Coming down the mountains…

I have no meas on money. It’s there to facilitate day-to-day living. I don’t aspire to great riches or a six-figure bank account (they’re easy enough to come by in Hungary, given the high denominations of the bank notes). But I loathe waste and while I might spend hundreds of thousands (of forints) on a rug, I balk at spending 700 on a coffee. But the older I get, the wiser I get. I’m finally beginning to realise the value of money.

View from the balcony

The room we’d booked in the Ceiba Tree Lodge was at the top of a flight of stone steps through a lovely jungle garden. But our cases were heavy and it was raining and we were only there one night. They had a lovely room in a separate house down by the car park with a private balcony and just as nice a view of Lake Arenal – for an extra $25. It didn’t take much thought. What good is money if you can’t use it to make life just a tad easier. I’m learning, lads, I’m learning.

I’ve never come to the breakfast table to find a hibiscus on my plate (SJ take note). I’ve never eaten fresh rose bananas, fresh pineapple, fresh mango, and fresh guava (don’t like) – all from the garden – accompanied by fresh eggs from chickens I could hear squawking in the distance. It was a glorious start to a day that would be a wash-out.

We settled up and headed out – destination Coco Beach via Liberia. The lake views were stunning but the day was overcast and the photos don’t do the 85 sq km expanse of water any justice. Although the largest lake in Costa Rica, it looks like a puddle on the map when compared to Lake Nicaragua next door. Still, the houses with the landscaped gardens and high gates that overlook the lake are quite something. It’s another world up there, far removed from the bananas and the pineapples. Another world entirely.

We stopped at the Lucky Bug gallery where I nearly bought a bathroom sink. I was a firm yes if it had weighed in under 5 kg. But it was more than 6. I know I’ll live to regret not tossing some of the coffee but hey… decision made. We travelled through the valleys, once again marvelling at the lush, green land and the idyllic setting. Judging by the plethora of accommodation and cafés bearing Austrian, German, and Swiss names, the area is now home to more than just a few Europeans. Perhaps that’s whom the realtors are targeting. The whole place seems like it’s up for sale.

Finding ourselves on Route 1 (by mistake – neither of us can figure out the damn GPS), we double-backed to Canás to see the Iglesia de Cañas . Artist Otto Apuy is responsible for covering the outside of the church in mosaic tiles. The nearly 30 m tall central tower is covered in more than a million pieces of ceramic tile. Quite something. But unfortunately closed. Even on Sunday.

We very nearly gave in to a primal urge to stop by the rodeo but good sense prevailed. I still don’t have a handle on crime in Costa Rica and the rental SUV has an open boot. I was loath to put temptation in anyone’s way, so we gave it a miss. Call me paranoid but I’d not seen a cop in San José or in Puerto Viejo, and since embarking on our drive back West, we’d run into armed duos on nearly every corner of the smallest of towns.

It being Sunday, we stopped in Liberia to check out the Iglesia La Ermita de la Agonia – a nineteenth-century whitewashed stone church that is the only remaining colonial church to be found in the region. The book said it would open from 2.30 to 3.30 so we had lunch while we waited. And we waited. And we waited in the company of lizards and iguanas. Amazing what runs across your path in the towns and cities of Costa Rica. But the doors remained shut. I’ve checked since then and apparently it’s been opening every day but Sunday from 8 to 4 since 2013.  The Frommer guy must have cheated on that section, as the 2017 book has it at the one hour per day. mmmm…. guide books… do the people who write them really go to all those places?

Liberia is home to the main international airport on the West Coast. And believe me, that’s about it’s only claim to fame. I was unimpressed.

We headed towards the coast, the rain clouds following in our wake. Not quite sure what to expect, what I didn’t plan on seeing was a resort town, complete with bar after bar advertising happy hours that run from 11 am to 7 pm. Thankfully, our hotel is off the main drag so quiet enough (man, have I gotten old). Not so great though is that the rainy season (May to December) has well and truly kicked in. The forecast for the week is rain, rain, and more rain. We’ve simply traded jungle rain for city rain. It remains to be seen what we can find to do to amuse ourselves. 




Fresh and green are the pastures…

I learned a valuable lesson a few years ago from my good friend GM. Cut your losses. If you’ve paid to see a movie that turns out to be complete shite, leave. Write off the money and save your time.

We woke to dark clouds and thunder. It had been a stormy night, knocking out the electricity and playing symphonies on the tin roof of the cabin. We had one more night to spend in Puerto Viejo, all paid for. But why waste a day when we had a mammoth cross-country journey facing us on Sunday. So we packed and left, hitting the road about 7.30am for what Google promised to be a 5 hr 25 min journey over to Lake Arenal. A quick check online and we’d booked a room at the fabulous Ceiba Tree Lodge. All sorted.

We retraced our steps, back on Route 36 to Route 32, hanging a left at Limón. We had to make a pit stop at the cemetery as I’d been intrigued by the tombstones on the way in but hadn’t wanted to stop. I’m now even more intrigued by the whole section reserved for the Chinese dead.

The container parks that lined the road testify to the roaring dockland trade that issues from the city. But it was all a tad depressed looking. As we passed through Banana land, even the direst looking shack had a satellite dish on the room. Outward appearances don’t matter in Costa Rica. It’s what’s inside that counts – and they have their priorities.

We hung a right on Route 4 and headed north into Pineapple country. And things started to pick up. The lawns were manicured. The fields cleared. The houses bigger and brighter. As we passed through valley after valley, a line from the 23rd Psalm came to mind.

Fresh and green are the pastures where he gives me repose.

It is magnificent country. Agriculture abounds. The wealth is in the land. Forget the toucans and the sloths. My new favourite animal is the Brahman cow. They’re the most common type of cattle in Costa Rica as they have sweat glands and can better adapt to the climate than, say, your average Friesian. They’re plain gorgeous. If I could put a couple in my bag to take home, I would. The souvenir lot are missing a trick – there’s a notable absence of soft cuddly Brahman at the souvenir joints.

We were making good time driving through villages like La Virgen (am still amused at how stuff simply doesn’t translate – particularly the signs) and La Union (I was waiting for La Bachelor on the far side but no…) so we headed over to the Arenal National Park only to find that we were too late to get in. It opens from 8 to 4 but as it takes about 2 hours to hike in to and out from the volcano, last admission is around 2pm – but I suspect this is decided by the look of you.  Not that it’s explained anywhere. This was our third time to strike out with a volcano. We  had to content ourselves with a view from afar.

We headed back to La Fortuna, to the fabulous El Nuevo Rancho de Perla restaurant for a steak dinner (I’ve been living on steak since I got here) and a round of the local artisan shops. We passed spa after spa after spa. But who in their right mind would visit a hot springs in 30-degree weather? Although the guide book says that the area around Lake Arenal is the least developed in Costa Rica, it’s by far the poshest and more tourist-oriented place I’ve seen so far. And the guide book is current. The mind boggles.