Costa Rica border to San Jose Jan. 09 to Feb. 09 2007

Filed under: Costa Rica — Aaron and Amy at 8:58 pm on Friday, February 9, 2007

The border crossing into Costa Rica only took about 2 hours. Aaron had crossed 2 months earlier so he knew his way around. If there is only one word to describe Costa Rica, it is GREEN! We couldn’t believe how lush it was so close to the border to Nicaragua which has gotten browner during its dry season. It turns out that we entered the country in the driest part, which is the region of Guanacaste. That region is more like Nicaragua, but the further southeast you go, you get into more lush vegetation. Guanacaste gets the least amount of rain in Costa Rica. Driving along the roads with the old trees soaring so high above us made us feel like we had entered our first real jungle. We really weren’t sure where we wanted to go in Costa Rica. Due to extenuating circumstances, we didn’t have our Central American guidebook; therefore we did not have a lot of information at our fingertips. We decided to head to the area of Arenal Lake and Volcano, which is where our friends Larry and Annie were headed for a few days. Larry told us the volcano had been erupting lava for quite some time and that there were hot springs nearby. Hot springs and volcanoes sounded good to us, so we all drove together. It ended up taking about five hours from the border. We normally don’t drive at night, but we arrived in the town of Arenal at dusk and decided to keep driving to our destination of the Tobacon hot springs. The Tobacon hot springs also has a beautiful hotel further up the road. Larry and Annie hoped to splurge and stay there for a night, but it was full. When they heard the price of $250/night, they decided they were better off somewhere else. The luxury hotel was very beautiful, and there was a sign behind the desk designating it as one of the top hotels of the world. We obtained permission to camp in the parking lot across from the hot springs for two nights at no charge. Larry and Annie went into the town of Fortuna six kilometers away to find a hotel. We checked out the prices for the hot springs and found out they had a night-time cheaper package that was only $35/person (US $)! That included entrance for the evening hours from 7 – 10 p.m. Wow! How much for the whole day?! During the day (9 a.m. – 10 p.m.) it costs $45 per person just to enter the hot springs. Then there are packages where you can pay more to partake in their buffet meals. It would cost an additional $25/person to eat their buffet lunch and dinner; making it a grand total of $70/person for entrance, lunch and dinner (plus any drinks). As you can imagine, we had our first case of sticker shock in Costa Rica! Holy crap! We knew Costa Rica would be expensive, but we weren’t prepared for these prices! Compared to the rest of Mexico and Central America, Costa Rica is more expensive across the board. The thought of not going to the hot springs after driving all that way was ridiculous, so we wrote it off as an extension of my birthday celebration and went for it! We thought about coming back to the RV to eat our own food, but then figured it wasn’t that much more for what appeared to be excellent cuisine. When we first pulled into the parking lot the volcano was erupting behind us! There were people stopped in cars and people standing blocking the entrance all staring in the same direction. We figured that’s what it had to be, so pulled in and quickly got out to have a look ourselves. Looking up into the darkness above the hot springs resort, there was Volcan Arenal spewing glowing red lava into the air! There were spurts of activity catching the attention of all who passed by. One teenage girl was there with her family and was not enjoying herself. She was freaking out and did not want to be so close to the erupting volcano. We watched it for about 20 minutes and then moved inside to have dinner. We heard the volcano erupts almost every night, and it did not disappoint us upon arrival! I pointed out to Aaron that all the cars parked across the street were backed into their spots so that if necessary they could evacuate quickly and no one would have to back out of their parking spaces. There is a sign near the resort indicating that you are entering a dangerous volcanic area at your own risk. Not much suing going on here, just post a warning sign! Earlier that day we had stopped at a German bakery in Arenal and picked up some fabulous bread, so we had smoked salmon on baguettes for dinner that night! (Thanks to Mom bringing it down from Washington! Delicious!) I noticed several groups of locals walking to our parking lot from the dark jungle below. They all had towels around their neck and had not come from the paid entrance to the hot springs resort. I pointed it out to Aaron and he asked where they had come from. Sure enough, there were free hot springs separate from the resort. They pointed us in the right direction and we set out into the darkness. It is much cooler here than we are used to in southern Nicaragua, so I was a bit chilly walking to the hot springs! There was no one else around as we stepped into the warm pools of Tabaconcito (little Tabacon). The darkness of the jungle swallowed us as we slipped into the first pool. The bath water temperature made my goose bumps disappear and immediately warmed me to my core. There was a light in the far distance which created the most eerie glow I have ever seen. The light filtered through the jungle as her branches laden with rain drooped towards us. This water that originated from the depths of the earth spilled over our shoulders, delivering its warmth and healing powers on us like a massage from Mother Nature. I sat in the pools staring into the quiet of the night, wondering what animals were silently watching us from their perch. We reluctantly left the warmth of the pools and settled into bed for the night as the howler monkeys roared from the jungle. We woke abruptly at 5:00 a.m. to extremely noisy trucks moving around the parking lot and whizzing passed us on the road. Somehow we were able to fall back asleep, only to be woken again at 6:00. This time the offensive noise was much more startling as an extremely loud emergency warning siren blasted into the crisp morning air. Since we were sleeping at the base of a volcano, we both awoke with a jolt, staring at each other with shocked wide eyes. We immediately jumped up and looked out the windows thinking this emergency siren could only mean one thing; the volcano had erupted a bit much for comfort and we needed to get the heck out of there. Hearts racing, we blinked away the sleep in our eyes searching the landscape for some sign of activity indicating what our next move should be. Finally Aaron spotted a local man calmly talking on a payphone 200 feet from the RV. He appeared to ignore the siren and was certainly not making an emergency evacuation. We decided to follow his example and remain calm. We figured it must have been a test. That day a waiter said they test the emergency siren every Wednesday at 6:00 a.m. We thought the day would be too warm to enjoy hot springs, but it was refreshingly cool with clouds creating enough shade off and on throughout the day. The resort is laid out around several main swimming pools and a swim-up bar at its entrance. Radiating from the entry are winding paths that lead through dense, lush, well manicured gardens and natural looking pools and waterfalls. Quaint bridges span the streams as the water falls from one pool to the next. The water was designed to flow in such a way that you can climb up to the small waterfalls and sit on a rock and let the water crash over you. The warm water softens your muscles while the strength of the water pounds you like a shiatsu massage. We enjoyed the entire day walking through the paths discovering all the pools and waterfalls on the property. We even saw a lizard that looked amazingly like a dinosaur! We were supposed to meet Larry and Annie at the hot springs, but we didn’t see them until about mid-day. They were actually taking a tour of the site, trying to decide whether or not they were going to pay the high prices. We told them about the Tobaconcito hot springs that were free of charge, so they decided to use those pools instead. Before they left we had a snack of salmon and baguettes, then they were on their way. The food at the resort turned out to be excellent, and we enjoyed both lunch and dinner. At the end of the day we spent a total of about $200 US. While it was expensive, we had a very nice relaxing day; easing back into the RVing lifestyle. We slept well that night, falling asleep listening to the howler monkeys that serenaded us every night and morning. Once again, the following morning we woke abruptly. There was a very loud noise we both brushed off as a truck until it became increasingly louder and extremely close to the RV. We opened the blinds to see what was going on to find that the RV was completely engulfed in a thick cloud of smoke! I ran to the other side of the RV and checked that window only to have the noise and smoke get closer and closer, as if it were some kind of remote controlled device dispensing smoke. The noise decreased and seemed to move down the road. We determined it must have been some kind of machine spraying for mosquitoes. The smoke slowly dissipated revealing there was no fire anywhere near the RV. We heard there were several canopy tours in the area so we drove into the nearby town of Fortuna to see what we could find. We loved them in Nicaragua so much we wanted to do another one in lush Costa Rican cloud forests! Before reaching town we came to a hotel called Los Lagos that also advertised Las Canones canopy tour. After inquiring at the front desk we signed up for a tour that started in 15 minutes. After some discussion, we finally got permission to camp in their lush parking lot for the night. The canopy tour cost $45 per person and it included access to its hot springs all day. There was no additional charge for camping. We quickly got ready and joined the group that was already putting their safety gear on. They shuttled us up a hill on their property where they proceeded to give us a demonstration of canopy tour procedures. Some of the angles of the cables were not sufficient to get you all the way to the other end, and it was sometimes necessary to swing yourself around on the cable and pull yourself in the last part hand over fist. There were several great zip lines on the canopy tour and they had a rappelling station as well. Since he is experienced, Aaron is always frustrated when he asks if he can rappel himself and the guy on the ground continues to lower him like it is his first time. I, on the other hand, always scream like a little girl as they drop you in a somewhat controlled manner to the ground! It’s like making a sudden drop on a rollercoaster that makes your stomach jump into your throat! I think they like to hear people scream! After the canopy tour we got ready to soak in some more hot springs. Their pools weren’t as hot as the ones at Tobacon, but were pleasant enough to lounge with your drink from the swim-up bar. They had two crazy waterslides going into the pools that were super fast! By the first turn on the long slide I felt like I was already going too fast and only did it once. But Aaron loved it and continued going down head-first like the little kid that he is! The next morning we headed into town for some breakfast and to figure out where we were going next. We found a Costa Rica guidebook in a store and immediately bought it. We still needed one for Central America, but Costa Rica would due for now. We heard about a camping spot just outside the town of Fortuna and decided to check it out. We liked the area and didn’t mind staying for a few days. Camping Pura Vida is located on the Fortuna River about 1.5 miles south of Fortuna (on the road to the catarata, or waterfall). There were two tents set up when we arrived, and there was just enough room for us to pull straight forward on the gravel driveway. They had cute platforms for tents, a building with kitchen, bathrooms and a living room and were only steps from the beautiful Fortuna River. I needed to do some reorganizing that was necessary after moving back into the RV from the rental house. After I was satisfied with the changes we trekked down to the river with dogs in tow. Aaron went fly-fishing but didn’t catch anything. It was a beautiful walk through the shallow river with large trees and ferns towering above us. The dogs were in heaven running through the trees and into the river. When we returned from our river walk, some of the campers were packing up their tent. It turns out one of the tents is left up all the time in order for clients to use it, so after they left we had the place to ourselves. The site was beautiful with lots of trees, grass, beautiful gardens and pretty horses in the next lot. There are trees and a shed in the way, but if we stand out in the road behind us we can see Arenal Volcano. Most of the time the volcano is covered in clouds, but every once in a while the crater breaks through the persistent clouds to provide a stunning view of its rugged peak. The next day we took the dogs and had a good, cheap breakfast at a restaurant called Restaurante Catarata on the highway 400 meters from our campsite. It is run by a very sweet family and it would become one of our most frequented restaurants for the next two weeks! Every time we paid our bill, she kept charging us less and less for our food. After breakfast it was our mission to find an internet café that would allow the dogs inside. No one would, so we finally found a restaurant that said we could plug into their internet at one of the restaurant tables. We sat there for several hours that day completing lots of pertinent email and making phone calls on skype. Unfortunately we had already eaten breakfast, but we ordered as much coffee and snacks as we could in order to patronize their restaurant (they did not charge us for using internet). It became our second most frequented restaurant; since we were there practically every other day doing internet. At that point we ate meals there every time we went and they never charged anything for internet. We signed up for a white water river rafting trip that would take us down the Torro River about an hour east of Fortuna. The bus stopped along the way to give us a taste of sugar cane straight from the field and to observe some iguanas that were an exquisite shade of orange. The iguanas were near a restaurant that hung over the river which allowed people to feed them, no doubt to sustain the flow of tourists. As we walked across the bridge the large orange creatures began to come into view as they lounged on tree branches. They were reminiscent of dinosaurs and looked as if they had been dipped in a paint bucket. We finally made it to our river and were dressed in safety gear and given instructions on how to paddle and respond to the guide’s commands. Having attended campfire camp in the Pacific Northwest for most of my youth, I had been river rafting many times before. Aaron and I had gone on a kayak trip in Belize, but this time I wanted to do the raft, having such fond memories of it from my childhood. The guides also had two tandem inflatable kayaks and they instructed Aaron and me to get in the kayaks since we had more experience than the others. A bit disappointed, I went ahead with it anyway and we were off. The guides said we would switch later in the day giving everyone a chance to try the kayaks. The small raft had four passengers and one guide; and each kayak had one passenger and one guide. The kayaks always stayed in front of the raft, waiting to see if anyone fell out that needed rescuing. We set off down the beautiful river and gushed at the idea of what we were about to do. Aaron commented that at least the water wouldn’t be as cold as glacier fed rivers, but the first time a wall of water came over me drenching me to my core, I didn’t think the water was so warm. There’s something about a river guide that makes them want their clients to always be wet, even if they have managed to dry off. They figured they may as well get us started at the beginning of the trip! The river consisted of rapids categorized as class 3 and class 4, with class 6 being the highest. Aaron was more excited about the kayaks from the beginning, and it turns out that I really enjoyed it as well. After we had a snack of fruit, juice and cookies someone else wanted to try the kayak so I gave up my seat. I took his spot in the raft and immediately regretted it! The raft was horrible! It was a much smaller raft than I had ever been in, and in-between the adults that sat in the middle was a cooler containing the snacks. Three of the four positions in the raft had a strap to wedge your foot under in order to stay in the boat. I was in the fourth position that had no such strap. I was told to cram my foot under a seat in the raft and underneath the cooler. Not only was this horribly uncomfortable from the beginning, it posed serious issues when we were commanded to “GET DOWN!” by the guide. There were times that the guide read the condition of the rapids and redistributed our weight in the boat by having us sit in the bottom of the boat, sometimes still needing to paddle from this position. There was no room for the two of us in the middle to get down with the cooler, so there were several times that my legs were twisted and caught underneath the cooler. One time I was almost bounced out of the boat and all that saved me from flying out was the fact that my leg was twisted and crammed underneath the cooler. Thankfully the force was not strong enough to eject me, because surely if it had been my twisted leg would have become an issue. I also immediately noticed the difference of being in the raft as far as teamwork. In the kayak, my guide gave me a command and I obeyed it. In the raft you need to work together and paddle in sync. I grew up river rafting where you actually paddle together and you are not just out for yourself paddling as fast as you can. When these three people were told to paddle they gave it their all, paying no attention to their team members on the raft. There were also two men in the front of the raft who just didn’t do what they were told most of the time. I don’t know if they couldn’t hear the commands or what, but on several occasions after the guide instructed them for the third time to “Paddle forward!” and got no response, I took it upon myself to holler in their ear and get them moving. After going over several rapids in the raft, I wished I were back in my little kayak, fending for myself. At one point in the day we stopped at a part of the river that had a strong flowing current, but no rapids. We all got out of our boats and swam the rapids wearing our life jackets and safety helmets. It was so much fun, Aaron went back several times! Since we were mostly concentrating on paddling when we were told, we didn’t see a lot of wildlife. We saw several beautifully bright blue Morpho butterflies and Aaron spotted a sloth way up in a tree! I almost missed it as we floated by, it looked like a termite nest that was actually the slow-moving sloth so common in Costa Rica. We started to feel a drizzle and then a deluge of rain for the last 15 minutes of our river trip. Some complained, but we absolutely love being on a river in the rain! You are already wet, it smells so good and you couldn’t be any closer to nature! Here we were river rafting in the Costa Rican rain forest. It was a magical day. On our return trip we stopped on the side of the road because our driver had spotted something in the trees. We quickly determined we were staring at another sloth in the trees! We watched in awe as this creature hung upside down from the tree staring back at us strange people. She uncurled her body and stretched out her arms displaying she also had her baby clutched to her! While in Fortuna we spent a day searching out property that might be interesting to explore. We spoke to Gustavo at Century 21 and he lined up several properties for us to look at the following day. The first was a 9 acre lot way out in the boondocks north of Arenal Lake. The property currently has a tilapia farm on part of it, lots of trees and 400 meters of a river running along the front of it. It was absolutely beautiful up in the mountains with the clouds and mist hovering above the hills. Another piece of property was near the town of Arenal on the lake. It was advertised as a hostel. It was a huge house that was started 17 years ago by a gringo couple. The property itself is the most attractive feature; with a river actually running around two sides of the property with jungle on part of the property and the other side of the river which is protected land. The property was breathtaking, but the house was built and added onto over the last 17 years in a haphazard manner with no plan for the final layout. We didn’t feel the urge to jump on either one of the properties. Our campsite was located on the Fortuna River and on the road that lead to the Fortuna waterfall. After we had been there a week we figured it was time to check it out. We took the dogs and hiked over 2 miles to the entrance. When asked to pay $14 per person, Aaron went into his spiel about how expensive Costa Rica was compared to the rest of Central America. The young guy behind the booth said he spoke Spanish well and asked where he had learned the language. After telling him about our trip, how long we had been gone and how much longer we planned to travel, the young man gave us the national rate of $7 per person and said the dogs were no problem. Before beginning our descent we marveled at the waterfall from the observation platform. It poked its head out of the jungle and spilled 90 feet over the edge of the cliff, ferociously crashing into the pool below. We began our descent through damp, lush jungle on a well maintained trail that sometimes required lowering yourself onto rocks below. The dogs couldn’t have been happier! They ran ahead sprinting through the jungle and running back to us to see what was taking us so long. We called to them so they wouldn’t get too far ahead, but they would have nothing of the sort. They were enjoying it as much as we were! We got to the bottom and Aaron immediately got in the pools that formed at the bottom of the falls. There were lots of other people that made the trip as well, some with organized tour groups. It was hot during the 2 mile hike, but it had cooled down considerably since we had been under the shade of the canopy. The clouds rolled in and a little rain began to sprinkle. It was chilly enough that watching Aaron swim was enough for me. Khorrah didn’t even jump right in, which was a bit surprising. Aaron took both the dogs in so that they would be cool for the walk home, which would be in nothing but hot sun. Ever since the first night of our trip in Ciudad Cortez, Mexico we have been giving stuff away. We brought too much stuff and have issues with weight in the RV. We finally decided it was time to get rid of the contents of one of our large storage boxes, which contained a screen room for the RV. We purchased the screen room on EBAY and thought it would be an asset to our Latin American trip. It consists of walls that attach to the RV’s awning. It basically extends the space of the RV so that you can have living space outside when there are rain or mosquitoes. We have never used it. We set it up in Colorado to make sure we had everything we needed, and have not touched it since. We sent it home via UPS, which freed up some space to readjust and organize the RV, trying to streamline our possessions. The problem is, we are not traveling by backpack, or car or VW bus. We are traveling in a vehicle that actually has all the creature comforts we could desire, and lots of storage. It is suitable for 2 adults and 2 dogs, any smaller vehicle wouldn’t be. We started this trip listening to suggestions of items to bring that involved car parts that we believe are available in any major city we have been in. We are planning on having mechanics install these new parts to get rid of space and weight. Items we needed that were not available in Latin America were for our Onan generator, which we did not bring with us. We also brought lots of Aaron’s tools, planning on doing volunteer construction work. The planned project fell through and he has since given away and sold many of his tools. Along the lines of getting rid of stuff we don’t need and the RV being too heavy; Aaron decided to cut off a part of the storage system that he had welded onto the back of the RV. One of Aaron’s original plans for our trip was to pull his 8 x 14 foot trailer behind the RV. We would have stored the motorcycle inside along with his tools, thus freeing up our living space inside the RV. For reasons such as excessive weight, driving in tricky Latin American situations and needing to back up in those situations with a trailer, I never thought it was a good idea. Before we left the US, our friend Brian agreed with me and found the proper way to talk to Aaron about it and helped come up with a solution. Their brainstorming lead to welding a storage unit onto the back of the RV where 6 weather-proof boxes would be stored and the motorcycle would be strapped onto the top platform. This seemed to work very well during our trip, but we needed to shave off as much weight as we possibly could. After our brakes were on fire in the mountains of Mexico, we knew we had to change something, we just didn’t know what. So now in the mountains of Costa Rica, he spoke to several welders in town to make sure they could finish the job after he cut it off. After some hesitation and final discussions making sure it was the proper thing to do, he got out his tools and got to work. Soon enough he had cut off the top part of the storage box and then cut off all parts he needed to salvage. He figured the metal he removed weighed about 200 pounds, lightening our load considerably. After not having a single flat tire in over a year and a half of living in the RV (everybody please find some wood to knock on), we decided we could also get rid of one of our three spare tires that weighed about 100 pounds. Aaron got someone to help him with the welding and we were as good as new and considerably lighter. Since the platform is so much lower we now have several options for putting the bike on the back, instead of me walking backwards up the ramp steering the handlebars with straps wrapped around my hands. That worked, but this is much easier, and there is less yelling. We are happy to report that after working on the darn thing for over a year, Aaron finally got the generator fixed! Wahoo! We got it back from the last mechanics in Managua, Nicaragua, and it was running, but not well. While in Fortuna Aaron was fiddling with it making some fine tune adjustments and got it working! We high-fived and celebrated with a cocktail! One morning as we sat down to breakfast in the RV, the owner of our campsite, Jimmy, came to invite us to a gathering he described as a kind of rodeo, but that somehow involved us riding horses and it would cost $30. We wanted to clarify what the event was and figure out if it was a tourist attraction or is he going horseback riding with his buddies. Aaron came back indicating that we would rent horses from the guy across the street and go on a ride for several hours through the mountains and then there would be food, a dance and raffle afterwards. Jimmy said we would definitely be the only white people there. Our stories that involve “we were the only gringos there” seem to be some of our best experiences, so we jumped at the opportunity. As we contemplated what to wear to go horseback riding in the hot sun, we figured we better wear jeans or we would stick out like a sore thumb (even though that was already guaranteed, we just wanted to look the part as best as we could). We drove about 15 minutes to the nearby town of San Francisco and paid $10 each, which got us entrance to the event, food, soft drinks and a very potent glass of home brewed alcohol that Jimmy said was stronger than tequila. We hung around drinking beer and home brew while everyone arrived with their horses and paraded them around for all to see. Some were lavishly decorated with bells and pretty metal that jingled as they passed by. They all looked very regal and were proud to strut their stuff in front of an audience. We practiced on our horses a bit then set off on the ride, which would last several hours. We offered some of our water to the locals and they just looked at us like we were crazy. No water for them, they had their home brew. Water is for after the ride, they said! You didn’t have to tell Aaron twice! We got our bottle filled with the red home brew to drink during the ride. I had visions of chaos as we were told that everyone would start riding horses at the same time. However this was not the case since we had been drinking for several hours, I had to go and fetch our party and get everybody going since I realized the ride had begun. It was a very relaxed environment. Everyone had their bottles of home brew strapped onto the horn of the saddle and many were riding their horse with a cup in one hand. We spotted at least three different colors of home brew; green, red and orange and Aaron tried them all! We rode for hours through beautiful Costa Rican mountains, banana plantations, streams, small villages and wide open fields. About halfway we stopped for lunch which was brought by a tractor and trailer by those that weren’t riding. We had delicious food and more beer, then continued our trip. By the time we got back to the original location there was a raffle and a dance going on. Of course, our friends thought it would be so funny if Aaron and I would try dancing. After professing we had no clue what to do, they separated us and paired us up with the best dancing couple! The guy was a good sport as he pushed, pulled and spun me around the dance floor as I tried to keep up in my heavy hiking boots! Aaron enjoyed his dance partner as well, but I think we were both happy to get off the dance floor and let them continue dancing together! We came back muddy and were sore for days, but it was sooo much fun! The time finally came to leave our beautiful campsite on the river in Fortuna. We had one last breakfast at our favorite roadside restaurant. Before leaving, the granddaughter, Jennifer, had drawn a picture of a volcano with hearts coming down as lava. Underneath it said “Los quiero mucho. Vuelvan pronto!” (I like you a lot. Return soon!) The night before we had played go-fish and made-up card games with her; she is absolutely adorable. After giving more stuff we didn’t need to Jimmy, we began the beautiful drive down to the Pan American highway on our way to San Jose. We didn’t get any further than San Ramon before we lost our transmission fluid. Something similar happened in Guatemala many months before, but they never found anything actually wrong with the vehicle. After speaking to some mechanics, we finally found one that could work on the RV, but not for another 2 days. (It was Friday). At first the mechanic was saying that he doesn’t like to work on Ford because their parts are crap and they don’t hold up in the Costa Rican mountains; therefore he can’t give a guarantee on their parts. We eventually convinced the guy we had no choice about a guarantee and needed him to work on the RV because we couldn’t currently drive it. He finally realized he was our only hope and said he would do it, but not until Monday. He said we could park there at his garage, which also had his house on site. We settled into what would be our camping spot directly next to the Pan American highway for the next 6 nights. They actually took out the transmission that afternoon which was nice, so they could get the parts ordered for Monday morning. The first day we enjoyed lots of reading and writing. The following day the mechanic, Oldemar, asked if we would like to join his family on a trip to Poas Volcano. We all piled into their car (they have 4 kids) and drove into the beautiful mountains north of San Jose. We drove through several small towns checking out some souvenir shops and the largest oxcart in the world. They still use ox carts in Nicaragua and Costa Rica, but here in Costa Rica they are elaborately painted an intricate design. The volcano was covered in clouds so we didn’t drive to the top, but we had a great dinner in a restaurant nearby. On the drive down you could see all the fields of strawberries grown in the region. As always, we made the best of the situation. Although being parked at a mechanic’s garage next to the fumes of the Pan American highway was not our best campsite, we managed to make the best of it. The four kids were charming and always curious about us, the dogs and the RV. I had gone through the RV to get rid of some stuff (again) and gave it to their mom. It’s always nice to give stuff away when it is appreciated so much! In return, they gave us several thoughtful trinkets. The kids knew how to play dominoes and Aaron taught them chess as well, making the time much more enjoyable. The transmission was finally fixed at a cost of $900 (US) and we were on our way to San Jose. We filled up our propane tanks at the big yellow Panamericana Gasolinera ESP (a gas station) just outside of San Ramon. We have not seen a station that had propane available like this since Mexico, and it was certainly the nicest one by far. We were suddenly the center of attention as everyone was intrigued with us and our vehicle. There was even a gringo from Phoenix that recently moved to Costa Rica. He noticed the Arizona plates and reminisced for a bit. Several years ago, Aaron wrapped his knee around a tree while snowboarding. Consequently he has had two arthroscopic surgeries on it in Arizona. Several months into our trip he noticed he was beginning to have pain in his other knee. He has put up with the pain and inability to do several activities, but he finally decided to look into surgery here in Costa Rica. He interviewed several doctors at a private hospital in San Jose, and got an MRI for $500 (US). After reviewing the MRI results with 2 doctors, one said they could operate in a few days and he was charging $2,500 (US); the other could do it in a week and he would charge $1,200 (US). After discussing the price difference among ourselves, with both doctors and then with an unbiased doctor at the same hospital; we came to the conclusion that the surgeries were identical and one price was inflated because a lot of gringos go to that hospital. By this point we were camped in a Mall parking lot (Multiplex in Escazu) just one exit away from the hospital. We decided to wait for the cheaper surgery. We had already spent money in the mall, and told them we would continue to eat and watch movies there for the next week. The administration gave us permission to camp and we had a great spot backed over some grass with a fence around two sides of the RV. There is an RV park west of San Jose about 40 minutes, but the mall is much closer to the hospital. We spent the next week doing lots of reading, writing, watching movies at the theater, doing internet, running errands and taking the dogs to a large park. I went to the museum of Pre-Columbian gold and also to the museum of Jade, which claims to have the largest jade collection in the Americas. It was beautiful to see all the varieties of jade; but the museum had the worst lighting I have ever seen; and I know museums. Most lights were coming from the ceiling instead of within the cases, which meant that your head usually created a shadow on top of what you were trying to inspect. All in all, the jade was still impressive and it was very educational. While choosing pictures for the website, I realized that the national museum in San Jose, Costa Rica, was the first national museum I have been to on our trip! I was quite surprised to come to this realization, especially since I love museums so much. Then I remembered before we left on our trip Aaron always told people we would avoid the capital cities so we wouldn’t have to drive through them. I always professed we had to go to the capital cities because that’s where the national museums normally are! Maybe we can squeeze some of them in on our north-bound trip. The metates in Costa Rica are the most elaborately decorated I have ever seen. Normally they were used in homes to grind food like corn with a hand held rock called the mano. The first metates I saw were designed to be used in rituals. They had three legs, exquisite patterns underneath, and sometimes an animal’s head on one end. These were frequently placed in graves as offerings. Then there was a second kind of metate that was hardly recognizable as such. The designs are completely three-dimensional with elaborate forms of birds, monkeys, lizards etc. for the legs and further decoration as well. These too, were found in burials as offerings. Both kinds are a long stretch from the utilitarian metates I am used to from the Southwest United States! They were truly works of art! Another amazing find at the museum was a human skull that had teeth that had been filed into particular shapes to show the person’s high rank or status. Sometimes they also inlayed jewels or stones in the teeth, but this one just had them incised. Behind the human skull was a large anthropomorphic pot that also had its teeth filed into the same shape! It’s really cool to see them using a technique they actually use on humans on their pottery as well. One morning we got a knock on the door and it was a gringo on a Harley Davidson. His name was Jon and he has a house in the nearby town of Colon. He grilled us on our RV & motorcycle setup, indicating he was thinking of doing something similar in the states. He is well traveled and had just returned from 6 months in India. We spoke about life and the world, which lead to talk of the current conditions of the environment. He is reading the book I just finished and loved (Collapse, Jared Diamond). He suggested several books that we couldn’t find in the bookstore. A different day when we weren’t home, he ended up leaving a copy of the book on our windshield. After receiving the book and directions to his house, we took the motorcycle and paid a visit. We enjoyed talking for several more hours about Latin American life and other travels. He’s an interesting guy and gave us a lot to think about, as well as a list of books to read! Aaron had his surgery and it all went very smoothly. After one more doctor’s appointment and giving it several days to recuperate, we are finally off to the Pacific side of Costa Rica (around the area of Jaco). While we enjoyed good food, movies, museums and new friends, we are excited to leave San Jose and this parking lot behind! Looking out over San Jose, it could be any city in the United States. Within half a mile of one another I can see an Office Depot, Price Mart (membership shopping), Courtyard Marriott Hotel, Outback Steakhouse, Jaguar car dealership and yes, even a Hooters restaurant. Although we have not seen it, we feel a bit like Tom Hank’s character must have in the movie Terminal! After spending so much time in this mall we really need to spend some time in the secluded jungle and on the beach!

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