Costa Rica

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Clos … I like to give it a slightly Germanic drawl so it sounds like house. We first heard about Concha Y Toro wines from Luisa, a retired dancer from New York, who put us up in Mexico City – ‘you can get a decent bottle of red for six bucks’.

Living by the beach and watching our budget at Bob’s place in Costa Rica we found the Concha Y Toro line again, this time as Clos de Pirque and in a one-litre tetra pack … travel friendly! Clos also made a solid showing in Mancora, Peru when we hung out with Al for a few days waiting for the swell.

Al did get in touch with us after we left Mancora…  “By the way I met a German guy who told me Clos in German is slang for toilet (bog, shitter, dunnie) you get the picture. Still enjoying the odd glass though.” And while it’s not winning any wine awards it has to be said that Clos is a real backpacker favorite, this resealable, nonbreakable and fairly drinkable gem will only set you back about 3 dollars.

When it rains…

Sometimes things just go wrong…  maybe we needed a slap back into reality after leaving the realm of everyday life and spending a little too much time in the alternate travel universe.  We were stranded in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica with a couple of rather large issues. The first being that the only bridge into town was half washed away by the unusually heavy tropical rains and had subsequently been closed. Tom’s surfboard needed a major repair after he lost a fin and its box surfing in Nosara; on top of that, Marlin was having some trouble with the alternator and his battery had died. Oh yeah and it had been pouring rain for 4 days.

Washed away

This is part of bringing a car with you and we both knew that we would be bound to have some mechanical issues, especially with an older vehicle and although our Spanish is progressing, our mechanical terminology is a little thin, which makes dealing with car problems all the more fun. We did manage to find a rather interesting mechanic, one with a penchant for all things pirate. His first mate was an efficient Tico teenager whom we called Smee, jumping to attention, repeating orders and being generally subservient, he was incredibly conscientious providing tools and parts on cue. It was a pleasure to watch them work and we both felt that Smee held an enviable position.

Pirate Mobile

Pirate Mobile

As it turns out the plaque del Dios, the god plate, had malfunctioned causing the regulator to burn out (maybe one too many river crossings the week before).  We were sent from the pirate to another mechanic, an older gentleman who had a spare god plate. He charged the battery and to showed Tom which part needed replacement as well as how to install the part.  The regulador was the key to getting Marlin running smoothly again, it regulates the charge back to the battery (or so we think).

With Marlin working, Tom’s board fixed and the bridge opened for light traffic we felt a definite change in our luck.  We took a risk and headed for the Panamanian border, which had been closed for two days because of the flooding.  The god plate must have been working because the border opened an hour after we arrived and we cleared both Costa Rican and Panama immigration in under 30 minutes!

Bridge to Panama

Insane Bridge to Panama

Knowing we needed the regulador we burned rubber to Changuinola, home of the famous Chiquita banana, a town of about 50, 000, 45 minutes south of the border. We rolled into the nearest gas station to fill up and Marlin died. I manned the car while Tom went off to find a new regulator.  Returning fairly quickly we switched out the part but, since the battery was completely dead, we needed a jump to get started.  Enter absolute chaos.

Somehow we had a policeman, two gas attendants, a truck driver and some random guy all trying to sort out why the car wouldn’t start.  The policeman, a rather amusingly frantic fellow, had to try the ignition for himself… just in case.  Then the truck driver who had been ordered to give us a jump by the policeman attached the jumper cables to the wrong terminals in his hasty obedience. Tom was looking a little stressed as he had noticed that the cables were mixed up but didn’t want to get the truckie in trouble with the cop who was dancing around the car looking anxious. The truck driver decided the terminals needed cleaning and the policeman whipped out a twelve inch hunting knife to help scrape away some of the corroded metal. While they were doing that Tom quietly reversed the cables on the truck and the next time Marlin came back to life.  We thanked everyone profusely and were on our way.

Thinking that we should double-check that the battery was receiving charge we headed straight to a nearby mechanic for a multi-meter. After a bit of testing, some insulation paint, a lot of good will and a minor earthquake we got the alternator fixed and the battery charged. We spent the night in Changuinola and were up early the next day headed for Bocas Del Toro, a group of Islands in the Caribbean sea off the coast of Panama.

Caribbean Locals

Wanting to take a boat tour to Tortuguero we headed to Cahuita on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica, unfortunately for us we rolled into to town to find it had been pouring rain on and off for days making it less than pleasant ‘boating’ weather.

Deciding against spending too much money on a rainy boat trip and running the risk of not seeing any creatures (saving our dollars for an Amazon tour in South America) we set off on an 8km hike through Parque Nacional Cahuita.

This small park (1,100 ha) is one of Costa Rica’s most visited parks. Located right next to the sea this hike is well worth it.  You can start at the Kelly Creek ranger station where you pay by donation to enter the park.  From there a lovely wander takes you through white-sand beaches and lush jungle where you are guaranteed to see all sorts of wildlife… we loved the little leaf cutters but we’re not so keen on the ones that bite.

Leaf Cutter Ants from Kels M on Vimeo.

Five river crossings south of Playa Negra Kelsey caught and rode her first real wave. It was blowing offshore and the swell was holding up a long time before breaking. I looked out to see Kels lining up a real beauty, a big left-hander, and her timing looked about right. I paddled over the top of it just as she was taking the drop and looked back to see her screaming down the face of the wave. It was real sweet—that ride took six months of repeated punishment and the smile lasted for days.

We camped in Guiones, Nosara for a couple more nights before heading to the Caribbean side. Got horribly lost in the tangle of San Jose after missing what turned out to be a crucial yet poorly signed turn off to Heredia. Everyone we asked said we were going in the right direction despite the fact that we were in fact driving in circles. We were saved by a man in a furniture truck who took the time to lead us through a maze of back roads and we both vowed to do the same if we get the chance.

The Caribbean side of Costa Rica is strikingly different from the rest of the country. Steaming jungle with abundantly rich wildlife line the Caribbean coast. We were lucky enough to see this guy, hanging out in front of our cabina—a two toed Sloth or Mono Perisoso, the lazy monkey. Leaves are the Sloths main food source but because they are low in nutrition, provide little energy and are slow to breakdown (sometimes the digestion process can take up to a month) the Sloth has to maintain a pretty laid back lifestyle—apparently they only climb down once a week do their ‘business’.

Sloth in Puerto Viejo from Kels M on Vimeo.

A Year on The Road

So it’s been one year, twenty thousand kilometers, eight countries and one hundred malarial pills since we left Calgary last February in that -21º snow storm. We put together a little slideshow of our trip highlights to date.

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