Saturday, June 25, 2011

Costa Rica, June 2011

COSTA RICA!!! True to it's name, it is a very rich and lush coast. Flew down with the girl, and spent 9 days running around CR, in our rental.

Our first night was spent in San Jose, as we were pretty lacking of sleep for 2 days, due to work, etc... and I didn't want to have to be searching out a good place to stay after being up for 26 some hours. So we flew in, picked up the car, and had a reserved room at a nice hotel. Other than that, we had no other rooms or events reserved or planned. :)

After catching up on sleep (it is vacation after all) we got up super early, as it's hard to sleep any later than 5am for me here. hahaha or maybe cause I slept so much the first day. haha

We made our way towards Puntarena from San Jose (west to the pacific coast), and then turned south towards Manuel Antonio N.P. next to the town of Quepos.

The drive was uneventful, with lots of cool sights. I am a self professed speed (velocity) freak, but I can honestly say, that my average speed the entire time I was there, was no more than 80kph. hahaha PURA VIDA!!! Besides, the distance is so small in relation to what we are used to traveling here in the USA. I think it was a total of 180 miles from San Jose to Manuel Antonio, and we had 2 days to get there. :D

Our first free day of driving, we came south along the Pacific Coast, and would randomly pull into dirt roads where there were signs for hotels or restaurants, to explore it out. We found a cool little resort building near the end of this long dirt road on the beach, called Delfin Resort.

A little expensive for what I was looking for, but with the above view from our balcony, I figured, why not. Besides, my girl is on her first real trip outside the USA, ever....and first trip to Latin America....which as many know, can be very hard to adjust to. hahaha She did spectacular, and took it all in great stride.

The resort is located on "Playa Bejuco" about half way between Puntarenas and Quepos.

We relaxed, I ran on the beach, and then we swam the afternoon away in the pool with the poolside bar available for our drinks. The two chefs (both from New Orleans) cooked up some amazing Red Snapper, I think, but could care less, as the meal was phenomenal, and the macadamia nut brownie for desert was simply, mouthwatering.
After getting adjusted to the speed of the "Ticos", we were set to cruise down the coast. We drove down, to Quepos, a total of about 100km. (approx. 60 miles), taking our sweet time, stopping at shops and taking it all in. Very peaceful.

We stopped in Jaco, which is a beach resort town, and I have to say, I was not impressed. It felt much like.......well, much like Tijuana may sound to anyone who's heard the stories. Dirty, over run by obnoxious tourists, lots of prostitution and drugs in this town too. If you're into that, then this is your place. Including paying American prices for the most simplest of things. We stopped for a beer, and lunch, and kept moving. Definitely wouldn't stay here ever.

For reference, I was here 7 years earlier on my motorcycle, and we did not take this route, because these roads were all dirt/gravel roads along the Pacific coast. It would have added 5-6 hours for our day ride if we'd done it. Now, the route is paved, even the section from Quepos to Dominical, which used to take about 3 hours to drive 50km. Now, it took me 35 minutes. :)

I loved the dude walking his oxen/bulls across the road. Yielded for him, so I could get this shot. There was a little dog nipping at their heels to keep them moving, but he eluded my shot. haha
Once in Manuel Antonio, we took the day to explore the surrounding areas and figure out where we will stay. With some help from a friend of mine, and fellow hasher, Rotten Cherry, I had several places to check out and figure if we'd stay there. Even for it being the off season, prices were still high for me. Eventually, we made our way to the very bottom of the hill, to the beach, where the main N.P. area is. We talked the restaurant owner into renting us a room above the restaurant for $20 bucks a night. :D savings. no air conditioning though. that would cost another 20. but, we handled it for the weekend, and figured on the lodging savings we'd just apply it to drinks. :D

On one of the nights (we lost track of time, and days...seriously) haha, we stopped by this location, called "El Avion" for some drinks and to see the sights. My girl wanted to see monkeys. haha and they had a small family of howlers living next to the restaurant. Mission Accomplished. This airplane, which was dismantled and hauled up the mountain, was reassembled here on sight and the inside of this cargo plane has been turned into a mini club.

It holds some history, as this is one of two planes used to supply and fly in weapons during the now infamous "Iran-Contra" scandal of the 80's. The sister airplane was shot down in Nicaragua, and this one was abandoned at the Costa Rican airport when everyone bolted. Eventually bought for $3,000 dollars by the owners of this restaurant. The link above has more info and photos from the location.
Locals Only! nuff said. haha

The locals are pretty much beach kids running around giving surf lessons, renting wave runners, boogie boards, chairs and umbrellas. You want something, they'll find it for you. Most anything. ;)

Pretty cool peeps, but also you need to keep an eye on them. Opportunists at their best. haha but hey, it's a living, and $10 usd buys a lot of rice for them and their family. The majority of them still live at home, and probably always will. It's just a different life down here.

Speaking fluent spanish and not giving two shits about talking to anyone, went a long way, and we got a lot of local intel that would make our stay so much more comfortable.

Below, is my view from one of the days that I spent the entire day on the beach. Our little helper on this side of the beach (southern portion) was cool, and probably the slowest, happiest job on the planet. haha

He rented chairs and tents for beachgoers. $10 usd for the entire day. starting at 8am, to 5pm.
I didn't mind, the money was good for him, and I got two chairs, an umbrella, and when we were hungry for lunch I'd just tell the dude to hold my chairs, and that we were going to eat and would be back.

He just smiled and said, "pura vida", and then we'd come back.

Low tide in the morning.
High tide in the evening. Spent all day on the beach. Our cooler full of ice, rum, coke and a few beers. Perfect. I prefer shade on the beach, since I'm brown enough...hahahaha, so this was my perfect day.
Single lane bridge into the small town of Londres.

A day or so later, don't remember which one, since the days are melting into each other at this point, we decided to get off the beach, and let the sunburns heal for a day or so. doh!
My girl had 2 things that were a must for her to see. A waterfall and Monkeys. Well, today we would get the 2nd one done.

After reading through the instructions that Kelly gave us, they went something like this:
Go on the road to Quepos, you will see a road intersection with 3 signs. Londres to the left, Quepos to the right, and the Hospital ahead. Turn towards Londres. Go a long way till you get to the town, at the store, turn left....go some more kilometers, and you will see a huge rock, take the right side road at the Y. :D hahahaha at that point, we were 6km from the waterfalls. Stopping at the little store, we find out, the waterfall is on private land, and need a key to get into the gate. :(

The nice lady then says, no problem, it's only $5 usd, and just drive up there. One of our guides is up there with two tourists, on horses. It's at this point that I wonder if we'll pass in our rental.
A Hyundai Tucson, which I gotta say right now, is one of the most amazing off road vehicles I've driven. haha didn't need to use the on-the-fly 4x4, except once where I didn't want to take a chance on the landslide area, where there was water rushing down the road. the photo is blurry from all the jostling. hahaha but we made it.

It turned out better than we hoped, after realizing it cost the horseback riders $70 usd to do what we did on our own. $65 usd savings x2. not bad. :D Above, first photo is the riders slowly making their way down the steep slope. 2nd photo is the guide. cool guy, and he handed us the key, after I gave him the hand written note from the lady at the shop instructing him to give me the key. I love the little things that can be done in countries like this. haha back in the states, there is no way that would have happened for far too many fears.
A photo by my girl up the single track section. Sloppy, and since we're up in the mountain now, it's rainy, misty and a lot chillier than the 90 deg on the beach. I love it.
Also, we passed this little chihuahua that looked like he was perpetually stoned and smiling. hahaha

photos above. The first is the single track at a spot I stopped to check out the road and make sure we could pas. 2nd photo, is the land slide repair area. the water running down it didn't inspire confidence in the repair holding for long. haha. 3rd photo is of the waterfall. Amazing. We went swimming for a while. With this goal also accomplished, we made our way out to the road, and decided to take another drive.
p.s. I was a little nervous at the fact that I hadn't gassed up before heading up the mtn, and this is a photo my girl took after I let her know. She wasn't too thrilled, and began to worry. hahaha I told her we had just hit the reserve light, so we should be good. :D
There was one more thing that I wanted to do if I ever came back to Costa Rica, and that was to find the spot where I crashed 7 years ago, and go and check it out. call it closure of some sort.

So we drove south along the coast from Quepos to Dominical and turned east up into the mountains towards San Isidro.
Last time I was here, we had come out of San Jose on the motorcycles along the CR highway, and turned towards the coast at San Isidro. We heard the road was paved from Dominical south, and it was a dream. It wasn't even on the maps of Costa Rica, that's how new it was.
So we drove up past the town of Platanillo, approx. 20km from the coast, and I found it. My girl kept asking how I'd know where it was, and I simply said, I will know. It has been burned in my memory since the day it happened.

First photo was this past week, pointing at the spot where I crashed. The 2nd photo is on the day it happened, you can see the chunk of asphault missing, on the left hand curve where I was booking pretty hard. You can also see the slide where the bike hit and slid into the mountain side.

The road to Dominical in 2003, and the road to Dominical in 2011. haha I think I prefer it in 2003 when it was more of an adventure.

This is the photo I had taken by one of the kids of the family that helped me. They lived at the top of that turnoff where I took the above pics, and came down and assisted me. I showed the kids how to use the camera, and we shot this photo. May, 2003. :)

With that taken care of, we headed back to the beach of course. haha

While chilling on the beach, we talked to the guy who rented us the chairs, and were introduced to Billy, above, who runs the Hobie Cat that was sitting on the beach. for $25 bucks each, he'd take us out for about an hour and a half, with some ocean swimming. F it. sounds fine to me, so I helped him put the cat into the surf and off we went. :) Such a killer time. Find him when you are down there and take him up on the ride. Laid back dude, whom I don't think owns a t-shirt or shoes. hahahaha as everyday that we saw him, at least 5, he was only wearing board shorts the entire time. very cool.

Last on our list of possible things to do, was a zip line tour. Now, I imagine that you could show up at the sight (which is practically across from the Quepos Hospital) and ask for a tour there. We paid the amount at our hotel, and opted for full service on this day, our last tour day. The rest of the time, we'd spend it on the beach relaxing.

I have to say, it was very cool, with the longest cable being about 1000ft long and fast. :)
I'll find more photos and post them up. Since we bought the photos from them. Why not. They were very good photos, and freed us up to have a good time.

Largest visible Crocodiles in the World:

While Costa Rica can't boast of having the largest crocodiles in the world, the Nile Croc takes that one, they can boast of having the largest crocodiles visible to tourists at any given time, in the world. There is a large group of them, that nest/hang out below this bridge along the highway to Quepos from Puntarena. Trust me, you'll see it, as there is usually a group of tourists standing along the painfully narrow walkway, and short railing bending over the railing to see them. hahahaha I forgot to ask if anyone had ever fallen in.
The croc in the above pic had just slid into the water after the guide with the tourists in the first photo threw some bait into the water. That is my upper body shadow from the bridge for a quick reference. I'm 6' 4". :) It's about a 12 footer. a wee one. hahaha
Very cool stop on the way back to San Jose.

A photo of the more common types of bikes that run down here. Mostly 125 cc's. Since gas is very expensive, at about 5.80/gallon. Yep. haha It was still worth it to rent a car.

We stayed in San Jose the last night, as we had to be at the airport by 5am, for a 7am international flight. All went well, and we made it back to the states, without incident. All in all a blast.

A few thoughts: When renting a car, be ready to pay for insurance. It is in the small print of the online rental sights, including expedia. That is whom I went thru. I had initially rented a Daihatsu (one class smaller suv) but they didn't have it, so they upgraded to the Tucson. I would take the Tucson in a heartbeat again. Be sure to bring a credit card that has $5,000 dollars available to put on hold, if you don't want to pay for the insurance.

The cost of the rental may be as much as $500 dollars, for 10 days. Like we paid. But split between us, we didn't notice it much. If you go with 3 other friends, you'll fit well in it, and the cost is less per person.

Haggle all prices. Seriously, they will work their magic to get the most money, but things are not that expensive, so don't pay the first price. In the tourist areas, you may be hard pressed to haggle to much, but it is possible.

Directions are subjective, so be warned. hahaha It could be as inocuous as, "go 3 minutes that way, then turn right, go around the back and follow the road directo, directo.....and then turn left when you see "insert landmark here". " hahahaha most foreigners have a very hard time adapting...but it is possible. Just relax, and remember, that they are running at a far slower speed than any major city in the USA. I LOVED IT.

Being the beginning of the rainy season, the prices for lodging are about half. No need for reservations, as they will do what they can to get your business. And honestly, the rains were inconsequential to our entire trip.

With that, we spent 2 nights in the room with no A/C for $20 bucks a night. Always rent the rooms in the evening, since they drop the prices after 4pm to entice travelers. ;)

The Coco Beach Motel about 50 yards from the beach turned out to be the best bet. They never wavered on their price, which was set all day for $30 bucks with A/C and with hot water. for that extra $10 dollars, we happily shifted over there.

hope you all enjoy. feel free to comment. :)