Off to Costa Rica

Trip Start Nov 15, 2006
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Trip End Ongoing


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Flag of Costa Rica  ,
Saturday, February 24, 2007

We started the morning in San Carlos, Nicaragua to arrive in La Fortuna, Costa Rica. Maybe it is because we both come from island nations, but even after travelling for years around Europe we are still amazed that it is so easy to walk or bus across an international border - no fuss, nothing.

Our border crossing involved a simple stamp out of Nicaragua where the immigration officials were fascinated to see us eating banana sandwiches...don´t think this combination had ever ocurred to them! Then, a comfortable short boat ride down a river with jungle covered banks interspersed with humble settlements. We saw a few birds on the way and a caiman (small alligator) sunning itself.

Los Chiles, the border town in Costa Rica was small, tidy and already seemed more prosperous and ´Westernised´ than similar-sized towns we had encountered in Nicaragua. We gratefully accepted the Costa Rican currency the bank machine issued to us (you always worry about getting local currency!) and got on with the business of having a tasty lunch at a cheapie restaurant called a ´Soda Fountain´ in Costa Rica. The friendly owner was the first person we had a decent chat with in the country, a good first impression.

Comfortable bus and paved roads (!) lead us to an intersection on the road where we wait 2 hours for the next bus. For the record, we have never waited this long for a bus before - in poorer countries where people can´t afford cars, some form of public transport is never more than a 20 minutes away.

Spent our time with a friendly bloke who was running a fruit stand at the intersection. He really hated Nicaragurans (they only come to Costa Rica to steal our jobs, he told us), but he sold us the most delicious watermelon we had ever eaten which was a special moment! He leant us an enormous machete to chop it up, gave us water to wash our sticky hands, and let us sit in the shade next to his truck. Only downside of this experience is that every watermelon we have eaten since (and there have been plenty!) never quite measure up...

Reach La Fortuna, a town which seems to revolve solely around tourism and we feel a bit shell-shocked. We are treated with disdain (or distaste?) by the lazy bus driver who couldn´t be bothered helpìng get our bags from the filthy luggage compartment. Tourists everywhere, tourist touts everywhere trying to sell us package tours. GIVE US A BREAK! We only came here to try and see the lava from the nearby volcano which we had heard was flowing freely.

After our initial negative reaction to the town, we are somewhat happier after finding a good value hospedaje (hot shower for the first time in a while) and a good dinner at another soda restaurant.

NEXT DAY...

Great breakfast by the very hospitable family-run place we are staying at, but a frustrating day overall. The family have made us aware of local tourists scams and assaults on tourists by one well-known local family that the police have been completely ineffective in prosecuting, despite the evidence from tourists and concerned locals in the tourist industry. We had noticed a few dodgy looking men the night before, clearly under the influence of drink and/or drugs. 

Everyone is trying (with mounting desperation) to sell us exhorbitantly-priced package tours to local parks, hot springs and the volcano when all we really want to do is see some lava. The volcano is huge and just where the lava flow is, how to get there and where to access it from seems to be the town´s best-kept secret.

Eventually, someone cracks under our increasingly intense and sophisticated interrogation techniques and we find out that the lava viewpoint is just a few kms out of town. A quick haggle with a taxi driver later and we´re on our way. One of the tourist touts who had hassled us from yesterday runs after us shouting out ´I can give you a special price´ even as we´re climbing into the taxi´.

We were in luck...while it was still light we could see small puffs of ash and tumbling rocks, some as big as a small car while we sat on the grass next to the main road having a snack. As the light faded, streams of bright lava and flying rocks become more visible - we are mesmeried. A couple of other tourists had discovered this budget option for night-volcano watching and we all made the firework-watching  type ´ooh´ and ´aah´´ sounds together as the explosions continued.

After Ed had made the best of the photo opportunities, we waited only a few minutes and flagged down a taxi for the return journey, well satisifed with our evening.
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