Well…contrary to popular belief, we haven’t fallen off the planet, been kidnapped or indeed eaten by turtles. The last couple of weeks (has it really been that long? Oops…) has seen us thoroughly researching Costa Rica – working hard to bring you a concise and informative report on the country. Ahem.
So…Costa Rica. Seems to have everything…rainforest (they insist on calling it ‘cloud’ forest – bit like ‘Greenland’ if you ask me), superb surfing beaches (we participated, in a spectatory kinda way), massive cities (San Jose, complete with a contingent of backpackers, prostitutes and ladyboys), corrupt police (“How much for this not to be a problem?” – “Five dollars” – “Bueno!”) and (sadly) higher prices than everywhere else we’ve been so far. Oh yeah, and for an expensive, westernised country – the roads are absolutely diabolical. How a country that charges over a dollar for a beer (you get REALLY stingy when away from the UK!) can justify not spending pennies (or rather cents) on not filling potholes…Grrrr! They haven’t even got an army to run, which must save them $$. It doesn’t seem consistent either. One minute you’re riding along on nice smooth tarmac – suddenly the tarmac stops and the 200ft descent into the beach town is a wet. rocky, muddy nightmare of slick gravel, the problem compounded by snarling buses blocking the road and gouting diesel as they haul themselves back to the sanctuary of the tarmac. Mad.
Apart from the roads and prices, the place is great. Sweeping past on bikes, locals stare in a mildly hostile way – and then as you wave, faces crack into a massive grin and they return the greeting so enthusiastically that they’re in danger of losing an arm. Ticos & Ticas in bars and clubs (for research purposes only, of course) are incredibly friendly, speak disgustingly good english and can dance – Not Fair! – and are adept at teaching incompetent fools like ourselves the more intricate vulgarities of the Spanish language. Spectacular scenery – after the initial gobsmacking impact of a mist-wreathed cloud forest or a sweeping white-sand beach – is so common that after two weeks we hardly notice it, and when you catch yourself shouting at monkeys and racoony-type things to GET OUT OF THE DAMN ROAD rather than being amazed at the proliferation of wildlife, you know you’re being spoilt. Costa Rica apparently has the highest biodiversity of any blah blah blah – it’s true though – there’s so much nature-related stuff to do that one is spoilt for choice. Despite failing to be convinced that the “eco-tourism” is “eco-friendly” – what a load of crap – how can building a massive zipline and hurling screaming tourists along it through virgin “cloud” forest be “eco-friendly”? (although a sociology student in Monteverde did partially convert me to the idea) – tourism, on the whole, is pretty tastefully done – well, apart from the Yank surf microcosms along the coast, that is.
Enough jabbering. What did we do? Well, we arrived in San Jose, polluted one hostel whilst staying in another – which is where we stayed for about four days, “soaking up” the local culture and (amazingly) not losing money occasionally playing blackjack. New boots for the bikes (Pirelli MT90 & MT60 – good tyres, $100 for four, if you’re interested) and a ludicrously cheap oil change at the Yamaha bike shop kept the girls happy, and we explored the university area (again in a highly scientific manner) late at night.
Paths diverged on the 20th when Will, clinging desperately to Matt’s bike as he weaved heroically through rush hour traffic to the airport, was delivered in the nick of time (two hours early) to meet Claire’s flight from the UK via Atlanta, Geeeooorgia. More “soaking up” the local culture for Matt, who stayed in San Jose for four more days with Rob, Jacqui and Dominic (cheers for making it highly memorable!) whilst Will & Claire headed off on a lightning tour of Arenal and Monteverde. Paths converged at Montezuma, Matt heading over from Santa Teresa to join the Will And Claire Tour Itinerary to Tamarindo for a couple of days. Paths split again as Matt headed for the obligatory Monteverde cloud forest for a couple of days (thanks to Katie, Jay, Alex, Ali, and Shaunna for company and entertainment!) whilst the WACTI took them to Puerto Viejo before reconvening in San Jose for Claire’s departure on the 4th (doesn’t sound like two weeks, does it?) – can’t believe we’re into September ALREADY!
Highlights…right then. Yes, you’ll probably need the map. Probably best to look at the photos of these places whilst reading.
– Arenal (volcano and lake)
Massive, spectacular lake, with an active volcano at one end (hooray!) – you can’t get closer than 6km tho (boo hiss). Glows red at night, if the clouds clear enough.
– Monteverde (cloud forest)
Amusingly inaccessible but stunningly beautiful forest draped over the central mountain range. Roads kept deliberately (yeah right) rubbish to help limit tourism. Zip-line companies EVERYWHERE, stunning views of the Pacific coast from the top! For cloud, read rain. Every damn day, at 3pm. Regular as a high-fibre diet.
– Tamarindo (surf town)
Touristy and expensive beach town, supposedly amazing for surfing, with a fantastic, sweeping beach, probably about 4km long. Gorgeous. There’s something weird and ironic about sitting in a swimming pool 20m from the beach looking at the sea.
– Montezuma (surf town)
Tiny surf town, at the end of The Worst Road Ever In Costa Rica. 200ft climb out of the town on slippery, muddy, rocky, unsurfaced, twisty roads. Good fun on a bike, unless you stick it in a ditch (Will).
– Puerto Viejo (Caribbean coast)
Tries too hard to be cool but still a nice change – an island of Bob Marley, weed, dreadlocks and grubby backpackers in a sea of synthesised reggaeton music (think Gasolina…).
– Volcan Poas (volcano – doh)
Another live volcano and this time you can climb (well, drive) to the top and check out the crater. Makes some funny noises and the crater is deceptively big – or deceptively small – or – umm – look, what I mean is that it LOOKS small but is actually MASSIVE – 1.5km across. Blimey.
– San Jose (capital city – we know the way there now)
Hard to find a capital with less cultural attractions (casinos rammed with hookers and street corners crowded with ladyboys don’t count as ‘cultural’, before you start). The 150yr-old central market is brilliant – tiny twisting alleys crammed counters selling fish and meat (some of it unrecognisable), souvenirs, small sodas (cafes) selling massive vats of ‘meat’ soup for pennies. Worth visiting.