Long Term Costa Rica Parking

Warning, what follows is not interesting unless you are an overlander hoping to park your vehicle in San Jose while you are out of the country.  First, find a government bonded warehouse (almacen fiscal) where you will park your vehicle.  There are many options around the airport, we chose Terminal Unidas (10.00063 N, 84.197067 W), but we really didn’t shop around at all.  At Terminal Unidas at the security gate ask for Alexis and the security guard will let you through.  Drive past the parking lot on your left to an area with lots of large trucks and a huge fenced parking area.  The office is in the far left corner of the warehouse.  Brush up on your Spanish because Alexis doesn’t speak any English although he found a translator to ensure that we understood the process for suspending our permit.  Give Alexis your vehicle import permit, he will make a copy and direct you to the small office at the entrance to the fenced in area where an unofficial looking man will write some numbers on the copied vehicle import permit that should be the same numbers he writes on the key identifier tags.  Return to the office and Alexis will enter some information into a computer, print out a form with all the information needed to suspend your permit including a string of numbers specific to that warehouse.  While I was taking care of all the paperwork they took pictures of every ding, scratch, and dent on the truck as well as inside the camper.  We then drove to a second fenced lot behind the first one parked Suzie where indicated and sadly said our goodbyes.  IMG_2567

We then walked to the airport, playing Frogger across the busy San Jose interstate, I would suggest taking a taxi because it is about a 2 mile walk to the customs office.  The customs office (Aduana SantaMaria) is not at the airport it is about 1 km further down the road (9.99788 N, 84.2115 W) in a large white building.  Present your original vehicle import permit, driver’s passport, and paperwork received from the almacen fiscal and after typing a bunch of information into a computer you will be given a new suspended permit.  The top will say suspender and the permit will also say how many days you have left on your permit once you return to Costa Rica.  The official kept our original permit and stated we would be issued a new one when we returned.  This process wasn’t too difficult for us, hopefully when we return it will be just as simple to reinstate the permit and collect Suzie!

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Headed Home

As many of our blog and facebook followers know, we have decided to return to the States for the summer to work and visit family and friends in order to extend our travel time in South America and experience Patagonia during the summer months (November through February).  But before we left Costa Rica we had one more major goal to accomplish, spot the extremely elusive resplendent quetzal.  We had been diligently scanning dense cloud forest foliage since Mexico without a single sighting.  Saying goodbye to the beach knowing we were headed back to a grey Montana spring was difficult, but we were eager to escape the unrelenting heat and humidity.  We also wanted to check out a purported free campsite on Lake Arenal with great views of the volcano.

Lake and Volcano Arenal

Lake and Volcano Arenal

The free campsite was incredible, but unfortunately the wind was whipping and putting the top up was not an option.  As we bumped along the dirt road around the lake we spotted what looked like a shortcut through the mountains to Santa Elana on the GPS.  Eventually we found inching down a narrow rutted two-tracked ‘road’ that disappeared into a river.  Clearly, Garmin had misled us and we resigned ourselves to a further two hours of driving time around the lake.  IMG_2516Rolling lush hills dotted with dairy cows coupled with the two Swiss chalet restaurants along the highway made us feel as if we really were in little Switzerland, as Costa Rica is sometimes called.  It had been a long day of travel and we were overjoyed when we saw a sign for the Volcano Brewing Company and stopped for a few of their delicious brews.

Beer...don't mind if I do!

Beer…don’t mind if I do!

We were exhausted and it was dark and the Brewery graciously allowed us to camp in the parking lot for free, even offering up the use of their incredible pool and hot tub.  IMG_2510The next few days were spent enjoying the misty beauty of the cloud forests of Monteverde.  Tromping through Curi-Cancha Reserve we were confident.  Every single person we had talked to had seen a quetzal.  Our quetzal spotting skills are deficient because after two hours we had not seen even a single tail feather.

Monteverde

Monteverde

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As we were exiting, Fabio the park caretaker, was aghast that we had not seen the famous birds.  Armed with his detailed instructions to the precise location we marched back into the park.  After 20 minutes of unsuccessful tree scanning we were about to leave when Fabio ran up the trail, pulled us behind a roped off area onto a faint trail and within 30 seconds pointed up into the tree.  Finally we saw the bright green and red feathers of the quetzal and not only were we lucky enough to see two females but also the even more brightly colored male.

Female quetzal

Female quetzal

Male quetzal

Male quetzal

 

High adrenaline we traipsed back down the trail unaware of the huge black and red coral snake sunning itself ahead of us.  Again my piercing scream alerted the rest of the tourists in the reserve that a deadly predator was on the move, and I’m sure I saved at least a few lives.  IMG_2565

Leaving Santa Elana we went against the flow of Semana Santa traffic and holed up in San Jose for a few days to prepare Suzie for five months of parking.  We successfully parked her bid her a tearful goodbye and tried to mentally prepare ourselves for the culture shock we knew was awaiting us.

Ken prepping for culture shock.

Ken prepping for culture shock.

In a Costa Rica Minute

Costa Rica the birthplace of mass marketed eco-tourism, the two-week vacationers’ cloud forest dream, the overlander’s nightmare.  After a week and half here, we are still unsure how we feel about the tourist beast that is Costa Rica.

Rancho Santana luxury

Rancho Santana luxury

Overlanding best buds

Overlanding best buds

Reluctantly tearing ourselves away from the luxury of Rancho Santana and our fellow overlanders, we made our way across the tedious border at Penas Blancas spending our first night in the very uninspiring town of Liberia.  Our first few days in Costa Rica were spent nailing down the procedure for parking the car in San Jose.  We then escaped to the Orosi Valley and cool mountain breezes.  Here we found the beauty of Costa Rica in its lush green mountains blanketed with rolling fog, crowned with narrow, windy roads.  IMG_2369As we made our way through San Jose and Cartago to Orosi, we felt as if we were in any city USA with a McDonald’s on every other corner, manicured lawns, well-maintained houses, and hordes of bicyclists and runners lining the road.  Seriously, Costa Ricans love to exercise!  It wasn’t until we pulled into Flutterbye Hostel in Uvita on the Pacific Coast that we remembered we were still in Latin America surrounded by 10 feet high concrete walls topped with razor wire.

Truchas Selva Madre

Truchas Selva Madre

From the incredible heat and humidity in Uvita we high-tailed back into the mountains and to one of our top ten campsites of the trip, Truchas Selva Madre.  We enjoyed the cool mountain temperatures parked next to the babbling brook and shire-esque picnic shelters.  Forgive the cliches, but they are applicable to this place.

The Shire of Costa Rica

The Shire of Costa Rica

Ken said he would jump into the first waterfall if I jumped into the second.

Ken said he would jump into the first waterfall if I jumped into the second.

Lucky for me, not possible.

Lucky for me, not possible.

The coolest temperatures we had experienced thus far on the trip prompted us to head back to the beaches and heat, to the Caribbean coast and the town of Cahuita.  Up and over two mountain ranges through coffee fields, the land flattened out into miles up on miles of banana plantations.  Since it was my birthday we splurged on a hotel, La Piscina Natural, complete with some of the most beautiful, lush gardens we have seen to date and a natural pool filled by tidal fluctuations.

La Piscina Natural

La Piscina Natural

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The next day we joined the crowds of Tico’s in Parque Nacional Cahuita meandering down the seaside trail spotting thousands of hermit crabs and a few monkeys.  We had intended to through hike the 7 km trail, but tales and picture evidence of a very large, very yellow, reported deadly snake on the trail ahead and my subsequent hyperventilation prevented us from finishing.

Parque Nacional Cahuita

Parque Nacional Cahuita

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Instead we played in palm trees and soaked in clear Caribbean water.

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We still have a week left in Costa Rica and continue to be unsure of how we feel about the country.  It is a place of profound natural beauty, mobs of gringo tourists, and overpriced amenities, yet it is still possible to get off the beaten path.  Costa Rica lacks the authenticity that we loved in Mexico and Guatemala.  It feels as if the Tica culture here has become so tied to tourism that it has lost touch with its roots, but along the windy mountain roads we have driven we still spotted gauchos on horseback, farmers tilling fields with handmade hoes, and tiny roadside stands selling the 20 melons grown on their family plot.  The roots are still there, you just might have to dig a bit deeper to see them.