Days 85-90 of 184
16.01.2020 - 22.01.2020 20 °C
By this point, we were really starting to get used to catching the local buses. To the extent where catching four separate buses over two countries and twelve hours seems achievable. It also helps when said route costs $10 and tourist shuttles begin at $65… And so begins the journey from San Juan Del Sur to Monteverde, Costa Rica.
We left at 7.30am with Julianne, a German girl we had met in the hostel. The chicken buses from SJDS to the Nicaraguan/Costa Rican border all went fairly smoothly, excluding one bus driver refusing to let us on (still have no idea what that’s on about) and a huge queue of lorries for the border meaning our bus gunning it on the wrong side of the road and squeezing into tiny gaps at the last second. But we’re battled-hardened now.
A long queue later for both Nicaraguan and Costa Rican customs and we were through to Costa Rica. We bought tickets for the last bus that would get us to our connection to Monteverde on time – in the end we only had fifteen minutes to spare! My first observation of Costa Rica was that the buses seem much nicer and better organised than in any other country since Mexico.
The rest of the day went smoothly, though it was a bit of a slog. Our connecting bus was an hour late due to an accident, though once it eventually arrived we were treated to a picturesque ascent towards Monteverde. A successful, and cheap, journey.
We only had six days to play with in Costa Rica. We had spent more time than initially planned in both Mexico and Guatemala (an active decision, due to loving both places so much) and so had to make a decision between which of Nicaragua and Costa Rica to spend less time in. Being told the price of staying in Costa Rica by other travellers made the decision easier (and it did live up to those high costs expectation!). Hence the rather rushed itinerary. We decided to spend a couple of days in Monteverde, then head over to La Fortuna for a few days, then spend one night in San Jose before our flight to LA. These two locations were conveniently on the way down to San Jose (if a journey that takes twelve hours and requires four separate buses counts as “on-the-way”) and we hoped they would help us achieve our main goal in Costa Rica – see lots of wildlife.
In our only full day in Monteverde we spent a few hours walking around the Santa Elena Cloud Forest. This was nice enough and did exactly what it said on the tin – it was a forest and it was very cloudy. It was a pleasant walk and we saw a few snoozing owls and a number of hummingbirds, but it definitely wasn’t the most exciting thing in the world (in fairness, the hostel receptionist did set those expectations).
As a result, we signed up for a night tour, hoping for a bit more bang for our buck. Well, this was excellent. We saw so much: an orange-kneed tarantula, an eyelash viper, a motmot, an Esmerelda toucan, a side-striped palm-pit viper, a scorpion, a kinkajou racoon, an opossum, a rainbow beak toucan, a rhinoceros grasshopper and a red eyed tree frog. Absolutely fantastic. The only big thing left on our list was a sloth (“they’re usually here” – thanks Mr Tour Guide!!!). But hopefully we’d get a chance in La Fortuna…
Monteverde was a nice couple of days. The town was noticeably more Westernised than anywhere we’d stayed yet and had a few nice cafes and shops. The weather was soooo much cooler than SJDS, which was a welcome break. We were looking forward to La Fortuna by now though, which we had heard was more of a proper town.
We didn’t like La Fortuna. Maybe it didn’t help that it rained almost non-stop. Maybe it didn’t help that we stayed at the most batshit crazy hostel ever (more on that very shortly, don’t you worry). Maybe we had kind of checked out of Central America already and were ready for the next leg of the trip. But it just didn’t click with us. However, oh-boy-oh-boy, did we manage to see all the wildlife we’d hoped to (more on that later also).
Right, so back to that hostel. Howler Monkey hostel in La Fortuna. I am giggling to myself as I write, thinking back to the ridiculousness of it all. Hopefully below gives you a taste of how weird this place was:
• We arrived to be greeted by a guy at reception who was visibly drunk. He spent around fifteen minutes showing us the pool and then forgot to show us our rooms or ask for any money.
• Later the actual manager turned up, seemed a bit more with it (you will soon find he was not). He was then the person who we always dealt with.
• We signed up to a cooking class that first night, led by said manager.
• The cooking classs involved the manager getting extremely drunk and high, putting all the ingredients on the table and then saying "right, off we go let's get cooking", forgetting to tell the group (of around twenty people!) what we were even making.
• During the day the manager had apparently found a married Texan couple about 50 and invited them over for the “cooking class”. The wife got super drunk (Rachel also noticed the husband regularly helping himself to quadruple measures of the manager’s rum). During the cooking class, the wife started grinding on a broomstick in the kitchen with a 19-year-old male hostel guest gyrating behind her while her husband watched on!
• At this point Rachel and I decided we needed to drink a lot of beer just to get through the evening.
• At one stage, a random middle aged guy turned up stinking drunk. We asked the hostel manager if it was his friend. Very adamantly he said, "no he's not my friend, he's my neighbour..."
• Said neighbour kept just saying "sorry" to me (we had just met, no idea what he was sorry for) and asking for selfies with Rachel.
• The manager didn't bother to get anyone to clean or wash up the huge mess that night (the food was surprisingly good on a side note). The next morning, I got up to find the cleaner in tears, having an argument with the manager. I assume he asked her to wash up the mountain of mess. She quit and walked out there and then.
• We just decided to go out for the day to escape (more on that below, we actually had a great day).
• That evening, when we got back, Rach and I were cooking in the kitchen. A group of guests were asking people if they wanted to go out for dinner. They also asked the manager who said yes. He was the only staff member at the hostel. So he showed Rachel where the fire extinguisher was and said "you guys are in charge now". We were glad for some time on our own.
What an experience. Rachel was close to tears at times. I felt delirious. We had three nights to kill in La Fortuna and thankfully we had only booked two at the Howler Monkey (we were this close to just booking a new hostel for the second night anyway and double paying). We weren’t sad to leave and head to the Arenal Backpackers for the third night.
However, before moving on I need to discuss the great day I mentioned above. The hostel-debacle couldn’t even ruin that (though the manager did try to dissuade me from what we were doing, saying he didn’t like the people who ran the tours – thank goodness I’d witnessed enough madness from him already to ignore his advice). On the back of some advice of a couple we met in Ometepe, we headed to the Bogarin Trail to try to see some sloths. This was a rare occurrence where we decided it would be worth paying the higher cost to get a guide and, oh man, was this a correct decision. We were led around in a group of four by William, a lovely Costa Rican whose family owned the trail. We had come to find sloths and, as it turned out, William seemed to be the sloth-whisperer. Within five minutes we had seen a mother and baby sloth crawling around branches. The cutest thing we’ve ever seen. And so, William the sloth-whisperer lead us around the trail, seeing sloth after sloth. High pitch squeals were common from Rachel, myself and the other two women in our group. They really are just the cutest animals going. We were lucky enough to see an adolescent sloth from about ten metres away, staring at us all.
Baby sloth just having a little armpit scratch!
On the trip we also saw another type of red eyed tree frog, so many different toucans, a poisonous red tree frog and a Jesus lizard, amongst many other animals. We were so glad we spent the extra money, William was worth his weight in gold. It more than made up for the mad experience back at the hostel (though when we left Rachel was despairing, “don’t make me go back Joe”).
By the time we got to Arenal Backpackers the next day, we were kind of done. It had barely stopped raining for the entire time (though in some fortunate twist of fate, it let up during our Bogarin Trail walk) and the experience at the hostel had just tired us out. We took the day easy, deciding the heavy mist and rain would make a volcano trail pointless, and revisited the Bogarin trail, this time just showing ourselves around. William’s skills had obviously rubbed off, as we managed to find a sloth on our own! Skillz.
We did do a nice, quick trip to some natural hot water springs nearby. These were actually really great. A quick walk down from the main road to a river and there you were. Free hot springs. Rach and I relaxed for half an hour or so in the river, surrounded by a good number of tourists. I forgot to mention earlier that this was where the hostel manager actually signed up that Texan couple to his cooking class. That seems a really funny thought, them having a chilled time in their swimming costumes and Edison the hostel manager just shimmying up in his trunks and somehow bringing up the cooking class. Hey ho – each to their own.
On to our final day in Costa Rica (and Central America)! We didn’t really sign off in style. An eight hour bus journey (it would be improper to finish Central America without an absolute slog of a bus journey that costs absolutely nothing) and we arrived in Alajuela – the town next to San Jose airport. We went and had that traditional Costa Rican meal, a KFC (/sarcasm), and packed our bags.
The end of a chapter. A slightly bizarre way to end it in La Fortuna. But what an amazing few months. So many mad experiences and adventures. Maybe I’ll write up thoughts on all the different countries one time (just maybe not when I’m a month behind on the blog!), but all I can say right now is that we wouldn’t change anything.
And now… onto what feels like a noticeable change to the trip. USA, New Zealand and Australia. Here we come.