Reaching for the clouds.

Trip Start Dec 22, 2006
Trip End Feb 10, 2008

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Flag of Costa Rica  ,
Wednesday, June 27, 2007

A late night and early morning found us both exhausted and forcing ourselves to get out of bed on June 27, 2007.  As Geraldine packed up our bed and sleeping gear, Michael walked down to 'Sector B Hatchery' to see if there were any turtle hatchlings.  Michael returned from the hatchery with the news that no Leatherback turtles came in the night before and only two hatchlings had emerged from their shells.  It was a slow night to say the least.  We were a little more content in knowing that we did not miss any of the action along the beach the night before.
With bellies full of breakfast, we fired 'Nilla up and set sail out of Gandoca.  The grooved, potholed and puddle filled dirt road was slower going out than it was coming in. As we inched our way around the pits and rocks, we encountered a cow not 500 metres from where we started.  This cow was intimidating with his all black body and solid white face.  The cow was standing in the middle of the road and directly in our path.  We edged our way right up to the cow thinking that it would move out of the way when faced with the size and sound of 'Nilla, however we were drastically wrong.  The cow simply stood there and stared at us.  Uncertain of our next step, we decided to take some pictures to pass the time.  The cow was very cooperative and photogenic as well.  Tired of taking photos of the same animal and both anxious to get going, we took turns making moo sounds at the cow, hissed and even talked peacefully to the large animal asking it to move along.  Nothing worked.  Finally, Geraldine had a great idea and with baseball bat in had she used it as a pointing stick to show the cow where to go.  Voila!  The cow followed the direction of the bat and walked calmly off the road.  Hitting the gas we were back in motion.
We took time to snap pictures of the scenery and the rickety bridges that we crossed along the drive out of Gandoca. It was early in the morning and there was not much vehicle traffic nor people milling around, so the drive was quiet and serene.  We reached the main road, CA Highway 36, and both sighed with relief to be back on solid and somewhat level asphalt.  The highway tracked back through the banana plantations and small villages along the way. At one point, we passed a rather untidy looking man.  His hair was in disarray and his clothes tattered and torn, however he wore a grin from ear to ear and we both reasoned that it may be because he was proudly carrying a large live chicken under his arm.  The grin may also have been due to him being all hopped up on something as his eyes shone like glass and he appeared to be gazing into nothingness while talking to himself.  We waved at him.  The highway then heads slightly up hill from the coast areas near Gandoca into the tropical forest.  At an elevated stretch in the road, we took time to capture the scenery of endless banana plants filling the valley while bordered by coast mountains and jungle.  The view was grand.
We reached the large town of Puerto Limon without getting lost, which for us was a small victory in itself. A short stop for gas and we were back on the road.  As there was no accident and traffic backlog to deal with, we cruised down the main drag in Puerto Limon in a tenth of the time it took us on the way in.  We spoke too soon and forgot to knock on wood, because just outside town, we were lined up in traffic again.  After forty-five minutes of crawling down the road, we reached the scene of the crime.  Basically, it was a fender bender accident, however handfuls of police showed up and traffic was reduced to one lane alternating traffic from each direction.  Thankfully, the line of cars leaving Puerto Limon was relatively short and we cringed when we saw the several kilometres of lined up vehicles on the other side of the accident waiting patiently for their turn to head into town.
The road from Puerto Limon then wandered through the countryside before reaching the National Park.  At the border of the park, the road immediately started to incline and the low hanging clouds overhead started to come within reach. The highway traffic was moving well as uphill was allotted two lanes of travel.  In some stretches of road it was two lanes in each direction, which is most rare in Central America save for only the PanAmerican, and it still has its single lane sections.  Drivers seemed to check their brains at the park gates as we witnessed a semi truck driver cut off an entire row of cars in the left lane to pass another tractor trailer.  The smaller cars could do nothing but yield to the maniacal operators in their massive commercial vehicles.  'Nilla was content to putt along with all the other patient folk in the right lane.  The odd time we would pull out to pass a ridiculously slow transport, but quickly resumed our spot in line in the slow lane.   As we climbed in altitude, the temperature drop was so noticeable, that we rolled up the windows as we had done only a handful of times before.  Water droplets formed on the windshield and front windows as the clouds now rolled past our faces.  What a magnificent feeling to be in the clouds.  Wisps of white encircled the van.  Looking out the passenger side we could see nothing but a wall of white.  It was creepy not having any clue what the scenery was like beyond the side of the road which hung closely on the edge of the mountain.  We would have rare opportunities to get our bearings, when the road hung dangerously close to the edge and we could  see down the mountainside and pick out trees and rivers in the valley below.  At the summit of the mountain pass we pulled off to the side of the road and took several moments to gaze out at the splendour of nature around us.  When we first climbed from the vehicle our skin was instantly covered with a thin layer of cool mist.  Reaching into nothing we attempted to grab strands of white that floated by.  On the losing end of the battle to grab clouds, we decided to cease our efforts and get back on the road. 
We were a tad disappointed that the remainder of our drive was downhill as we knew soon the spectacular scenery would all be behind us.  Gearing down 'Nilla, we rolled down the windy decent in short order and ended up on a commercial ring road of San Jose.  Nearing the city we encountered yet another police check point.  The grumpy officer asked us routine questions before sending us on our way.  It was the first check point we encountered in Costa Rica where the police were not super friendly.   We just figure the officer was having a bad day.  As is normal with us, we pulled out our map only a few kilometres from town and then guessed our way into downtown San Jose.  It worked out rather amazing for us as we found the main square on our first try.  We even nabbed a pretty sweet parking spot next to the Teatro Nacional.  A few buses had parked in an area marked "No Parking" and we decided to follow suit.  There was really no room to tow 'Nilla away, so we were quite safe.
The first order of business in San Jose was to find a camera repair shop.  We walked to the tourist information office to pick up a walking map and were given a list of recommended city highlights.  A local department store aided us in our quest to find a camera repair shop and things were shaping up nicely in San Jose.  Unfortunately, the weather was not so cooperative.  Just as we finished getting directions to the repair shop, the skies opened and unleashed a wicked rain storm on us.  We ducked and weaved in and out storefronts and random building entrances to get shelter from the rain.  Only a few seconds without cover and our hair and shirts were soaked.  The rain drops were huge and coming down in droves.  It looked as if there was no end in sight, so we ducked into a local grocery store to pick up a few essentials.  Finished shopping, the rain appeared to have lessened and we decided to head back to 'Nilla to drop off our food and pick up the camera.  Just as we walked outside, the skies opened again and we scrambled, with grocery  bags in hand, to the nearest shelter which just happened to be a rather swanky looking hotel.  The doorman gave us a queer stare when we entered, but we kept walking like we belonged and found a tourist counter.  The tiny woman attending the counter could barely see over the desk in front of her, however she greeted us with a warm smile and showed us some local tours and gave us some maps of the San Jose and surrounding area.  This passed enough time for us to dry off a bit and make another run for the van.  At the entry to the hotel, we readied our keys and bolted for 'Nilla parked only thirty metres away.  It had taken us hours, but we were safely back inside our home and sheltered from the rain.
We waited out the storm by cooking lunch and digging out our raincoats.  Equipped with waterproof attire, we headed back out into San Jose just as the rain subsided.  We were again back to our first order of business, which was to find a camera repair shop.  We found the recommended shop and it was only a few blocks outside of the main square.  After a quick examination, the technician was confident that he would be able to fix the on/off button that had crapped out on us six weeks prior.  We handed over the camera and were given instructions to return in two days to pick it up.  Our laptop was also on the fritz and we spent most of the remainder of the afternoon trying to get a repair technician to decipher what was wrong.  All the shops we went to were baffled that the computer would not connect to the internet and all sent us packing without a hint toward a solution.  A bit deflated with our computer situation, we decided to try again the next day, so we hit the road in search of a camping spot for the evening.  On the walk back to the 'Nilla, we passed through the main square and we surprised to see a wealth of police randomly asking passer-by's to present identification and passports.  We breezed on through as all the cops were busy at the time we were there.  Ignoring the police we continued on our path to the van.  As we rounded the back end of  'Nilla, we were faced with a mass of Immigration Officers, police and television camera crews.  Not sure what to do, we simply froze.  Thankfully, the mass of suited met with firepower were focusing on one of the buses that was parked right in front of 'Nilla.  Apparently, there may have been a pile of illegal entrants to Costa Rica that jumped from their bus and scattered in the town square.  With all the people milling around this area, they were searching for 50 needles in one massive haystack.  Good luck guys!  The officers were polite and courteous to us as they actually stopped traffic to let us back up and drive away.  Thanks guys!
The drive out of central San Jose was no less entertaining.  It was late afternoon and nearing rush hour so the streets were filled with maniacal taxi and bus drivers and suicidal motorcycle riders that weave through cars and drive at high rates of speed between the two lanes of traffic.  Our favourite motorcycle operator was a guy that had his cell phone opened and jammed into his helmet.  He was chatting away to whomever as he raced from traffic light to traffic light.  How he was able to hear anything with all the traffic noise was certainly amazing.  We were content to slowly idle our way out of town in the slow lane.  We first passed by the major business district, then through the market district, along side of the bus terminal and into an area with stores catering to cowboys before we hit the highway.  Cowboy lane was most comical as there were hats, boots, chaps and saddles hanging from every store front.  Most of the store signs all said something about their goods being 'Texas Approved'.  We giggled.
We had read about an actual to goodness RV Park located in a suburb of San Jose called San Antonio de Belen and we had to check it out.  From the highway, we took the exit to San Antonio and had no real directions from there.  Thankfully, there were official government issue signs pointing us along the way.  The signs were solid blue with a line drawing of a camper with the word "Camping" stamped at the bottom and was totally similar to our signs back home.  Even with the signs, we still got a bit turned around in San Antonio.  One sign was missing to indicate that we needed to make a left turn, and we ended up in a residential district that was obviously not the right place to be.  Back tracking only a few blocks and getting on the proper road we found the Belen RV Park moments later.  The place was stellar.  Some forty and fifty foot units from California were permanently parked on site and their owners were all retirees that had somehow navigated these massive rigs down here many years before.  Each site had full hook-ups for water, electricity and sewer, however we were most anxious to try the hot water showers.  Ever the negotiators, we bargained for a lower rate as the price of $12 per night was a bit steep.  Seeing as how we intended to use up some water to clean 'Nilla and ourselves, we reached a compromise at $10 per night.  In North American standards, bargaining for a few buck is generally considered petty, however on a tight budget $2 is enough to buy lunch for both of us.
It was near dusk and after grabbing a quick snack, we headed down the road to the actual town of San Antonio de Belen.  It was quite dark in the suburbs, however the city glow could still been seen in the far distance.  The moon was near full and stringy clouds floated in its face to set the scene for some classic horror movie from the era of black and white flicks.  It was a frightening setting.  The moon lingered at the back of the church in main square to give everyone the same haunting view.
In order to keep in touch with the homeland, we hit the internet café in town for a few hours before walking back to the Belen RV Park.  On the way home, the cloud cover had rolled in so thick that the moon's glow had all but vanished.  Walking home quickly, we were both ready to fall asleep when we reached 'Nilla.

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