Wednesday 24 May 2023

Nicaragua and Costa Rica.

I will be the first to admit that my pre conceived ideas of Central America were totally wrong, It's fantastic and we love it. 

Every country so far has been filled with culture, beauty and unbelievable hospitality. 

We entered Nicaragua without any drama at El Espino and Pat ( who plans everything ) had arranged to stay with a local family just a few kilometres after the frontier. 

The parking in their yard was tight but our host "Fausto and his very extended family welcomes us with open arms into their small community.

I soon came to the conclusion that a huge amount of Nicaraguan life is spent in a hammock, but I guess this also applies to most Latin American Countries. 

The nearby canyon of the Rio Coco offered a great opportunity to get our first taste of the Nicaraguan landscape.  Fausto was happy to show me the best of it.

Overlanding, as we call it, isn't always parking in beautiful locations. Sometimes we find ourselves stopping overnight in some strange or unusual  places. 
In the area of Santa Cruz in the Esteli region is a huge Tobacco and Cigar making industry. Tens of thousands of acres of the broad leafed tobacco plants cover every piece of surrounding land. We realised that the creation of the cigars was a big concern, but it didn't cross our minds that behind the scenes there was an equally big industry making wooded decorative boxes and display cases for the cigars.  
Although neither of us smoke, we felt it would be interesting to learn some more so Pat arranged for us to stay at the All Nica Cigar Store. The owners Julio and Brenda offer exceptional hospitality to Overlanders and allow them to park securely at the rear of their premises for free.

The boxes are all expertly hand crafted in Poplar, Okume and Cedar wood 

There are about 40 volcanoes in Nicaragua, of which there are usually about 6 that are considered active at any time. The landscape is covered with classic cone shaped mountains. 
One of the more famous and active ones is Masaya in the National Park of the same name. It last erupted in 2015 and still continually bubbles hot lava in its crater. The clouds of toxic Sulphur Dioxide is constantly being pushed into the atmosphere and  can be both seen and smelt from many kilometres away.
An interesting little known fact about Volcano Masaya is that in 2020 a crazy American daredevil called Nik Wallenda walked across the crater full of hot lava on a tightrope.   

Keeping with the  Volcanic theme, the nearby flooded crater of an extinct Volcano called Apoyo was a nice welcome break for a few days

Another great example of a classic Volcano is that of Concepcion on the Island of Ometepe in Nicarauguas largest lake called Lago Nicaragua 

Knowing that we had so much more to see in Nicaragua we made the decision to cross into Costa Rica as the rainy season is looming and we felt that we could revisit the upper Central American countries again on our return journey back towards Mexico in a few months.

We crossed at Penas Blancas and had arranged to meet up with some old friends and fellow travellers from Switzerland, Simon, Doris and Herbert.  

A rustic camp site just outside La Cruz was the perfect location. We had only been parked for a few minutes when we were exposed to the joys of the famous Costa Rican wildlife.  It's hard to see from these photos but this female had a day old baby clinging to its chest.

There are two different types of sloth, the two toed and the three toed. these can then be categorised into six subspecies depending on size and colouration etc.

This is a two toed sloth.  Based simply on its geographical location it is probably more accurately called the Hoffmans Two Toed Sloth. It is estimated that there are fewer than 1500 Sloths left in the wild. However, the Hoffman's two Toed sloth isn't considered the rarest and isn't classed as endangered, unlike its smaller cousin the Pigmy Sloth. 

Sloths spend most of their lives upside down in trees and rarely come down to ground level.

It was wonderful to meet up with old friends and a big thank you to Simon who helped me eventually fix the Air Conditioning on the truck, which had been sorely missed. 

Costa Rica, quite rightly, is a very popular tourist destination for Americans, Canadians and Europeans. It is their biggest industry. Unfortunately, this has encouraged high prices and everything has a cost attached to it. 

The Leona Waterfall hike ( must be guided ) was no exception, but my thinking is that in 10 years' time I will still remember the hike but not the cost. 

Two weeks after we visited the beautiful Rincon Lodge near the summit of Volcano Rincon de la Vieja it decided to burst into action and gently reminded the world that it was only sleeping.

After a quick overnight stop at the Lake Arenal Brewery, we headed for the Cloud Forest of Monteverde. The drive up was steep and narrow but the splendor that awaited us was well worth it. 

The whole rainforest canopy can be discovered from trails and walkways above the trees during a moderate 2 km walk.

The green healthyness of the trees, birdsong and insects were over whelming. This was a special place.

Whilst taking a break from the hike, Eagle Eyed Pat spotted this guy walking past. 

It's an Orange Kneed Tarantula. Rarely seen during the day and they can live for 20 years.

The internet groups and forums allow you to connect with like minded people who have similar interests.  Fellow Mercedes Camper owner Estaban reached out to us and invited us to his home and beautiful finca near La Fortuna.
I have previously mentioned, on many occasions, of the unbelievable hospitality we have been given on this tour. This was no exception. Estaban, his wife Monica and his wonderful family invited us into their home. An experience we will treasure forever. Their Holiday Finca is well worth visiting, it's stunning.

Costa Rica is surprisingly Hilly. I don't think I have used my lower gears and Exhaust Brake as much in any other country. 
Many of the roads and bridges are narrow and poorly maintained with potholes everywhere. 

However, the scenery in every direction makes up for all that. 

I cannot imagine how many hidden rivers and waterfalls exist. I hiked to this one in Colonia del Toro.
from our camping area, it was 45 minutes of steep downhill in a hot, humid insect infested jungle. My lungs were screaming by the time I got back, but it was well worth it 

The wildlife in Costa Rica is amazing. You literally only have to turn off the highway by a few hundred meters and you will find yourself in thick, lush green tropical forest. 
Centro Manu, the small campsite outside Guapiles was a great place to see some nature up close. my local guide Keneth took me on a night tour looking for Frogs and Snakes 

Common Dink Frog

Two Jumping Leaf frogs 

Jumping Leaf Frog

Jumping Leaf Frog

Jumping Leaf Frog

Eyelash Viper

Eyelash Viper

Jumping Leaf Frog

One of the most poisonous and aggressive snakes here is the Fer de Lance. We were lucky enough to find one that was about 2.5 meters long. 

Fer de Lance Snake.

Unfortunately, photographing with my phone without a flash was not ideal so Keneth ( My Guide )  kindly shared some of his previous photos with me.

The less humid Caribbean coast was a welcomed stop and it gave us the chance to catch up with old friends Michaela & Florian and Stephanie & Luis.

We also met a local lady "Zorayda" and her family.  Despite Pats Spanish being limited ( better than she thinks) and Zorayda speaking no English, they managed to chat all afternoon laughing their heads off.   This is what Overlanding is about.

I think it's fair to say that we have only skimmed the surface of this incredible country. 
I have a feeling we will be back quite soon.

Don't forget you can see the route of our journey on our route page .

Re entering Nicaragua was pleasant. We really have loved this country, and it was a great place to celebrate my 60th Birthday.

We had a very long overdue catch up with long term friends Jon and Heather aka The Ver Monster RVand Ivan  at a the beautiful Rancho los Alpes near Leon. Thank you Pat for arranging this and all the other surprises. It made it very special.

We are heading slowly back to Mexico to fly home for some family time. Sadly this means almost back tracking on the downward journey, which isn't something that we ordinarily like to do, but there simply isn't that many routes in Central America. 

This daunting return journey was nearly 2500 km from Cahuita in Costa Rica to Cancun in Mexico. 

This meant we had to cross back through 5 Borders ( thats check out and in at each ) Thats 10 more passport stamps and 10 more Temporary Import Permits for our vehicles. 
Google maps shows a journey time of 36 hours. However, in a truck like ours with all the time spent at the the borders, it took us a lot longer...13 days.

To break the journey up a little we arranged to catch up with some other overlanders on their journeys.

We last saw Tobi and Steve , aka Trucklifeoverlanders  at the Adventure Overland Show in the UK a couple of years ago when they were about to set off on their journey to the Americas. They have had an amazing time and have even increased their crew by 50% with the adoption of their dog Maya.  Meeting up for lunch and a relaxing afternoon in Rio Dulce, Guatemala was very special. It was great to hear about all their adventures and all the ones they have planned for the future.

Whilst driving through Guatemala our Alternator decided to play up and kept cutting out. Luckily this is a spare I carry so a quick swap in Finca Ixabel appears to have resolved the issue . 

We hadn't met Dan and Geraldine of Dolly's Diary's, but we had plenty of hours on the phone .

A relaxing couple of days with great food, drink and games occured at San Ignacio in Belize. 

Crossing borders late in the day is not our preferred time as unforseen delays can put you under pressure. We usually like to stop close to the frontier the night before and cross the next morning.
Pat arranged to stop on a small farm with a familly about 20km prior to the Mexican border in Belize. 

This turned out to be a very special moment in our journey that we will remember forever.

Magali Gladys and her Husband Alfredo own and run a small farm with cattle goats and chickens. Along with their three amazing sons Chris, Steven and Carlos, they work the land and care for the animals every day. 
In addition to the livestock they also own a large collection of trees including the now rare Mahogany. Planting seeds and growing saplings has become another source of income.
Their hospitality was second to none. A truly inspirational family with huge hearts.

A Last stop in Bacalar at our favourite lakeside stop and Buenavista and then the final push to Cancun .