Monday 7 January, 2008, Belen Trailer Park, Costa Rica
We are back 'home' at the Bélen Trailer Park outside of San José. I'm preparing to fly home in 3 days time and Juergen is busy planning our shipping to South America. You may have noticed that there is a separate entry for our Panama sojourn (link to our Panama diary) so that just leaves the places visited in Costa Rica on the way to and from there.
We left San Jose on 12th December and, after getting lost trying to get through the city, we travelled on the Pan-American through the very beautiful Talamanca Mountains. The altitude increased and the temperature dropped. We stayed overnight at Paraiso del Quetzal, a family run resort geared towards simple, tasty food and a guided walk to find and view the elusive Quetzal. We were very happy to see some at last. The host and guide, Jorge, is a young man with a passion for his land and the beautiful things to be seen there. It was not much more than 7°C when we headed up the hill in the morning, but seeing the Quetzal made it worthwhile. Jorge was very proud to show us a photo and explain that the Vice President of Guatemala had come to visit just to see Quetzals. That is quite impressive since the Quetzal is the national bird of Guatemala. They also have a small balcony where there are several hummingbird feeders. Juergen at last had the opportunity to attempt to photograph these birds which seem to move at the speed of light. In the end it was actually easier to get a decent photo of these than the Quetzal, which are so high in the canopy that you need some serious photographic equipment to have any hope at all.
We also spent one night in the Savegre River valley, but while we found the drive down into it and out again quiet scenic, we didn't really like the place we stayed - much too hungry for the mighty dollar to be at all reasonable, or even very hospitable.
Leaving the very cool mountains, we then drove down to the much warmer Pacific Coast and spent a couple of days thawing out next to the ocean at Dominical. It is a very quiet little town and, as is often the case in Costa Rica, we could park right by the sea under the coconut palms. It has been one of the highlights of our time in Costa Rica; the time we have spent parked where all we can hear overnight is the waves breaking on the shore and we spend the days relaxing and reading - perhaps talking to others who are doing the same.
When we left Dominical toward Panama, we drove the 'best road in Costa Rica'. Juergen had asked a local, who had stopped by for a chat about the camper, what the coast road back to the Pan-American was like, because on our maps it looked like it could be unpaved, but the little we had seen seemed to be new. That was his description and he was absolutely correct. We now recommend it to anyone who expresses interest in that part of the coast. We have also heard that the road along the coast on the other side of Dominical is really terrible. It seems they haven't gotten around to that bit yet.
We spent our last night before crossing into Panama near Golfito. It was a Sunday when we arrived there and we drove down to the tax free zone to find that it was just closing. We were only curious and, since it seemed that most people were buying huge refrigerators and televisions, we decided that we probably weren't missing much. We spent the night at the often recommended La Purruja Lodge, owned by a Swiss man and his Costa Rican wife. It is set in an absolutely beautiful garden and they feed squirrel monkeys in the evening and aracari - a relative of the toucan - in the mornings, in a tree just out in front of their house. It was a great photo opportunity and a pleasure to watch this wildlife up close. I really don't know why the monkeys only came in the evening and the birds in the morning since the food was bananas both times.
We left Costa Rica for Panama on December 17th and returned on the 28th to the Atlantic coast. While waiting at the border for another vehicle permit - that we had been told we wouldn't need - Juergen studied a map on the wall to find the best route to Manzanillo, which we wanted to reach that day. When we eventually left the border we turned off the terrible main road onto a worse unpaved road (through banana plantations) which, also according to several maps we have, would take us to Gandoca and then on to Manzanillo, along the coast. The weather had been particularly bad in the past few days and, if we knew then what we have since learned, we probably wouldn't have driven that road. But, despite several very narrow, unstable-looking bridges and some minor flooding, we made it to Gandoca, only to find that the road ends at the ocean. The road to Manzanillo is still a figment of some map-drawer's imagination. There is a track but probably suitable only for walking or riding a horse!
This unplanned detour turned out to be pleasant as we met a couple of Aussies - he is born in Costa Rica and she in Fiji, but Edward and Philomena lived in Australia until 1991, when they decided to come back to Costa Rica so their kids could experience their father's culture. Edward still goes back to Australia to work from time to time, but that is slowly coming to an end as he reaches retirement age. Now he has to decide where he wants to spend his retirement and he doesn't seem to be sure. They were such a lovely couple and they were so pleased that some Australians had made it literally to their front door.
It rained very heavily during the night and we were a bit afraid that the road might be flooded again as it had been a few days earlier. We made it out, through some long sections which were under ankle deep water, and drove on towards Manzanillo. Over the Christmas period there had been a lot of rain in this area and in many places the roads were flooded. The main highway alternated between being smooth tar, potholed tar and just a collection of various sized rocks. When we turned off towards Manzanillo the only difference was that the road was somewhat narrower and the muddy and rocky sections were longer. The roads in Costa Rica truly are some of the worst we have driven, but when you experience some of the rainfall in this country, you can understand why.
Continuation on > Page 2 > !