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Checking out La Costa del Caribe, CR


January 30th, 2017

We have just over a month left on our Costa Rican vehicle permit so as much as we loved the Pacific Coast; we wanted to check out the eastern coast. This coast is much shorter as it does not have peninsulas jutting out and the border with Panama is further north than on the west side. There are no roads accessing the northeastern coast at all so when you head east, the first town you hit is Limon which is the main port for the country.  You also cannot reach the east side from the southern end of the west side so it means driving up near San Jose again!

We felt we needed the beach life again after that morning fiasco of driving back to San Jose yesterday for Doug’s Kindle, so instead of only driving partway to the ocean, we pushed through and drove to and through the port city of Limon; we understood after that why it’s not a tourist destination – there are container lots everywhere on the outskirts and the part of town we drove through was not inviting.

We made it to Cahuita by noon and found a place to camp just off the beach; it’s a little bar/restaurant with a grassy lot beside it. They offer power, Wi-Fi, showers and bathrooms for about $9 a night.  The beach out front is okay; full of debris like branches and trees (not a lot of garbage though) but you can find empty sections to sit.

The sand is dark (probably why they call it Playa Negra?!) and it’s about a one kilometre walk into town on a dirt road. Once you get into town the roads are paved. It’s a nice little town, really laid back with no traffic and there’s a national park on the south side. We’ll definitely check that out one day.

The weather here is a little unsettled, it’s rained a bit every day, sometimes hard sometimes just drizzle and the sun pops in and out occasionally. It’s still around 30C/92F and a bit humid. The first night there was sufficient breeze not to have to use AC but the second night, rain threatened so we closed up Tigger and used the AC.

That night the power cord for Fran’s laptop quit working. It’s going to be at least a few weeks before Doug’s flies to LA, so we’ll drive into Limon tomorrow and see what we can find.

This evening we had company; two young men from Norway drove up on their motorcycles and set up their hammocks/tents for the night. Christian and Peter are very nice and we chatted a while. They began their journey in Anchorage where they bought the motorbikes, went to Prudhoe Bay and are now headed to Argentina before shipping to Africa and driving home from there.

After brekkie on Wednesday, we unhooked Tigger and drove the 35 kms back to Limon. After checking out five places, we found a place that sold adapters and paid through the nose for an HP option, but Fran’s laptop is up and running once again. Phew! Doug tried to find some screws we needed but after five shops, gave up as they are not urgent. We picked up a couple of food items and returned to the Reggae Bar to better weather (although it had rained on and off all the way to Limon).

Today, a French Canadian couple and their young son joined us at the campground. Catherine, Max and “Buba”, are from Saint-Veronique near Mont Tremblant in Quebec and are in CR for a month, having rented a car and are camping around the country.  They are a super nice young couple in their early thirties and we enjoyed spending time with them over the next few days.

We spent tonight’s happy hour with Christian and Peter, swapping stories. They are very nice 22 year olds and their parent should be proud of these considerate young men.

Doug has suddenly been inundated with lots of work so he’s spending a few hours each day staying on top of it.

Thursday was the sunniest day so far with NO rain at all. Fran did some laundry with our new “Scrubba” bag and the sun had time to dry the small load while Doug worked most of the day. She spent some time reading under the palm trees on the beach as well.

A Scrubba bag is a mini washing bag.  It’s like a dive bag with a special bumpy liner on the inside.  You put in water, detergent anda few clothes and rub them on the bumpy liner to get a “machine like wash”.  Then you rinse twice and hang clothes to dry.  We have found that getting laundry done is getting pricey and if we can wash most of the clothes this way, we will only have to pay for sheets, towels and big stuff.  It will just mean keeping on top of it as the loads are small!

Our Norwegian friend,  Peter, awoke this morning to discover his motorcycle jacket was missing – so he was dealing with police etc. for a good portion of the day. It’s doubtful he’ll get it back but he hopes his travel insurance will reimburse him as it was a $1200 jacket!  He’d left it sitting on the front of his motor bike right next to his hammock and is not sure when it actually went missing.  Bummer.

We went for a walk into town before dinner; it’s a nice laid back town with some of the usual tourist stuff but not in your face.  There are a few tour operators and souvenir shops but no one hassles you.  During our happy hour beer on the beach, we met a lady from Ottawa named Margo and then upon returning to the campground/bar, a French couple was setting up their rented rooftop tent. Julian and Joanna are from Cannes, France (although she’s Italian) and are in CR for three weeks. We spent some time chatting with them before bed.

Friday we went into the Cahuita National Park for the morning. We figured morning would be the best time to see wildlife; well that was not the case. The park is on a point of land and the trail runs around the outside, following the water, going up the north side, around the point and down the south side.

On the way to the point, we saw nothing but two squirrels, some spiders, an agouti up in a tree

and butterflies and a few water birds on old posts in the ocean where there may have been a dock in the past.

The park extends into the water as there is a reef here and we saw lots of coral bits along parts of the trail but in order to snorkel you must use a local guide and we didn’t think it was worth it as CR is not known for snorkeling.

The beach changed periodically from white sand to brown sand to dark sand but the critters were being shy; Fran saw something way up in a tree that we couldn’t make out clearly but she took a photo anyway with our 60x zoom, and upon viewing it later on her laptop, it did turn out to be a large sloth!

We reached the other “entrance” to the trail after almost 6km and decided it was either turn back the way we came or carry on to the highway and walk back; since it was about the same distance we opted to walk back so we’d be on the beach most of the time and maybe have a chance to see something on the return trip.

This proved to be the better choice because as we rounded the point, we met a few Americans from Chicago and as we chatted with them, a young man walking by pointed out a small sloth in the tree behind us on a branch practically overhanging the ocean! The Americans mentioned seeing a yellow snake back on the trail so we looked for it but sadly never spotted it. At one point we came across a large group of Tico’s who were feeding some white face monkeys – naughty, naughty.

We met the French Canadians from our campground on their way out and they mentioned they’d seen monkeys near the entrance so we told them about the sloth up ahead. Then when we approached the wider part of the beach where you cross a small river, we came across lots and lots of people enjoying the beach so we were thankful we’d had that beach walk earlier to ourselves.  Here we also ran into Julian and Joanna.

All in all, we were gone almost five hours and although the lack of animals was disappointing, we enjoyed the walk (and all those steps!) and we were glad the park is not expensive like other parks in CR. This one is actually by donation, not $15 pp like the others we’d been to. Upon exiting the park, we saw an overland truck with EU plates parked at a hotel camping lot and met Dirk & Gabby from Germany. They have traveled parts of Asia, then Africa before hitting South America and are continuing north.

That afternoon, Doug went back to work and Fran enjoyed the ocean and reading. Around 4:00 Doug’s department head called and said “stop working!” – turns out they have finally come face to face with the fact that he’s not working in country and they may have some tax liability issues. So for the weekend, anyway, Doug’s off the hook.   We’ll have to wait to see what Monday brings. They are going to work on how they can either make this work (doubtful) or make Doug an offer to come back to the US for a period of time to transition things over and he will then retire.

That night the bar had a live band followed by a DJ that although entertaining made for a crappy night’s sleep.  We did partake of that night’s dinner special though:  barbequed chicken, two salads and of course, rice & beans.  Since we were not sure how much longer we’d have in CR before Doug may have to possibly fly to the US to work we decided to move along to our next destination: Playa Punta Uva further south which we’d heard lots of good things about.

We stopped for groceries near Puerto Viejo and carried on to Restaurante El Arrecife to camp. The beach here is quite lovely and we are parked behind the sand in a sort of parking area. The restaurant is only open until about 6 so at night it’s very quiet. There is wifi in the restaurant and Juan, the owner, said we can sit there with lights in the evenings. There are bathrooms and outdoor showers and we could plug in all for about $9 again. Juan also showed us a sloth in the tree at the front of the parking lot and we checked on him a few times that day; actually caught him moving up the branch and eating one time but he was gone by the next morning.

We set up and immediately went for a swim. The clouds seemed to have gathered as we’ve come south further so it looked like rain.

Just as we got out of the water, Catherine, Max & Buba arrived and it started to rain so before they set up their tent, they went back into the village to wait it out. It stopped in about an hour, they returned and before dinner we had happy hour for which we sat in the restaurant as it had closed, under cover and to which they contributed a bottle of wine. It began to rain after dinner again.

The beach here is quite beautiful, clean, light coloured sand and no garbage; a first for a Caribbean for us on this journey.  You can walk south quite a ways and there is snorkelling around the point but this time of year, water is rather rough and it’s wise to venture out.

Sunday we awoke to what appeared to be somewhat clearing skies but that didn’t last long. We both went for a sprint run and then after brekkie, it got quite dark over the ocean and the skies opened. What a difference from 30km north of here where we’d left clear blue skies. Let’s hope it changes or we may have to head north again until we know what’s up workwise.

There are no other overlanders here with us but a few locals with tents and this morning we saw a camper truck with Mexican plates park a little further up the beach but we did not get to meet them.

We spent part of the day hanging with Catherine and her family, part watching videos during the rain and then happy hour back in the restaurant that night.  It rained again off and on all night and by morning they were pretty damp feeling in their tent and had decided to leave and find cabanas that night to dry out their things.  We invited them in for a hot breakfast and then we too decided to leave the rain as the forecast for the next ten days was eight days of 80% chance of rain.  They took off before us and just before we left, we saw they’d left their shoes behind.  They’d placed them under the car overnight and didn’t notice before they left.

We were less than ten minutes behind them so we grabbed the shoes and headed off.  As we got through town, they were headed towards us (we figured to go back for their shoes) so we honked and pulled off; they didn’t.  So we drove back the six kms to the campsite but they weren’t there; puzzling.

We turned around and when we got past where we’d seen then earlier, they passed us again headed back so we again honked and pulled over but they did not.  So we figured we’ll just try and reach them online and let them know we have their shoes.

We drove back up to Limon and then through to Cartago – that was enough driving for one day and about half way to our fave beach on the Pacific at Uvita.  We parked back in the church parking area where we’d stayed previously for the night and after some investigating online, found Catherine on Facebook (we did not know their last name but Doug remembered the name of the small business Max owns).  Apparently they did not know either time we saw them on the road, that they’d left their shoes behind and when they did, they did go back but of course, we had them.  So we told them where we were and the next morning they made a slight detour on their route to Volcán Poas and met us in Cartago to get their shoes – all’s well that ends well.