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Costa Rica - Just to Save Prado

A short trip to Costa Rica during Corona times. Who the hell would be crazy enough to do that. Well, overlanders having to save their vehicle from confiscation by smart, but powerful locals. Thus, a trip to save Prado and a few days to visit some places in the country. And an opportunity to sit in a plane for more than 12h each way. 

Costa Rica, March 2021

A year ago, by the end of March 2020 we were back in Swizzyland. Back in a country fully locked down. And we were locked in.

Thus, time to enjoy our apartment. Time to count the minutes passing by and the huge opportunity to develop incredible innovations on how to fight these coronies.

Here, just 1 of the great ideas we already developed months before WHO understood how useful the facemasks might be.

Fortunately, the weather was not too bad. So, some opportunities for lonely walks and to observe that even Lucerne’s Mount Pilatus started to smoke like a Central American volcano. Probably due to negligence by Chinese tourists.

Whatever, in early summer everything improved. All these coronies disappeared (at least more or less). Probably they all moved to the US and Brazil. To places where populist politicians did everything to offer the virus a nice’n’comfortable existence. Hence, time for some extremely dangerous hikes – of course, mainly in Swizzyland.

By autumn even Swizzy’s populists were convinced by Brazil’s Jair and Donny Trump’s incredible strategy in attracting corona. So – with the support of the lost generation of football millionaires – they pushed the government to allow again huge sport events with 1000’s of shouting supporters.

Unfortunately, a few of the visitors celebrated the events although they were fully infested by coronies. And, a few weeks later Swizzyland was still not the world’s football champion, but its leader in corona cases. At least something they achieved. And at least at that time you didn’t hear anything of our beloved populists.

No problem. Just a few 1000 dead guys who would anyway be dead in 100 years. And after some political hesitation an increasingly strict lockdown.

So much about winter. We had some more time to count raindrops at our apartment’s windows. Sometimes even snowflakes. How gorgeous.

Also, a lot of time to find all kind of stupid and interesting stuff on Facebook. Somewhen in February a long fb discussion on what to do with all these cars parked somewhere in the world until overlanders may travel again.

Of course, also on how that issue is handled in Costa Rica where Prado is waiting impatiently for our return. A huge opportunity to learn, that nobody may leave a car for longer than a year in a bonded warehouse. Or it will be confiscated and sold to the guy who merits it most. Special thanx to Aventuri Ticos for all information.

Great. At least an opportunity to immediately inquire on how to get to Costa Rica, to learn what to do there to save Prado from becoming a gift to a brave local politician, and to understand what the hell are all the corona indulged complications when saving our car.

Fortunately, also on fb we find a guy just about to get his car out of the same warehouse in San José. Our chance to know if Prado survived 1 year in the sun without too much protection. Shortly afterwards we get the confirmation that the car is in good shape and some pics. Thanx a lot guys from rustytravels.

On 4th March, just 10 days later we’re in the plane. A direct flight with Edelweiss – a Swizzy holiday carrier.

A flight of 12h – 1 way. Just to put some administrative stuff in order. Great – isn’t it. Somehow also a bit a nightmare.

Nevertheless, a beautiful flight. In typical corona conformity – Swiss style. Face covered the whole time; either to keep the coronies out or for the seriously infected 1s to keep them in the facemask. This applies to all, except for those who know that coronies don’t exist. Whatever, hopefully the flight attendants explained the whole thing to each’n’every virus sneaking around.

San José Costa Rica, 6th March

In the evening we’re in San José. Just on time for a beer and to recover from Edelweiss’ attempt to make us understand how sardines feel in the can.

Next morning: time to liberate Prado from its destiny to become a local politician’s prestige vehicle.

To the Instituto Nacional de Seguro to get the local insurance. Needs some discussion to get it. They’re convinced they cannot do anything without having seen the license plates. Well, finally we get it without plates – and we had a real good opportunity to test our improvable Spanish after 1 year of pause.

On to Aduana Santa Maria. The place to have your paperwork done if you have a car in a bonded warehouse. The friendly ladies are pretty efficient and correct. Nevertheless, they don’t want to give us a new import permit without having seen the plates and a Solicitud de Certificado de Importacion Temporal de Vehiculo para Fines no Lucrativos. A beautiful form that tells the customs that we would highly appreciate to temporarily import Prado. A form that also needs an official signature of the customs officer in the bonded warehouse stating that Prado is in good shape. Finally, in the afternoon we have the form as the customs office at the warehouse does not seem to have regular working hours.

In the meantime, we can inspect Prado. Well, all looks pretty ok, maybe its cover a little used. Who cares. Most important the engine starts immediately. Even after a year of hibernation.

Then back to customs. Another 15’ and all paperwork is done. We can drive the car. Just need to pay some 850 bucks for 1 year of storage and we’re on the way to celebrate with a large beer.

Puerto Viejo, 10th March

It’s weekend. Thus, time to take a rest of this administrative stuff. Of course, Prado got its new TIP; nevertheless, early next week we have to get it back to the very same warehouse to continue its hibernation until Corona allows us to drive on to South America.

So, as everybody in Costa Rica’s proud capital we’re on the way to a weekend retreat: Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui. Some 50km to the north.

We’re on our way. Thru the ugly suburbs of San José. Endless traffic jams.

Then up to the mountains. Up to 2000m in the area of Vara Blanca. Everywhere Ticos enjoying cool climate, some food and of course some beers.

Then driving down to the humid lowlands and Costa Rica’s jungle.

Of course, if going to the jungle, all reasons to stay in a jungle lodge. We opt for the Ara Ambigua Lodge. A place with small bungalows in a dense forest. And a large eatery’n’watering hole. Just what we need to recover from endless administrative stress and jetlag.

And you also have the opportunity to observe some wild animals. Well, maybe no chance for southern Africa’s Big 5. Preferably you concentrate on some smaller 1s. 

Weekend is over. Another drive over the mountains.

A few hours later we’re back in San José. Rent a car as next day we plan to return Prado to the warehouse.

Thus, from now on we’ll not really visit the country as overlanders, but as ordinary odd tourists on their 2-weeks fantastic-adventure-Costa Rica-trip. In a rented Toyota Yaris. You know the kind of car grannie uses to buy a new cleaner for her dentures in the nearby supermarket.

Nevertheless, it’s a golden-colored car. Think somehow in memory of this former US president who loved so much golden stuff. Maybe some of you still remember this funny guy lying the whole day, even cheating everybody when playing golf during his presidential working hours, and finally too narrow-minded to accept that another guy won the elections. Hopefully not too many of you remember him.

Whatever, we call the car Donny.

So next day Prado gets back to its hibernation camp: El Coco. Fortunately, a place it already knows well. We move on to the customs office to suspend the TIP and a few moments later we’re out.

Thus, everything done to ensure that Prado can be stored another year in the warehouse – our main reason to visit Costa Rica at this time. Funny isn’t it. Absolutely no problem to leave the car another 12 months. Just you have to show up personally – even if you need to fly 12h for this formality.

Of course, during Corona times we have to continue organizing the remaining time of our trip. 

To start with we make an appointment for a Corona test before flying back.

No doubt, in a country like Costa Rica you get an appointment by internet. At least if you are local. For all others, the form seems to be overwhelmed by some information it may not recognize. So a drive to Santa Ana on the other side of San José to get an appointment at Clinica Biblica. Despite its name wonders are rare and the guy apologizes that their website is not too suitable for people not living next door.

Atenas, 10th March

Then we’re on the way to Atenas. 

Well, in Atenas there’s absolutely nothing to do there. Just an opportunity for a lazy time … 

… and to enjoy an excellent dinner – making you forget that you’re the only guest in the restaurant.

La Fortuna, 11th March

To avoid getting too lazy in Atenas we move on. To the north. Near Rio Celeste booking.com recommends us a beautiful cacao guest plantation. Looks really beautiful – a place in the middle of future chocolate bars.

Of course, our OSM-map shows us exactly how to reach this exceptional place.

Again, we cross the hills north of the Central Valley.

A few hours later we pass the volcano El Arenal, follow the synonymous lake up to Nuevo Arenal, then to the north. 

A slightly smaller road towards Rio Celeste. After a few km, it turns into a gravel road, a little later gravel turns into stones …

…. immediately, we realize that we don’t drive Prado. No, we’re driving Donny – grannie’s shopping car – on a stony road. No way to arrive at our cacao plantation within the next 3 days.

So back to La Fortuna and the highway northwards.  Just a detour of 2h. No problem we’re still early.

Then our GPS tells us again to leave the highway to access the guest farm. The road feasible, but again turning into a creek after some km. Ok, let’s try another road – very much the same. Ask some people at the roadside. Despite the fact that we’re just a few km from the farm nobody seems to know these guys. We try to call them. No answer. Consult booking.com. Another phone number. Also, not working. At least we discover how to cancel the whole reservation – and we’re back on our way to La Fortuna. Another hour to drive.

By 8 pm we arrive. And soon later we’re about to sacrifice our unsuccessful attempt to spend a night in the middle of chocolate bars with a couple of beers and a large Parilla.

Next morning: of course, to start with a sloth next to our bungalow. Munching a few leaves, just seconds before falling asleep again.

Then we’re on the way to explore El Arenal volcano. Strangely for a country promoting so intensively all kinds of outdoor activities in their national parks, in Costa Rica it’s not really possible to go for extended hikes in these areas. It seems it’s more oriented to pretty high entrance fees for the parks. And to make it worse they follow the strange policy to ask foreigners 10 times more than locals. Can you imagine we would ask in Swizzyland each’n’every Chinese to pay 2000$ for the short drive up to Jungfraujoch.  We locals would be happy – no more need to pay taxes in Swizzyland. Whatever, shame on you honorable Government of Costa Rica for such a policy to discriminate against poor tourists.  

Despite this all, we’re at the national park entrance. Somehow even willing to pay the exorbitant entrance fee. Strange, but true you can only pay with a credit card. And who the hell goes hiking with a credit card.

Finally, we waive the famous El Arenal National Park, go a little further to the Arenal Observation Lodge. They have an extensive network of jungle trails – of course again, accessible only after payment of a hefty entrance fee.

Then we’re ready to sneak around. Mainly on slightly overdeveloped paths reminding us to certain US national parks.

A last glimpse of El Arnal Volcano – and we’re on the way back to La Fortuna.

Santa Elena, 14th March

We move on. To Santa Elena. To visit the famous cloud forests of Monteverde. Another so-called highlight of each and every Costa Rica trip.

A last chance to admire La Fortuna. Not really a beauty; rather a cluster of hotels, souvenir shops, tour operators, and whatever poor tourists may need.

Santa Elena is just 22km from La Fortuna. As the crow flies. Or a little more if you have a car.

As we drive Donny our granny car, it’s about 140km to reach the place. 

Along Lake Arenal, then down to the coastal lowlands and finally back to the hills. That all to avoid any bad gravel road not suitable for Donny.

Nevertheless, 4h later we arrive. No idea if the crow would be faster

Santa Elena: another tourist hotspot. By now pretty empty. A few Tico tourists.

And this despite the indisputable fact, that they seem to have found the ultimate solution to overcome these coronies.

Here the secret receipt – as far as we understood with our perfectible Spanish: 

Chop 26 red Chillies – only use real hot ones. Put them into a glass, add 1/4 tablespoon of water and half a bottle of Mad Dog 357 No. 9 Plutonium

Leave it until the next day.

Cook some delicious spaghetti – of course, al dente. Soak them in the sauce and enjoy.

As far as we understood it’s more efficient than any corona vaccine – at least for the time being.

 

Next morning we’re ready for a visit to Monteverde’s famous cloud forest.

Arriving there we quickly realize that we’re not alone.

Mainly Ticos on a weekend escape.

To enter they check your temperature despite the Covid Killer Sauce. Then you wash your hands and continue in order to shift some 25 $ from your pocket into theirs. Then you get all information about the trails, independently of your need. Especially you learn that the famous hanging bridge has closed due to a fallen tree and the trail you opted for has been abandoned some 8 years ago.

After all that you’re eligible to sneak on their hiking trails. To admire the huge moss covered trees, …

… some flowering stuff, …

… and some panoramic views on Costa Rica’s jungle.

If in Santa Elena you should definitely take the chance to visit more than just Monteverde. There’s another reserve with a lot of veggies to admire: Reserva Bosque Nuboso Santa Elena. A primary forest even more elevated than the other 1 with a good network of hiking trails.

Despite being a Sunday next to no visitor seems to be interested in sneaking around. Still, no discount at the entrance. After the Costa Rican ceremony of moving too many bucks from our pocket to theirs, we’re free to discover whatever grows in this forest.  And it’s quite a lot.

After some time, a climb up an observation tower. Great view up to El Arenal volcano.

Then on thru the deep jungle …

La Virgen, 17th March

In the evening a last beer in the town’s cool climate.

The next morning we’re on the way back to La Fortuna. Soon we have to be back in San José for our Corona testing. Otherwise, Swizzy authorities wouldn’t allow us in – despite the fact that the Swizzies still fight hard to remain a kind of world leader in Corona cases.

You already know it, 22 km as the crow flies or 140km if you drive Donny. Thus, back to the coastal flats, again up into the hills, along Lake Arenal and 4h later Donny arrives with us in La Fortuna. 

The next day on to San José, Costa Rica’s great capital.

Next morning: it’s time for the corona test. In Clinica Biblica. 90 USD, 10′, results within 36h on mail. That’s it.

For those who don’t know yet how this testing works a short description to calm them down.

There’s a nurse in a blue plastic dress. Yeah, looks a little like a ghost. She comes with a stick. Not too thick, nevertheless quite long. 

The stick enters your nose – left side. Quite gently. Moves on thru your brain to quit at your right ear. The nurse moves it around your face to enter the ear at the left (well, there are some different schools on this step: those who pass the stick around your face to the other ear, and those guys passing it by the back of your head. A issue which still needs further research by science).

Ok. Now the stick enters your left ear, crosses the brain a 2nd time, continues thru the throat to reach your stomach. It finds its intestinal way until it discovers its way out to bright sunlight. Now it just has to move another 15cm (6″ for US citizens) – then you may sit on a transparent pottie filled with corona testing fluid.  You wait 5′, just time to read the latest news on your cellphone. And you already have the result: if the fluid turns into deep red – you’re definitely a Corona infested subject. If it turns into a wonderful green – your free, you’re the world’s smartest guy, no Corona. They take a picture of you sitting on the pottie (please smile nicely). Load it on your cellphone and show it to whom it may concern. Easy isn’t it?

 

So far all about Corona testing.  Now we have to wait for 36h to have the results. Time for some more adventures. Last year we found a beautiful place high up in the mountains. In Vara Blance, a small village at an elevation of around 2000m. Arriving there, it’s foggy, slightly raining and uncomfortably cold.

Quickly we decide to search for a slightly warmer place. Just on the other side of the mountains at the Sarapiqui River.

A trip thru cloudy forests and waterfalls in the jungle.

A trip thru cloudy forests and waterfalls in the jungle.

Soon later we arrive at the small village of La Virgen (maybe omen est nomen) in a so-called jungle-lodge. Well, it’s a place to stay; as usual nearly empty but adjacent to a primary forest where we can explore more veggies growing.

To get to the jungle there’s a long hanging bridge crossing Sarapiqui River

Not too many animals. Mainly ants transporting leaves from 1 corner to the other. A few birds and monkeys.

 

Nevertheless, a lot of green stuff.

Lucerne, 20th March

Then it’s already time to drive back to San José, a last beer in our favorite bar, next morning a kind of breakfast in Monika’s all-preferred eatery. Not because we like it, simply because the place we stay can no longer serve an acceptable breakfast due to lack of guests.

Later we have to say goodbye to Donny our brave car. Sorry, you had to drive some roads you didn’t like. We hope your next customer will be a granny just buying some denture cleaner in the nearby supermarket. Despite your presidential color we know, Donny, it would be more adapted for you.

Bye bye Donny.

Then we’re perched into the plane. Edelweiss to Zurich. An 11h flight. 

A last glimpse thru the plane’s dirty windows of San José, Costa Rica’s proud capital.

Soon later the smart crew informs us, that they even foresee a special event for their passengers. As a surprise, they plan a stopover in the Caribbean. In  Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. Of course, we immediately dream of palm-fringed beaches, white sand, and turquoise water. Lazing around, listening to the rhythm of Merengue, nipping a Piña Colada. Well, you name it, you dream it.

Somewhat disillusioned we learn, that they rather want to refuel in Punta Cana. And for our comfort, we even don’t have to leave the plane.  As they loaded a little too much cargo they could not really fill in enough fuel in San José. 

Nevertheless, we would just have a slight delay of 2h. 

Thanx Edelweiss, at least by now we know your priority in air transport.

To spread good mood, shortly later they serve their dinner to all their esteemed guests. Well, we would even not serve it to our respective mothers in law. But maybe they just mixed-up something in the airport kitchen. Probably, this meal was intended for the airport’s chicken farm.

Whatever. 13h later – with just 2h delay – we land happily in Zurich. And even our bags arrive. What else could you expect of an airline.

Hey guys, that’s it for this post as well as for this trip.

See you – once Corona will be the brand of a beer only – for more adventure on our trip towards South America.

Cheeeers

Monika’n’Martin

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