July 07, 2011 GMT
Costa Rica (North)

“Nicaragua Invades Costa Rica” the news headline screamed. The last thing I wanted to read as I was researching my next border crossing. The story however wasn’t quite as dramatic as the headline suggested. The Nicaraguan army were on maneuvers close to the border and using a Google map discovered a Costa Rican flag flying inside Nicaragua, they advanced; took down the flag and replaced it with a Nicaraguan one only to find out later that the map was wrong and they had inadvertently invaded Costa Rica and stolen their flag! Google quickly amended the map, the flag was presumably returned and I was reassured to learn that even the professionals get lost sometimes!

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Seeking The Shade At The Las Manos Border Wondering If My 'Guide' Will Return With My Documents

The research I did on the Nicaragua / Costa Rica border crossing at Las Manos on the Pan American Highway didn’t sound good. Lots of unofficial ‘helpers’ crowding around, no signs and difficulty locating the offices you need to go to. Reports of it taking four or five hours to get through were commonplace. As I slowed down approaching the border I was mobbed by the unofficial helpers or ‘guides’ as they called themselves. The road forked into two and there were no signs to indicate which road I should take to even get into the border area (It’s the left fork). As there was no one else to ask directions from apart from the ‘guides’ I made a spontaneous decision to temporarily ignore my principles and selected a guide from the sea of faces surrounding me because he asked in English.

A few signs on the office buildings and getting rid of all the unofficial touts within the so called security area would make life a lot easier. If it hadn’t been for the bad karma of going against my principles and hiring a ‘guide’ it would have been worth the $20 I paid as I was through the border in just over an hour, it definitely would have taken four or five frustrating hours if I had done it on my own. Still the idea of handing over my passport and vehicle documents to a stranger and seeing him disappear goes against the grain even if he does return with the necessary stamps a few minutes later.

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Bananas, Papaya, Mangoes, Star Fruit & Other Tropical Fruits Fall At Your Feet In San Jose Gardens

I rode on the Pan Americana Highway to San Jose and the same hostel I stayed in last year when I flew to Costa Rica from the USA in order to renew my American visa. I knew it had secure parking for the bike and I found it a nice change to arrive in a familiar place. Rather than use house numbers to identify properties, a system that I have always thought works pretty well the Costa Ricans use directions from local landmarks. My hostels official address is “250 metres west of Spoon”, Spoon being the name of a restaurant. What happens if Spoon moves or closes down? What is the Address of “Spoon”, 250 metres east of Hostel Casa Yoses? It’s all very confusing to both me and Garmin GPS.

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Public Art Abounds In San Jose

It is raining so hard that it is exciting; sitting in the dry looking out through the floor to ceiling windows in the San Jose hostel. Water is overflowing the gutters creating a sheet of running water across the road and visibility is down to 75 metres. The lightning reflects off the polished floor followed a fraction of a second later by an ear splitting clash of thunder that rattles and vibrates the windows. I’m glad I’m not riding the bike; there would be no way of being safe or remaining dry. The wet season has started but fortunately it is fairly predictable so far; raining from 2pm to 5pm almost every day and fine the rest of the time.

The BMW top box that came with the motorbike has always leaked with up to a couple of spoonfuls of water slopping around inside after a normal downpour. This has never been a major problem as I normally ride with the top box empty for storing my helmet once I stop. The Costa Rican tropical storms however were leaving at least half a pint of water in the top box each day, time for action. I removed the hinges and refitted with plenty of silicone as they looked the most likely cause of the leak but it didn’t make any difference. Not being able to stop the water leaking in I opted for the next best solution and drilled a hole in the base so that the water could run back out again!

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Road Closed For Tango In The Park

I was getting spare parts for my camping stove sent to me in San Jose so stayed longer than I would have done otherwise while waiting for the parcel to arrive. I went out on a number of day rides to volcanoes and lakes in the Central Valley area of Costa Rica, always trying to get back before the afternoon rain started. I was a bit late one day and covered the last fifteen miles in a downpour and had to get a hostel staff member out in the rain to open the locked gate for me. Water was running off my oversuit but I had managed to stay almost dry on the inside.

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Poas Volcano Bubbling Away

One trip took me to Poas Volcano National Park. A short walk leads to a mirador (view point) overlooking the crater of the active Poas Volcano at 8900 feet (2708 metres) above sea level. The park is frequently closed due to sulphuric gas emissions and geysers and lava flows are common although the last major eruption was in 1954. A longer walk back to the car park goes through lush cloud forest to Botos Lake in an extinct volcanic crater. I took an extended scenic route back to San Jose; taking highway 9 north on a rough section of road that wound through the mountains past the La Paz Waterfall Gardens. The road surface soon improved as I continued riding through stunning rain and cloud forest conservation areas and the Braulio Carrillo National Park back to San Jose.

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Lake Botos, Poas Volcano National Park

Once the camping stove parts arrived I headed to La Fortuna and Lake Arenal. The town of La Fortuna nestles below another active volcano although the best views of the lava flows are at night and from the opposite; lake side of the volcano. I attempted to ride around Lake Arenal with my map and Garmin GPS showing a mix of paved and dirt roads going all the way around but chickened out at a wide boulder strewn river crossing. Whilst on my almost circumnavigation of Lake Arenal I rode directly underneath a monkey balanced on overhead power or phone cables calmly eating a mango.

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Arenal Lake And Volcano

I have been looking at maps and studying the seasons for each country to the south of me in Central and South America trying to avoid the worst of the various wet seasons and to hopefully arrive in the extreme south of South America at the only sensible time of year, midsummer which is December / January. I hate planning that far ahead and normally don’t have any time schedule to stick to other than the duration of the visas for each country. The choices are aiming to get to Tierra del Fuego at the end of this year or the end of 2012. To get there this year would mean increasing my pace whilst getting there next year would mean slowing down my already leisurely pace. Slowing down has the drawback of being in each of the tropical countries during its wet season which I had wanted to avoid but as it is unlikely that I will be here again it seems a shame to hurry through countries and miss some of the sights. Today I favour taking my time and coping with the wet seasons but I may yet change my mind.

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I Chickened Out Of This River Crossing At Lake Arenal

Posted by ianmoor@tiscali.co.uk at July 07, 2011 12:27 AM GMT
 


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