Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Costa Rica

Early in the morning I took a flight back to Mexico City where I would have to check in again for my international flight to Costa Rica. This all seemed fine until I got to the front of the line and they wouldn't let me check in because I only had a one way ticket. At this stage I didn't have a clear plan on how long I would stay in Costa Rica or where I would go next. There was a lot of pleading and arguing in bad Spanish on my part. This kind of shit really annoys me. Why do airlines let you book a one way ticket if they are going to make it difficult for you to board? They should have some kind of warning when you make the booking. Anyway I got taken upstairs where I logged into my Qantas Frequent Flyer account and printed out my flight in December back to Australia. Thankfully this was enough for them to let me on the plane.

San Jose

I arrived in San Jose a couple of hours later and was worried that they were going to give me the same grief. However, the immigration guy didn't ask me anything about my leaving plans and instead focused on how I have lovely small hands and how you can do so much with small hands. 

Err, like what? 

Freak! 

I just smiled and nodded so he'd stamp my passport and let me in.

Most things you read about San Jose are true. It's a shit hole and if you can avoid staying there, I would recommend that. In fact San Jose is right up there with Bogota for first place on my list of 'Shittest Capital Cities I've visited'.

Imagine how depressed you'd be if you had to work in this building everyday? Someone kill me now please.


I stayed in three different hostels and they were all very average. The worst one was this. It was totally shit. Half the lights didn't work, there was no water in the shower unless you asked them to turn it on, there was a shortage of pillow cases, and the fan only works with the light on. Yeah that's handy for going to sleep! There's definitely a market opportunity for a good hostel in this city. The best one was probably this one. When I was there, there were quite a few retired Americans staying there, which is fine, but some of them really are clueless. One guy said to me "half an hour out of Sydney it's all dirt roads right?". Seriously mate, when were you there last? Half an hour outside of Sydney you're still in fucking Sydney. Plus every road out is a multi-lane freeway. Idiot.

Thankfully San Jose does have some decent veggie food including this excellent Asian place Tin-Jo. It looks a bit shite on the outside, but inside is very nice and the staff are super helpful and friendly. I went here a couple of times and everything was great. I highly recommend the (vegan) sorbet sampler on the dessert menu if you have room left at the end. Or just go there and have that.

There is a great smoothie/ juice bar chain throughout Costa Rica called Cosechas. I drank a lot of juices from here. It's reasonably priced, uses good quality ingredients, and uses vitamixes to blend everything so they are nice and smooth.

I also discovered Bioland, which makes organic food and body care products. Everything I saw in shops (Dos Pinos supermarkets seemed to be the largest stockists of their products) was vegan including the shampoo and conditioner. Handy if you're a traveller and running low like I was.

There isn't much to see in San Jose so you can knock the main sites off in a couple of hours. There are some dodgy areas but you can walk around safely during the day without getting mugged so ignore all that crap on tripadvisor about how the city is 'so dangerous'. As always, don't act like a dickhead tourist and you'll be fine. 



 






Unlike most places I've visited, San Jose has numerous bus stations instead of one or two central ones, depending on where you're going. Getting to some of these involves walking down some dodgy streets unless you take a taxi. The one I needed each time involved walking up calle 12 past homeless people and there were human shits everywhere. There's no way I would have walked up this street at night cos it was quite dodgy. During the day is ok, but stick to walking on the road unless you want to risk stepping in human waste. It smelled like piss too. Gross.

I ended up spending about four days in total in San Jose. Most of this however, was at the dentist. Yes, I decided to dabble in some medical tourism while I was there. Before I left Australia I had a check up and, long story short, was told I need a tooth removed and implant and it would cost about $6,000. 

Yeah. Nah. Fuck that.

So before I started my trip I looked on the internet to see where Americans go for medical tourism. Cost Rica is the numero uno destination. I found this dentist and when I knew my dates for Costa Rica, made myself an appointment. The dentist waiting room was mostly full of retired Americans and Canadians getting some/ most/ all of their teeth replaced, me, and about two locals. I was chatting to one guy who was on his second trip for more work and he told me I'd made a good choice. When I finally made it to the dentist chair the dentist told me he could do some surgery under the tooth to clean out the infection, do a bone graft, stitch it up, give me some antibiotics and I could keep my tooth. All for the grand total of $500. When I asked why I was never offered this in Australia, he said he doesn't know much about Australian dentisty but American dentists always offer the most expensive treatment possible. I would assume ours are the same since they all like their McMansions and sending their kids to expensive, stupid, religious schools. 

That shit don't come cheap y'all.

So despite having to spend more time in San Jose than I would have liked, I basically went on holidays to Costa Rica to SAVE $5,500. Was I happy with the quality of work performed? Yes. It was no different to being in the dentist at home, although he did like to stroke my arm a bit too much when I nearly passed out getting stitches put in. Then again, it is a Latin culture so men invading your personal space is just one of those of things. You get used to it.

Would I go there again if I need major work done? Definitely. I'm writing this three months later and my tooth is fine. Take that western medical practitioners with your outrageous fees!

Monteverde

Thankfully everywhere else outside of San Jose is quite beautiful. After a four hour bus ride I arrived in the rainforest town of Monteverde. The biggest attractions of this place are the rainforest walks and associated nature based activities. Unfortunately Costa Rica is really expensive (like $17 just to visit the national park), so unless you are loaded up with cash you can really blow your budget here.

There a couple of places to visit and I chose to visit the Monteverde Cloud Rainforest. The pushy woman at the hostel who kept trying to sell us tours told us there was a bus. However, that bus never came so me and some Americans ended up splitting a taxi there. We did manage to get the bus back though. 

Guess where old American school buses go to die? Central America! They are everywhere. As a non-American it is a novelty riding on one of them cos they are just like on tv! 


Back to the cloud rainforest, it is quite a magical place. I didn't go in peak season so it was not that busy. I ended up walking on my own for part of it, and it's just so beautiful and peaceful with the trees and clouds and slight rain. There's good energy here. You come out feeling very calm. I really enjoyed it and highly recommend it.





















Not sure about this though.



Seriously? Who thinks that looks good except maybe grandmas.

I liked Monteverde and would have liked to have stayed longer. However, the hostel owner was unbearably pushy trying to sell her tours. She would come knocking on your door asking you "what are you doing tomorrow? What tour can I book you on?" all the time. She could not understand why you might just want to hang out and relax in such a beautiful place and not spend ridiculous amounts money on tours you've been pushed in to. She annoyed me so much I only stayed two nights and booked the 'jeep, boat, jeep' to La Fortuna through someone else. Prices vary considerably, so walk around and get some quotes. I paid $15 which is much better than the usual $20-25 other people paid.

La Fortuna

The 'jeep, boat, jeep' is the quickest way to get to La Fortuna. It is what it says on the tin. You get a jeep to a lake, cross the lake on a boat, then get another jeep to your accommodation. It's way quicker than the bus which has to go all the way around. Plus you might get to see some cool stuff along the way. Like monkeys.


And a sloth.


And wind farms. There were heaps actually. Good to see. I like clean energy and sticking it to coal/ oil/ gas/ nuclear/ whatever.


Arenal volcano.


Whatever this guy is.


Like Monteverde, La Fortuna is expensive. I decided to do a volcano walk and the hot springs since these were the cheapest options. I thought this would involve walking up the volcano (for a bit) but it didn't. Apparently you can't climb it because it's relatively active and therefore too dangerous or something.


The rainforest here didn't have anything on Monteverde although we did see a howler monkey. The best bit of the tour was meeting Emma and Guyatri, two girls from Melbourne. Afterwards we went to the Baldi Springs, which were excellent. I love hot springs. These are the cheapest springs you can visit here unless you go to the free ones at the river. However, I read/ heard mixed reports on the cleanliness and safety of them.












Baldi Springs was by far the best hot springs I've been to. It also does a $5 all you can eat dinner buffet, which was pretty good and had a reasonable selection of vegan food. If you're feeling rich (or not a backpacker) you can even stay there. I imagine the rooms would be quite luxurious. That said, La Fortuna does have some good quality hostels if you're trying to do Costa Rica on the cheap.

Manuel Antonio

The girls were leaving for Manuel Antonio (Pacific side) in the morning so I decided to go with them. The journey is a good few hours--although nothing in Costa Rica takes more than a day to get to--so we sat in the shuttle talking about the important things. 

Like, how shit Australia was at cricket.

How when we play shit the Australian public turns on them in an instant (obviously they have redeemed themselves more recently).

Murali's retirement and how India almost had a national day of mourning for that.

That Indians love their cricketers even if they are playing shit.

And, that Daniel Vettori is a hot cricket nerd. 

I'm pretty sure all the Americans in the shuttle were like "what the fuck are these girls talking about?"

Anyway, the girls already found a hostel so I went with them. It had some pretty amazing sunset views.



Manuel Antonio has a beautiful national park with a beach. I think this one was only $10 to get in, which is cheap compared to Monteverde. 



There are monkeys everywhere and they like chips.



Those capucins are smart little bastards. They'll go through your bag if you're not paying attention like this woman wasn't.


Tree lizard.


Iguana.


Deer.


The private beach.


Raccoons.




The main beach in the town.


Manuel Antonio is a great spot. I recommend going there.

Puerto Viejo

I had another day in San Jose to have my stitches removed (not pleasant) and a final dental check up. I also got to have one final dinner with the Aussie girls before they headed off to Mexico the next morning.

For me, it was another walk up calle 12 past all the shits and homeless people to the bus station to get to Puerto Viejo on the Caribbean side. Before I arrived I heard it was a laid back place full of middle aged hippies from the US. To back that up, the first thing I noticed getting off the bus was a strong marijuana smell.

Although the town is small it's apparently pretty dangerous here. People tell you there's heaps of murders but they only seem to be killing locals so it's alright if you're a tourist. 

Phew! 

I don't understand why this place is so dangerous cos it's so chilled out and lovely. It feels very safe walking around, unlike San Jose for example.






I liked this place so much I decided to stay for a about five days to give my tooth more time to heal. The last thing I needed was to leave Costa Rica and then need some emergency dental surgery.


While I was here I sorted out my flights, changing my flight home from December to February and a buying a flight from Panama to Bolivia. I used a Spanish website and saved $300 compared to the English version. So happy. I was not going to go to Panama but Puerto Viejo is very close to the border and I met loads of people heading north who only had good things to say.

Loved this veggie place. I went here every day to try something different.



One time while I was waiting, some birds decided to help themselves to bananas. 

Get in there!




The best hostels I've stayed in during this trip are ones run by Germans. If you are somewhere and find one, stay there. They are well organised, clean, and the rules (such as quiet time) are stuck to so you can get a decent sleep. This hostel was no exception. The only problem is they don't take bookings. To guarantee yourself a bed you need to arrive on one of the earlier buses and hope some people are checking out. After that you can stay as long as you want.

German hostels also attract Germans, which is good cos I like hanging out with them. On one of my days I went with a German girl to Cahuita National Park.

This place does not have a set entrance fee (hooray) so we paid $5 each to get in. This was by far the best national park I visited. It was a bonanza for wildlife.

Monkeys.

  


Agouti.


Big bug.


Gorgeous blue crabs.




Poisonous snake.



Sloth.



Raccoons.



Squirrel.


Crabs eating a coconut.



Then there's the private beaches. Obviously we stopped and went for a swim.








An absolutely gorgeous place. This was by far my favourite national park.

Once you come out (it's about 8km if you walk the whole way around) you can walk down a dirt road to the main road to get the bus back to Puerto Viejo. Some enterprising guy has opened up a pool bar just back from the road. He knows all the bus times and will tell you when you have to get out.



I also liked that it was playing iconic gay anthems such as Your Disco Needs You and It’s Raining Men. This odd place was a very welcome alternative to sitting on the side of road for 45 minutes.

The next day I rented a bike and went to Playa Uva, about 8km away down this road through the rainforest.



Absolutely beautiful. Definitely one of the nicest beaches I've ever been to. 

I tried to go snorkelling but it just made me feel sea sick.







Apart from San Jose, and being expensive generally, Costa Rica was great. My favourite place was Puerto Viejo. The beaches are beautiful, the food is really good and has a Caribbean twist, and the national parks are amazing. It is easy to spend time here before heading south to Panama.

Next stop: Bocas del Toro.

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