The Caribbean Coast

It’s amazing how time passes.

When we initially entered Costa Rica, we decided we wouldn’t spend the full three months there. It’s a small country after all, and pretty expensive. However, with the arrival of the Omicron variant, and our relaxed tour of the pacific coast, it seemed wise to give South America as long as possible to start reopening its borders. Besides, it’s not like we were running out of things to do. We had, at this point, seen the vast majority of what we wanted to see. The other thing left to discover was the Caribbean coast.

We had been living amongst large bin bags of clothes, without the use of our old trusty roof box. We also had the sloppy steering issue to sort. Although it is possible to reach the Caribbean without detouring to the capital again, we clearly needed to. There was also the exciting news that my new phone had arrived, all the way from England.

It’s a steady drive through the Braulio Carrillo national park, this windy mountainous road is still a major route and it’s only a matter of time before you get stuck behind the inevitable crawling lorry. Thankfully, being a more major route, some of it is actually dual carriageway, making it less frustrating, but still a long drive.

Arriving in San Jose, we picked up our steering replacement part and headed back to old faithful, our street camping spot. For once, it was just an overnight stop and with the steering now back up and running we thought we were free to head to the coast the next day. We very nearly gave ourselves a big problem when we realised that Aimee’s rabies vaccine had lapsed, but fortunately, it’s was only by around a week and the vet backdated it to save us any border crossing issues. The whole border thing was rather vague. It seemed that if you did things ‘properly’ as the vet recommended it would cost $130 per pet. We knew that Hanno and Kikki had got in with Chico without paying that and so we decided to try and blag it on the border.

It’s a fair drive out to Limon, the only major town on the Caribbean side and after getting stuck in probably the worst traffic I can remember in our whole trip, we pulled over to spend a night near the side of the damn in Cachi. The gearbox had developed a few more annoying characteristics, which now included jumping out of gear and we hoped we would make it down to Panama City where we could get it repaired more easily.

After several long days of driving which was nicer than the destination, we hit the coast and the rather scummy town of Limon.

Not a place to do anything apart from get fuel and go to the supermarket, we continued on towards Cahuita. Here there was supposed to be a lovely national park, for once, at a reasonable price. We didn’t quite make it all the way there, however, deciding to spend a night enjoying the coast once again just south of Limon. After getting stuck on the beach and digging ourselves out, relaxing became the priority of that afternoon.

That day was election day, and so the Sunday party continued a bit longer than usual. The beach bars going full tilt until the early hours of the morning. When we surface early on Sunday, it was far too hot for a lie-in, but the beach was now deserted.

The next stop was back on the beach at Cahuita, only around half an hour away. The first stop we planned to try was near the national park entrance but when we arrived it was more of an abandoned house than a camp spot. As a friendly local directed us to a point we could turn around, the gearbox made the most horrific noise. Even worse than the shredded differential, it sounded like putting metal in a blender. The camper wouldn’t go in gear with the engine on either. While most things, like the clutch, looked ok from the outside, oil was pouring out of the box as it shredded itself. After much jiggling and coaxing, we managed to drive off without the horrible noise, its cause wasn’t obvious. Clearly, the gearbox issue had escalated. We managed to drive back to Cahuita without a problem and park up on a free spot by the beach. It wasn’t ideal, we were only an hour from the border and had less than a week on our visa. Not the best time for a major issue.

We met a German couple called Lena and Benny, who knew us from Instagram, with their dog Zora. They too wanted to go to the national park, and as it’s not dog friendly we offered to babysit one day. We would visit it ourselves tomorrow.

I can’t say I was expecting too much from this relatively small, donation entry park. It turns out it was the most wildlife and also the closest wildlife we’ve probably seen in our whole time here. For about $10, we parked up and entered the park. Almost immediately, I forgot that on the short drive over here the gearbox was once again making a horrible noise, as we saw two sloths up in the trees in front of us.

The trail was fairly busy, but not unpleasantly so and it was long until we saw a group of raccoons chilling in the trees by the path.

As we continued on we passed several capuchin monkeys on the path, so close you could touch them.

The walk itself is up to around 10km, and skirts around the edge of the park linking together the two separate entrances. It’s not circular though and therefore we decided to do just the first section down to the point of the peninsula.

At the end, raccons roamed the beach, sniffing the tourists.

For the sake of variety, we walked a little of the route back down the beach.

This turned out to be a great decision as we spotted a sloth up in the trees that was so close we could have touched it. We stood there and watched this two-toed sloth gorge itself on the tree flowers, a matter of feet from our heads.

Back at the camper, we managed to drive to our original camp spot without the horrible gear noise, I was cautiously optimistic. Maybe we would make it to Panama City after all. Now we had really seen some sloths, they were everywhere. A mother and baby lived in the tree above our camper for the remaining nights we spent at Cahuita.

The next day we dog sat for our new friends as they too went to see the national park. We enjoyed a beach walk with Zora and planned out our remaining few days in the country.

Our final stop would be Puerto Viejo, only a twenty-minute drive further south and the closest stop to the border. Our new friends had told us that Panama had changed its rules, now you needed to be triple vaccinated or have a test. In light of that new information, we timed our arrival in Puerto Viejo for Friday evening. We would get a test on Saturday and then cross the border on Monday. It should all be so simple.

 Our twenty-minute drive was not meant to be. Our gearbox screamed in protest as we reversed out of our spot at Cahuita and headed for the main road.  It didn’t improve as we drove. Every time we stopped, the noise started again. It wasn’t possible to put it in gear with the engine on. Traffic backed up behind us as we struggled to pull away. I now severely doubted whether we would even cross the border, let alone get to the city. Our visa was due to expire in 6 days however, and we didn’t have much choice. Even if timing had not been an issue, it was nearly a five hour drive back to San Jose. The border was closer.

We pulled up into another lovely spot on the beach just out of the town. The aptly named Playa Negra stretched its large black shores as far as the eye could see. We tried to enjoy our last few days here, but with the prospect of not only a potentially stressful border crossing but also the unpleasant driving, it was hard to enjoy it.

On Saturday we got our Covid tests and were then joined by Lena and Benny for Sunday evening. It absolutely chucked it down, forcing the four of us to squish into Ruby in order to continue our conversation. It was a welcome distraction though, from what awaited us the following morning. They were planning to cross the border the day after us, and they kindly offered to tow us to David if we didn’t make it. With this slight comfort, we called it a night.

The following morning, we were ready to leave at a reasonable time. The rain had continued for a lot of the night, but fortunately, the car park wasn’t too flooded. We topped up our oil as there was an enormous oil leak from the sump, which we must have managed to hit on something. Again. We said goodbye to our friends and braced ourselves for the border. Just as we were packing away I spotted this tree frog, a pretty awesome thing to see on our last morning in Costa Rica. As we drove away, the gearbox was silent and we wondered if that frog was going to be our good luck charm for the day.  

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