Around San Jose, CR
December 11, 2016, Trip:
We looked at route options and decided we’d rather dawdle when we head to either coast after Christmas so we’re staying here at Eco Ranch a couple more nights before heading into San Jose to get some sh*t done and then tour around the general area before our flight to Toronto for Christmas. It’s quiet here, we have internet, pretty much a private bathroom with shower (no one else is here so we can say that!) and there’s a pool and restaurant. The road is dirt outside the place but level and not muddy for the most part to do our daily walking.
We’ve been in Costa Rica over three weeks now and have not had many days without some rain. We’ve had maybe three completely sunny days and the humidity has come out 90% of the time. The Ticos say this is unusual for rainy season to extend into December – who says there’s no global warming?; Vancouver/Victoria just had snow a couple of days ago!
So we left Eco Ranch on Tuesday morning under overcast skies once again although on the two hour drive to San Jose the sun did poke its head out frequently and the temps were quite comfortable. San Jose is at higher altitude (1200M/3800ft) and there was no humidity.
The main highway here was a tollway but only cost us about $4USD and saved us over 30 miles / 50km so it was worth it. It was a good road, with passing lanes and shoulders.
You know how when you are driving in North America you see signs for deer crossings? Well here in CR it’s iguana crossings!
There isn’t much to the CR’s capital, but we had errands to run and there are things in the surrounding countryside area that we hoped to explore. We found a Walmart Supercentre and did some shopping (we’d not see a true Walmart since El Salvador – there was one in Managua in Nica but it was out of the way). There are still the Walmart “minis” everywhere but in Nica and CR they are called Pali or Maxi Pali. They are still the least expensive grocery store, even down here.
There were a couple of spots on iOverlander to spend the night boondocking in San Jose but both were at city squares/parks that had no room or we were told we could not overnight there. By now it’s after four and we want to park before dark as usual so we tried to push on to Orosi south of here less then 40km/30m but traffic was slow and we were not getting anywhere fast. We stopped for gas in Cartago and asked if we could spend the night at the back of the station and the man at the oil change garage said we could park inside the bay for the night as the business day was over! So we spent a rather sleepless night due to traffic sounds but we felt safe and we were comfy.
Wednesday we explored the town of Cartago and got some more errands done. Doug had been contacted by the insurance company in relation to that rental car theft and they wanted an affidavit signed and notarized so we finally got around to printing the affidavit and spent some time today trying to find a notary that was available here in Cartago. That took about four offices before we found one that could see him.
We visited the huge byzantine basilica here which is the home of a little dark stone statue known as the Black Virgin. This statue was found by a child in the woods here and she brought it home and it disappeared overnight. She returned to the forest and found it back in the same place; upon bringing it back home, it returned again; she brought it to her priest who locked it up in the church sacristy and that didn’t hold contain it either. So a church was built on the location of the statue and now pilgrimages are made here with many people finishing on their knees. We actually witnessed people going up the centre aisle of the church in that fashion.
We also visited the nearby Lankester Gardens which are now part of the U of CR and were started by a British horticulturalist in l973. They specialize in orchids (which Fran loves) and other plants so we thought we’d take a gander. We spent over an hour wandering through a Japanese garden, little bamboo and palm forests as well as fern and cactus gardens and finally the orchid “house”. It was a pleasant time.
We then drove on to the little village of Orosi on a recommended scenic route. The route the GPS and maps.me took us ended up being a dead end for us as a bridge was out and was not finished being reconstructed (and of course, they don’t let you know until you are at the bridge!). Once we got going in the right direction again, we stopped before the town at its mirador for wonderful views overlooking the entire river valley. We got into town in the late afternoon and stopped by a place on iOverlander but it was “full” so we parked across from the main church in front of a soccer field and there’s a police station on the corner. It too was a free boondocking spot and we were at some elevation so we didn’t worry about not having power. Just before dinner a man name Marcos came over to chat with Doug and then his three customers (he’s an Uber driver) came over. They were from Cartago and were here for the day. We chatted for a while and then they left to go for dinner and we ate in Tigger. Isabel, Cecilia and Rodrigo were super friendly and he was a bit drunk!
We were quite tired from that bad night’s sleep last night so we crashed early but around 1am someone knocked on the door! Some guy had been out partying we think and spent all his money so he wanted money for a taxi! Doug was able to speak with him through his “bedroom” window without opening the door and got rid of him. The rest of the night was quiet but Fran never really felt comfortable after that.
Thursday morning, Doug had a bit of work to do and after that we continued the scenic drive through the valley through the town of Paraiso and were headed to Cachi but again hit a road that was “closed” so we skipped Cachi and drove on to Guayabo. Most of this route was paved which surprised us. The road was narrow in places but in good shape for the most part. We found a nice bakery passing through Pacayas and stopped for some goodies including an amazing French baguette. The last 8km/5m to Guayabo was gravel and even that was not as bad as what we’d experienced in the Nicoya Peninsula. We arrived at a small hotel in this tiny town marked on iOverlander and although the owner was not there, we called, left a message and parked before walking back to the National Monument Park with same name as the town.
Here at this national monument are CR’s most significant ruins. It’s quite the opposite of visiting Chichen Itza back in Mexico. It’s a small site in the tropical rain forest with well-defined trails and you actually get a map of the site. It was declared a World Heritage Civil Engineering site back in 1973. It was inhabited from 1000BC to 1400AD. We opted out of the guided option and Doug “self guided” us through. The main draws of these ruins are the petroglyphs and the still working aqueduct. It was another pleasant 1.5 hour stroll in very comfortable temps in the mid 70’s F/low 20’s C. It had rained a touch this morning but by midday it was most sunny. The site consists of 43 mounds (upon which tipi-like structures were built), three aqueducts, two open squares, two main stone walkways (at least 4-5 kms worth of cobblestone) with many other smaller ones, some bridges and stairs.
some of the mounds
part of the aquaduct
We walked back to the hotel and Oswaldo met us and set us all up for the night. He charged us less than $8 a night and we have power and internet, and most importantly: access to hot showers. He opened a room for us for use of the bathroom facilities. What a great set up for us! This town is so small we won’t be hearing traffic noises nor should we have people tapping on our door in the middle of the night. Again, it’s the little things, right?
Friday it was overcast and on and off rain although never that heavy. We decided that since the weather was bad where we were heading as well, we’d just as soon stay here and use the facilities and chill. With the rain it was not great for walking and doing a Spanish lesson but we managed.
Saturday we left after having another hot shower (heaven!) and took a different route back to Cartago to do some shopping and then had to drive through San Jose (yuch!) to get to Volcán Poás. This is another volcano in Central America that you can pretty much drive up to the crater and look inside. Although Poás is considered still active, since 2009 it’s only steaming abit.
We’d read it’s hard to see it even on a clear day as the clouds like to set in around 10am so we watched the weather forecast and chose our day carefully (another reason we hung at Oswaldo’s longer). Although we left around 10am and it should have been a two and a half our drive (which really means 3 or 4 hours) according to the GPS, with the shopping stop it took us five hours due to the traffic in the capital city and surrounding burbs. And this was a Saturday afternoon, not 5 o’clock rush hour.
We had decided to camp outside the national park gates (as others had done) and before we began the climb up into the mountains, it was 89F (28C). By the time we reached the gates we were at almost 2500m/8800ft and it was 63F (15C). We got Tigger parked and then walked a little after bundling up with jackets on top of our shorts and t-shirts. About an hour later, a couple of young people drove up and asked about camping. Myra (from Montreal) and Jason (from Dallas) were not planning on seeing the volcano but going to a dog rescue sanctuary nearby and needed a place to sleep. They did not realize at what altitude they’d be at and after chatting with them after dinner and having a beer and strawberries, we loaned them a couple of blankets.
We awoke on Sunday to sunny skies and the temperature outside was 8C (48F) and windy. So it was a go for the volcano crater viewing. Myra and Jason returned our blankets and we offered them some hot tea.
The gates opened just before 8 and in we drove. National parks here in CR are not cheap; they tend to charge $15US a person plus a fee for parking; in this case $3. (Accordingly, we are picking and choosing which parks to explore.) Upon parking you walk about 800m to the crater lookout. It was quite impressive and super windy. You are supposed to only stay near the guard rail 20 minutes due to fumes.
Next is a walk to another dormant volcano to see Laguna Botos. This crater is much older and has trees all around the lake and up the sides and is quite pretty. The clouds had begun setting in over this crater already when we arrived. We took the long trail back to the Poás crater and enjoyed a bit more time there while the sun was still shining over there.
Fun facts about Poás:
- Handicap accessible (as are many things in this country actually)
- Has more than one caldera depression
- Park is over 16,000 acres with protected flora and fauna (of the rain forest variety) including 79 species of birds a cool plant called the poor man’s umbrella
- Main Crater’s Elevation: 8444’ /2574M)
- Poás crater measures 4300’/1320M in diameter and 300M/984’ deep
- Laguna Boto measures 1312’/ 400m in diameter and is 150’/14m deep
- Average temp up there: 54F/13C.
Fran under a poor man’s umbrella.
Now we have five days until we fly back to Canada for Christmas and want some more down time, less driving; other sites we wanted to see were a bit too far away to make the out and back worth it. So we drove 10km back down the volcano road and parked at a little shop that allows overlanders to stay free with Wi-Fi access and bathrooms during their open hours. After settling in, a truck camper drove up with California plates. Christine and David are from San Francisco also doing the north to south PanAm route. They have been travelling since April of this year.
We all went into Oscar’s shop and bought some goodies and chatted. This area specializes in strawberries. Due to the active volcano status of Poás, agriculture by green house is pretty popular and there are lots of them as well as fields with veggies and cow pastures.
We left Poasita (little Poás, the village) and drove into Alajuela hoping to find a home at one of the free spots but no luck; one we couldn’t fit into and the other was rather out of the way from the town itself so we splurged and got a hotel room for four nights before we fly home. It was hard to find one that had a parking garage/area that Tigger would fit in but we got lucky at the third place we tried. We parked at a McDonald’s outside the main “el centro” and walked to some options. Hotel Eskalima was facing one of Alajuela’s squares with lots of shop and restaurants around and plenty of places to go walking. The hotel offers hot breakfast, AC and Wi-Fi. Upon returning to get Tigger and driving to the hotel, we were rear ended by a driver at an intersection. Doug was stopped and the vehicle behind us did not quite make a full stop and hit the right hand side storage box on the back of Tigger, fortunately, only destroying the tail light and not the box or anything else and no one got hurt. Same could not be said of his brand new Fiat pick-up truck (he only got it 15 days ago!). Poor guy – the insignia fell off, the bumper became dislodged and the hood has a good dent in it that buckled it some. He was most apologetic but felt he had to call his insurance company and we only wanted him to pay us for a replacement light as we did not want the hassle nor were we at fault.
The insurance agent showed up in less than 15 minutes on a motorbike and after speaking to him, the driver offered us 15000 colones/$27USD. The lights cost about $13 to replace so at least we are ahead of the game. We didn’t have to fill in any paperwork at all but we did give the driver our contact details.
The first night was a little noisy due to some strange noise possibly caused by the wind, but the manager gladly moved us to another room which was larger and quieter.
In the square across the street from our hotel:
Tuesday, we packed up our stuff for our trip home – surprisingly that was no small job! As we are storing Tigger tomorrow, we need summer stuff for the next three days and then when we return from Canadian winter, Doug has to turn around and fly to LA for two nights so Fran will stay in this same hotel and will need stuff for those three days until he returns and gets Tigger back out of storage. The hotel has agreed to keep one of bags here waiting for us.
Doug took Tigger to a secure customs lot on Wednesday so that we can “suspend” his permit while we are gone and get those days tacked onto the end so we can stay in CR longer. You can stay yourself for an additional 90 days but they do not allow vehicles to extend their permits unless you first leave for 90 days and come back; not that practical. This event took him most of the morning including a 1.5 hour wait at the Customs Office and walking back to the hotel. This only costs the price of storage (which we understand is $3/day) and of course, the time it all takes.
So we relaxed that afternoon and Thursday before our direct flight to Toronto on Friday morning.