We were in the middle of remodeling our home at the time and really did not put the usual obsessive research (by Jeron, of course) into this trip. We did find a website called www.mytanfeet.com a couple weeks before leaving that was super insightful. We also started reading how expensive the insurance was on renting a car from the big rental companies. This happened to us in Grenada, we booked a car online that was extremely inexpensive but upon arrival the insurance for the car was hundreds of dollars more. This is very typical throughout all parts of Central America. A week before leaving we stumbled upon Nomad America, www.nomadamerica.com, looking for off road routes and suddenly this country of elderly people taking pics with their tablets just got a lot more exciting. Mel was not very enthusiastic about living out of the back of a pick-up truck for two weeks, so when the new plans of off-roading Costa Rica emerged, the answer was simply NO! The idea was dropped for about a minute, maybe two. After hours of convincing that the cost would be a lot less than the truck and our accommodations would be on top of the rig and how camping for a couple weeks in a tropical place would be fantastic, she eventually relented. We reached out to Nomad America (www.nomadamerica.com) to book our rig the next morning and they had all been reserved. We were devastated! It looked like we were back to the original plan. We were working on our home the next day and could not stop thinking about this new adventure that we had stumbled upon, so we decided to write them an email and beg. “PLEASE do you have any cancellations or vehicles that maybe were not showing available on the website?” And then we waited. Fortunately, we did not have to wait long. Nomad America emailed us back later that evening and we nervously opened it, figuring we already knew the answer. Worst case scenario, we thought, we will just cancel this trip and go somewhere else, maybe back to Bali. To our delight, they had a back-up rig that we could use! And that is how we found our new Costa Rican love, a 110 Landrover Defender we affectionately named “Maria”.
We arrived early in the morning in Liberia and were greeted by two employees from Nomad America (www.nomadamerica.com) and were given a complete tutorial of the 110 Rover. We threw our packs in and off we went. We started our way west, towards the peninsula. The idea was we would spend about a week there before crossing on the ferry back to the north east of Costa Rica. We really did not know what to expect on our first day so we stayed in a resort in Playa Hermosa about an hour from Liberia. When we arrived at Occidental Papagayo, we were alarmed to see that there was a huge wildfire burning next to it. The resort is adults only and is really very beautiful, but the smell of smoke was quite overpowering and it was a little scary trying to get some rest that evening knowing there was a wildfire right outside the resort. The next morning it was time to go “resort provisioning”. What we mean by this is, with an ice machine outside the door and an ice box in need of ice, we “provisioned” some ice and headed out. We worked our way slowly down the peninsula with Mel as the navigator and Jeron behind the wheel. Mel will always be the navigator as we found out early on in these adventures as she doesn’t like driving and has not gotten us lost yet, which is more than we can say for Jeron’s navigation skills! It was the dry season in Costa Rica and boy was it dry. We always pictured Costa Rica as being a really green and luscious jungle, but during the dry season it is quite the opposite and it was hot! The middle of the peninsula looked to be mostly farmland and large cattle farms. The western shores on the pacific were dotted with little surf towns filled with backpackers, hostels, and sodas (small restaurants). Using the iOverlander app we decided to stay the night in the small town of Ostional. Not really settling on one specific camp spot when we arrived we were greeted by a small man named Gilbert who offered us a beautiful spot in his front yard right on the beach for 6000 colon. (Read about our experience with Gilbert and the turtles in the “Give Back” portion.) Ostional has some of the largest turtle nesting areas in the world. It was not the right time of year to see the massive turtle nesting but we were still able to see hundreds of babies.
We broke camp and headed south down the peninsula exploring Samara, Puerto Carrillo and Playa San Miguel. Puerto Carrillo is very touristy, but beautiful with tons of great food and lodging options. We stopped to get a beer in San Miguel at Locos Cocos, a small restaurant made out of an old shipping container on a beautiful beach. Henna is the owner and they have great food and ice cold beer. As we finished our beers we got ready to leave and Henna came over and asked if we would like to camp there at the restaurant for $10. How could we resist? This was one of the prettiest places we stayed in all of Costa Rica. The next morning Henna opened the gate and off we went towards Santa Teresa, a very popular destination for backpackers and they were everywhere. Just a quick run through Santa Teresa since we wanted to make it close to the ferry launch in Paquera that night. On our way, we stopped off in several towns along the way; Montezuma, Tambor Beach and San Isidro, just to name a few. After camping for several nights and the long drive that day, combined with the fast-setting sun we made the decision to book a room that night. We found a super nice place called Tango Mar, a beautiful hotel right on the beach overlooking the ocean. It has a restaurant, golf course and several pools to plunge into. That morning we woke to an extremely odd sound, Howler Monkeys! This was our first time hearing these odd creatures and they were all over in the trees surrounding our bungalow. It was awesome! We made it to the ferry, checked in and waited in line. They slowly loaded us onto the ferry and to our disbelief, they parked us close to another 110 Defender. They were an English couple that had been overlanding for 10 years; 5 of which were through The Americas. Once the ferry is loaded (an experience in itself) you can go inside and grab food, drinks and a seat. It takes a little over an hour to cross. We will attach more information about the ferry in transportation. As we landed in Punta Arenas, we were directed to start our cars for unloading. Jeron turned the key and nothing. We couldn’t figure out what was wrong, but she wouldn’t turn over. The cars were all starting to unload and soon we were the only ones left. We sat surrounded by the ferry personnel, undoubtedly wondering why these gringos are still sitting on their ferry. While on the phone to the guys at Nomad America, Jeron was frantically checking for a loose connection or anything to get us out of this situation. Ferry personal, now extremely upset, are starting to push our rig off their boat. Jeron runs and hops in the driver seat and just as they had pushed us off Jeron pops the clutch and Maria is alive! We drove down the street and thought carefully about our next plan. Nomad America is located in San Jose and considering we were driving in a truck that may have an issue, we decided to re-route and head in that direction. As we started to go up in elevation we pulled into a restaurant in Palmeres so that we could roll downhill if we needed to jumpstart it again. After having lunch we hopped in Maria, fingers crossed that she would start and again….nothing. We rolled down the hill, popped the clutch and off we went to San Jose to figure out Maria. We arrived at Nomad America’s headquarters wondering if our adventure was over. When we pulled in, there were several nomad vehicles getting prepped for adventure; Toyotas, Rovers, Nissans, even a BMW motorcycle. Jeron was in heaven. They quickly gut Maria into the shop and set up a couple chairs and a table so that we could enjoy a couple of our cold cervezas while we waited(wonderful customer service). We asked if there were any other rigs available if they were not able to get our Rover fixed, but we were informed that they were all leaving that day. We began thinking of how we were going to get all the way back to Liberia, as it sounded like this adventure was sadly over. After ten minutes they told us that the starter had gone out and they would have us up and running in an hour! They kept their promise and we were back on the road and headed towards the Blanco National Forest. We drove towards Bajos Del Toro winding our way through the mountains and tiny towns. It was beautiful and so different from the peninsula. The jungle was extremely lush and cool with colors of green we can’t even explain. We have been on some pretty scary mountain roads being from Utah, but nothing like the journey up the mountain to get to Bajos Del Toro. Mel is, unfortunately for her, terrified of heights and her side of the car looked directly off the mountain. These mountain sides were so high you could not see to the bottom because we were above the clouds. We did finally make it, but it was dark now and we had a hard time finding somewhere to camp. We were sitting in a parking lot next to a closed restaurant, reviewing the maps for a place to camp when someone knocked on our window. The property owners told us that the restaurant was closed but they offered us a place to camp in their yard just up the hill for $5. (Luck was truly on our side on this trip.) It was a beautiful spot surrounded by the mountains and giant glowing beetles that hovered in the sky. The next morning we hiked down to emerald pools and then set off to Catarata del Toro. The waterfall is absolutely gorgeous, but the rain was really coming down that day so we did not attempt the hike down.
As we descended out of the Blanco National Forest we noticed that the countryside is a green that was unfamiliar and breathtaking. Our trip was coming to an end so we took highway 4 across northern CR and made a left leading us into Miravalles Volcano and then a right back to where it all started in Liberia.