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A Recent Trip to Costa Rica and Nicaragua (Part 5)

Recently I spent a couple of weeks traveling in Costa Rica and Nicaragua. It was my first land border crossing in a while, and I think my second ever on a bus. I got to see tons of great things, learned a lot about Central America and myself, and got to relax and enjoy the world. All in all I’ll give it a 9/10. If you missed any of the previous pieces, catch up starting with part 1,  part 2, part 3 and part 4.

After having spent a week in Nicaragua doing humanitarian work I was on my way home. That meant going back into Costa Rica to fly out. I had a couple of days to kill so I thought I’d stop by a hot springs area and relax a bit. Only the directions for how to get there I found on the Internet were wrong. I was stranded at the Liberia, Costa Rica airport.

Time to check options. It’d be about 5 hours by 3 local busses, assuming time tables were correct, and I was pretty sure they weren’t given the rainy season tends to play hell on them. Taxi would be $150 minimum. Rental car would be $70 plus insurance and gas and is have to bring it back to an airport 100 miles away from where I was flying back home from.

Different strategy: lose a half day for better options, more certainty and lower cost. Going to San Jose would be about 2h or so and it would give 3 direct, fast bus options to La Fortuna the next day. And if I took the 6am bus I’d get there in the morning around 9:30. Also more flexibility. Perhaps a flight change to come home sooner. Yep. Good options.

So back into Liberia to the local bus station. Busses every hour from the country’s second city to its first. And the bus passes through Cañas on the way so I can check it out and see what’s up. If it looks like I won’t get stranded then I can bail on that plan. Sweet. I set off.

An hour later, Cañas looked very promising with several hotels and some shops. Not a city by any means, but not the jungle either. I’m up for an adventure so I’ll try the 5 hour, 3 bus option. If the next city is like this one then getting stuck won’t be an issue. Quick bus change and I’m on my way to Tilaran. Problem. No buses  to La Fortuna until the next morning. Oops. The info desk at the airport must have had bad info. Stymied again by the travel gods.

A quick stop at a cafe lets me talk to the folks at the hostel I’m supposed to stay at in La Fortuna. It ought to be $50 for a taxi. Alright that’s better than $25 for a hotel and a delayed start in the morning. Also cuts travel time in half. Found a driver with good English but he wouldn’t go below $70 even upon threat of losing the fare to somebody else. Boo. But I’m low on time, it’s raining and I want to knock out my travel. $20 extra to the travel logistics gods and I’m on my way along the gorgeous circum-volcanic lake road.

Dark fell an the rain fell harder. A torrent at one point. We pressed on and the rain feigned resignation. About halfway in, we were greeted with a set of parked cars. We stopped. The road was flooded near the lake and trees had been washed onto it. Bad news. We were advised to turn back. The rain had struck again. But a cabbie with a fare on the line is undauntable.

When we reached the spot we found the gossip to be true. But men clad in galoshes were fording the stream. I thought maybe I could do the same and hitch a ride with someone on the other side. Unnecessary. The heroes were rolling and floating the tree pieces out of the way.

So we watched the trucks cross the rushing river. They were all large diesel trucks or SUVs. We were in a small Kia.

“Que piensas?” I asked. What did the driver think? “Pasamos.” We pass. But not before both of us made the sign of a cross. And pass we did with an expression of joy and relief.

Arenal Hostel Resort is exactly as it sounds. Quite nice. Went to my room and dropped of my bags. Grabbed a bite to eat at the bar and my free “welcome drink” and went back to the room. Pulled the curtains closed to change and heard one of the voices on the balcony say to the rest of the group “don’t shut us out come and join us.” I don’t think they knew I heard but I did. So I did go and join them. It was a group of Germans and one guy from Mexico City.

The next day I signed up for the hot springs river – a free trip. Piled into the bus and headed over. I was expecting a kind of a resort but it wasn’t. It was a drainage channel under the road where the river was warm from the hot springs upstream. Since it was raining, though, there was a large stream of cold water that made staying warm a bit tricky. When we arrived there were a couple of small groups there. The driver was coming back in a couple of hours and we figured it’d be a boring wait.

But more and more groups started showing up. Some of them had coolers of booze. And the rain stopped so the water got much warmer. The booze flowed cold and the river flowed hot, as lightning flashed in the sky. Someone had brought mud from the volcano and was giving out mud masks. Someone else found a condom in its wrapper (likely from someone else’s pocket) and made a balloon out of it. We batted it around like a beach ball among the 50 or so people there. When the appointed time came to leave we were disappointed to be going.

I spent a night in San Jose with a couple of the friends I’d met at the hostel. They made authentic Bavarian schnitzel for dinner – a real treat! And I got to meet their host family from a couple of years earlier when they’d been exchange students. It was great fun. We all stayed up past our bedtime drinking and laughing together.

The next day I was off to the airport back home. It’d been a great couple of weeks but I was ready for clean clothes and to get out of the heat and humidity. The trip was fantastic – I couldn’t have asked for better. Even the misadventures turned into great stories. It’s the kind of travel you always hope to have but seldom do.