The biggest danger with bringing your car in for maintenance on a Friday is that it may be Monday before the work is finished. Unfortunately for Rodrigo, that’s the verdict for today. Apart from the general maintenance and oil changes he needs a bit of work on the front axle… and that will only be finished on Monday. So that gives us a lot of time to explore San José!
So we went to the garage to pick up some stuff for the weekend and walked back to the hostel, where we extended our stay until Monday. We are only paying €15 per night for a private room and bathroom and fully equipped kitchen – so we could be stuck in worse places! Especially the first hot shower in over a month is a big success!
We walked to the downtown area of San José in the afternoon to see some of the main sights in the capital. On the ‘Plaza de la Justicia’ you can see the sculpture ‘Tradition, Stability and Justice’ from Ibo Bonilla. The stone sphere are icons of Costa Rica’s history, tradition and identity.
The ‘Museo Nacional de Costa Rica‘ is located inside a fortress that still shows the bullet holes from the civil war in 1948.
We had lunch at ‘Bokados‘ and contemplated if we should not open our own restaurant once we get back home…
We did some grocery shopping for the weekend and on the way back we stopped for a (big) beer and juice – it is a Friday night after all!
Tomorrow we will explore the area around San José with public transport!
We have all the time in the world
Time enough for life to unfold all the precious things love has in store
And every step of the way will find us
With the cares of the world behind us
Well, it’s easy. If you are in LIberia, just drive down the Panamerican Highway and you will end up in San José (Costa Rica, not the one in California unless you drove north). Our navigation sent us a bit around, but as the roads are generally of high quality that did not pose any problem. On the way over, we saw already some beautiful volcanoes and coast lines popping up at the horizon.
We made it safely to the capital city and we found our hostel ‘Castle Tam‘ for tonight quite easily. We went for lunch at ‘La Pomodora’, which was a bit pricey but a nice experience with only locals in the restaurant.
After lunch we dropped our towels off at the laundry around the corner. We then unpacked the car and headed for the Toyota dealer to provide some much needed TLC for Rodrigo. We explained the car history to the service rep, started the engine to reproduce the funny rattling sound we have been hearing and signed off for a full maintenance. We have driven 15.000km in 2 months – that would average around 90.000km a year – and that takes its toll on a car – especially an old buddy like Rodrigo – on these roads. Some of the dealer’s process steps appear a little odd to us. Like, they put a little blue flag with number nine on the car and the interior was wrapped up in plastic. We are looking forward to see the results tomorrow! 🙂
On the way back we did some grocery shopping and landed back at the hostel to plan a bit for the next few days.
You can tell by a lot of things that Costa Rica is a very developed country in Central America
- You can buy Coke Zero
- There are signs on the road announcing that there are signs further down the road (for example “hombres trabajando en 300m”)
- So far we have not seen farm animals crossing the road
- There’s McDonald’s and Burger King and both have free internet
- Toll roads are back in business, although it’s very cheap (maximum €1 each time you pass a booth)
- We saw a speed camera on the road
- Most people will respond to you ‘en ingles?’ resulting in a big smile on your face
- We haven’t spotted any tangled electricity wires
Not that all these things are necessarily good things or signs of civilisation, but it is strange, the things you notice after 2 months. The drawbacks are of course that life here is much more expensive than in Nicaragua. It’s not only the currency that makes it look expensive (we paid about 1.500 colones on the toll roads today, which is about €2) but it is generally more expensive.
On another bright note, we have been looking around for shipping the car from Panama to Colombia and our current target is to have the car on a boat that leaves Colon (on the Atlantic side of Panama) on 4 or 5 October. We’ll see how that works out but it means we have some time to enjoy Costa Rica and Panama!
Do you know the way to San José
I’ve been away so long, I may go wrong and lose my way
Do you know the way to San José
I’m going back to find some peace of mind in San José
After only 5 days in Nicaragua, we decided it was time to move on to Costa Rica! We spent the night on the beach at ‘Mathilda’s’ and after a healthy breakfast of locally grown bananas, oranges and pitaya (an experience which seems to leave a trail:)), we packed up the car and headed to the border!
When we arrived at the border, we met the typical scene… no sign posts anywhere, a long line of trucks blocking the view, a bunch of guys jumping on the car flashing a home-made badge… and a bunch of officials who couldn’t care less. We have already learned that the people who are desperate to help us are the non-officials and the bored people in the back wearing the official costumes are the officials. We had to be quite firm to deny any help (people even jumped on the car, again) but in the end everybody left us alone.
So we headed to the officials – reversing a bit down the road as we had driven a bit too far and started the process. First we checked ourselves out of Nicaragua at the cost of 3 USD per person. Then our vehicle permit was signed off once, then once again by somebody else outside (who held the paper on his knee when we received the stamp) and then once more by a police officer who inspected the car from 100m away. Then we stepped into an air-conditioned office (lovely as we had a very humid day with 33°) and somebody typed it all up and sent us on the way to Costa Rica!
On the way to Costa Rica we handed over the old vehicle permit to the officer in the middle of the road and drove through the fumigation stand but there was no one there to collect any fees. We did not feel like waiting around to pay either so we continued. After driving for about 1km to the left we finally spotted a white building which looked to be the immigration desk. We got our passports stamped by the nice lady at immigration and Marijke’s bag was x-rayed on the way out. We then headed to the customs desk #1, across the street, where we filled out a piece of paper and handed over copies of our documents. We then walked over the parking lot looking for the insurance office, which was on the complete other side and hidden behind the many parked trucks. (Honestly, I sometimes wonder how we manage to find these places! Somehow Marijke has a knack for these things and can read the minds of the Central American government architects as she always seems to be aware of where these buildings are located, maybe its a sixth sense?). In any case, we got insurance for Costa Rica and then headed to customs desk #2 to finalise the paperwork. We had to wait for about half an hour because somebody cut in front of us and they just take a very long time to finish up the paperwork, but then finally we received all the necessary documents. We walked back to the car and then drove across the border where an official did a check-up of all our papers. It was not the most difficult border crossing but the distance between all the different desks was the furthest of any experienced so far. You wonder who invents these things…
We drove to ‘Liberia‘ and stopped at the Burger King to use the internet. The burgers smelled great but we resisted. We booked a hotel/motel/hostel (mostel? *) for tonight to plan our visit to Costa Rica. Also, four nights in a row in the tent is more than enough! As we had planned to take Rodrigo in for a full maintenance at a Toyota dealer, we tried the local one just around the corner. Unfortunately he did not have any availability until 30 September. We went on-line and through the magic of on-line chat (in English thankfully) we have an appointment this Friday at 7am in San José!
Border line, feels like I’m going to lose my mind
You just keep on pushing my love over the border line
* I will copyright this word
Time to say goodbye to the island! Today we headed back to the mainland and continued our path towards the south. As the ferry only left at 12:30pm we had the morning to chill out and have a late breakfast. Marijke was passionately gripped by her book whilst Patrick took a little stroll on the beach on the lake site to see the last glimpses of the volcanoes and black lava beaches.
At 11:00am we drove towards the port where we waited for the ferry to arrive. Once Patrick had manoeuvred the car (now as an experienced professional – he had done it once before) on the boat we looked for a place on the sun deck. The sun was shining nicele out there and there were also not that many little flying bugs (which seemed to be a real plague today). By the time we were halfway through the lake, the book was finished and passed on to his next owner who also got sucked in by the story immediately.
Back on the mainland we headed for a Pacific Ocean beach camping called ‘Castaway hotel’. When we got there – which was a challenge on its own – Rodrigo even had his very first mud slide course today – we noticed that the camping wasn’t reachable by car so we opted for the neighbouring campsite instead, ‘Campground Mathilda’s’. It’s quite an expensive one (10 USD for the night, no hot water and no internet and we are parked on the other side of the road with barbed wire, a locked gate and 2 dogs between our car and the toilet) but Patrick just didn’t want to drive all the way back up on the slippery road, at least not today.
Now that we were not going anywhere else, we relaxed at the beach which has a beautiful rock formation in the middle.
When we got back to the car and pulled up the tent, we noticed we had a little issue. I’m not sure if you can see but the back shouldn’t be twisted like that. The stick inside had somehow broken. This piece is not critical but it keeps the rain out so it’s still worth fixing. We tried to glue it back together with our super strong monkey duck tape but that didn’t really work. With no solutions at hand tonight, we pushed the broken stick back in and we’ll try to buy some though electricity wire tomorrow or the day after to see if that might do the trick.
Notice also that Rodrigo is slowly but surely collecting more country stickers!
Lines and lines of book spines cover every wall
Dirty aisles along the titles
Where you run your eyes
Today we weren’t very active. There was the plan to climb one of the volcanoes but somehow it was noon before we knew it. We had to clean out the tent to let the sleeping bags dry which took most of the morning. As it takes about 8 hours to go up and come back down the volcano before sunset, we couldn’t join any groups anymore. So we left our campground and started looking for a new place to stay for the night.
Whilst we drove down the island looking for a new campsite we made a stop at the ‘Ojo de Agua‘ – supposedly a fountain of youth. I don’t know if drinking from it will make Patrick any younger or will just condemn him to a day on the toilet tomorrow – only the future will tell :). Marijke played it safe and enjoyed a fresh coconut instead, chopped open on the spot!
After the relaxing swim we headed to a hotel to see if we could camp there as well. As it was only 5 dollar to camp and they offered us free towels we decided to go for it! We then drove to the town where the ferry arrives, to book a spot for tomorrow. We have a reservation now for 12:30pm, so we’ll make sure to be there on time as we know the boat doesn’t hold for latecomers. In a nearby local coffee bar we enjoyed a coffee and a Jamaican ice-tea.
We drove back to the campsite – crossing the landing strip of the airport on the way! We also stopped to pick up our laundry. As not everything was dry we will have to hang it out to dry tonight still.
Lie down on the couch – what does that mean?
You’re a nut – you’re crazy in the coconut
What does that mean?
We had a lazy Sunday morning at the ‘Finca Magdalena’, eating our own sandwiches (with Nutella – worth it’s weight in gold) and drinking a coffee. Unfortunately Marijke wasn’t feeling so great today – so we did not have a very active day. We started with playing some card games – ‘Gloom’ remains a favourite after 2 months on the road (it’s not like we have many other options of course… :))!
After a few games we headed out to the beach – only to find the road blocked by a tree that had fallen down in yesterday’s storm. Not after long ‘un hombre’ with an axe turned up and we helped him to clear the road. After 15 minutes the job was done. We thanked the man and he thanked us in return for the support. We continued on the bumpy road and got to the main road without any other surprises.
We had a nice walk on the beach in the sunshine and came across some goats that were enjoying their Sunday afternoon.
As Marijke was pretty exhausted after that, we drove back to the campground. Yesterday we arrived in the dark and now we could actually see how steep and rocky the road actually is! Our faithful companion Rodrigo drove up the road without any issues. On days like today, it’s nice to have a V8. Actually that counts for every day here!
Back at the campground, we played some more games and took some pictures of the birds and the plants. We’ll have an early night to recover and then start thinking about what to do tomorrow. As we have to pick up our laundry tomorrow evening, we are confined to another day on the island. However with the beautiful nature and volcanoes in the background it’s not really a punishment. It’s hard to believe that they are seriously considering digging the Nicaragua Canal (as competitor and alternative to the Panama Canal) through ‘Lago de Ometepe’. Maybe this beautiful lake will be a major shipping route in a few years?
Careful, careful, careful with that axe, Eugene
This morning we decided to drive towards ‘Isla de Ometepe’. Due to some unexpected events the drive turned out longer than expected causing us to arrive only at sunset on the island. The last meters we even had to drive in the dark towards our campground.
In the morning the sun was shining brightly so we had good hopes for the day. Marijke found a hidden backroad and before we knew it we were on the main road heading in the right direction. After 2 seconds on the main road however we were stopped by a police officer who wanted to see everything, even the safety triangle. After providing our end destination and all the requested documentation, we could move further ahead.
We were on our way towards Managua when the road all of a sudden turned into a sandy matter. As we didn’t want Rodrigo to break down or have his first flying lessons, we had to slow down on our speed. At least it gave the photographer the option to finally take a good shot of the road cows.
Then we crossed another car who told us that the road was blocked and a Toyota was already stuck so we believed him and reversed our car. Luckily there was a parallel road not far away which we could follow, which also seemed to be in a lot better condition. Patrick was wondering if the navigator had made a mistake here but the navigator confirmed that there was no way to see from the map that the condition of the roads would be any different.
Our luck didn’t last very long as only a few kilometers further it started to rain very heavily. We had to queue up somewhere in the hills during the rain as there was a festival in the next town. After about 15 minutes we could continue our journey and the weather started clearing up as well.
After what seemed to be a full day driving, we finally arrived at the ferry around 3:00pm – without reservation of course. After a bit of back and forth, we managed to get the last free spot on the last ferry of the day at 4:00pm. It seems that our luck was turning. We paid the fee and the tax and waited for 20 minutes before boarding started. When it was our turn, Patrick reversed Rodrigo onto the boat with about 1 cm on each side. The boat left exactly at 4:00pm as everybody was there on time!
On the ferry we had time to relax and enjoy the view. The ferry ride across ‘Lago de Ometepe’ takes about one hour and provides great views over the lake and the 2 volcanoes in the middle. The biggest and still active one is the ‘Volcan Concepcion’ at 1647m and the smaller one is the ‘Volcan Maderas’ at 1371m. Tonight we will be sleeping near the ‘Volcan Maderas.
At the time that we got off the boat it was already getting dark, so we started the drive towards our campsite at ‘Finca Magdalena’. The road on the island is well maintained so the drive was easy. The last kilometre in the dark towards the finca was a bit rougher, with a sharp hill and lots of rocks and rain (of course!) but we finally reached our campsite around 6:00pm. We had dinner at the restaurant – after 1 hour of waiting, by which time we were completely starved and it didn’t matter if they were serving haute cuisine or dirt – and then went to bed in our tent, for the first time in about a week!
The night was very hot and humid but at about 4:00am it finally started to rain (where were you when we needed you?) bringing the temperature down to a more human degree.
An old cowboy went riding out one dark and windy day
Upon a ridge he rested as he went along his way
When all at once a mighty herd of red-eyed cows he saw
Today we went for 2 border crossings in one day. As Honduras unfortunately is one of the most dangerous countries in the world (about 20 times the homicide rate of the US), we opted to drive through this country in one day and head straight for Nicaragua. Below you can find the full report. We have to be honest and say that Honduras is a beautiful country and we did not see anything out of the ordinary in the few hours that we were there. Still we wanted to be on the safe side and continue ahead. It was a long day with a lot of documents changing hands but in the end we reached our goal, the central market place in Leon, Nicaragua!
6:00am – We are awoken by the sound of the refrigerator, the cold air from the air conditioning and sounds rising from the kitchen below
6:30am – Time for breakfast: coffee (two cups for Patrick), eggs, fried bananas and toast (for Marijke)
7:15am – All is packed and we are ready for the road
7:20am – Fill up Rodrigo on fuel, there is a lot of driving to do today
8:50am – Arrive at the border between El Salvador and Honduras
8:51am – Jumped on by 10 people willing to help us get through customs
8:52am – Even after refusing a million times, stuck with 2 people attached to our car (literally)
8:53am – Provide El Salvador vehicle permit to border officer for cancellation
8:55am – Receive stamp on the document showing that permit has been cancelled
9:00am – After a 3km drive we arrive at the immigration and aduana building
9:10am – We have our passports all checked by the officer and receive a very very tiny immigration receipt
9:12am – Cross the border bridge, provide immigration receipt to officer together with copy of cancelled permit
9:15am – Arrive at Honduras immigration building
9:20am – Provide all our original documents to border officer
9:25am – Fill in paperwork and received entry stamp from immigration office
9:30am – Officer returns with official documents and requests Patrick to come along, Marijke stays in the car
9:45am – Marijke is getting bored and being boiled inside the car. Today is a sunny day with 33°C
10:15am – Patrick returns with the vehicle permit (after visit to the bank and 4 stops at the copy shop), Marijke almost melted by this time
10:16am – Crossing border number 1 completed, welcome to Honduras
10:17am – Police checks our driving license, all okay, we can continue
10:20am – Turned on the spot check to send spots every 20 minutes
10:40am – Drive past police check, we are waived through
11:19am – Pulled over for police check, after 2 questions we can proceed
11:55am – Pulled over for police check, only saying hello is enough and we can proceed
12:20am – Crossed children selling iguanas held by their tail some as big as themselves (brrr… scary)
12:40pm – Arrive at the border between Honduras and Nicaragua
12:42pm – Lots of people approach our car but we remain firm and make it clear that we are not paying for help. This time, people leave us alone
12:40pm – Immigration checks passport and we are stamped out of Honduras
12:45pm – Wait for customs official to come back from his lunch break (should be back at 13:00)
1:20pm – Customs official returns from his lunch break and somehow Patrick manages to jump the queue and have all documents handed over first
1:21pm – Permit is cancelled without any problems
1:25pm – Police checks if we have all documentation and we are officially leaving Honduras
1:26pm – We buy vehicle insurance for Nicaragua before crossing the international border bridge
1:30pm – Arrive at other side of the bridge for very toxic fumigation. Paid fee of 3 USD and provided copy of driving licence
1:40pm – Arrive at immigration on Nicaraguan side of the border. Paid entrance fee of 12 USD per person and got receipt
1:45pm – Go to customs desk to request vehicle permit. Official scans our documents and enters all the information
1:50pm – Vehicle permit is printed and handed over. We go back to the car and get ready to drive into Nicaragua
2:00pm – Border official checks all documents and we can proceed to Nicaragua
2:05pm – Pulled over by police and requested bribe (…) we politely decline and after a handshake we are okay to drive through
3:03pm – Pulled over by police for checking vehicle documentation. Everything okay so we can proceed.
3:48pm – Pulled over by police for driving licence, insurance and vehicle ownership. Everything checks out and we can proceed.
5:00pm – Arrive at hostel in Leon and park on the street next to a lot of school children holding a musical instrument
5:05pm – Scared by the sudden sound of 100 drums starting to play
5:20pm – Have a little walk around town to check out the central plaza and neighbourhood
6:00pm – Have a hotdog, (big!) hamburger, slice of pizza, a Fanta and a beer to celebrate today’s success!
Put the pencil to the paper
Give the paper to the people
Let the people read about the sello tape
Oh baby baby yeah!
This morning we stopped by a mechanic to have our spare wheel checked out. It was dancing below the car when driving and Patrick had been unable to identify its root cause. In the past three other car shops – amongst which an official Toyota dealer – had said that it would be impossible to take it off should it be needed because of all the rust. However, our mechanic got under the car and with the aid of his magic super spray he managed to do the trick in less than 10 minutes. It was a good thing that we had stopped because apparently it had gone flat. So the mechanic took Patrick to a local tire shop to have it fixed. When they got back he attached the wheel properly again and off we were.
The rest of the day we drove towards San Miguel. Again it was a rainy day and the drive was really exhausting needing both our attention on the road all the time not only to watch out for other cars, dangerous turns and unexpected holes in the ground but also for crossing goats, sheep, horses, pigs, cows, dogs and even the rare chicken. By the time we got to our destination we were happy to take a little nap on the clean bed.
When we were rested a little bit we went into town to have a look around. There is a big covered market in the city centre where you can literally by EVERYTHING and it all costs 3 dollars if you have to believe what they are shouting around! 🙂 So we thought, how hard can it be to find a sticker here for the car. Well, it turns out … really hard BUT in the end we succeeded! After this hunt, we went back to the hotel and the rest of the evening we prepared our Honduras crossing tomorrow and spent most of it watching American soaps on television (new episodes of ‘The Big Bang Theory’!!!)
I’m gonna be a wheel someday
I’m gonna be somebody
I’m gonna be a real gone cat
And then I’ll want you
As El Salvador is about 2/3 the size of Belgium. It should surprise no one that it’s easy to drive through it in only a few days. The roads so far have been pretty good – even with a proper 4 lane highway for most of the day! – which helps speed up the progress.
Even though they have a currency of their own called the colon, El Salvador uses the US dollar in day-to-day life. This is a bit of a shame because we really like the foreign money as it gives the country its own character. You can also feel the influence from the USA here from the way people dress, the English publicity on the street and the fact that a lot of people also speak English.
We started the morning with a visit to our very last Maya site off the road trip at ‘Tazumal‘. This is only a small site but still in very good condition. The stucco which the Maya used to put on top of their buildings can still be seen here. It has to be said though that the owners don’t preserve the site very well. Plants and kids are running freely all over the buildings so I hope people can still come and see this site many years from now.
Being with over 20 school children on a small platform looking out over the temple above we decided to head back down and continue towards ‘Lago de Coatepeque‘. Unfortunately it started to rain and by the time we got to the lake all we could see was the below… yup, in case you are doubting, that’s the lake in front of you. You will have to imagine the volcanoes in the back yourself. 🙂
So we continued further south towards the Pacific Ocean coast. We were looking for a campground called ‘El Hostel’ but it seemed to have been replaced by a fancy resort so we had to look for another solution. We stopped in a few hotels to ask for the price and see the accommodation. In the end we opted for an Italian owner who was so kind to share his umbrella whilst showing us around and move us closer to the covered area in a double bedroom room for the same price as a single one but more importantly: he had internet!
We spent the rest of the day at the hotel as the rain prevented us from going anywhere without getting soaked and we needed to catch up on some blog posts, mails and general research. At least the late lunch kept us going for the rest of the day (and the day after) and we had a beautiful view at the ocean with its black beaches.
Good men through the ages trying to find the sun
And I wonder, still I wonder, who’ll stop the rain