Jan 23-28, 2014

Let me preface this by saying that nature-wise, Costa Rica is the most beautiful country so far. It’s a perfect beauty, the kind you see in postcards, and that you don’t forget easily. Personally, I prefer Guatemala and its untamed, raw good-looks, but most people choose Costa Rica for a variety of reasons, beauty and safety being at the forefront. After the border crossing, I pass through Liberia, which could easily be a small US town, with GNCs, Burger Kings and thousands of car rental places. When I get to Playa Langosta at night, I might as well be somewhere in Daytona Beach. Dudes in board shorts flip-flopping around and college girls with bathing suit tan marks. Everyone strolls by loudly, slightly tipsy. 80% are 100% American. The Ticos watch over from their stores or fruit stands or guard posts with quiet and still looks.

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I hang out for two days with Gwenna and Eli, who are great couple, and who show me around town. We even have time for some Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu the next night, something I haven’t practiced in two years, and for which I pay dearly the morning after. They’ve moved here from New York and I can’t blame them. I’m slightly jealous, especially since back home, I hear Queens might as well be Alaska, with record low temperatures. Their dog is gorgeous and it begs each day to go to the beach, where it proceeds to run into the waves non-stop, for hours. Somebody should make dog juice and sell it as an energy drink.



After Tamarindo, I head over to the Arenal Volcano, for some high-altitude zip-lining and to see the rain forest. Again, the sights are amazing.

I spend the night in San Jose, in a crummy hostel room in a beautiful colonial building. I eat sushi (not good) and check out some local bars (also not good). The next day, I’m back on the road to the famous Osa Peninsula, host to the Corcovado National Park, described by National Geographic as “the most biologically intense place on Earth, in terms of biodiversity”. I don’t have a jeep, so I have to stop in Puerto Jimenez, the main base camp for most travelers heading out into the jungle. Everything is drop-dead gorgeous. Costa Rica is the Victoria’s Secret of nature.

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I sit down at a beach-side restaurant, and ask for an octopus ceviche and a ‘Mariscada’. In El Salvador, this was a soup/stew with a cornucopia of seafood. Little do I know, in Costa Rica, this becomes a seafood platter, that probably weighs a good 15 pounds. It’s absolutely delicious. When I get the $50 bill, I regret not asking before how much it would be. That night I forget about dinner. Everything in Costa Rica is muy expensive. In Nicaragua you could get by with spending $7 for a dinner plate and a beer – here it will run you over $20, easily. I probably spent more money in Costa Rica then all the countries so far put together.

Back at the cabanas where I’m staying, I ask about visiting the Corcovado park. I’m told this is a feisty endeavor and if I don’t plan on spending the night, there’s little point in going. It takes 3 hours to get there, I need to catch a bus at 8.30AM and then take a boat and then hike for an hour or so. Then you have to be back from the jungle by 1.30PM to catch the bus back to Puerto Jimenez. If you miss it, you’re kinda sorta screwed. Also, lodging in the park is around $80 a night. I’m given a much better option: hiking to Cabo Matapalo, somewhat at the tip of the peninsula, offering both beaches and jungle. It’s an hour drive and then a 45 minute hike and I’m promised the same beauty as the park. This is later confirmed by two independent sources from Canada and Sweden. A family that I meet, regrets going to the park instead of Cabo Matapalo. The night before, they got on a last-minute plane back to Puerto Jimenez in the middle of the night – the jungle proved to be too much for them. The receptionist tells me that I should take a taxi and not my car since it’s so low to the ground and the roads are perfectly unpaved. The handyman says I’ll be fine. I decide to drive and see what happens.

The road to Matapalo is indeed pretty rough, I hit potholes and rocks. I also ford my first river. I don’t want to jinx anything, but I’m really starting to appreciate the outstanding solidity of Bertha. It might as well be a rhino. Those Swedes really know their meatballs. I stop and park at the Buena Esperanza bar, since the next river crossing would swallow the car up to its headlights. The bar is a trippy sight, not only because of the decor and Hotel California playing through a laptop, but mostly because it’s in the middle of nowhere, on a dirt road, right outside the jungle.

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I finish a beer and start hiking. I pass lots of secluded cabins, promising hammocks, fans and hot showers (I don’t know why – it’s so hot, there’s no chance cold water exists here). My shirt and hat are drenched and I’ve already gone through half of my water supply. I make every possible wrong turn on the way and take twice as long to reach the ocean. I see the most breath taking beach ever. Wild sands, white foamy waves on blue, cliffs of green with waterfalls spilling through the forest and into the ocean. Pacific, and for a reason.

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I turn back around and head into the jungle, with some hand scribbled directions pointing me to a waterfall. I hike uphill for about half an hour, until the little path I’m on ends, and I’m fully under the canopy. The sounds are cacophonous. There’s groups of monkeys swinging high up in the trees, and when I stop to say Hi, they too stop and stare without saying anything. Not very polite monkeys. I keep hearing people screaming but it turns out to be crazy birds.

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By now I’ve sweated all the water out of me, and strangely enough I reach an equilibrium of temperature, that might be described as slightly comfortable. I find a waterfall, and there’s a group of Germans trying to rappel down. Obviously, I haven’t gone deep enough. I keep hiking and find another waterfall.

It’s getting late and I’m thirsty so I start hiking back down to the base of the waterfall. I take a refreshing dip and start to head out. I have to bypass a lot of big rocks and fallen tree trunks, and I stray a little from my course. I need to get back to the beach, which I know is East, so I check the compass on my watch and see that I was heading South this whole time. Close enough. I correct direction and soon I’m down by the ocean again. Thanks Casio.

The next day, I leave Puerto Jimenez and head out to the border with Panama. On the way there, around the cities I pass, I see the same thing I’ve been noticing all through Costa Rica. It’s white people. They’re in shorts and they’re running furiously. They’re all wearing name-brand clothing with UFO shaped reflective sunglasses and blinding dayglo Nikes. I don’t know what they’re running from, but I start getting flashbacks of the West Side highway, and being preached about the benefits of running next to the worst smog and traffic in NYC. Unlike the West Side highway though, these people are running without a divider, next to big trucks that haven’t had a catalytic converter since 1972, pushing 70mph. (Note: Costa Rica is where I see the most car accidents so far).

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There’s also cyclists. I have a bike, I pedal once in awhile – I get it. But here, there’s whole families, mom and dad, kids lagging 100 feet behind, hating their life, wheezing on the side of the Pan-American highway. I wonder what they’ve been drinking. In the mountains, there’s another breed, the semi-pros, fully decked out in shiny aerodynamic helmets and sporting multi-thousand dollar bikes. It’s quite the sight. The Ticos, with barely a shirt on their back, carrying fruits and ice with their rickety bikes and horses, stare at these parades of foreign spandex and money, furiously pedaling up and down the winding mountain roads. Roads that are tiny, with nothing but blind turns. After being stuck for 10, 20 minutes repeatedly behind these wobbling and barely moving billboards, I start to hate cyclists everywhere – not just the fixie sporting, brakeless faux-hippies of Williamsburg. I leave Costa Rica already missing its beauty but not its prices and battalions of tourists.

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These are the personal views and thoughts of the author, and in no way shape or form reflect the views of Shipwreck Rally LLC.