January 27, 2003 GMT
Must see that volcano

We had missed out of the volcanoes of El Salvador and Nicaragua and hoped to make up for it here in Costa Rica, home to some of the most accessible and the most active volcano in Central America.

Our first meal in Costa Rica was goulash with dumplings, and Arno spent the morning making apple strudel and croissants. We had spent the night with Tom and Ellen a German couple who run a bakery and provide accommodation in the village of Nuevo Arenal. For the ride around the lake to La Fortuna, we were joined by Steve, a Canadian who had seen our bikes parked outside the bakery. It was raining as we left and the lake was shrouded in mist and cloud, the volcano hidden completely – not a good sign.
The road once again took a lot of concentration, narrow, half paved with huge potholes, it wound along the lake towards the volcano that was hiding in the clouds. Arno and Steve rode ahead to try and reclaim a tyre, that Steve had that morning left at a bike shop, fed up with carrying it around. Georg and I took it a little easier, stopping to take photos of the lake and the Volcano Arenal, which was clear for a good 10 minutes, just as we rode past.


A brief glimpse of the active volcano from afar.

Met up with the others again, with the tyre and rode towards San José. No point staying to view a volcano when it is covered in cloud! The weather gradually improved as we rode over the mountains, the roads too! Driving into San José was easy too, a 4 lane highway almost to the centre of the city. Stayed at Gaudys Hostel, a new place where we could squeeze the bikes in behind the security gate.


This space is great for 2 bikes, 4 was a bit of a squash.

Arno and Georg spent the next day hunting down a good tyre deal, a place to change oil and looking for stickers for the bikes. We are collecting them for each country and are surprised sometimes how difficult they are to find. In Nicaragua the search was fruitless, so one country is already missing!! In the evening, they provided the entertainment for the neighbours by changing my chain and sprockets out on the pavement in front of the hostel.

Heading out of San José we got caught up in traffic heading out to a Fiesta in Palmares, once past that town it wasn’t long before we reached the turnoff to Monteverde and Santa Elena. The road was tarmac for the first 20kms or so, then dirt, my new chain is going to love this!! Once again I battled, and one steep dusty corner defeated me. The views almost made up for it though, we could see all the way to the coast as the sun started to go down.

We had come up the mountain to see cloud forest and instead of trudging through the mud in the reserves, decided to do the Sky Walk. A series of suspension bridges link a trail through cloud forest, taking you up to canopy level.


One of the suspension bridges in the cloud forest

It was fun to do, and we saw a little wildlife as well.

We took a different road down from Santa Elena, not so demanding and by mid morning we were on the Tempisque ferry, heading for the Nicoya Peninsula and the beach. Playa Junqillal was at the end of another dirt road, and so more peaceful than the likes of Playa Tamarindo or Coco. We camped almost right on the beach, under the palm trees away from it all with only the wildlife to amuse us.

stick insect.JPG

This large stick insect, together with a variety of crabs and a scorpion inspected our cooking kit.

Spent a couple of nights here until it was time to return to San José to collect the tyres that we had ordered. We had hoped to detour up into the mountains to see the volcano, but we could see from the highway, that the mountains were covered in black clouds and it even rained lightly as we rode into the city. Are we never going to see a volcano!

Back to the hostel where our bikes were safe and we could use the internet for free. The tyres hadn't arrived, manaña we were told, but Georg managed to find us stickers! We even managed to meet up with Merv and Ruth who were in town again together with visiting relatives
We picked up the tyres early the next morning and, having given up on the idea of seeing Arenal Volcano, rode up to Volcano Poás. Here our luck was in, the cloud wasn’t yet covering the crater and we got a great view of the acid lake and plumes of sulphur steam.


At last we get to pose in front of an active volcano.

Eventually the clouds rolled in and the crater was lost once more in the mist. It was time for us to get going too, back for the last time through San José and towards Panama. We camped wild, after Cartago in the mountains just off the highway and the next day rode over a 3400m pass and then down into the steamy lowlands to the border with Panama.

We hadn't eaten chicken the whole time we had been in Costa Rica, but we didn’t escape from it completely. An indecisive bird crossed the road in front of me, changed its mind when it saw my bike bearing down on it, flew upwards and hit my knee, feathers flew and it flapped in the road awhile, while Georg and Arno swerved around it, before it ran back from whence it came! A memorable end to our time in Costa Rica. A country that for us, didn’t turn out as expensive as we had feared, by cooking ourselves most of the time and camping wild where possible, we spent less than U$16 a day each. A sum that included buying tyres, brake pads for the XT and insurance at the border.

Posted by Sian Mackenzie at January 27, 2003 11:45 PM GMT

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