San Jose

It was the 6th of December, and one of our friends was planning to come and visit us for the lead up to Christmas. We decided to head to San Jose to meet Hanno and Kikki and borrow their tent as well as scout out a good base to spend a few days there when he arrived. This was also the first city to have a Subaru garage and had been where we had bought our parts back in Nicaragua. There was also a Volkwagen parts shop, what luxuries!

The drive in was a good few hours and we decided that rather than try and spend a night in the city, we would camp at a rather nice river spot just an hour out. Now that it’s no longer rainy season you can drive down and park on the river bed. Local families picnicked and swam in the river. 

One particularly excited guy wanted us to go to his house with him. We get invited to things on a fairly regular basis and it’s always lovely that people are prepared to be so welcoming to strangers. They often seem to think we are slumming it in our tiny van and don’t seem to understand that we like sleeping in there and are comfortable doing so. It’s always a fine line between having time to yourself as well as being sociable and meeting new people. Most of the time we are happy to chat with anyone but sometimes you want your own space. I was having one of those days and we spent a good half an hour trying to politely decline his offers. Maybe another day, we insisted.

After a relatively quiet night, apart from the rather noisy bridge next to us, we could head into the capital. There wasn’t many options for camping here, we opted for Finca Escalante Hostel, there wasn’t much in the way of free camping and we always have the cats to think about too with San Jose’s incessant traffic. The hotel was nice enough, but for our $20 we got a shaded spot without hookup, slow wifi and a cold shower. It was perhaps not the cheapest, as is to be expected in the capital city but it would do as a base for a day or so though as our friend could stay in one of the rooms. 

The next morning we net Hanno and Kikki in the parking lot of a huge DIY shop and collected the tent. They were heading north to La Fortuna while we decided that we would check out the camping around the town of Orosi. Our friend would be arriving in less than a week and so we didn’t want to go to far away from the city. We also had some new handbrake cables to fit and that would be a good project for a day or so. We heard Jaro was also near Orosi so we set off. 

The valley itself is beautiful with a large rushing river and green hills. It feels more like something you would find in Europe. We found a lovely spot by the river but the family wanted 10,000c which is around $15 for the night. It was expensive for what it was. We had driven right past the Swiss mechanics that Jaro had been at but he had already left. One of the guys phoned another campsite to see if we could stay there, but apparently the owners told him that their dogs would eat our cats. We tried to get to another spot but the engine wasn’t playing ball with the steep dirt road, and another campsite’s dogs attacked the gate as we pulled up. It all seemed a little futile. Jaro had returned to the mechanics and we decided to camp there with him. It was a bit closer to the main road than we would have liked, but we were running out of options. 

We spent the evening consuming rather a lot of beer, chatting and then creating a beer tower on the back of Jaro’s Land Rover. They agreed we could weld our shock absorber here in the morning which was good news as yet again we were carrying it around in the cab with us. 

Finally, we had found a garage that listened to what we wanted. After trying to explain to many, many welders that just welding the front plate of the shock absorber mount back on wasn’t enough, these guys got it. The mount was welded and reinforced front and back with a new nut and bolt. It looked like this would be the final time we had to do this job which was excellent. Our rather beaten up shock absorber looked like it needed changing, but it at least we had a solid base for now. 

After yesterday’s failed camping attempts, we headed into the mountains for a different place. It’s a steady upward mountain road that is painful when you get stuck behind that inevitable lorry. We pulled over to let our boiling engine cool down, before completing the final leg to Laguna Don Manuel. Up here at higher altitude it was a lot cooler and for the first time in a while we let our heating take off the evening chill. The cats too could feel it and they ran around all fluffed up from the cold. Things were all lovely, until a large scorpion fell on my face. Fortunately, it didn’t sting me though, so one cant complain too much.

It was a lovely spot. For the same price as the hostel in San Jose, we had hot showers, fast wifi, hookup and a beautiful lake shore with a barbecue ad picnic benches. It was a bit out of our everyday budget, but it was lovely. We decided to make good use of the barbecue facilities, Lee using our faithful fan as a fair starter for some reluctant coal.

We happily spent the rest of the week here and after some wrestling, changed the heavily corroded handbrake cables. Luckily, Jaro was there to save us when our jack sank into the floor and the camper fell off it. Changing the cables just showed us how worn our rear brakes were, the roads here are tough on everything. It looked like another trip to the parts shop would be in order. 

The campsite was practically empty in the week, but as soon as the weekend hit, it was another matter. Saturday was packed and then Sunday was worse. Seeing the entire area disappear under a mass of cars, we packed up and headed out very rapidly when the owner told us we had 20 minutes to leave, or pay for another night. We had also just received the bad news that our friend wasn’t coming anymore as he was sick. We weren’t the happiest when we arrived back in San Jose. We decided to try one of the free spots as I didn’t want to go the expensive hostel again. Camped just outside the park on the street wasn’t so bad, the road was even quiet enough to let the cats out and there was free water in the park. These silver linings were a little lost on us at that precise moment however, as the reality of our friends not coming dawned upon us.

The next morning, we needed a new plan. We had thought to head up to La Fortuna and the rainforest to the north for a week before heading down to Corcovado for Christmas, our agreed rendezvous point. First though, we decided to head to the VW shop for some new brakes and Subaru for some new stem seals. 

We arranged to come back to the VW shop the following morning to get our new shoes. Rather than buying new ones, they knew a guy who would refit the linings for us. Then, we headed to Subaru. I thought that the smoke from one bank of the engine was most likely valve stem seals. As it’s relatively easy to change these, if you have the right tool, it seemed like a good place to start. We arranged to come back there the next day as well in the afternoon. 

So, the next morning was spent getting covered in brake dust. It turned out that our brake drums weren’t in the best condition, something we were already aware of since Oaxaca last year. They sold us two second hand ones and we refitted all our brakes. Hoping to finally have a handbrake again after what had been some time. It had taken rather longer than we thought so we headed back to our little city camp spot for the night, postponing Subaru to the next day. 

When we finally arrived at Subaru, we had hoped that they would get started. In reality, we spent the entire day waiting. Jason, who we had dealt with before wasn’t there and no one else knew what had been arranged. Sadly, this was due to a bereavement in his family, but despite this, we couldn’t help feel a little frustrated when our 9 hour wait had achieved nothing. Finally, at the end of the day he showed up and told us that first thing tomorrow morning they would get started. We were allowed to use the shower, sadly freezing, and the facilities while we camped inside the compound that night. 

The security guard introduced himself and told us that while the garage opened at 7am, we were welcome to use the shower from 5.30am. We politely declined. No one needs a freezing cold shower at 5.30am! We were also introduced to the garage cat. An absolutely huge black and white tom that sat outside and howled at the girls for most of the evening. Then he started jumping on the camper, ruining Aimee’s sacred roof spot, much to her displeasure. Despite the cat disagreements, it was a pretty quiet night. 

When the workers arrived at 7am, we were ready to go. As we had expected, nothing happened for a while. Then they came and asked us to move off the ramp. Soon they were starting to dismantle the one side in the car park. They removed the rocker cover, and exhaust before things ground to a halt. We waited another couple of hours before asking what was happening. The mechanic told us the problem was the rings, not the seals and in light of that information we waited for Jason. This time he was a bit quicker to show and put it all back together. If it was indeed the seals then we wouldn’t be doing anything about that now. After running the engine briefly he checked the valves again, one was indeed leaking as we had said. 

After a lengthy process to just get what we had initially wanted, they spent the rest of the afternoon changing the two seals. It seemed likely that the oil scraper ring on cylinder 4 had also failed, while it meant we would burn more oil than we would choose, it was not an immediate problem. Jason reckoned our engine was good to make it to Chile, where we could fix it cheaper. Time will tell on that one…

Now it was the end of the day. He looked a little surprised when we said we were going to leave, but after two days of sitting around waiting for an hours worth of work we just wanted to get out of there. We had noticed a rather horrid judder on the brake pedal, so rather than leaving from the garage for the rainforest, it appeared we would be going back to the VW garage. We headed once again for our street camping spot.

It seemed one of the adjusters had snapped on the shoes, perhaps causing uneven pressure on the drums. We got a free replacement one and headed off to do the Christmas shopping, today we hoped to leave. We completed our horrifically expensive Christmas shop and swapped the adjuster in the car park. We made it a few metres down the road before it became apparent that this was not the issue and we would not be leaving. We reprogrammed the sat nav and headed back.

The next morning, back at the garage, we explained the problem and they managed to find us a brand new drum. The owner, the dad, told me that we could have it at no extra cost. That was very generous of him and we went and swapped out what we believed was the problematic side. After a quick test drive, it seemed much better. Some adjustment was still needed, but the horrible pulsating pedal was gone. Then he tried to charge us for both the new drum on top of the second hand one we had only had two days. After so arguing, we paid the difference. It was only when we put San Jose in our rearview mirror the next day that I realise he’d taken my lucky screwdriver, although, truth be told I’m not sure how lucky it really was.

We had decided a few days ago that we would postpone our trip north. We didn’t want to have to rush this part of the country, which was also quite a few hours away. We would take a leisurely route down the coast now in order to check out a nice spot for Christmas. 

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