For spring break this year I decided to go see Costa Rica. Unfortunately, all of my friends were going to Mexico and I couldn't convince anybody to go with me - so I went alone [place dramatic music here].
I didn't really prepare much before I went, but thankfully at least I had arranged for a car rental directly from the airport ahead of time. This saved my butt - especially since (as I found out later) I was actually traveling in Costa Rica during their Easter vacation - the busiest (and most expensive) time to be there. AHHHHH!!!! Catholicism+Easter=big deal. Spencer+Easter=who cares?
I wanted to avoid San Jose at all costs (San Jose is really a giant waste of time, and a sinkhole of life). I instead made arrangements to sleep in a hostel in Alajuela - the second largest dump in Costa Rica, and only 5 minutes from the airport. I can never understand why guidebooks always spill such an incredible amount of ink on such dumpy cities. The passage should simply read "a pit of despair - best when viewed from the rear-view mirror".
Now let's get one thing straight before I go any further. Despite what everybody told me, driving in Costa Rica wasn't bad at all... EXCEPT ONE THING: Costa Ricans don't believe in street signs. They just don't exist. Buildings don't have numbers, the streets are not named (well, they are named on the map, but there are no signs around). I now understand why the car rental place only gave me a very cheesy map to use - maps are almost worthless except to get a general idea of where you are going.
If you want to get anywhere, you will need to quickly master the skill of asking the locals. I preferred the "3's a charm rule", where I would pull up and pop my head out of the window with a smile and ask a quick "Donde esta [destination] por favor senor [senora]". The "3" is because I quickly found that I was forced to ask at least 3 locals in order to obtain the correct directions (some of them thought it was rather amusing to give me completely wrong directions, which I admit IS a bit amusing). My decision was almost entirely parity-based... if 2 agree, then that's the right way, otherwise keep asking.
Unfortunately, this was a tad sketchy at midnight in Alajuela. Out of desperation I finally gave up and started asking authentic crack dealers - none of whom knew anything - where 5th avenue (5ta Avenida) was. Amazingly, nobody EVER knew the street numbers or names. It was an extremely annoying realization. After driving around for over an hour, I finally found the cathedral in the center (it wasn't very big, so it was easy to miss). From there I navigated to the place - 2 hours late (which really ticked of the hostel owner, as if I care).
Of course, it was seriously sketchy to leave the car on the street for even 2 minutes while I could rouse the hostel owner. I did anyway, and he directed me to the guarded "car cage" nearby. This fortress even had a TOP - apparently people will climb up 20 feet of cage to get in and steal stuff. The hostel owner didn't speak a word of English, and I don't speak a word of Spanish, but sign language goes a long way. The best part was this: I had the whole room TO MYSELF... I actually slept well in a hostel for once!
Since I wanted to get an early start and get the hell out of Alajuela, I decided to take a shower that night. This was when I first discovered the Costa Rican shower. It is cold... pretty damned cold. That night was rather hot and humid, so I almost welcomed it - a fact which I'm ashamed to admit considering that later on in the trip I was crying while taking an ice-shower outside in the frosty mountains.
In the morning I grabbed some money and pointed that little car to the Pacific coast. The drive there was really very refreshing. I was extremely happy just to be out of crack-junkyville, and the ubiquitous mountain roads in Costa Rica offer a fair amount of impressive scenery straight out of the barrel. The downside is this: even the smallest distance is a long drive, but it's worth it!
Once I reached the coast I decided to stop in a biological reserve
called Carara. This is quite a nice reserve, and the best part is the
fact that NOBODY goes there. This was to be the recurring theme of my
whole trip - off the beaten path (for the most part). Here is a picture
of some crocodiles that I noticed from a bridge above. This is only
one picture, but there were at least 20 crocodiles hanging out ready to
devour any hapless victim who would stumble upon the river (by the way,
I did go to this river further upstream in the jungle).
If you are foolish enough to not believe my claim of 20 crocodiles,
here are more of them for fun
Like I said, here I am several miles deep into the Carara jungle on
the river - yes, the very same crocodile river. Despite the fact that
I was LITERALLY out in the middle of nowhere, I had to pay somebody
to guard my car (or rather, I paid them to not break into my car). Anyway,
here I am at the top of the hike:
The trail was really a dirt road through the jungle
and I managed to catch this little guy before he ran.
This flower was really interesting. What you don't know is that it was
literally about as big as my head (and I've been told that I have a bulbous
Carara was definitely awesome - a VERY welcome beginning to the trip. Because of my early morning start, I was actually done with Carara at about lunch time (I hiked for about 3 hours back there). This gave me the chance to press on to the "touristy" part of the trip: Manuel Antonio.
After several hours more (it isn't very far... probably only 100 miles or
so, but the roads wind) I pulled into Manuel Antonio. Again I was staying
in a hostel - this time it was pretty much party-central. Manuel Antonio
seems like the perfect place for spring breakers to go and drink their
lives away. I quickly claimed a bed (in a room of maybe 10 beds) and
decided to hit the beach for sunset (the beach was about a 40 minute walk
down). The views were truly incredible - I can definitely understand the
fame of this place:
I still had about an hour to enjoy, so I caught this tree growing right
on the rocks. Notice the colors - these red and yellow leaves were everywhere
in Costa Rica.
I managed to catch some really sweet photos of the sunset there, but I wanted
to get back to the hostel before dark (it isn't really safe to walk around alone
after dark, especially with camera, wallet, etc).
Up on the hill (I had to hike
pretty far up the hill) I caught this picture of the sunset. What a view!
Since I had nothing to do that night, I invited myself along with some hostel-mates (from Colorado) for dinner and a drink. They probably thought that I was annoying (especially since I was the "old man" of the group), but I was grateful to socialize anyway. Dinner was pretty good, but if you think that you are going to get some kind of fabulous cheap deals in Costa Rica then you are mistaken! Even considering the "gringo price" markup I felt that dinner was basically as expensive as a similar dinner in America. The restaurant, however, was really nice. It was in this particular place that I drank the most disgusting long island iced tea ever made! Being a common drink, I felt that it would be an safe bet. It was plenty strong on the alcohol, but tasted no better than turpentine!
Early the next morning (and I mean early... eventually I was rising before 5:00am) I decided to hit Manuel Antonio National Park, which is really a fabulous place even taking into account the hordes of tourists. I paid off the crack dealer on the beach to not break into my car (this time I actually witnessed him smoking crack), and away I went.
In typical Costa Rica tourist trap style, there was a group of guys manning some boats so that we could step over the lagoon (which was about 5 feet wide where they set up camp, but of course much wider anywhere else). Being the cheapest guy in the world, I considered just stepping through the lagoon. Looking down at my hiking boots, however, I decided to just pay the 50 cents rather than take the trouble to remove my boots (yes, I will fuss over 50 cents - note the "cheapest guy" claim made above).
Once inside I walked quickly to escape the infestation of other
annoying humans who tend to crowd the entrance. Here is a picture
of a very interesting spider that I found shortly after
A really nerdy guy I met a little while later pointed out an infested
beach of hermit crabs to me. Here's a cute little guy - one amongst thousands:
and the coconut trees were really cool!
The best was yet to come, however. After a long nature hike (in which I
saw a large variety of life) I came upon the famous back-beaches of Manuel
Antonio. These beaches are true paradise, as you can see
I'm such an idiot, but I decided to grab a seat on a log for a quick rest.
For some reason the aggressive behavior of this iguana didn't strike me as
odd (and not that of his 5 friends, either). After about 10 minutes some German
guy came up to me and pointed out that they CLEARLY wanted to get into this log.
Well, it turns out that I was sitting ON THE NEST! Blah blah blah, embarrassing
moment, blah blah blah.
I pushed on and managed to hike back into the jungle and back out onto the
second beautiful back beach in Manuel Antonio. Along the way I saw many
white-faced monkeys, but the pictures didn't come out very well.
Probably the most spectacular view of the region came after hiking another
45 minutes up a busy trail. Here is a view straight out to the Pacific from
a high vantage. I must have stayed there for at least a half hour just taking
in the paradise spread below me.
Here's one sloppy picture of a white-faced monkey. These little guys were
very playful (and everywhere along the trail)
I hiked out a few more hours in Manuel Antonio, but I managed to finish the park by about 1:00 in the afternoon (the advantage of rising at dawn). In lieu of eating (which became my motto on this whole vacation, especially toward the end) I decided to figure out where I would be sleeping that night. Unfortunately every single hostel room was booked (stupid Easter), but I noticed that there was a tent on the beach. Of course I had my tent with me, so I walked up to ask the peeps if they had any trouble camping on the beach. I was greeted by a group of very friendly hippies who had been living like that on the beach for about 6 months. They pointed to the VERY SAME CRACK DEALER who I had payed to not break into my car and said that for a dollar he let then sleep on "his beach". I weighed my options and decided that a dollar was worth avoiding an argument with some crazy crack-head.
Before committing my precious dollar, however, I was badly sunburned and needed to cool off. I took some time and ran into that water, which is probably the most comfortable ocean water in which I have ever been (it was incredibly salty, though).
After a dip cooled my head, I decided instead to not waste the rest of the day and try to press on towards my next destination - the high rainforests of Tapanti.
At this point I had a choice - I could drive completely back around in a giant loop for many hours, or I could try to take a dirt road of questionable quality for 40 km and meet the road on the other side. Obviously I chose the dirt road. I am unsure if this was a good choice because it took me the rest of the daylight to get across the dirt road, and in the process I really wasted on that rental car. After hearing all of the horror stories about how the rental car agencies in Costa Rica will try to claim copious damages from morons like myself, I was a little worried about the significant scratches that had resulted.
There wasn't time to worry right then, however, since daylight was running out and I needed to find a place to sleep. I was still several hours from even approaching Tapanti, so I decided to pull off into the beach town called Dominical at the other side of the dirt road - this was probably the best impromptu stop of the whole vacation.
Dominical is really a cool little surfer town. I set up my tent and hit the
beach to observe the last of the surfer crowd at dusk
Although the beach there was not as beautiful as that of Manuel Antonio,
it definitely had its own charm. I hit the social scene that night and
met several surfers who were downright nice. Before that, however, I found
a cool little "Soda" (Costa Rican cafe) where I could get a GOOD meal AND
a banana smoothie for 3 bucks! In one of the laid-back bars I met a couple
of guys - one of whom lives on a boat in Tonga - who invited me down with
them on the Osa Pensinsula. I seriously considered it all night, especially
since I have heard awesome things about Osa, but by
the morning I decided that there would not be enough time to get back for
In retrospect I should have gone, especially since I had a lot of time
at the end of my vacation, but nevertheless I parted with my two friends and
hit the road alone once more. Here is a view along the roadside on my way
towards the Valle Central. The drive consisted of SEVERAL HOURS of climbing -
I don't know if I have ever driven in such a steady and quick elevation
gain. Costa Rica is quite skinny, but they do have some high volcanoes,
so I guess it makes sense that the climbing would be intensive from the
coast to the Valle Central (the volcanic backbone of the country).
After driving a couple of hours back into the area around Cartago (another dumpy Costa Rican city) I became VERY lost. As usual, the city had no street signs, but this time when I asked somebody where to go I received an unexpected surprise - the guy jumped right into my CAR. He didn't appear too shady, and after about 30 seconds I realized that he was going to trade me a ride into town for showing me the way. I suppose that this is the way things are done around Cartago, because it happened to me TWICE MORE the next day!!! It was a good thing that they did, however, because I NEVER would have found those innocent little roads without some local help.
I had several destinations to hit in the region, so I decided to mix it up a little. Instead of heading to the Tapanti cloudforest right away, I chose to go have a look at the ruins at Guayabo. This was actually a pretty decent drive because the trip allowed me to see a great deal of coffee farming in the fertile volcanic soil of the Valle Central. It is incredibly interesting how they cover ENTIRE MOUNTAINSIDES with a netting - presumably to control the amount of sunlight that strikes the sensitive coffee plant.
I never did learn how to pronounce Guayabo - I received at least 5 tutorials from different locals and every one seemed to pronounce it in his/her own different way. As far as I can tell, it is spoken "GUA-YEOW". Anyway, I decided to run the gauntlet AGAIN with the rental car and drive far up a dubious dirt road to the ruins. If I had a truck then the road would have been fine, but I had to do some trickster driving in order to not bottom out in that little guy. Here's a tip if you want to rent a car in Central America - just break down and get the truck. The car is fine if you want to just go to Manuel Antonio-esque places, but to see rainforests you will probably need to go through plenty of dirt roads, not all of which are of high quality.
Upon arriving I noticed that I was pretty isolated out there - no tourists. Strangely, the ruins are at the end of a regular Costa Rican neighborhood dirt road. Little kids were being picked up and dropped off by the schoolbus, each one dressed in a blue uniform. It was nice, actually, to see at least some of the daily life in Costa Rica. I was the only visitor to the ruins, and it was a little late in the day, so I paid my entrance and had a fantastic time enjoying the ancient site in solitude and peace until dusk.
Here is a giant leaf - typical of the region.
From above I heard the most fantastic bird calls coming from many species of birds in the area - most of which are extremely beautiful. The birds love to call at dawn and at dusk, and I received quite a show.
Down below I began to enjoy the modest ruins at Guayabo. It is surprising
that this is really the only ruin site in Costa Rica. Apparently the rugged
nature of the land only allowed for a certain amount of native activity, although
such activity (as the locals are SURE to tell you) was extremely important
because it links North and South America. Nevertheless, the natives had
developed quite an elaborate system of waterworks, such as this water tank:
The ruins are best enjoyed in solitude.
I have no idea how to read this.
I'm not even certain what most of this was, although I think that it was
part of the foundation of large communal buildings
You might think that this is a road, but it ends in a cliff. I actually
think that it was part of their considerable waterworks, but I really don't
have any idea. I guess that's the price that I paid for solitude - ignorance.
I decided to set up camp and sleep out the rest of the night. You will quickly learn that once the sun goes down in Costa Rica then that's IT!!! There's nothing to do after that. I tried to read a little, but my copy of Hartshorne wasn't keeping my attention. A bit later a special university group of Americans showed up (or returned, to be more accurate) to take advantage of the birdwatching in the morning. They were rather nice, but for some reason this field trip made me think that they were all in junior high school camp. The professors seemed to have a tight leash on everybody. I think that they probably were high schoolers who were pretending to be in a university to impress me or something. Little do they realize that I'm not worth impressing...
They actually woke up about the same time that I did in the morning (about 5:00)
to view some birds. I wanted to invite myself along to receive some bird watching
education, but the instructors seemed very protective. I broke camp and decided
to press on towards Tapanti. Here is a morning view from the dirt road only
about a mile down from Guayabo. Quite impressive!
Several hours later I made it to Orosi, which is a small picturesque town
nestled in between the mountains. This is the jumping-off point to
the Tapanti mountain rainforest. I was surprised how far up the hillsides
they managed to cultivate (using a terracing system, of course). This church
was a rather nice surprise:
Tapanti itself was actually one of the most enjoyable sites that I visited
in Costa Rica. It is deserted. Most people don't even know that it
exists - even the locals. When asked about my destination, I would invariably
get the same blank stare. Even those in Orosi didn't seem to pay much mind
to the jewel so close.
The facilities were good - very good - and I was AGAIN the only visitor
to this national park. I admit that it IS a little out of the way, but the
sheer lack of visitation is reason ENOUGH to visit.
There are several short (1-2 mile) hikes, so I decided to start at the
top and work my way down. Considering the remoteness of the park, I was
surprised at the quality of the facilities there. They even had a fountain
up top - and the water was good! I noticed some waterworks at the top, and
I was told later that - in fact - Tapanti is really part of a large
hydroelectric complex in these mountains. This explains the good facilities.
Although it threatened rain the entire day, it never did. In fact, to my
surprise, it didn't rain once the ENTIRE TRIP. This is in stark constrast to
every one of my other trips. I guess I was reaping the reward for suffering
through 24/7 rains in Alaska (some of the hardest camping that I've ever done).
I was all alone, so I decided to take a naked swim in this river. It is
amazing how many different ecosystems thrive in such a small country! The
Costa Rican ocean was warm, but Tapanti was quite chilly, and this water was
mountain-fresh=COLD!!! My naked swim was enjoyable, especially since I hadn't
showered for several days (and I'd been hiking).
It turns out that the naked part was completely unnecessary (although I never
pass up an opportunity) because after putting my clothes back on I slipped
on the rocks and took a complete dive into that cold river. The situation was
pretty ridiculous, but having nobody around to laugh at me I just laughed at
myself and suffered the rest of the day with those chilly clothes (which never
dry in that climate, I can tell you)!!!
This tree was ENORMOUS!!! The picture just cannot do it justice.
I loved catching this flower on the trail - isn't this called Haliconia?
This flower was about the size of my torso!!! Quite a treat...
I'm starting to look more and more beat in this trip - just wait until
I asked the ranger about camping, and she directed me to the Finca Los Maestros
only about a kilometer down the road. Really, this is just two houses owned by
a very nice lady named Mireya Aquilar - the local principal at the Orosi school
about 15 kilometers away (at least that's as much as I understood, anyway).
I knew that I shouldn't have done it! The road to her house was straight up and TERRIBLE!!! I can never resist a challenge. Proceeding up the 1/4 mile climb, the car was slipping and sliding, certainly bottoming out. I'm pretty experienced driving on poor roads, but this one was too steep and too bad. I hit a patch of mud and slid right into a large rock on the side. I didn't want to stop and kill my momentum (otherwise I'd really be in a deep pile) so I abused that little car all the way up. Surveying the damage at the top, I was thoroughly depressed. I'd heard SO MANY horror stories of Costa Rican car rental agencies taking first-borns as payment for false damage, and this was REAL damage! I set up camp and took a nap until the return of Senora Aquilar.
You wouldn't believe it, but she is really one of the nicest people whom
I have met in my travels. She didn't speak a word of English, but we managed
to have a 3 hour conversation! I was armed with her English/Spanish dictionary,
and I learned more Spanish there than I thought possible. I told her of
my experiences, and she told me of her uncle who had found an archaeological
site while plowing his field - a site consisting of SHRUNKEN HEADS. She had
many interesting artifacts. Furthermore, she made me a full dinner AND a
full breakfast AND she let me camp - all for 6 bucks! Also, I had a couple
of cervezas to ease the chill from the mountain night. She seemed pleased
that her name was mentioned in my guidebook, so I snapped a photo. The view
from her house is really wonderful - quite a good life it seems!
I was happy that Mireya insisted that I take a blanket for the night, because
I DID get cold!!! Being cold all day didn't help, but with the blanket I slept
like a baby... and in the morning I awoke at my usual pre-dawn hour for an
early start to Irazu volcano. That breakfast was to be my last full meal
for the rest of the trip. Here is a view of the Orosi Valley from above
as I'm driving out - it is really amazing what kind of views can be had just
from the Costa Rican roadside.
Because of my early start, I was the first to reach Volcan Irazu in the
morning. It doesn't open until 8:00am, which was like noon to me by the
time the trip was over. I am unsure of the elevation of Irazu, but with
the spread of clouds and smaller mountains beneath me, it must not be short!
The green volcanic lake in the crater was AMAZING! I hiked around as
many angles as they would allow to have a look into the mouth of the beast.
The land was torn and broken
and the flora was stunted in growth. I always thought that it is amazing
how volcanic soil is extremely fertile - except near the crater itself... this
is more like a no-man's land, or the moon.
I hiked up to the peak of the volcano for a different perspective off of
the other side - they say that the ocean can be seen on a cloudless day.
The guides warn visitors to be early lest the dependable clouds roll in
about 10:00am, and I was very happy with my early morning view:
My jaw looks like the Jay Leno variety in this picture from the top. It
was really windy up there.
It was only about 10:00am when I decided to press on. I was getting hungry, but I completely ran out of money at this point. With 2 days left, my eating situation was looking pretty grim. My only cash was to fill up the gas tank at the end and return it to the car rental.
I decided to set myself up to have a look at Poas volcano early the next morning. Really the drive only took until about 2:00 in the afternoon, but trying to find a place to camp easily took up the rest of the daylight hours. I never did find a place to camp. Desperate, I found a place which offered me a room (really a shack) behind their restaurant. They really tried to pump money out of me, and I eventually paid about $5 - a complete ripoff. I was desperate, and I broke into my gas-money fund for it.
At this point I was pretty much through with Costa Rica. I was hungry, and the people around the restaurant were pretty annoying. I was filthy, so I forced myself to take a very cold shower in the chilly Poas Volcan air that night. It was here where I learned about the Costa Rican "hot" shower. They have this ridiculous (and dangerous) electric heater at the showerhead. It was Frankenstein-wired together, and when I turned it on I received a nasty shock. I got into the shower and I could feel the electricity pumping into me through the water! I turned off the stupid thing (with a stick) - it didn't warm the water worth a damn anyway. That was a COLD SHOWER, and I didn't recover for a good 15 minutes from the shivering.
I was getting hungry, so I decided to put myself to sleep (it was dark, but only about 7:00pm). To my EXTREME annoyance I had an scumbag group of Mexicans pull in and start the party in the shack next door. They were all over the place. Then suddenly one of them came into my ROOM! I jumped up and yelled at him to get out. I was infuriated! I unfolded the blade to my knife and put it under my pillow. They had a pretty good laugh over it. I heard "gringo" spill out of those fool's mouths about 100 times.
I was alone and feeling pretty vulnerable. You wouldn't believe it, but at about 2:00 in the morning they tried to come in again. I knew they were drunk and looking for trouble. This time I had placed some stuff in front of the door to impede their progress. In the time it took for them to get into the door a bit, I jumped up and gave that door a hard kick. It slammed the lead guy right in the nose - and probably broke it! They weren't laughing anymore. I don't think that they had any weapons, because otherwise I would've been in trouble. I gripped that little knife in my hand hoping that they would just GO AWAY! They did - they jumped in their bus and peeled out of there fast. I didn't sleep much for the rest of the night...
Now you wouldn't believe it, but in that little restaurant out in the
middle of nowhere they had a little dance-club that night! I have no idea
from where these people came, but they sure did come! Here is a picture of
the place before dawn. Below you can see the city, but we are actually a good
hour drive away!
I lovingly imagined burning that whole place to the ground. Instead I decided
to see if I could catch any early-morning birds to calm myself, which I didn't...
Again, I was the first person to sit at the Poas gates by at least an hour. So far I hadn't eaten for almost 24 hours, and now that I was calming down I was feeling it. I remembered my single almost-empty box of corn flakes, and carefully rationed myself out a couple of handfuls while waiting. While waiting I noticed the main staple of the high volcanic economy (besides tourism, of course) - raising cattle. Now I've seen cattle about a million times, but I have never seen cattle run up a mountain like that. They just run and run - very fast, too. It seems like such an unlikely site, but they SURE CAN RUN!
It turns out that I was TOO early for Poas, and the nightly steam clouds had not
cleared (there seems to be a crucial window of opportunity between the steam clouds
at night and the real clouds in late morning). My first view of the volcano
was obscured, but after walking around to the older crater (which is now Boto
Lake) and coming back I caught different photos. Here is the more obscured photo,
which in retrospect is actually more interesting:
Here's a shot of Boto Lake, now utterly unlike its now active brother - the
big crater of Poas.
Still, it was incredibly interesting to get a clear shot of the crater.
I noticed some vulcanologists in full protective suits taking samples of
the sulphur gas down near the crater rim. I secretly dreamed of being there
when their little expedition started. I would've explained that I am a
scientist and asked if I could join in - obviously I am no geologist
and they would've laughed at me, but man that would've been COOL!!!
The volcanic blue lake was as strange as the green crater lake of Irazu.
Jets of steam and sulphurous pools of liquid goo were boiling down there,
and I did get a chance to enjoy it until the crowds rolled in. That was
my cue to take off...
I rationed out another handful of cornflakes and decided to head for
the Lapaz waterfall gardens. Although I had no money to actually take the
tour, there is one waterfall that is right on the highway (and it is the
best waterfall, as I understand it). I do wish that I would've had some
cash for that tour, but it was $25 and I only had $10 - reserved for gas!
That waterfall was really cool!!! It is actually a two-stepped waterfall,
as can be seen here
You probably can't see it, but there is a wooden staircase that goes
right up the side of the waterfall - part of the tour. That would've
been cool - I regret not having the cash for the tour!!!
The tourguides were pretty protective of the waterfall, but this is a public
highway so they can't do much. Despite stepping into my way several times to
impede my progress, I just walked through them to get up close. As long as
I don't go on their property, there is nothing that they can do!!!
I still had more time left, but I couldn't go too far since I needed to catch an early morning flight down at the airport. Still, considering that I was rising before 5:00am I decided to go try for the Braulio Carillo National Park. Unfortunately this park is all but inaccessible. Sure, there is a road straight through it, but there seems to be no trails into this rugged landscape.
I decided to go for an obscure volcano called Barva which is reasonably
in the backcountry. Figuring that it would be a 9 mile hike in, I thought
that I could do it - and I could have. So I drove up and up and up - further
than you would think possible. The road became even less than a (very steep)
single lane. The car even stalled at one point because it was too steep.
The elevation gain was impressive. Finally I got to where I could go no more.
After asking a couple of locals about the volcano, I realized that nobody
has any idea that the volcano even exists. I wonder what they do every day!
Discouraged, I parked my car near a ranch at the top and decided to just hike
in the "up" direction. It was only about 2 miles in when the jungle became
too dense to go any further, so I set up camp. There was still plenty of
daylight left, but not enough to make another attempt. I was very hungry
at this point, and the previous night's events were still keeping me edgy.
I hiked back down (for something to do) and to my EXTREME consternation
I found that my car had been parked in by about 20 cars!!! Again, I don't
know HOW THEY DO IT, but this was pretty remote. There was a single rancher
living up there, and apparently he was having an Easter party (again, that
Easter foiled my PLANS!!!) I was concerned that the cars would still be
there in the morning - and I had to catch an early flight. On the other
hand, I didn't want to have to deal with an angry rancher and his millions
of guests. I tried to stay hidden and hiked back into my camp, where the
mosquitos were killing me. I was pretty defeated, as can be seen here
I hoped that they would be gone in the morning... and the only company that I had was Hartshorne (and algebraic geometry isn't good company for those kind of moods). Thankfully, I arose at 5:00 and hiked out to find that the cars were GONE!!! The place was once again a piece of deserted high-country!!! I jumped in and ran my car down the side of that volcano (it turns out that I was actually on a different volcano NEXT to Barva).
Now I hadn't eaten for quite some time... I filled up the gas and reluctantly returned to the car rental agency. I was trying to act normally while they were inspecting the car. AHHHHH - the man stopped and gave heavy inspection to the exact place where I had scraped the rock back in Tapanti!!! He looked disappointed. The two men returned and started filling out chunks of paperwork - all damage claims. I acted dumb until they asked me to sign at the bottom! I asked what I was signing, and they informed me of the damage. Of course, I lied and said that I had only taken the car on good roads. They didn't care. I asked how much the damage is - and wouldn't YOU BELIEVE IT!!! For once that full insurance PAID OFF!!! Here's a lesson: always get the full insurance in Costa Rica, and even then they might try to screw you. Also, Payless Car Rental Agency is a good one - cheaper than the rest and good with their word!!! YES!
Now you wouldn't believe it, but when I got to the airport I found that I had an extra $20!!! I feasted on fast food and used up the rest of my colones buying several bottles of rum (one of which my good friend Larry in Texas drank by himself - and barely lived to regret it)!