Costa Rica is a strange place, which is dividing our feelings. It is not beautifully colourful and exotic like Guatemala so our initial impression was perhaps a bit of disappointment mixed with relief that we had arrived in a country where it was so much easier to be a tourist! Initially we spent 4 nights around different beaches on the Nicoya Peninsular. The beaches were nothing special and prices were high. We continued inland, passed the Volcan Arenal (very touristy) and the Volcan Poas (very rainy), without finding anything spectacular about Costa Rica. The landscape was beautiful and incredibly green, everywhere we drove through coffee and banana fields alternating with thick forest and we did some nice rough driving through the mountains of Cordillera de Tilaran. But it was not until we got to Tortuguero that we discovered the magic of Costa Rica and we really started to enjoy. Costa Rica – pura vida!
Tortuguero is a small and remote village on the Caribbean coast, which is rightfully famous for the thousands of large sea turtles that come up on the beach each year to lay their eggs. To get there, we drove on roads that got progressively smaller, through smaller and smaller villages, and finally we made some 15 km of gravel road through enormous banana plantations (Chiquita) till we reached the end of the road at La Pavona. From here the only onward transport was by boat down the river. At La Pavona we met for the first time the very competent and helpful guys from the community-run tourist agency in Tortuguero. They meet the tourists already at the boat terminal to assist and to make sure that you are not cheated with the prices and they help you find a hotel or hostel depending on your budget – all at no cost. Additionally they organize very well run tours with local guides who can spot animals in the rainforest, which we would never have been able to see ourselves. We went on a canoe trip through the small tributary rivers with thick forest on each side and sometimes it took us several minutes to spot some lizard or bird that the guide had spotted – just a couple of meters away but for us it was invisible! They also organize night tours to the beach just outside the village to watch the sea turtles lay their eggs. The beach is closed to the public from 6 pm to 6 am to protect the turtles and the guides are working closely together with the Turtle Scout Program to protect the turtles as much as possible. They take small groups of people onto the beach to watch the turtles make their way across the sand to the back end of the beach, dig a big hole, lay some 100 eggs the size of tennis balls, cover the hole again and make their way back into the sea again. The most common turtle at Tortuguero is the green sea turtle, which weighs around 100-200 kg and can become around 80 years old. It is an incredible experience to watch these big sea animals making their nests in the sand!
In Tortuguero we also enjoyed the Caribbean kitchen. The ingredients are more or less the same as all over Central America: Rice, beans, some meat like for example chicken and a salad. But they are using coconut and coconut oil (and probably other ingredients unknown to us) to give the food a super delicious flavor.
From Tortuguero we continued down to the Manuel Antonio National Park, which is a small park on the Pacific coast and a brilliant place to spot wildlife, especially the sloth! The park can be seen in a couple of hours (or you can spend the whole day there if you also like to enjoy the beach). It is quite touristy but the ease with which you can see wildlife makes it worthwhile. It is like a natural ZOO; you just walk down the well-maintained path and enjoy the sloths hanging out in the tree tops, the iguanas, the small bright green lizards etc. Check out the pictures under Costa Rica photos.
29-30 September 2012
We quite like the tropics! At least we never slept so much and so well in our lives. The light and the darkness have divided the 24 hours of the day equally between them so the sun rises at around 5.30-6 am and sets again at around 5.30-6 pm. At around 8 pm, when it has been dark for a couple of hours, we are overwhelmed by sleepiness so we crawl under the duvet in the tent on top of Frida and sleep to the all-surround-sound of cicadas until dawn. We are woken up when the cock crows at ‘a la verga’ in the morning and then all the small birds start singing as the daylight gets stronger. It is something one could get quite addicted to! Sometimes we experience a more modern version of the above, like the other day when we slept in a small mountain village and the neighbor started cutting the grass at 5.35 am! The day starts early here.
We also started early to climb the highest point of Costa Rica, the Cerro Chirripo, which rises to 3,820 m above sea level. It can be a very wet experience to climb the mountain in the rainy season so it is better to start early before the afternoon downpour. After all, it rains around 5000 mm per year here! We decided to climb the Cerro Chirripo in 2 days since it is a very long walk to the top; around 40 km round trip and about 2650 m total altitude gain. Fortunately, one can spend the night sheltered from the rain in the very nice Base Crestones Hut at 3395 m, some 14 km distance and 2000 m elevation gain from the trail head and just a few hours walk from the summit. Before starting the hike, one needs to register with the rangers in the small village of San Gerardo de Rivas and to book the night in the hut. Current 2012 rate per person is 15 USD per day in the national park and 10 USD per night in the hut. This makes the Cerro Chirripo quite an expensive mountain to climb but you have to give the credit to the rangers that they keep the long and muddy path remarkably nice. If you arrive by your own car, you can continue up to Restaurant Uran, which is just 50 m from the trail head. For 5000 colones/5 USD per day you can park your car there while you climb and for another 1000 colones/1 USD you can take a nice hot shower!
So on the first day of the climb we woke up at 5 am and started walking at 6 am. At 9 am it started raining! The path is well maintained and easy to follow and winds its way through the dripping wet cloud forest. At noon we arrived at the hut and had a lovely long nap while the rain hammered down on the roof. After an early dinner we went to bed with the rain still pouring down non-stop. Nice to have a hut! We got up at 2.30 am and found the moon shining from a clear sky. After a quick tea we started walking the last 5 km/400 m up to the summit of Cerro Chirripo. It is not a spectacular peak, in fact you don’t really see it until you are there at the foot of the last 100 m to the top. But the view from the top is fantastic! We arrived just as the sun was rising over the Caribbean Sea to the east. The Pacific Ocean was hidden behind clouds but we had a clear view to the smoking Turrialba volcano and the rest of the mountains of the Talamanca range, which runs like a spine through south-central Costa Rica.
A looooooong walk down awaited us but it was worth all the effort. And way down below, a delicious, fresh pan-fried trout waited for us at the Restaurant Uran!