Thursday, April 21, 2011

Pura Vida in Costa Rica: Nicaraguan border – San Jose (5th - 21st April '11)

Possibly my favourite food of all time (though its claim to the title has been challenged by my recent discovery of cinnamon rolls) is mangoes. In Costa Rica I reached mango heaven. Dripping mango trees lined the side of the road, we camped beneath them (and gathered their bounty in the morning) and we were given presents of mangoes by numerous people that we met.
However, besides the mango treasure trove, the first few days of cycling in Costa Rica were a bit tough – headwinds, heat and harsh traffic along the Panamericana Highway. However, we met lots of lovely hospitable people, and the busy traffic was soon forgotten once we turned off the busy highway to hit some lovely quiet and scenic backroads.
We headed upward – up some very steep climbs into the hills towards Puriscal. This route wasn't really on our way, we could have stuck to the lower route along the coast, but it ended up being a fantastic side-trip choice, not only because of the amazing landscape and views we cycled through but also for the people we met. We knew we were on a good route when we stopped part away up a huge climb to admire the views and get a breather, and ended up watching toucans who were also chilling by the roadside. Our rest was complete when a man on a trike stopped to give us some more delicious mangoes. Jolly D!
However, the best reason for our little strenuous detour up was to materialise on an evening not far out of Puriscal when we started looking for a place to camp. The owners of a family restaurant with stunning views over the hills and valley below offered to let us camp undercover in their restaurant. We were a little concerned about the effect that scruffy cyclists hanging around would have on their evening trade but they insisted we set up our tent in the middle of the restaurant! We were then treated to great food and fantastic hospitality for the whole night, and then the whole next morning.
We got to know Adolfo, Grettel and Naomi, their gorgeous almost-2 little girl who was full of energy, and then the next morning we met more of the family, got a tour of the town and went off with Adolfo to help set up a marquee for his party rental business. That is the best thing about cycling, you think you are just climbing a mountain range to see the amazing landscape and you end up in a small field setting up a circus tent for a horse parade! Plus Adolfo took us to the best bakery in town and we had pastries and coffee for breakfast, a wonderful morning all round, and the cinnamon rolls he found us were definitely up in the top 10!
We didn't want to leave our restaurant-home and the wonderful family that had adopted us but unfortunately we had to push on that day. It turned out to be a day of both stunning riding through the hills, and highly traumatic riding along a rough as guts gravel/mud road, with super steep ascents and descents. Towards the end of the day we got caught in a thunderstorm – welcoming us to the beginning of the wet season. When we finally arrived in the tiny town of Mastatal we sought directions in the local bar where the focal point was a man passed out in the middle of the floor. All the other guys in the bar was also heading in that direction (floorward) so they weren't much help providing us with the directions we required. We gave up trying to work out where we needed to go and had a beer with them instead.
We spent about ten days in the area of the tiny village of Mastatal – a few days chilling at a fantastic property with jungle views out to the coast, and then about a week volunteering at an organic farm called Villas Mastatal. The farm was owned by a wonderful Costa Rican family and was in an amazing location, perched on a hill above a river complete with waterfalls and pools, and adjacent to Cangreja National Park.
We learnt lots about the organic farm, even more about Tican life, as well as some colourful Spanish words and phrases! We had great Tican food, walks in the jungle and we were in wildlife heaven.  We spotted Toucans most days, Scarlet Macaws flew overhead as we worked, frogs plopped around the farm and we watched an interesting fight between the family cat and a beautiful tree snake (both escaped unharmed thankfully). We were less keen on the smaller wildlife , especially after one of the neighbourhood dogs required some home surgery to remove a botfly breeding within him. Jules paranoia towards the bug-world increased and she is now gorily convinced I have a similar fly breeding within a sore spot on my foot. I keep trying to convince her its just a blister but she has been regularly examining my foot, half frightened and half hoping that some creature is going to burst out like a scene from Alien.
Jules and I could have quite happily pottered around the hills of Mastatal for a lot longer but we had to jog ourselves out of our delightful reverie and head into the big smoke of San Jose. We left Norma and Betty to commune with the cows while we bused into the capital, to prepare for a little side trip... to Cuba!
We spent a couple of days in San Jose, an increasingly frustrated couple of days as we tried to do outstanding jobs, bank stuff, tax stuff, etc. We also managed to find ourselves a hostel with an infestation of bedbugs and after one restless night we ended up covered in bites. I already had a rash on my legs from working in long grass so by the time I had a bad reaction to the bedbugs I was splotchy and itchy from top to toe. To complete the look I had a stress-related out-break of cold sores across my chin and, according to Jules , my foot still looked ready to hatch.
Definitely time for a beach break with some good friends and some Cuba Libre, though in our state we might get quarantined by the Cuban customs.


  1. Where are you now exactly? At April, 17 I decided to take the plane from San Jose to Quito. I was very tired of the hot temperatures. Here in Ecuador it's between 14 and 24 degrees: i love it. Ecuador is great too, besides Guatemala the two countries I will definetely come back (cycling) one day. Now, I am at Guamote, hostal Inti Sisa, a place I can recommend! I decided to stay here till Sunday. Then I drive further south. I have now plentynof time as I skipped Panama and Columbia. And I really am enjoying it here in South America. Central was just a warming up...!

  2. Hey there, your fellow vehicle overlanders are all sitting in Panama City wondering how you both are! Everyone is here who was on the beach with you in Nicaragua and we all are still in awe of what you are doing. We are all shipping to Colombia within the next few days, Drop us an email if you are in the vicinity we will make overlander apple pie for you hey maybe we can try mango pie just for you. Stay safe Janet and Tom