Book Travel

BACKPACKER CONFESSIONS: GIRL VS CENTRAL AMERICA — PART 35 COSTA RICA – LA FORTUNA TO SAN JOSE

La Fortuna

I followed the Canadian girl to La Fortuna as she seemed to know which different buses to take as there were quite a few changes to make. On one bus a tourist was so overweight that the conductor couldn’t get past her and she had to pass the money from the back of the bus to him. The Costa Ricans were a bit perplexed by it all.

We checked into the same hostel and that’s where our friendship ended as we weren’t really friends as much as travelling in the same direction. The big draw of La Fortuna is the volcano. The next day I went for a walk in the Arenal Volcano National Park. The park is made up of both the Arenal volcano and the Chato volcano.

Many of Costa Rica’s whopping 850 species have a presence within Arenal’s National Park. Our walk was very enjoyable and when we got to the top we went to a lookout point where we could see the top of the volcano. We also looked at some interesting plants in the absence of any viewable wildlife. On the way back down we saw three toucans in a tree which was the first time I’d ever seen them in the wild. One Costa Rican toucan received a 3D printed beak after it was hit by a stick by kids in the town of Grecia. It was taken in by the Zoo Av Animal Rescue Centre who campaigned for the beak to be created. Presidente Solis told media outlets ‘These acts go against the respectful and peaceful society that characterises Costa Rica.’ Good for him. This is why CR is awesome. Peace for humans and no tolerance of animal cruelty. 

In the evening I went on a trip to see the lava flow of the Arenal volcano as well as visiting one of the many hot springs. It last erupted in a serious way on 29th July 1968 and it has been weeping lava ever since. We sat in a ‘volcano hide’ to watch it and we were sat for a while waiting to see it so the tour agency offered us a Costa Rican aguardiente. An Irish guy had brought his own so I had some of that also with him and an Australian dude. A European made a comment about the IBAs loving their drink when they get together. A fair point. I felt a bit tipsy before we went to the hot springs. A buffet lunch was included so I ate loads of fried chicken and it was nice. There were slides going into the hot springs so I got stuck into them and the pool attendant flirted with me. It was a good evening in all.

Tamarindo

My next stop was Tamarindo on the West coast just in case I fancied doing some surfing. It was more much built up than I expected and was quite Americanised – definitely lacking the charm of other beaches that I had visited on the trip. I felt like Playa Tamarindo could have been anywhere in the world. I did go for a drink with my Israeli roommates and we played some pool – there were also lots of places to read, eat fruit and drink coffee. I bought a cool toucan wall hanging that says ‘Pura Vida’ which has hung in my house for years.

I also went to internet cafes and listened to music videos online, my favourite hobby during this trip. The closer I got to the end of the trip, the more music videos I watched, I just really love to daydream. The leatherback turtle lays its eggs here so it has that going for it also. After a couple of days of relaxing, I got a tourist taxi i.e. poncy middle-class minibus for lazy people with too much money to Montezuma as I couldn’t be bothered with all the buses and I didn’t want to go back to San Jose. 

Montezuma

Montezuma or the ‘barefoot pueblo’ as the LP puts it, is a very charming boho place. The accommodation is, however, terrible. I stayed in a beachfront hotel in a tiny room and was woken up by a couple having very loud sex. When I went to the bathroom at four in the morning, there were still backpackers all over the beach. Its nickname is ‘Montefuma’ due to the penchant for marijuana, it definitely seems to be somewhere where people get stuck.

It is a tiny place and I was only there for two days, I went to an internet café in the village and seeing that I was online, Tomas messaged me. Now I was happy. The crappy computer then died on me and I was enraged. By the time I rebooted and got back online he was gone and I wanted to throw the computer out of the window. We’re no longer friends on Facebook so I don’t know what he is doing now, except that he left the hostel. Even though we both have partners now I was still sad that he unfriended me even though it was years later.

The beach was nice so I used to sit there and watch hippy tourists making bracelets and whatnot for no apparent reason. Overall, it wasn’t the place for me and everyone seemed to be nocturnal so I moved on.

Puntarenas

I got the bus to Paquera and then the ferry across to Puntarenas in order to get back to Central Costa Rica as I was desperate to get to Monteverde. Although I was not so desperate that I managed to get up in time to catch an early ferry. I spent a night in Puntarenas as I inevitably missed the bus to Monteverde. Puntarenas means ‘sand point’ in Spanish and that pretty much sums the place up.

My favourite part of PA which redeemed it for me was the shaved ice desserts that are known as ‘granizado’ or ‘copos’. It is an innocuous-looking cup of ‘slushy’ in different syrupy flavours with condensed milk on top and my god they are amazing. There are variations on all other Latin America with variants in names and flavours. There is a region in Chile which takes it one step further with ‘ice jam’ or mermelada con hielo which as it sounds contains jam instead of fruity syrup. If I ever return to Chile I’m heading straight to Rancangua to try it.

Monteverde

The area around Monteverde is classified as cloud forest as it is at such a high altitude that the tops of the trees are lost in the clouds. The MV Cloud Forest Biological Reserve claims to have 2.5% of the world’s precious diversity and 10% of its plant life is endemic to that area. When you get off the bus in the village there are people waiting to sell you their rooms.

A woman offered me a cheap room including breakfast so I went with her. I chilled out during the day and booked a night walk in the cloud forest for the evening. I attempted to start to read Crime and Punishment but it was a bit too heavy for me. The LP says that on a bad day MV can feel like ‘Disneyland in Birkenstocks’, luckily, it was quite sedate when I visited and I didn’t find that to be the case. It is a concern that it could be a victim of its own success as there must be more tourists than residents at times.

In the evening I was picked up for my Santa Maria night safari. As soon as we got there we saw a racoon and various agoutis running about. This made me suspicious that they must be feeding them. The agouti is found all over Latin America from Northern Argentina to Mexico and can thrive in both wet and dry forest climates. They are diurnal (most active in the day) but I’ve generally seen them at night both here and at the rescue centre. They are valuable as seed spreaders as they eat mostly fruit and seeds, they bury them as well which makes them a cross between a squirrel and a deer. They also bark like dogs and kick each other like hares. 

The Northern racoon of CR is slightly smaller than its North American counterpart and is known as mapache by the Tico population. It means ‘one who takes everything in its hands’. Interestingly enough, North American racoons have colonised Germany, starting from Berlin and there are now thousands of them. They ride public transport in the capital city and there are known as ‘wash bears’ because they apparently like to ‘wash’ their food before they eat it. In reality, this behaviour is thought to come from their propensity for eating aquatic food and is a ‘fixed action pattern’ which will die out in time. The Whig Party in America used the racoon as an emblem and that is where the racist slur ‘coon’ comes from.

On the walk itself, I saw a spider and a snake – oh my! He must have shown us some plantlife as well but that escapes me. The snake was a fer-de-lance viper which is unsurprisingly venomous. Apparently, 50% of snakebites come from this bugger. Fer-de-lance means ‘spearhead’ in French. In CR they are known as ‘Terciopelo’ which means ‘velvet’. 

There are 71 species of snake in MV and I cannot recall what this one was. The spider was a red-kneed tarantula and judging from my google image search which all the show the same spider in the same hole he must be the most famous spider in the world. Tarantulas get a tough time as they are used in Chinese medicine and in Mexico people kill them using pesticides or by pouring petrol into their burrows.

I saw that someone on TripAdvisor described the tour as ‘average but fun overall’ which pretty much sums it up. My friend Joe from earlier in the trip hated the tour saying the only thing ‘I saw was a racoon and I have one of those living in my roof’. The TripAdvisor folk saw coatis and sloths so I guess its the luck of the draw like all wildlife spotting.

Unfortunately, I had to go to the capital of San Jose in order to get the bus to Nicaragua. I had successfully avoided for the whole time but I had to deal with it now.

San Jose

I fucking hate San Jose, it’s the absolute worst. The best thing about it was an English language bookshop that I found to stock up on good reads.

The thing I hated most about it was the taxi drivers and the Americanisation of the city centre, the thing I liked best was leaving and these nice Americans that I met so I’ll tell you about that before we get the Tica bus to Nicaragua.

So, I was in my hammock reading The Atlas Shrugged (I know – why did I read that fucking awful book – I had no idea of its agenda). I was interrupted by Ayn’s thinly disguised horseshit by a guy asking me a question. He immediately told me to join him and his friends. I did, and two people in his group were a couple and I asked how they met and another of the guys claimed responsibility for it. He told the story on their behalf and it was better than if they’d told it. I’ll call the couple Bob and Sue, narrated by Dave.

Dave told Bob that we should tell Sue that he liked her but should avoid freaking her out by mentioning the L word. Dave told Bob to say ‘I like you, I like you a lot, I want you to know that’.

Bob did this and then waited. Genius, as she had a boyfriend she was having problems with and then she made the decision.

They then went for several walks as they were work colleagues and then she kissed him and that was that.

If you ever have somebody that you think you love, you should say this and then walk away. If they feel the same they will find you and you have nothing to lose. Its just so simple I love it.

In the morning I boarded the Tico bus to Nicaragua, the last new country on this trip.

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