Costa Rica with Aaron’s mom and Nicaragua May 28 to June 22

Filed under: Costa Rica, Nicaragua — Aaron and Amy at 12:00 am on Tuesday, November 30, 1999

  Having spent cumulative of about a month working on the RV in Panama, we were ready to return to some of our favorite beaches in Costa Rica on our north bound trip.  We left David early and made it across the border in only an hour and a half.  We knew the route and were at Pinuela beach just after midday.  Aaron was desperate to spear fish but the weather just wasn’t cooperating.  When we stayed in Pinuela last time we had ideal weather for fishing and kayaking with friends as well as warm lapping waves in the small bay.  On our return trip the rainy season was bad for fishing, the waves were much larger and two friends we were hoping to visit were back in the states.  We were so fortunate to have had the experiences at this beautiful beach on our south bound trip!  At the end of May it was raining off and on and the weather was cool enough that we could sit inside the RV to read and write!  (That’s saying a lot!)  Aaron enjoyed paddling the kayak out to the rocks but the water clarity was no good.  We decided to stay several days as the bay was just as beautiful as before, and it has to be one of the best places for the dogs.  During weekdays there is no one else on the beach except for fisherman so the dogs can chase lizards all day long and we don’t have to worry about watching them.

            Upon leaving Ballena National Park (that’s where Pinuela beach is located), we followed several semi trucks that were hauling cattle.  North of Dominical the road is dirt until Quepos.  When we drove south bound (dry season) it was dusty and a washboard surface constantly shaking the RV.  Heading north (rainy season) it was full of big potholes, water and mud making the trek much more interesting in our RV!  We were all thankful (dogs included) when we pulled onto the smooth asphalt road and the RV only had its normal shakes and squeaks!  We noticed there weren’t that many crocs lounging in the Tarcoles River and were glad we stopped to see them heading south.  We pushed to get to Liberia and arrived at 5:45 with just enough light to get settled in the parking lot of the small mall.

            Our friend Adriano that we met in Portobelo has a hotel in Potrero (Northern Guanacaste region, called Bahia Esmeralda) and invited us to visit.  His girlfriend Michela was still visiting from Italy and we were excited to see them both.  After having breakfast (and stocking up on delicious bread) at the German bakery just outside Liberia, we made our way to Potrero getting gas at the last gas station in Brasilito.  We got the RV situated and they made lunch for us which we enjoyed in the hotel’s beautiful courtyard.  After lunch we walked 15 minutes to beautiful Penca beach and all went for a swim.  Khorrah seemed undaunted by the huge waves as Aaron continuously threw sticks for her to catch in the ocean.  Skylos, on the other hand, had to be drug into the ocean for a refreshing swim.  We also swam in the pool before having a great dinner at the hotel restaurant.

            Aaron and Adriano were hoping to go spear fishing but the water was still no good.  Instead we all piled into their car and drove about 45 minutes south to Avellana beach.  It was a wide white sand beach that went on and on, continuing around the corner.  We all had fun playing in the big waves trying to stay on top of the strong current beneath us.  After an expensive drink at the cute restaurant at Avellana beach we decided to have a cheaper beach side lunch in Brasilito.  The next day the guys and Michela went fishing while I took the dogs back to Penca beach.  There were lots of people enjoying the sun since it had rained for the last 10 days!  Aaron shot a huge amber jack (probably the largest fish Aaron has ever shot) and Adriano and Michela cooked the filets for lunch.  While using Adriano’s boat a part of the trailer broke.  He and Aaron worked on it for several hours one day while I took the dogs back to Penca beach which was practically deserted!

            We enjoyed our time with our Italian friends, but we needed to make our way to Nicaragua.  After exchanging emails and showing the RV to new friends at the hotel (a family from Colorado spending a year in Costa Rica) we left Potrero at about 10:30.  We had enough time for lunch at the German bakery (mmmm, German sausage!) before making an afternoon crossing into Nicaragua.  This was our first afternoon crossing of a border, but Aaron knew it well and we knew exactly where we were going in Nicaragua. 

We frequently get asked how long it would take to drive from the U.S. to Panama.  Since we took our sweet time, we don’t really know but we met a couple that drove from Baja, Mexico to Panama on a tight schedule in about two weeks.  We ran into two Venezuelans that were driving south at the Costa Rica/Nicaragua border.  They had flown to the U.S., bought a car and were driving back to Venezuela.  They had left the eastern United States 7 days prior to us meeting them at the southern Nicaraguan border!  They said they take turns driving (including throughout the night) and hadn’t stopped much to sleep.  We wanted to catch up with them to talk more about their unique trip, but we didn’t see them again.  Since they are doing nothing but driving we aren’t sure why they are doing the trip other than to say they have physically driven from the U.S. to Venezuela.  They were also shocked when we told them there was no road through the Darien Gap (southern Panama/northern Colombia) and that they might encounter some problems (to say the least) getting through.  Unless we see them on the news some day we will never know what came of their trip!

While renting the house in San Juan del Sur for three months we made lots of friends that we wanted to visit.  Our friends Jason and Dana were kind enough to offer their home as a camping spot.  They live a few kilometers outside of town high on a hill with a view of the ocean.  After meeting Jason and their friend Kurt in town we followed them to Jason’s home down a narrow dirt road.  Once we got closer Aaron had to drive the RV in reverse about 200 feet while I was on top of the RV making sure the branches didn’t get caught on the solar panels or vents; all the while not being knocked off myself!  It wasn’t scary like driving under the small stone arch in Costa Rica, but I felt like a monkey clambering around on top of the RV with the branches!  We arrived at 4:00, visited with them, their 16-month old son Jaden and their friend Kurt who was visiting from Colorado.  We all went to dinner at one of our favorite restaurants in town, O’ Solo Mio.

            In addition to seeing other friends we spent the week hanging out at the house spending time in the pool and doing internet.  Jason and Dana are building a yoga community called Nica Yoga where there will be homes as well as a yoga resort.  Jason gave us a tour of the beautiful property in the hills and the houses under construction.  We have been gone from San Juan del Sur for five and a half months and we are surprised at how much has changed!  Several of the beach side bars are being remodeled with second story palapas (thatched roof structures), new bars are being constructed, new internet cafes have sprung up, the four–story building near the beach that was under major construction is complete and there is a life guard tower on the beach.  We drove the motorcycle up to our friend April’s hotel and restaurant (El Jardin) which is still partially under construction but she wasn’t there.  We poked our nose around as we called for her and checked out the progress at her hotel.  We drove to our friend Ken’s house (a neighbor when we were in the rental house) but he was in the states.  Just below the house we were renting we saw the house that had been under major construction and we couldn’t believe it!  My mom and I walked through the house last November and I never could have imagined how beautiful it was going to be!  It is a huge home with a large deck overlooking Nacascola bay with a pool and swim up palapa bar.  The exterior looks exquisite and I can imagine the interior is the same.

            We all packed everything up and spent an afternoon at Maderas beach.  Jaden had an awesome time playing in the waves.  Jason took him out in the ocean gliding through the water and lifting him up over the big waves.  When Aaron took Skylos in the water Jaden was thrilled to have his little buddy in the ocean with him!  Our friends Larry & Annie were there surfing as well.

            One Sunday we rented a boat for a half day to take us out snorkeling and spear fishing.  We went out with Jason, Dana, Jaden, Kurt and our friends Larry and Annie.  The snorkeling wasn’t any good but Aaron kept bringing in the fish!  He got snapper, pompano and several gallo (rooster fish, named because of the fin on its back being similar to a rooster’s).  Aaron taught the guys how to spear fish which they were all eager to experience.  Kurt was able to shoot a pompano as well.  Unfortunately 16-month old Jaden wasn’t enjoying the boat trip that day, so we decided to take him and Dana back to San Juan del Sur.  Aaron wanted to continue fishing so he stayed there while we took them back.  There wasn’t any room for our boat to pull up directly next to the cement dock so we pulled up next to another boat that was tied up.  Jason gathered some of Jaden’s belongings and went across the boat to climb up the cement stairs.  All of a sudden Jason fell down several stairs and into the water in the small space between the boat and the wall.  As soon as I saw him go down in the water I leapt across the boat to be of whatever assistance was possible.  I had no idea how severe the fall was nor if he was capable of getting up on his own.  Everything happened so quickly; I leapt across the boat onto the stairs and very quickly understood the reason why he fell.  After getting to the stairs I took one step down towards Jason and slipped on the algae covered cement stairs.  I had no idea the stairs are sometimes underwater and covered in algae and barnacles.  As I fell I smacked my head on the stairs and slid all the way down.  After we gathered ourselves I felt quite silly for being the second one to fall while attempting to help Jason.  He went to the clinic and they cleaned his wounds (he had scrapes all over his back, side, legs and feet. No stitches necessary.)  We left Jason, Dana and Jaden in San Juan and went back for Aaron.  Unfortunately he lost his spear shortly after we left and he had been swimming in the water waiting for us to return.  The guys spear fished some more and we trolled on the way back to the bay.  On the way in we saw several turtles at the surface and a sailfish jumping! 

            Jason’s friend Kurt had a flight out of Managua back to the states and Aaron wanted to go into the city to look for a motor for his kayak.  It was also easier for Aaron to drive since Jason’s feet were still bandaged from the fall.  They spent the night in Managua since Kurt’s flight was early in the morning.  Aaron was able to find a small 2 horse power Yamaha motor.  He enjoys paddling the kayak but it is sometimes restrictive for fishing.  He needs to fish where there are rocks (because that’s where the fish are and he needs to anchor the boat) which are frequently several miles off shore.  The motor will allow him to get to his destination and still have the energy to spear fish!  He created a mount so that the lightweight Yamaha motor (22 pounds) hangs off to one side.  One day at Jason and Dana’s house I heard a loud noise and laughter coming from the pool area.  Sure enough Aaron had the kayak in the pool to test his new toy!  Jason and Jaden were on the kayak as well with barely enough room to go from one end to the next or to turn around!  All the boys loved it!

            We spent our fourth wedding anniversary in San Juan and decided to go to our friend April’s restaurant (El Jardin) up near our old rental house.  We had a great dinner and were able to catch up with April, her son Brandon and her mom Valerie.  The next morning Jason and Aaron went spear fishing extremely early in the morning.  Since Jason fell down the stairs during our boat trip he didn’t get to try spear fishing and really wanted to while Aaron was there.  I had everything else in the RV packed and as soon as they got back we said our goodbyes and were off to the border. 

            Oddly enough we were headed south back to Costa Rica!  Our friend’s hotel in Potrero was perfect for Aaron’s mother to visit and she was able to make the arrangements last minute.  Cynthia really wanted to visit us in Costa Rica and do some of the adventurous activities that the beautiful country has to offer.  Due to bad timing we were crossing the border at noon and expected some lunch-time delays.  Aaron got to the Costa Rican immigration office and was turned away saying the system was down and he needed to return in three hours!  We had a very tight schedule crossing the border, driving the RV to Potrero, getting a rental car, driving back to Liberia and picking up Cynthia that night at the airport.  We had a little extra time to spare for Latin American delays but not three hours!  Aaron asked if there was anything that could be done and explained that we had crossed the border only a week before.  The man looked into his computer and found our information from the prior week.  He processed our paperwork and sent us on our way in less than an hour for the whole border!  He was able to access old information in the computer but wasn’t able to input anything new.  Fortunately for us we didn’t have to wait with the rest of the sorry souls waiting for the computer system to come alive!

            Cynthia’s plane was late coming into Liberia so we had plenty of time.  We made the 1.5 hour drive back to Potrero where we had a late dinner.  The next day we still had the rental car so we drove to Conchal beach near the town of Brasilito.  The beautiful white beach is made of small broken shells, which is how it got its name (concha means shell).  Aaron took Cynthia out snorkeling but she wasn’t able to see much.  I went out around the rocks near the beach and saw several different kinds of puffer fish, small reef fish and a trumpet fish.  We had lunch in Brasilito with great pina coladas!  The next day we walked 15 minutes to Playa Penca and played in the ocean before returning to the beautiful hotel pool.  That night we took our friend Adriano out to a ceviche dinner on the beach.  It was an interesting dinner as Cynthia doesn’t speak Spanish or Italian and Adriano doesn’t speak English!  We said our goodbyes to all our friends at the hotel and made our way towards Fortuna and Lake Arenal.  We found a hotel for Cynthia where we could park the RV and reserved a river rafting trip from the same place we used before, Wave Expeditions.  They gave us a discount as return customers and scheduled us for the Torro River. 

            We got up early the next morning to meet the bus for the 45 minute drive to the river.  Cynthia had done a river rafting trip several times before and was really looking forward to this one in Costa Rica!  We stopped to see the orange iguanas and taste some sugar cane before getting in the river.  Our last trip Aaron and I preferred the blow up kayaks versus the raft.  We all wanted to be in the raft together at some point so we started in the raft with Cynthia.  I think she realized pretty quickly that they were larger rapids than she had been in before (these were mostly class 3 and 4) but was loving it!  We hit some great rapids and Cynthia was happy that she never fell out!  Before we stopped for our fruit snack they encouraged us to get out and float down a calm part of the river.  After Aaron and I went Cynthia followed.  Unfortunately it was much rougher than last time!  When we did it before we just floated on top of calm water.  This time the water was fast and rough, pulled us under and sent us flying towards the rock wall!  We all survived but it wasn’t Cynthia’s favorite part.  After our snack Aaron and I took the kayaks.  It took a couple rapids for me to get reacquainted with the kayak (you are kept in by stretching out your legs and cramming your feet into the soft side of the kayak).  After nearly falling out several times I got it down and was ripping through the rapids with walls of water crashing over me; each time shouting out “Wahoo!” followed by my guide laughing.  The end of the trip was coming near when the rain started to drizzle and then a downpour!  The thunder shook the earth and the lighting flashed for the last 10 minutes of our trip.  We have had rain on all our river trips in Central America and I love it!  (Once in Belize and both times in Costa Rica.)  It is such a perfect ending to a marvelous trip through Mother Nature.

            Late that afternoon Aaron and I were in front of the hotel with the dogs when we saw a small portion of red lava glowing on top of the volcano!  The last time we were in Fortuna we only saw Arenal Volcano erupting once, so we were excited that Cynthia might be able to see it as well.  We ran to get her and took a taxi to a restaurant that we thought would have a good view of the erupting lava, but it didn’t.  Once it got dark we did continue to see small flashes of molten lava and red glows surrounding the volcanic cone like a halo.  Unfortunately it was nothing like the display she put on for us in January.

            We ran some errands the following morning and then spent the rest of the day at the Tabacon hot springs.  These are the same hot springs that we visited in January for our first day in Costa Rica.  They were expensive but really gorgeous and we wanted to share the experience with Cynthia.  She also heard rave reviews from other people and decided she wanted to go.  Our first day in Fortuna we checked on the prices at Tabacon to find that they had increased their prices!  Yikes!  They were expensive before!  It now cost an extra $10 per person for an all day entrance fee including two buffet meals (total = $85 per person).  We checked out the Baldi hot springs which is another resort closer to Fortuna, but it just doesn’t compare to Tabacon.  Tabacon was the first hot spring resort in the area and they did it right.  Tabacon is in a natural setting overflowing with lush vegetation on the slopes of Arenal Volcano.  The springs are guided through the resort flowing over waterfalls created by real rocks, and the natural pools have a rock and sand bottom making it seem like you are really in the jungle.  Baldi hot springs don’t have nearly as much vegetation and their springs flow through cement canals and over cement waterfalls made to look like boulders.  It was an easy decision to make after Cynthia had come all the way to Costa Rica!  Cynthia decided she wanted to pay for the day for our Christmas and birthday presents!  The day was memorable and we will all cherish the memories. 

            We started by walking around the property giving Cynthia a tour of the different pools and waterfalls.  It was the perfect opportunity to take a quick dip in some pools and take photos.  We settled into our chairs down by the main pools, had some drinks at the beautiful palapa swim-up bar and read for a while.  We had sandwiches in the RV (opting out of the buffet lunch saving $45) and reentered the resort.  I took a walk by myself and stumbled upon a section of the springs I had not seen before.  I found a place to sit in a small waterfall and enjoyed the solitude while I soaked in the volcanic heated waters.  I could see the highest pool and saw that large groups of people were showing up in masses so I appreciated my little piece of paradise even more.  Several people came and went looking for a private pool.  They saw me and left!  I was lying in the stream with the hot water rolling over my shoulders and legs and thought to myself, “Now I just need it to . . . “.  I kid you not, before I could finish my sentence it started to rain!  It started as a light drizzle and then it really started to pour.  As I lay in the hot stream the cool rain was beating down upon me.  As the rain hit the hot springs, thick steam began to form and hover above the water and move upwards into the trees.  I put my sunglasses on so the raindrops wouldn’t hurt as much on my eyes and I just lay there.  The ground shook and lightning flashed across the sky.  It was a pretty theatrical performance!  I lay there thinking about Cynthia and Aaron wondering if they were in a hot spring enjoying the rain as much as I was.  I have always enjoyed the rain and previously mentioned how much I enjoyed it on the river trips; but this experience tops them all!  Leaves, twigs and small branches were starting to land on me as the rain flooded the springs.  I couldn’t believe it but soon the water wasn’t very hot because the rain had cooled it down.  Eventually Cynthia and Aaron found me and we went back to the main hot spring pool.  They don’t circulate the water in that pool so it was still warm.  Everyone that hadn’t found shelter in the restaurant was either swimming in this pool or hanging out at the swim-up bar.  Since we had a small lunch we really enjoyed our buffet dinner.  Afterwards we went up to the hottest pool before calling it a night.  That night we all camped in the RV in the maintenance parking lot with the howler monkeys and rain serenading us.  Our skin was soft and we slept very well.

            The next morning we had a reservation for a zip line tour at 11:00.  Since we had time Aaron made apple pancakes in the RV before we left.  Cynthia really wanted to do a zip line (or canopy tour) and wasn’t able to do it in Nicaragua.  We wanted to do the Sky Tram which consisted of taking an open air gondola up the mountain and zip lining down.  (You are hooked onto a very sturdy cable and fly from one hilltop to the next, overflowing with adrenaline, usually screaming).  We heard it has the longest zip line in Costa Rica (maybe even Central America).  There seem to be different prices at different tour companies so we went with the river raft company, Wave Expeditions.  We paid $60 per person and the tour lasted about 2 hours.  Cynthia got more and more nervous as the time drew near to take the first plunge, but she quickly overcame her fears and realized how much fun it is!  Every single zip line that we have been on is different in a variety of ways.  This zip line definitely had the longest sections of cable and had some of the best views (Arenal Volcano and Lake Arenal).  It was a lot of fun and we are really glad Cynthia did it with us.  On the steep road to the Sky Tram we crossed a small bridge.  When we left the Sky Tram heading for Liberia, the bridge was closed for construction.  The only other alternative was crossing the river in the RV.  By now we have done this many times.  Aaron spoke to the construction guys and in the meantime a Tropigas propane truck quickly drove across the river.  I was out in the river seeing how deep it was when the truck passed.  We let a small car pass before making it across no problem and went on our way to Liberia!  We camped in the parking lot of the small Liberia Airport so that Cynthia would be there for her 7:20 a.m. flight.  Aaron made tuna melt sandwiches in the RV, Cynthia packed her suitcase and we packed a bag of stuff for her to take back for us. 

            We left Costa Rica for the last time and seamlessly crossed into Nicaragua.  Aaron met three gringos that had been traveling by rental car in Costa Rica and were meeting a friend in Nicaragua.  We took them as far as Nandaime, had lunch together and then headed to Granada.

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