled on the beach. If we didn’t have a date with a shipping container in Panama we would have stayed at that spot indefinitely. It had cool breezes, shade, waves, and hardly any bugs. We both agreed that it made the short list for best camp spots of the trip. Unfortunately, we had to move on.
Our next stop was at a little hotel on a mirador about 15 miles from the Panama border. Getting there was a bit of an adventure. Google maps was trying to tell us that the road was closed but as we kept driving it was obviously open. We passed a cop standing on the side of the road who was signaling to us to pull over. We were feeling like we didn’t want to be scammed again so we gave him a confused look and kept going. He jumped in his car and pulled us over for real. Feeling sheepish, we affixed smiles on our faces and waited to get in big trouble. Evading a police officer? He just told us we needed to turn around because the road was closed and described the very detour that Google had been telling us about all afternoon. Sigh. We thanked him for the trouble and turned around to travel the route that would take an hour longer than we had expected. It was a pretty detour that led us down through a port town before we were able to go up the hill to our hotel. The room was affordable and had a balcony overlooking the town below and Panama in the distance. It was the perfect place to ready ourselves for our last land border crossing of Central America.