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John and Mandi

us --> van --> overland
7 yrs and 6 days - end of the road

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Are We There Yet, Costa Rica

Jun 23, 2017
by Mandi

After almost two years traveling, we found ourselves in a bit of a funk...missing family and friends, the conveniences of house life, the mom and pop restaurant that greeted us by name, the honey from the beekeeper down the street, the smell our of local food coop. The dry heat and blowing dust of Nicaragua wore on us. We were done with being able to write notes in the powdery film on the counter inside the van. In our minds, we reviewed the photos of Costa Rica from magazines and commercials...tropical rain forests, soft sand beaches with palm trees and turquoise waters. The allure of baby sloths and elusive Quetzales promised to captivate and comfort us, so we were impatient to leave the coast of Nicaragua and get into some damp and fascinating places further south. I guess we needed to learn our lesson one more time, consistent with many other parts of Central America, not all of Costa Rica is humid and lush. Once again, we found ourselves searching for some relief from the dry heat and wondering how we didn't know that part of Costa Rica supposedly resembles the grasslands of Africa during the dry season.

What We Did

Penas Blancas: Nicaragua to Costa Rica Border Crossing

Although not overly time consuming, this was by far the most frustrating and nonsensical border crossing yet. We arrived at the Nicaraguan side around 8am after passing a few kilometers of semi trucks and parked in a large lot with tour buses, small vehicles, and food stalls. We paid $1 each for a municipal fee and $2 each for exit fees and our passports were stamped out of Nica. We then wandered around the parking lot and nearby food stalls, hallways, and shady spots to find the official in the light blue shirt with the clipboard (not just any light blue shirted official with a clipboard, but the right light blue shirted official with a clipboard) and the police officer with the stamp to have our vehicle paperwork completed. We took the completed paperwork and Nicaraguan temporary import permit to the Aduana desk, running into a traveler whom we first met in Canton, Canada (what a small world), where our exit form was completed and provided to us. We drove to the boom, handed in the exit form, and continued to Costa Rica.

To enter Costa Rica, we parked near and entered the Equipaje building which houses immigration. We completed and submitted our entry forms and got our passports stamped. We picked up a vehicle form at the Aduana shack directly across the street and made copies of the passport stamp page ($0.36) at the neighboring shed. The official in the Aduana shack checked all our paperwork, had us show him the van which he solely focused on it having a real metal license plate and left hand drive, before he signed off on our vehicle form and handed us an additional small square of paper. We then drove to the Aduana building a half kilometer up the road, parked, and purchased insurance ($40 for 90 days), provided our completed vehicle form and the original and two copies of all required documents to the Aduana official, and received our Costa Rican temporary import permit. We drove to the boom, showed our documents, handed in the small square of paper, and were free to explore Costa Rica. All the officials were friendly and we were through in around two hours.

Finca Canas Castilla, Guanacaste

After a shorter than expected border crossing, we arrived at Finca Canas Castilla in the late morning. We definitely would have had time to continue on to a location further into the country, but we hadn't actually planned any further than the Finca and we're so glad we didn't skip it. There are three marked hiking trails on the property, which is a lovely mix of forest, river, and pastures with chickens and turkeys running around and cows and horses grazing. We were lucky to see a sloth sleeping the day away next to the coconuts and troops of monkeys moving through the treetops. We couldn't resist the breakfast for $7 per person with some of the best homemade bread we've had on the trip. We made an exception to our hand washing habit and paid $5 to use the fancy European style washing machine, our laundry came out sparkly fresh. Camping costs $5 per person per night which seems expensive if you've come from Nicaragua, but is a bargain compared to other Costa Rican camping.

Finca Canas Castilla, Guanacaste, Costa Rica

She never gets tired of having her picture taken

Finca Canas Castilla, Guanacaste, Costa Rica

Uh oh, she's now getting a stick

Finca Canas Castilla, Guanacaste, Costa Rica

Mandi's spirit animal

Finca Canas Castilla, Guanacaste, Costa Rica

We're happy to see you too

Finca Canas Castilla, Guanacaste, Costa Rica

Huevos planteros

Finca Canas Castilla, Guanacaste, Costa Rica

He's unhappy about his lack of neck

Finca Canas Castilla, Guanacaste, Costa Rica

Horses of courses

Finca Canas Castilla, Guanacaste, Costa Rica

I guess we now know where last nights filet came from

Finca Canas Castilla, Guanacaste, Costa Rica

Not to scale

Casa Camping Avellanas, Guanacaste

We checked out a couple recommended beaches before we reached Otto's place and decided we should stay put. We had initially planned on staying only one night, but John noticed that our power steering pump was leaking again after kilometers of washboard dirt road so we needed to regroup. We stayed three nights at a cost of $12.73 (7000C) per night while we planned for repairs and waited out the weekend. We ended up loving it at Casa Camping Avellanas.  A good beginner surf and boogie wave is just a short walk to the right and at low tide a great protected swimming area is revealed directly in front of the camping area. While Otto's facilities aren't fancy, there was a nice breeze, the monkeys slept in the trees overhead, there was just enough dappled shade, and Otto was warm and welcoming. Casa Camping Avellanas, Guanacaste, Costa Rica

The Pacific does look good in photos

El Mirador de los Quetzales, San Jose

After running around San Jose and receiving an outrageous quote for our replacement pump from the Ford service center, the kind mechanics at the Iveco shop confirmed that we needed a new pump but were in no imminent danger of steering failure. They said it was okay to drive the van as long as we didn't let the fluid get too low and we knew that April was high season for Quetzal spotting, so we decided to take our best shot and headed to El Mirador de los Quetzales.

Camping in a parking lot has become a regular, although not often awesome, occurrence. The parking lot at El Mirador de los Quetzales has a beautiful mountain view and camping with use of WiFi and a bathroom and shower up the hill at the reception area for $15 (a discounted rate is available for camping only). We took a Quetzal spotting tour the next morning at 6:30am for $20 per person. We saw a pair of Quetzales during the tour, although we were unable to get any proper pictures, and our guide Oscar even came to our van early the next morning to show us the Quetzales in the trees above and behind the reception building. While we were at El Mirador, eating soup, drinking hot tea, and enjoying the cold weather, we booked flights to the US for the following week to visit family and friends and to retrieve a new pump and myriad additional "necessities."

El Mirador de los Quetzales, San Jose, Costa Rica

Dude, personal space

El Mirador de los Quetzales, San Jose, Costa Rica

Always the tail feathers

El Mirador de los Quetzales, San Jose, Costa Rica

You'd think views like this would get old...nope

Suenos del Bosque, San Jose

We wanted lower elevation and more convenient facilities to prep and pack for our trip to Florida and Suenos del Bosque was highly recommended by friends. At 7,200 feet we don't feel the effects of altitude but still get the cool temperatures that allow us to throw a blanket on the bed. The campsite overlooks a babbling creek and there are multiple hiking trails nearby. We were told Quetzales visit the area also, but we never went looking. We hiked a trail through blackberry fields to a small waterfall and spent hours taking pictures in the gardens and pond on the property in between our chores. Because we stayed multiple nights, we were able to negotiate a small discount, we paid $18.18 (10,000C) per night.

Suenos del Bosque, San Jose, Costa Rica

Almost drinkable

Suenos del Bosque, San Jose, Costa Rica

Better than bad, she's good

Suenos del Bosque, San Jose, Costa Rica

Kinda Brothers Grimm

Suenos del Bosque, San Jose, Costa Rica

You'd definitely have to skin it first

Suenos del Bosque, San Jose, Costa Rica

Hey, this photo looks staged

Suenos del Bosque, San Jose, Costa Rica

What, no garbage!

Suenos del Bosque, San Jose, Costa Rica

No wonder my spanish is so bad

Suenos del Bosque, San Jose, Costa Rica

Ooooo, ye-lurple
Suenos del Bosque, San Jose, Costa Rica
A little bigger and we'd hire her ass to guard the van

Honorable Mentions

While we don't list every place and thing we do there are some that stick in our minds. Weeks later we catch ourselves mentioning them to others or just savoring the memory of the exquisite cuisine we consumed. Here are a couple standouts.

Cafe Kahawa, San Jose

When we hit road construction on the way to Suenos del Bosque, we decided to wait it out at Cafe Kahawa.  We sat on the open deck overlooking a breathtaking creek and ate made in house chicken fingers and fries, a chicken wrap, homemade flourless chocolate cake, and two fancy non-alcoholic beverages. All in it cost us $28 and it was money well spent.

Country Inn & Suites San Jose Aeropuerto, Alajuela

We needed a place to stay near the airport so we could drop the van off at the storage facility and suspend our vehicle temporary import permit the day before our flight to Florida. While driving around San Jose I noted the Country Inn because it appeared to have adequate parking and be in a decent area. We booked it online and were happy with the facilities and the friendly bilingual staff. There is a shopping center next door with a Fresh Market grocery store, multiple restaurants, and an ATM. We paid $86 per night which included a sunny pool, fitness center, and hot breakfast buffet.

Say what? (8)
Jun 23, 2017 at 02:55 PM
Sounds to me like you should make it to Panama and call it a trip. South America is a whole 'nother world and probably another two years. Wouldn't be the first and wouldn't be the last to call it a day. You've had a great trip and I have enjoyed your blog.
Jun 23, 2017 at 03:03 PM
Thanks Randall! We will reach Panama in under two months and are still planning to ship South. Our US visit was refreshing and now that we are in the rainy season we feel much better, probably not how others feel but for us it is more like home. Assuming all things keep working in our favor, we should have 2 years to explore South America. We're excited for the next phase, but as in all things, nothing is chiseled in stone ; )
James Poole
Jun 23, 2017 at 03:11 PM
Very much enjoy reading your trip,fun.....we are the couple that shared a table with you in Yellowstone a couple years ago as you were hiking and camping there...we are from Kc,Mo.
You guys are awesome.
Jun 23, 2017 at 03:41 PM
Thank-you James! We remember that day very well and are happy to hear from you. Hopefully you are still traveling and spoiling your grandchildren.
James Poole
Jun 23, 2017 at 04:24 PM
Yes we are still traveling. In Hilton Head S C ( at our condo on the beach). Beautiful here. Our grandson spent sophomore year in Argentina, lived it. Now internship in Cuba thru July. Loves traveling. He will be a senior at Pepperdine in Malibu this year. I forward him some of your adventures. He love them.
Take care.
Jun 23, 2017 at 04:12 PM
Always enjoy reading your blog posts! Its funny, just hearing about the droll day to day activities, border crossings, and other things that are annoying when on the road, gets me excited to get back out there all the more. Safe travels guys.
Jun 23, 2017 at 04:30 PM
Thanks Joe! While the day to day can get a bit taxing, it's just part of the lifestyle. You obviously don't need any encouragement from us, happy trails.
James Poole
Jun 23, 2017 at 05:45 PM
Make that....internship in CHINA not Cuba🤗🤗!!!!
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