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Published: March 17th 2019
Driving up above the clouds
We were sad to leave Golfito. We really enjoyed our time there. We had a beautiful and comfortable accommodation with a million dollar view, lovely meals, quiet and extra sleep! We had breakfast the day we left for the second time at a nice spot on the Main Street called cafe Mercadito; run by an American woman who had lived in Costa Rica for about 10 years, 8 in Golfito. She had a black 3 legged dog that was the sweetest thing. They made good breakfast and good coffee. Top priorities for a long travel day.
We left Golfito a little later than ideal. We made a stop at a brewery in a small beach side town called Dominical. The Fuego brewery was excellent. Housed in a very nicely and well constructed building (rare in Costa Rica), we had a couple beers each - all were very tasty. We were a bit rushed to finish and get back on the road knowing we still had at least a 3 hour drive ahead. We really had no idea what to expect with the drive. It turned out that we drove up high into the mountains and over into the valleys below.
When we left Dominical, BB (our car) was reading around 36 degrees Celsius. At the top of the mountain pass BB read only 10 degrees Celsius. Brrrr. We drove through the clouds and it was basically raining. Now a mountain pass in Costa Rica is nothing to under estimate. The roads were narrow, parts literally crumbling away, no guardrails and no passing lanes. It was incredibly windy and then you throw in the rain and cloud which was so thick at times we could barely see two car lengths in front of us. It was a slow and stressful drive. Made more difficult from the fact that Dave and I got into a pretty good argument shortly after leaving Dominical. We don’t fight often and when we do it’s challenging and emotional - as arguments always are I suppose. It didn’t help with the tumultuous drive though.
When we crested the peak we switched and I took over driving. Dave was getting so tired so he kept putting the windows down and then I was freezing because I was still dressed for 36 degrees! The drive down was a lot bumpier. I don’t know why; the road was in
You know you’re in the city when there’s a Walmart and a MacDonalds on one block.
worse condition. You just never know what to expect on the roads here. It’s a little funny too because as a passenger it is far more terrifying. When you are in the drivers seat it feels like you are driving slow and cautious but in the passenger seat it feels like the car is half out of control already, passing far too close to the non-existent shoulder or an oncoming vehicle or pedestrian and the single lane bridges and narrow areas on the road come out of nowhere. But i will drive these roadways before having to tackle the city driving any day! I hate driving in the city traffic in Costa Rica. Of course as we finally came down from the mountain pass it was just turning dark and it was rush hour as we entered the city of Cartago. And of course the main highway runs right through the middle of the city. During rush hour. Did I mention it was rush hour? Honking horns, motorcycles criss crossing between cars and lanes like they own the roads. Road signs you can’t read or see. Urgh.... it stresses me out to the extreme. But we did make it through
And when you least expect it... a beautiful colourful church can pop up out of nowhere! Too bad we didn’t have time to stop!
Cartago without any injuries to ourselves or BB. It wasn’t too much further until we reached the valley of Orosi where we spent the next 2 nights. We checked into our booking.com accommodation: Montaña Linda guesthouse. A Canadian woman and her Dutch husband run both a hostel and the guesthouse in Orosi. We struggled to find accommodation here again due to high season. The place we wanted to stay was booked up before we even left Canada. But this place is pretty decent. Unfortunately the walls are made of wood with no insulation so you can hear everything through them. It’s no Casita Sol that’s for sure. Although the view over the town of Orosi is quite stunning in its own! Our sleep here wasn't exactly peaceful. With the thin walls we were easily woken by all the street noise in Orosi: tom cats fights, dirtbikes driving, horns honking and roosters crowing... at all hours of the night. Who made up this myth that roosters crow in the morning? 11pm, 12am, 3am, 4am, 5am, 5:05am, 5:10am... you get the point. Ear plugs helped a lot the second night. But the bed was less than desirable and we both woke up
with a back ache.
We may not have loved our accommodation as much as some, but the Orosi Valley was another things altogether. It is a tidy little area, rolling hill after rolling hill, green trees and sugar care crowing everywhere, bright flowers popping out in between, blue skies and stunning vistas overlooking a valley and town on every curve. We really loved this part of the Central Valley - the only part we really had time to explore. It was raining when we arrived and apparently it was quite cool even for the Central Valley - which brags about their consistently balmy weather. We had nothing but sun after arriving though with temperatures about 25-26 during the day and cooling off at night. The valley is much greener and lusher than other parts of the country. The roads were windy and narrow with no room or possibilities for passing. That's great until you get stuck behind any size truck big or excessively large or a tractor - there were plenty around. This is the main road, the highway, at 60km/hr at best. 30km/hr when behind any vehicle larger than an SUV and there were far too many.
Montaña Linda guesthouse
The accommodation is built out of wood - no insulation... in other words, no sound proofing! And a flock of roosters lived in the backyard.
On our first day in Orosi we woke up early (thanks to the 5-10 roosters who made their way through the guesthouse gate to crow non-stop after 5am). We had a lovely breakfast at the cafe closest to our guesthouse that was open at 8:00am. It was called Panaderia Suiza and it was an excellent little find. We found it later in the Lonely Planet. The woman running the place solo was so lovely, she made us a simple but tasty little breakfast (Dave was upset he couldn't get his daily fixing of Gallo Pinto: rice and beans) and even better coffee. We got one to go too. Unfortunately there are not a lot of restaurants in Orosi. We arrived late the night before and asked the owner of our guesthouse for a recommendation close by - he sent us to Il Giardino, a Costa Rican run Italian restaurant. We ordered a couple craft beers (Dave is done with the crappy standards) and a pizza to share. The food was okay but the service was excellent. When we arrived the server asked us: English or Spanish. Dave had indicated he is trying to learn more Spanish so she took this
on as her pet project and explained everything in Spanish and then English and tutored Dave for the time we were there. It was very sweet and a really nice experience. The restaurant was in a lovely setting with a beautiful garden, although it was full dark when we were there.
We drove out the Guayabo National Monument outside the neighbouring town of Turrialba. Turrialba is more of a city than the quaint quiet streets of Orosi. It was busy and bustling, with one way streets that made me lose track of how to navigate them. We did find our way out and made the wrong choice following the Costa Rican signs for Guayabo - we should know better, we did this once before. We assume that the route we have chosen on Google maps (and in this case recommended by the Lonely Planet) must not be the most direct, so we follow the signs directing us to Guayabo but it took us up the poorly maintained, windy, narrow dirt roads taking much longer than the other PAVED route would have. We did take the correct road home and vowed never to follow another Costa Rican sign again!
Orosi valley drive
Beautiful vistas for as far as you can see.
Guayabo National Monument consists of the ruins of a pre-Columbian Costa Rican city which includes a complicated water channel that is thought to filter sediment out of the water for drinking purposes - it is still functioning. There are some mounds built up with stones and a long cobble stoned road. It was also a very lovely walk in the valley jungle. I saw a few Morpho butterflies but could never manage to capture them on camera. They are bright, beautiful, blue when their wings are open. But brown speckled when they are closed. I was still looking out for a sloth... but I have come to accept that likely the only sloth I will see was the one pooping from a tree. Our walk around Guayabo took us until about 1:00pm so we were hungry. There was a man looking after our car while it was parked... this is a Costa Rican thing. Anywhere near a tourist attraction, someone sits by the cars and demands to be paid to "look after your car" while you leave it parked. I can't be bothered to be bothered by this anymore. Canada charges way more for parking and no one is actually
In the Central Valley we passed trucks of sugar cane instead of trucks of Palm oil
looking after our stuff - in fact they tell you they are not responsible for it when you leave your car there. Anyways, this man gave us a flyer for a little Soda down the way and we didn't have any other plans so this sounded great. Turns out it really was great. We were the only people there at 1:00pm. A sweet older couple run the place and they were very attentive and the food was really quick and very good. We stayed a little too late to enjoy a cup of coffee (also very good which is surprising at a Soda). This made it so we couldn't quite make it back in time for our other two plans that day. Well, actually it was the long procession of cars stuck behind the 2 large transport trucks going 30km/hr that made us miss our other plans. We forfeited one until the following morning and managed to make it to see the Orosi church. The museum was closed even though it said its supposed to be open until 5:00pm. When we arrived, mass was just starting, so maybe that's why. A 5:00pm Thursday mass. We didn't stay.
Central Valley dirt roads
A least they aren’t as dusty with the recent rain.
day, we woke up early (thank the roosters!) even with our earplugs. So we packed up, checked out early and found breakfast on the road. I had looked up some spots along the way and picked one that sounded good - hoping Trip Advisor wouldn't lead us astray again. We had an excellent breakfast at a really beautiful spot with great coffee. A really great way to end our trip on. Our first stop today was at the Ruins of Ujarras - the ruins are of a Catholic church that was abandoned after earthquakes and flooding etc. in the area (there was an active volcano nearby). According to the lonely planet (there was no information at the site) this church housed a painting of the virgin that was celebrated and there was a lot of angst against moving it until the earthquakes became too terrifying. They moved it to the neighbouring town of Paraiso and every year around easter around 3000-4000 people walk on a pilgrimage to this church for mass to celebrate the virgin. It is a beautiful site, with lots of trees and flowers. I have to say... I love the trees of Costa Rica. They are always
Dave insists on Mooing at the cows when we drive by. I thought this was an excellent picture capturing the moment.
impressively large and wild looking, wrapping themselves around anything and everything and each other. They look like they must be ancient although I don't think they always are. I have taken so many pictures of trees here.
After our tour of the church ruins we headed up to Parque Nacional Volcan Irazu to see the crater of the volcano. It is the largest and highest active volcano in Costa Rica. The drive up was pretty impressive, the roads were in great condition (we can still be surprised in Costa Rica!) and wound through hill after hill of farming fields; vegetable crops mostly, plenty of cow pastures etc. We were back in the clouds. Up to 3300meters above sea level (elevation... my least favourite). The volcano crater itself was far from impressive to us. It was hard to see over the barriers and there were plenty of people making it more difficult, although it really wasn't that busy. There was a lot of black sand and my little shoes did not have enough insulation so the bottoms of my feet were feeling pretty hot. Weirdly, there was a group with two ballerinas and a male dancer dressed in costume, getting
a full photo shoot done. I'm not sure why they would have chosen this location since the backdrop they were using was a fence and not much of a view. They looked beautiful and completely out of place - it was great.
We walked around and then Dave convinced me that we should drive the car up around the corner for the walk up to the highest point. The man at the gate had given very clear instructions that we were to leave the car in the parking area if we wanted to do this hike. I didn't feel like arguing with Dave so I just went with this plan. We were the fools. Half way up the 1km uphill walk on crappy broken up pavement, about 5 cars came driving down: all with Tico drivers. The walk was tough for me at this elevation although not unbearable and we hadn't been there long enough for it to really be hard for me. But when I was in South America at 3300meters above sea level (in Cuzco Peru), I was definitely struggling with altitude sickness. I was wishing for BB to drive me up this 1km crappy road in
Guayabo National Monument vista
The remains of a pre-Columbian city.
the hot sun. We made it up top. It was cold, the clouds were blowing in quickly. You couldn't really see the crater up here, but it made the crowd below look far away and very small. We had a great view of the surrounding mountain tops and the top of the clouds - until they started blowing in, filling the crater and freezing us to the bone. The area had an oddly shaped abandoned building. Neither Dave nor I could figure out what it was or what it was for. We assume it was an old look out that has been decommissioned likely because it was too small for the crowds today or that the area is no longer stable for such large groups or vehicles. Of course, as we decsended another couple cars with Tico drivers made their way up. Apparently they don't have to obey the rules at all.
We grabbed lunch on our drive back down and were in a bit of a rush to get on the road towards San Jose (Alajuela) to check in to our last Airbnb for our last night in Costa Rica before our flights home the next day. We
timed this poorly. We hit San Jose rush hour traffic on a Friday afternoon. Raining. Think Vancouver rush hour but with shittier drivers and stinkier cars. Oh, and a half dozen motorcycles, dirt bikes and road bikes weaving between the 3 lanes of traffic every minute. It took us 2.5 hours to make the distance that should have taken 20-30 minutes. Dave loved it. I chewed off all my finger nails and had lost all my patience by the time we arrived in Alajuela. We emptied BB of all our possessions, a bag of garbage, and a never ending number of empty water bottles (they'd gotten lost under the seats). Gave her a good once or twice over and drove her home - to Vamos rent-a-car. Taking her back was quick. No hassle. Sign on the dotted line and done. We clocked 2138km in our 18 days driving around Costa Rica - pretty impressive. But Canadians are used to long distance driving and this was nothing compared to the driving on our road trip to Yellowknife, NorthWest Terriories a couple years ago. One of the guys arranged for an Uber driver to pick us up and take us back to
our Airbnb neighbourhood. We had a quick dinner at an unexciting restaurant serving tacos (I've become obsessed with Tacos) and then walked back to our place to get everything organized for our early flight home. We couldn't arrange for an Uber driver and we tried every other avenue to get one or a different private driver. Everyone keeps talking about how expensive and shady the taxi service is here and to avoid it because they will try to charge us $15 USD to get to the airport etc. In the end we caught a cab very easily and he charged us 4000 Colones (by meter) the equivalent of about $8 CND. We thought this was pretty fair although Uber probably would have only cost $5.
Our flight was delayed of course. Not a single flight on this trip to or from Costa Rica, left on time. This was one delayed 1.5 hours to allow the pilots enough time to rest. I don't know why the flight the night before was delayed but my guess would be weather in Toronto. When we did finally arrive in Toronto, we had just enough time to get through customs and security and to
We took very few pictures of ourselves on this trip... but we were there together!!
our gate to load the next plane to Vancouver. Which left late because of some technical issue they needed to have looked at and then the necessity to de-ice the wings after waiting there too long. We spent the night in Vancouver, slept very well in a comfortable bed with even more conformable pillows, got up too early to catch our shuttle back to the airport to catch our last flight back to Kelowna. We were originally scheduled to arrive in Penticton at 9:00am but because our flights had to be rebooked out of Kelowna we had to fly back to pick up my car. This flight left late as well; waiting for the last few passengers to made their tight connections. Why is it that my planes never get held when I'm missing connections, yet I'm always on the planes waiting for others? We got back to Kelowna where my car was waiting where we left it. It cost a pretty fee in parking but the drive back to Penticton was lovely. It was cold but sunny and the sun shining off Okanagan Lake was a welcome and missed sight. Coming home to our little house on Norton st
and getting to see our own cat, the cherry on top. But sleeping in our own bed after 3 weeks away was truly the best past about coming home.
Now where shall we go next... ?
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