Christmas in Corcovado

We had debated for some time whether to head to the mountains for a colder typical Christmas, or whether to just go straight for the beach. Coming from a country where a normal Christmas day features cold, grey drizzle, we would be happy for some sun regardless. It seemed a little odd to think of Christmas in our swimwear, but why not?

Ironically enough, the last few days on our drive south had not been the best weather. We had had some huge storms, and a few days of rain. As we were now officially in dry season, after enduring a good six months of rainy season, this seemed a little unfair. We hoped it would blow over soon enough and that we would enjoy a lovely tropical sunny Christmas.

After leaving San Jose, we headed for the coast and were we discovered not only Bruno, but several parrots.

We had less than a week to work our way down the coastline and so we headed first to the beach of Estrillos, to relax under palm trees and enjoy this gorgeous sunset, before moving on.

Our next brief stop took in the small town of Domincal, including the nice, if a little expensive, Fuego brewery. A certain boy was very happy about this visit.

Before too long, we were onto the second and smaller peninsula in the country.

The Osa peninsula is dominated by Corcovado national park, said to house 3% of the entire worlds biodiversity. We were the first of our party to arrive, and so the job of scouting out the camping fell to us. After some confusing, and aimless driving around, we found the spot we were aiming for, the southern part of the beach in Playa Blanca. Recommended by our friends David and Katja.

Our spot was lovely. Directly on the sea, a matter of metres from the water. Trees were spaced perfectly in front of us for hammocks and we got some decent solar power too, when the sun chose to appear.

The only one criticism I have is of the owner of the property behind. He was very keen on keeping the surrounding area tidy, to the point of OCD. His large petrol leaf blower fired up each morning at 6am, while he enthusiastically moved leaves from one place to a slightly different one. If that wasn’t happening his was mowing any grass in sight to within millimetres of it’s life.

There was also a campground just behind that had electricity, water, showers and even a reasonably priced washing machine. This turned out to be a good back up as after a day without much sun, we were running pretty low on the power front. Wanting to cook some nice thing for Christmas dinner, we headed over to the campsite to hook up. The rain continued on.

The next morning was Christmas Eve, and it was then we realised that the rest of our group came from Europe and that means that they celebrate Christmas on Christmas Eve. We headed back over to arrange the campers and reserve a little spot for ourselves, we weren’t sure how busy it was going to be.

We had gone with a pot luck theme. We all cooked our own ‘main’ course and then doubled up on side and put them out for everyone to choose from. Hanno was fine cooking his fancy steak, and we made some seitan to attempt a wellington. Jaro was not so lucky. His planed barbecue was all set up with the fire just lit when in came the rain. We had already rigged up all the tarpaulins we owned to make a shelter, imaging this might happen. We were certainly glad we did. We managed to refill our 20l water bucket twice from the rain of just one awning, while the others filled up buckets too. From time to time we had to stop the awning filling with water and breaking. Great sheets of water poured down the sides of our makeshift shelter and the barbecue was definitely extinguished. Still, while it was not quite what you might imagine a beach Christmas to be, we had a lovely evening together.

The next morning, things were a little brighter. We had wondered what the Costan Ricans did to celebrate Christmas. Did they stay at home or go out to the beach? As we were awakened at 6am by the ever clean resident enthusiastically blow drying the beach, we wondered what it was going to be. It didn’t take us long to see that today was going to be busy. I was glad we had moved and made a little area for ourselves as the beach was packed. Barbecues and Bluetooth speakers surround us from all sides. Costa Ricans clearly celebrate Christmas on the 25th.

Boxing Day, we decided to move on. The beach was filling up again and we wanted some peace and quiet. We agreed to head to Matapalo beach, supposedly there was some surf there and it looked to be a little more remote. We were a little apprehensive of the road as a lot of people had remarked that it was 4×4 only and we had just had quite a lot of rain. It’s around 15km of serviceable dirt road first from the town of Jimenez to reach the turning to the beach. At least we thought it was the turning, as one mapping app sent us another way while the other declared there to be no road.

It’s a steep and rutted drop off the first road, and we got out and umm and ahhed about it. We figured we could make it in and out but we didn’t fancy doing it if the road then got much worse. Then a friendly local stopped and we checked with him. He told us that yes this was the correct road and this first part was the worse bit. Feeling more confident now, we edged and slipped our way down the first section. The rest of the road was just about doable for us. We bashed bits of the camper on various rocks but made it to the end.

This was the first bad road we had done since the shock absorber was welded, and happily it was still in tact, as was the sump. We were the only cars in this little area and we settled down for some peace and quiet, next to the turquoise blue seas.

 It was a much quieter scene here, and we spent the next day wandering to the local waterfall and meeting several angry monkeys in the process.

With New Years Eve rapidly approaching, it was time to pick the next spot. We settled for Pavones, supposedly one of the best surfing beaches in Costa Rica and home to the second longest left breaking wave in the world. It was a fair drive around though as this was very close to the Panamanian border and therefore we decided to drive out and spend another night at Playa Blanca first to break it up.

We packed up, jumped in, turned the engine on and put the camper in gear. That was as far as we got. Ruby remained in reverse gear and nothing we could do would persuade the gear stick otherwise. We thought maybe the selector had snapped again, that’s a take the engine and gearbox out kind of job. Stuck down a bad dirt road with minimal tools, it wasn’t looking good. Getting a tow truck here or getting our friends to tow us out wasn’t really a viable option considering the state of the road.

As we often do; we sighed, rolled our eyes and dragged out the toolkits. We decided to remove the rear nosecone of the gearbox in-situ and then hopefully we could see what the issue was. There’s not a lot of space under there manoeuvring around the axle, but after a while we got nosecone free. While it’s not possible to remove it, it was apparent that the linkage was ok. For some reason, we were just stuck in reverse. We pried at the selector fork as best we could. It wouldn’t budge. If the internals of the box had failed there was absolutely nothing we could do about it there and so we refitted the back of the gearbox and I decided to bash it with a hammer. Worst case scenario, something inside breaks more which doesn’t matter too much right now or best case scenario it comes out of gear. For once, things went more our way. I smashed the input shaft with a hammer and Ruby reluctantly popped out of gear.

Jaro had been busy rescuing everyone else on the road that day and we were the final call. He returned with new gear oil for us, as we had thrown a lot of ours on the floor. With the oil refilled and then van finally in neutral, we headed to a nearby stream to scrub gear oil and muck off ourselves in the dark. Another day spent.

The next morning, we tried again. Happily we managed to select gears as normal and began the slightly sketchy exit to the main road. Jaro, followed behind as our rescue vehicle in case we couldn’t make it out. At least it hadn’t rained since we had been here, making the puddles smaller and easier to navigate. We reached the final section, a steep hill to the main road with a sharp turn at the top. As we approached the top, Lee tried to merge onto the main road, the rear wheels lost traction and we started to slide. After stalling, we somehow managed to get moving again and did the most stressful turn you could imagine. We made it up though and with some jiggling and wheel spinning we were heading out towards Playa Blanca again.

After a more relaxed afternoon, we were ready to drive around to Pavones the next afternoon. We made the most of using the cheap washing machine at the campsite in the morning. I refuse to ever pay the best part of a tenner for a small bag of washing again. With everything clean, we headed off. It’s around a 3 hour drive, which we broke up with stopping off at the supermarket for a few supplies. From El Rio, the road winds toward the coast in ever depreciating condition.

I asked Lee to check there was a petrol station there, as I wasn’t sure we had enough fuel for both ways. He said there was two, no problem, and so we continued on. We wound through valleys on good dirt road and steep hills on roads that would have actually been better if no one had bothered to surface them. By the end of the afternoon we reached the beach and parked up near our friends, already in situ.

The beach here is supposed to be home to the second longest left in the world and we spent the afternoon watching some surfers far better than us, conquer some fairly large waves.

It turned out that of the two petrol stations marked on google, one completely didn’t exist while the one was actually a church. So we spent some of the next day wandering around town to see if anyone sold petrol and to check out the different surf breaks along the beach.  We had watched Hanno and Kikki surfing and thought the waves looked a bit big for us, especially considering that we hadn’t really been able to practice for a while. Happily for us though, further along the beach and past the river there was another small break. The waves looked perfect for us here, and we decided we would move around there after celebrating New Year that evening. We also found a guy selling petrol out of his back garden in recycled washing liquid bottles. At least we now hoped we had enough fuel to leave when the time came.

And so, the afternoon drew to a close. We headed back to the van and made some food before gathering around a campfire on the beach for the remainder of 2021.  It was a long evening, us all being rather accustomed to going to bed much earlier, but Hanno provided the entertainment as he scoured the beach trying to find a good coconut for his experiment. We had been burning some coconuts when I wondered aloud whether or not they could possibly explode if they still had the water in them.

This meant that as midnight arrived, we stood behind a makeshift wooden barricade, holding our glasses of champagne and waiting to see if Hanno’s specially selected coconuts would work as ‘fireworks’. While we were disappointed by the lack of exploding coconuts, we enjoyed welcoming in the New Year with our good friends, yet again. It seemed both very recent and very long ago since we had last stood together with our glasses raised and toasted the coming year. That time, none of us could have predicted what kind of year it would be and yet again we had that familiar feeling of having literally no idea what was going to happen in the next few months. As ever, we wished for a less ‘breakdowny’ year but at this point, I’m pretty sure there aren’t many things we couldn’t get through.

Here’s to 2022 and whatever surprises you may bring…

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