October 28th and 29th, 2011
I had a lot of mixed feelings about leaving Nicaragua. I mean, it is Nicaragua after all, but especially the southern part of the country was amazingly beautiful. And, since the bike broke, I realized I hadn’t been paying much attention to what I was riding past. That mental fog seemed to clear as I entered Costa Rica.
At the border my helpers on the Nicaragua side had suddenly been in a rush to get me moving to the other border. A tour bus had just finished up and was going to be moving on. The lines were going to be awful and they wanted me to try and beat them, which I did. Doug and David’s helpers were less on the ball and they didn’t make it. I lost them somewhere between passport and narcotics inspection, but they had mentioned planning to stay at a Best Western in Liberia, just an hour or so down the road, so I thought I would go there and see if we met up again.
You have to admit, the Costa Ricans have their priorities in order.
After the hedonistic luxury of the Best Western in Nicaragua, it didn’t take much to convince me to try and stay at another one. Even better, the one in Liberia was almost half the cost. Well, maybe two thirds. But it was also full. I found another place for much less and all the usual hotel features I like, then found dinner and called it a day.
I had entered Panama pretty late. It was, in fact, getting dark when I rolled into Liberia, and I had been intent on getting there for the Best Western (see how corrupting those are?), so I hadn’t stopped much on the way. But the day dawned early and I was back on the road.
Interesting stuff on the sides of the road.
It seems the big place to go in Costa Rica is San Jose, but I was a little sick of big cities, and Lonely Planet recommended Alajuela, which supposedly still had some of the old world charm San Jose had lost. I found a hostel that was cheap and easy to find, and reached the town in the early afternoon.
Alajuela might have some of the charm San Jose has lost, but it isn’t exactly free of the big city clutches either. In fact, it is a little hard, especially at night, to tell where one city ends and the other begins.
As I’ve gone further south, the churches seem to have gotten less awesome. Since I thought the Spanish influence would increase as I got closer to Panama I am a little surprised. Maybe I am just not seeing the more awesome ones.
The public square was impressive though. How long does it take for a palm tree to get that big?
I wonder if Jorge ran that through Google to translate.
And I have to wonder at the local fitness craze…
Of course, the real reason I stopped in Alajuela was because it’s the easiest place to get to Volcan Poas National Park. This park is called the lazy volcano, since you can drive basically all the way to the top. I had taken two nights at the hostel, which meant I could leave most of my luggage behind and spare broken Curiosity a little. Actually this made the back of bike even more squirrely, so the ride was a little extra exciting.
going up the side of the volcano was, of course, steep. And despite being told it only rained in the afternoon it started to pour when I was about half way up.
But I did make it.
I paid my fee to get it, and was given a little bit of paper, which the guard optimistically thought would survive on my bike in the rain. It did, sort of, inside the map bag. I had to keep showing it over and over, which made me think there had to be a way to get in without paying.
Once the bike was parked I had a short hike (In the rain) to get to the volcano.
Ducking into the visitor center on the way to try and avoid more rain/drip all over the floor. As visitor centers go, it could have been in any of the smaller US National Parks, but Poas is the most visited National Park in Costa Rica, around 200,000 visitors annually. For comparison, Yellowstone was over 3.6 million last year, so I guess the visitor center is doing pretty good. Sorry about the mess.
The hike to the actual crater wasn’t long, a couple hundred yards on a gradual grade. In the rain still, of course. There weren’t many visitors there, and most had matching umbrellas and rain ponchos with hotel and resort names on them.
I should have gotten Blue a raincoat before we left. He wasn’t out in the rain long, obviously.
Not long after I took these pictures the wind shifted, blowing the steam (the white smoke you see is water seeping down until it hits the magna, when it converts to steam and boils back out. It is the same thing you have been seeing in all my recent volcano pictures) back over the observation deck and completely obscuring the view.
I started back to the visitor center, past crowds of people (mostly still with matching rain gear) walking up towards the crater. Given there was still a lot of smoke in the air after I was done eating lunch (I packed one, not knowing what was going to be available. This was a good move, although I did get a mocha. I was in Costa Rica, after all) I am guessing they didn’t see much. I rode back down the volcano (it stopped raining as I got back to town) and spend the rest of the day completely slacking off. I had heard of another volcano, Arenal…and it was erupting.
Guess where I was going next?