Archive for the ‘Costa Rica’ Category

Boquete, Panama – Panamanian departments, a classic example of inefficiency

Mittwoch, September 21st, 2011

The border-crossing Paso Canoas at the Inter-Americana how the Pan Am is often called here is the most important one into Panama. Again the Costa Rican side is discretely signposted. The lady at the Migración is very friendly and even practises her English at us. In contrast to this lady we are just unreasonable for the Aduana officer. It’s not so much personal, it is the presence of any client that forces him to a different act than to meditate in front of his black computer monitor. That’s not designated in his daily routine. Obviously the poor man can’t even talk. He gives his orders by nodding, a gesture is nearly more than he can spare. Now he even has to get up to have a look at the evidence. But Mr Cool doesn’t have himself under complete control. For a short moment his face fell into astonishment as soon as he detects Arminius. Official again he silently and reproachfully taps on a spot at the import certification. Letter confusion happened with our license plate number. Later we’ll realize that the VIN number wasn’t correct as well, but fortunately he doesn’t check it. We should have paid more attention at entry, this can cause problems. Unmoved I shrug my shoulders: “That must be a mistake”, I say in a terse way. Eventually he signs the papers and we may leave.

Now Panama: Some officers direct the arriving vehicles where to park. Two claim we have to go to Aduana first, then to Migración, the other one the opposite. We follow the majority. The Aduana officer ignores us in the beginning and sends us to insurance office first. We have to buy a third-party insurance, 15 $ for 30 days. Back to the customs we wait again to get to know eventually that we have to get the insurance papers stamped in another office. The responsible officer takes her lunch rest and shall be back at one o’clock. This would be in half an hour. After one and a quarter of an hour an army of travellers that’s stressed out awaits the dearly smiling queen who finishes her extended lunch rest in an excellent mood. In less than two seconds she manages to stamp the papers. That’s all. I can’t believe it. That’s why I waited so long? The Panamanian customs is a classic example of Central American inefficiency.

Back to the glass wall in front of the counter we have to wait more. At a certain point the officer can’t delay our papers any more and finishes them with great difficulties reading the German licences. Another officer has a short look into our camper’s compartment, but the 60 cans German beer from Costa Rica is of no interest. Migración is fast as usual: Fill out a form, smile into the camera, get the passport stamped, ready. Last step is vehicle disinfection for 6 $.

Palmar, Costa Rica – Panama is calling

Dienstag, September 20th, 2011

After being hosted by Aelin, the Peruvian consul in Costa Rica, and her husband we visited the French family of Emmanuelle, her husband Dominique and their four kids. We would like to thank them all for their great hospitality and entertainment.

The Pan Americana gets worse closer to the Panamanian border. Partially one lane or sometimes the whole road is broken off, fallen into Rio General deep below. Our last stop is Palmar, 100 km in front of the border, where we ask in the hotel and restaurant Quebrada Grande for an overnight option. Again, we are warmly welcomed, and we might even choose to park in the parking lot or on a meadow. Also this last night in Costa Rica was complimentary; we didn’t spend any dollar for camping in this country. We may even use their Wi-Fi, but of course we order a dinner as a courtesy. Recommended: Quebrada Grande, N 08°57’53.0’’ W 83°26’31.3’’.

Volcán Irazú, Costa Rica – The vanished acid lake

Freitag, September 16th, 2011

Irazú volcano lost much of its attractiveness during the last years. We admit it disappointed us a bit, compared to our last visit many years ago. It was famous for its large, deep and bilious green crater lake. The eerie effect of the horrid colour was intensified by the clouds of steam stinking like sulphur that made us believe to stand in front of hell’s gate. Today the acidic lake disappeared but a puddle, nearly not to be spotted from the view point. The stretch of water was completely dried out for a while but refilled a bit. A possible explanation for this phenomenon is the increased activity of the twin volcano Turrialba.

Irazú is with 3.432 m Costa Rica’s highest volcano. On clear days (quite rare) Pacific and Atlantic can be seen from here. Clouds move in very early, sometimes 9 a.m., but the national park only opens at eight. The park road nearly touches the edge of the crater. The loop walk to the view point and back over a cold lava ash field takes around 30 min. Another road leads to the highest point of the mountain. Entrance fee is 10 $, camping is not allowed. It is chilly and windy up here, appropriate clothes are recommended. Right in front of the pay station a small road branches off to the right. Follow for about 200 m / yards, with good weather there is a good view to volcano Turrialba.

Volcán Poás, Costa Rica – Huge crater in action

Donnerstag, September 15th, 2011

67 volcanoes with 112 craters are situated in tiny Costa Rica, among them seven active ones. It suggests itself to visit some of them, and the more they bubble, smoke, or spit the better it is. Volcán Poás is one of the active ones. It is easily accessible and therefore the country’s most visited volcanoes. At 8 a.m. we are waiting in front of the entrance gate to open since at around 10 a.m. clouds move in and obstruct the view, especially in rainy season. A loop trail with 3.5 km / 2 mi length leads from the visitor centre at 2250 m elevation to the crater at 2708 m and down again, to the main crater, through magic forest to the lagoon of a side crater, and back through cloud forest.

Poás’ main crater with its 1.5 km diameter and 300 m depth is regarded as the earth’s second largest crater. In the middle of the imposing hole with barren black, red, beige and brown walls is the 40° C / 110° F hot crater lake that has an unhealthy glaucous colour. From some fumaroles on one side violent snow-white sulphur-clouds arise, which the wind fortunately blows away from us. Poás is weird and wonderful. Laguna Botos in the side crater is shallow, cool and is fed only by rainwater. Its emerald green water appeals much more to me. The trails are paved or gravelled and easy to walk. With stops for taking photos and visit of the volcano museum in the visitor centre two hours are reasonable. Entrance fee for everything is 10 US$ plus parking fee (depending on vehicle size, Unimog 2500 Colón).

Next volcano to visit tomorrow is Irazú where we find another kind restaurant owner who let us park there. But Nochbuena in 2900 m / nearly 9000 ft elevation is not only a restaurant, they have hiking trails and an incredibly well-done museum as well. It is absolutely worth the 4 $ / 2000 CRC pp. The exhibition about volcanoes in general and especially the Irazú is created with love and expert knowledge. The 10 min video (Spanish with English or German subtitles) shows spectacular shootings of Irazu’s eruptions. In 1963 Irazú intensely spit ashes for two years, killed the livestock, destroyed the agriculture and brought the country to a standstill. But Costa Rica’s today’s fertility origins in those eruptions. Momentarily Irazú remains quiet.

Zarcero + Sarchí, Costa Rica – The blooming broomstick

Mittwoch, September 14th, 2011

Costa Rica is a land of abundant nature that was recognized and protected in early days. Soil is rich, agriculture prospers, and coffee, banana, and all kinds of fruits and vegetables grow. The Ticos claim that if one throws a broomstick away it’ll start blooming after few days. Garden artist Evangelisto Blanco in Zarcero uses this ample nature for his special kind of art. In the 1960s he started to prune bushes and hedges on the Plaza Central in front of the church and to trim them into many different shapes like arches, dancing couples, animals, faces, motorcycle drivers, helicopters and many more. The small town became world-famous.

Not far away is Sarchí, Costa Rica’s craftwork centre with a confectioner-style church. In front of it the world’s largest oxcart was erected some years ago, listed in The Guinness Book of Records since 2002. Like its smaller examples it is painted and decorated with colourful ornaments. Today one can buy oxcarts as souvenirs in all different sizes.

For tomorrow we plan to visit volcano Poás. Camping is not allowed in the national park, but we find a restaurant high up on the mountain that’s called Tipico de Montaña. The friendly owner allows us to camp on his parking lot with a splendid view over the capital San José and the other cities in the valley, attractive especially when lightened at night. For dinner we get a typical Casado, consisting of rice, beans, meat or fish or chicken, salad, vegetables and usually fried plantains.


Rio Celeste, Costa Rica – Azure in the jungle

Dienstag, September 13th, 2011

Jungle rivers have to be muddy-brown, opaque, and dangerous home of crocodiles, parasitic unicellular organisms and other suspicious creatures. That’s why Rio Celeste appears completely abstruse and inappropriately coloured in the middle of the rainforest. The colour of the river is a slightly milky fabric softener-blue as if a baby bath towel got ready to swim. We never saw a river colour like this, which is so special that it seems completely incomprehensible that we didn’t find this private park in any travel guide or map – it was a tip of baker Tom.

A nearly four kilometres long rocky and muddy jungle path (to be walked back as well) leads to the most interesting spots: a waterfall that pounces into an also blue natural swimming pool; a hot spring where one can cool down immediately after in the refreshing river water; a small lake that is of such shrieking turquoise that it appears unreal and where swimming is not recommended due to high mineral concentration; and finally the so-called teñideros where the river changes its colour suddenly as if it were aligned using a ruler. The water is initially clear and flows over brownish rocks where it must take up so many minerals that it all of a sudden gets this fabric softener-azure.

Estimate at least for hours for this hike, better longer to enjoy an extended jungle bath. The swampy trail requests for sturdy hiking boots (sometimes even rubber boots) that should be at least ankle-high if only because of the poisonous snakes that busily cross the path now and then. Huge butterflies and tiny hummingbirds fly around. The private park Rio Celeste with its hiking trails can only be accessed from hotels and lodges. The hotel Catarata Rio Celeste offers public entrance with big parking lot, information, and guide if requested, for the usual 10 $ entrance fee. You reach the park from the road at Katira north of Guatuso via a 12 km long rocky trail where you climb from 120 to pleasant 650 m elevation. The manager Don Pedro allows us to camp here for free: N 10°42’11.5’’ W 84°58’39.0’’.

Caño Negro, Costa Rica – About monkeys, sloths, and caimans

Montag, September 12th, 2011

The National Park Caño Negro can only be accessed by boat. So we are playing tourist today and booked an excursion with microbus, boat, and informed tour guide. River Rio Frio passes through the nature preserve and is enclosed by dense jungle on both sides. The river banks are an ideal habitat for herons, cormorants, and Anhingas or snakebirds, how they are called as well. They keep their whole body underwater while swimming, only the long and bent neck and head stick out like a snake.

Bats and reptiles are numerous: Up to three metres long caimans sunbathe on tree-trunks, round carapaces of freshwater turtles poke out of the water; basilisks, a kind of iguana that can run on their hind legs over the water surface like Jesus thanks to air cushions under their feet, wait on branches jutting out of the water for fruits to fall from the trees. Basiliscus lizards can dive if they think that’s safer than running. The green iguana on the banks are already too big to have a lot of predators and usually don’t flee unless they are young. In the treetops spider and howling monkeys romp about. The slowest or non-moving tree residents are sloths and accordingly difficult to determine. A tarantula fell into the water and tries to rescue itself walking over the river.

The excursion to Caño Negro cost 55 US$ incl. transport, entrance fee, snack, lunch, drinks, and tour guide. That’s a standard price in the area of Fortuna. We were very happy with the organizer Canoa Aventura. There is another option to go to Los Chiles on your own and try to rent a boat. From there you’d also ride on the Rio Frio, but you won’t reach the national park. The fuel costs together with the likelihood to pay the boat alone due to a lack of other interested parties would make the individual trip more expensive.

Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica – German beer

Samstag, September 10th, 2011

A German bakery attracts us magically. We have discovered it yesterday, obviously signposted for miles. Tom’s Pan offers many different German sausages, stew, other famous dishes, Wi-Fi and more. We can buy bread, delicatessen, and souvenirs. But form your own opinion about prices, size of portions, quality and freshness of the meals. Then Tom, baker and confectioner from Germany who saw many travellers passing by, discovers and invites us to his home. There more German beer is available and precious information what we should see in Costa Rica and what we might want to skip.

Arenal volcano, the reason we came here, on the list of the earth’s most active volcanoes in the fourth instance, doesn’t erupt anymore – since nine months. It was famous for spitting glowing lava every few minutes. We can skip the expensive night walk, because the spectacle was especially impressive at dark; just exceeded by the earthquake-like tremor, which precedes every eruption, and the hissing spew that accompanied it. Years ago we were granted to experience this imposing occurrence, but this was unfortunately before introduction of digital photography.

Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica – Pure life

Freitag, September 9th, 2011

The emigration from Nicaragua at border crossing-point Peña Blanca is a bit long-drawn-out, but done in half an hour. First we have to pay 1 $ pp special charge for whatever (we get a receipt) at a pay station at the entrance, and another 2 $ for the emigration stamp. Behind the building where we park, the Aduana man roams about and checks that the exported vehicle corresponds to the papers. This has to be confirmed by the police. The officers roam around; we have to somehow get hold of them. Leaving Nico-territory passports are checked again and the import paper withheld.

The so civilized Costa Rica has the – until now – worst organized border crossing with completely missing signposting and not selected courtesy. There is a lot of running a round, but we make it in 90 minutes. We pass the disinfection sluice gate (5 $) and as a result miss the insurance agency which we wouldn’t have identified anyhow due to missing signs. The customs officer in his cottage sends us back on foot. It is a bit confusing since he mixes left and right (a Central American disease). Beside the office of the nice insurance agent (14 $ for three months) we get the copies requested by the customs officer. Just back the man sends us to Migracion to get the immigration stamps and back to the copier since he also needs a copy of the stamp (apparently only of the vehicle owner). We use our own copier this time, that’s faster.

Then we have to fill a form where all drivers have to be mentioned. For the first time a customs officer enters our camper cabin, but not for long. Do we have a laptop? Sure. No refrigerator? Oh yes, but the content isn’t interesting. What is behind the door? The bathroom, but he doesn’t want to see it. The Aduana building is a bit remote to the right. Here it emerges that the second driver has to produce a passport and stamp copy as well, but there is a copy station right on the opposite side. The temporary import paper is handed over to us and a small handwritten piece of paper. Don’t throw it away, it will be collected when exiting the border area where passports and importation certificate are checked again. This officer is of the friendlier kind, he greets us with the country’s motto „Costa Rica – pura vida“, pure life. The complete procedure was complimentary.

Road conditions of the Pan Americana improved significantly since our last visit about 15 years ago. The attractions are a bit remote, so that we quickly retreat to also acceptable side roads. In Nuevo Arenal at Lake Arenal there is a recreational area that’s administered by the town council where pick-nicking, swimming, fishing and camping is without any costs. The gate is locked between 6 pm and 6 am, then the site is guarded. View to lake and mountains are dreamlike, although Arenal volcano is not visible from here (N 10°32’13.7’’ W 84°53’36.6’’).