We crossed the border into Costa Rica at Penas Blancas. Like all the other border crossings we had to get our passports stamped out of Nicaragua for $2 each and surrender the vehicle permit. On the Costa Rican side we were stamped in for free. To get the vehicle permit we needed to have insurance. Even though we already had insurance they would not accept it. We had to buy their insurance for $15 and then they gave us the vehicle permit for free. The quarantine office barely looked at Francieís paperwork and just stamped his USDA cert. It wasnít a bad border crossing and we were through in about two hours. As per usual we get stopped a few times by cops in the first few hours of been in a new country. They generally are just checking our paperwork but there are always a few chancers. We have got to the stage that even though we understand what they are saying, we just act dumb and pretend we donít understand. They finally get fed up and let us go. One cop had one of those guns for checking your speed. He obviously had it constantly set at 118 km/h and tried to tell us that was the speed we were doing. We both burst out laughing in his face and told him our van just about makes it to 80 km/h. He laughed too and let us go. Thankfully in all the times we have been pulled over by the cops, the only time we had to pay a bribe was the $20 in Mexico City.
We had decided to head to Roy and Dianeís place on the beach at Bahia Brasilito (the couple we met in Granada). We got to the village and were trying to figure out their directions when lo and behold we saw the French family parked up beside the beach. We pulled up behind them and found out that Royís place was actually up in the mountains so we all opted so stay where we were by the beach. We had great fun with the kids and they even lent us their boogie boards. It was a beautiful beach but has been taken over by mostly American developers and investors. Apparently the entire coast has been bought up by Americans so all you see is one development after another. It disappointed us a bit as it didnít feel like we were in Central America at all. We hung out there for a few days and had another chance meeting with an Irish- American guy from Chicago. We were walking on the beach with Francie when a guy stopped to ask what kind of dog he was.( We have been asked this question about 20 times a day since the beginning of the trip, weíre thinking of starting to charge for photos. Francieís photo is on hundreds of peoples cell phones in Central America already.) It turned out he was Gerry Sheehy from Rogers Park in Chicago and was a neighbor and friend to one of Jimmyís old rugby mates Pat Hulne. He was on vacation in the hotel that we were parked next to! He very kindly invited us to dinner that night in a top class restaurant that we never would have ventured into and paid for everything. We just never know sometimes where we will end up! As the workers in the hotel saw us with Gerry, we just pretended we were staying there too and availed of their internet, pool and showers for a few days. It was all going great until Francie ran into the hotel and sniffed the managerís crotch and then we were politely asked to leave.
We hadnít been able to find a propane station in Honduras or Nicaragua and our tank was really getting low. Stephan told us of a town, Belen, where he filled up and we headed there. We found it no problem but for some reason the propane would not go into the tank. We tried everything and nothing worked. The attendant sent us to another town, Liberia, 40 miles away but it turned out to be a wild goose chase. There was a propane gas dealership there but they couldnít service campervans. We drove back to Belen and got a mechanic to come to the gas station with us. He just said our fitting was wrong even though itís the exact same as Stephanís and he filled no problem.Then they sent us to the next town, Santa Cruz where there was another TropiGas dealership. It was the same as Liberia though, they were not allowed to service campervans. However, one guy working there told us to come back at 9pm that night and he would see what he could do. He couldnít do anything right then as some of the other workers would tell the boss. So off we went to kill a few hours in the town and drove back out to the station at 9pm. We were a little apprehensive in case we were been set up but the guy turned out be genuinely really nice and helpful. He tried everything he could and still our tank would not fill. We had no choice but to leave and just hope we could find some-one else to fix it. The crock pot came in very useful again in the next few days. There was literally just enough propane to keep the fridge going.
We ploughed ahead nevertheless to the heartland of Costa Rica, the cloud forest of Monteverde. The road there was brutal and recent rain had made it even worse but the Rover made it all the way to the top. Quel surprise, the French were there! They were on their way back from the forest so we chatted for a bit and we went on our way. The forest is absolutely beautiful. It straddles the Continental Divide and there are over 10,500ha. It is mainly primary cloud forest and spends much of the year shrouded in mist, creating stunted trees and abundant growth. It contains 400 species of birds, 100 species of mammals including monkeys, jaguar and puma, 2,500 species of plant and 6,000 species of insects! That afternoon we did the 2 mile ďSkywalkĒ. The trail crosses through the cloud forest canopy by walking across nine different suspension bridges ranging from 150-510 ft in length and 46-180 ft in height. It was brilliant. We basically got to experience the forest from the treetops without spoiling any of the nature around us. Francie came with us, although I am not sure the guy at the gate was supposed to allow him. He was a bit freaked out crossing some of the bridges as parts of the grids were so worn away it looked like you were walking on air. We saw some monkeys too sitting in the treetops. I think they were more surprised of Francie than he was of them. We were allowed to camp that night at the Forest Reserve which was great. It was a little spooky as we were completely covered in a mist and there were strange animal sounds coming from every direction all night.
The next morning we headed off on the Extreme Canopy Tour we had booked the day before. It is basically a system of cables that are tied to the tops of the trees and you fly down each cable hanging on by just a harness. There were about 10 other people in the group and we were all kitted out with harness, helmets and cables. We walked up to the first platform and were given a quick demonstration before we were scooted down the first zip line. Itís a little scary to be dangling from a cable on just one little wire but the adrenalin rush is deadly. The first couple of lines werenít that high but then from there on we were on the extreme zip lines. The highest one was 2,250ft and went right across a valley. Before I was pushed down this one Jimmy whispered in my ear ďImagine if the cable snaps and you fallĒ. Off I went and thatís all I could think of the whole way. We were wearing special gloves that you use to grip the cable to slow down. The guide tells you before each zip line when you need to start braking. On one of the zip lines I braked too soon and ended up stopping completely. I was left there dangling at about 1800ft with no way of moving. One of the guides had to come down the line and push me forward with his feet. At the last platform they had a 90ft rope dropped to the ground. One by one, we had to trust our equipment and just step out into the air, grab the rope and slide down to the ground. If that wasnít frightening enough the last surprise they had for us was the Tarzan swing. They clipped our harness to a rope and then you jumped off the platform, freefall for about 40ft before you go swinging out into a valley of trees.Myself and Jimmy were the last in the group. We didnít have to do it and a few people did sit it out. I was full of confidence until I got to the edge of the platform and then I completely panicked. The guides kept trying to push me off but I dug my heels in and said no way. I know I was a big chicken and I have been regretting not jumping ever since but I just panicked. Jimmy was the last and after me chickening out he had no choice. He said it was scary as hell but well worth it. We went on a few more zip lines before the tour ended. It was one of the best days out so far. The tour operators had told us beforehand that they would be taking photos and we could buy them later so we didnít bother taking that many photos. We were really disappointed after the tour to find out they had only taken two pictures and they were both crap. Some of the other guys in the group took some photos and have promised to email them but we havenít received anything yet.
After Monteverde, we drove around Laguna de Arenal to Fortuna and had planned to do a tour of the Volcano Arenal which is the most active in Central America. The drive was fabulous and reminded us a lot of Ireland with all the different shades of green. It was spilling rain and we were listening to Gerry Ryan and Joe Duffy podcasts so it felt like we were just taking a drive at home. Unfortunately when we got to Fortuna, the volcano was completely covered in clouds and fog. It would have been pointless to do a tour and they were expecting it to rain for the next few days so we decided to keep going. After driving through this section of Costa Rica we started to appreciate why so many Americans have chosen it as a retirement spot. It really is a beautiful country and if we had the money we would probably buy some land there too.
It was getting close to Christmas and because we couldnít do the volcano we had planned to just keep driving towards the border to Panama. About 40kms before San Jose we spotted a propane station and pulled in. Miraculously the tank filled no problem! We have no idea what the problem was, maybe the pressure or something. We were so delighted to have propane again we were high fiving each other and hugging, I think the gas attendant thought we were weirdoes who had never got propane before. Just then we got a text from Stephan and Lydie to say they had found great parking in San Jose. We donít usually go into cities but we thought we might as well if they had already found a place to stay. We found them eventually in a secure parking lot about 2 blocks from the city center. We were all pleasantly surprised by how nice a city it is. The downtown area was beautifully decorated for Christmas and there were police everywhere you looked so we felt completely safe. It seemed more like a big town than a city as there were no big skyscrapers. It was still pretty westernized though and had all the American chain food and clothes stores. We took advantage of the shopping mall and got some Christmas decorations and a little tree. We werenít doing Christmas presents this year so we both just bought a few things that we needed and left it at that. We had a pleasant walk around the city that night and listened to some of the buskers. There was some soccer game on between two Costa Rican teams and the whole city was watching it. Even the guys in the corner kiosks had portable televisions on. The city favorite obviously won because after the game the place went nuts running around the streets roaring and shouting and all the cars honking their horns. We were glad we made the decision to stay in San Jose; it turned out to be a lovely city. In the parking lot we stayed at Francie found a ladies brown leather boot to chew on. When we got back from our walk that night we left it outside the French vanís door. The following morning the boot was sitting on our bonnet! When the French left for a walk they left their side window open. So we reached in and popped the boot into one of the kidís beds. It seems harmless but stay tuned this boot is going to keep appearing.
We left San Jose and it took a day and a half to get to the border to Panama. Again it was a short visit through the country but was really enjoyable and is a beautiful place to go.