Costa Rica: San José & North Nicoya

Camping at Samara Beach

Thursday 6 December, Belen Trailer Park, Costa Rica
We have previously mentioned fellow travellers who had warned us that the roads in Costa Rica are the worst in Central America. To say the least, we were dubious about this claim. If you have read our last few reports you will notice that we had plenty to complain about in Nicaragua and that was after we thought the Honduran roads were bad! Since arriving in Costa Rica we have been putting those travellers' claims to the test.
In just over 5 weeks in Costa Rica we have spent our time between Belen Trailer Park, just outside of San Jose, and various parts of the Pacific Coast. On arrival in Costa Rica we left the Pan-American to drive to Bahia de Salinas and found the first real little paradise we have experienced. It was a quiet bay with no space for more than 1 or 2 cars other than our camper, and most of the time we had it all to ourselves. Unfortunately we hadn't really planned ahead for dry camping so, after stretching things for 2 nights, we had to leave to refill our water tank and empty the waste. But it was a very pleasant interval and the sort of thing we have been looking for our whole trip.
And there has been more of it, interspersed with time spent at Belen Trailer Park to take care of 'business' - in terms of visits to dentists, finding spare parts for our truck, having the mechanic give it the once over and change the oil, and getting things for the camper sent from the states to a secure address. The owner of the trailer park, Laurie, has been more than helpful in many ways. I'm starting to refer to this place as 'home' because we have just arrived for our third stay.
We came here for the first time on November 1st and stayed until the 20th. It is not a very quiet place since it is set between two quite busy roads, but our time was made more enjoyable by the arrival of friends we hadn't met yet. We have mentioned in the past that we seem to spend a lot of time alone, not meeting other travellers. This all changed here at Belen in early November. The first to arrive were Bruni and Norbert, a German couple who had only recently shipped to Panama after a journey through South America. Juergen had been in contact with them by email and it was such a pleasure to meet them when the arrived just a day after us.
The next to arrive, a few days later, were Anna and Walter, another German couple who are travelling in the same direction as us but in a C class and only have 13 months to complete it. Then arriving exactly a week after us was "Curious George" - this is the aptly named vehicle belonging to Adam (George Adam II) who is travelling with his father, "Popsi" or George (George Adam), from South Carolina to Panama. Adam left a message in our guest book before he started his journey and we have been in contact since then, expecting to meet up with him somewhere. It was great to finally meet them - he and his dad are so full of enthusiasm and joy over everything they are doing. And the next day Markus and Gisela arrived - a Swiss couple who have just been in South America for the second time and are heading north.
For the next 5 days we were 10, and much time was spent sitting around the table under the veranda swapping stories about where we had all been and where we were heading. There was also a lot of help exchanged - Markus helped Juergen make some more sense out of our GPS. Juergen shared a taxi with Adam and George to a Ford dealership where they were both trying to solve problems involving their vehicles. Markus and Juergen both helped Norbert along the way to getting the right set of new tyres for his pickup truck. And so it went on. We shared taxis to the supermarket whenever it was necessary. (I must make mention of the fact that everyone was most impressed with what was available in the supermarkets here - things we hadn't seen for some time. Their Christmas specialties even include many of the things most Germans would be used to finding at home.) We went into San Jose by bus for a day with Bruni, Norbert, Anna and Walter. None of us were over impressed by the city but we did enjoy the visit we made to the Jade Museum, which houses quite a collection of pre-Colombian artefacts, including many jade pieces.
It was so good to be with people again and to be sharing everyone's experiences. But unfortunately travellers travel and gradually people started to leave. We spent our last 2 days alone again, except for a French-Canadian couple with 2 kids who arrived the evening before we left. During all the friendship and companionship we also managed to get things done. Our parcel of things for our camper arrived promptly, with much appreciation going to PJ at Princess Craft in Texas. When we had some work done there in January before entering Mexico, she said if we needed anything along the way, just contact her and she would ship it. She was as good as her word and it arrived here in 3 days with DHL - over a weekend. We were most impressed. As well as replacing our broken vent cover, and fixing the leg (that we knocked off in Nicaragua) back onto the camper, Juergen managed to wash the truck and camper slowly over a number of days - there were weeks of accumulated mud stuck to most surfaces and over a year's worth of mould on the camper roof!
We found a very nice and thorough dentist just by asking our hosts here. She discovered more holes than we wanted to know about, but it must be done. She also recommended a specialist to begin the implant process to replace the tooth Juergen had removed in Mexico. This is unfortunately a longer process than we had anticipated so the final crown will have to be added in South America somewhere. He had the implant placed in his gum, I had one hole fixed and we both had our teeth cleaned. Then we made appointments for the 7th December and left the noisy city in search of a quiet beach.
Our goal was the Nicoya Peninsular and we went to the north initially because there is a bridge and we thought we could perhaps drive to the southern part from there. Until we reached the town of Nicoya, the roads were relatively good and we hadn't seen anything like the horrors predicted. The road to Samara, where we had planned to arrive that first day, was not so good and, even though it was tarred, there were many potholes. Missing them was made more difficult by the fact that it was already dusk. We arrived in Samara around 6.00, by which time it is completely dark. With some help from locals we found the campground we were looking for - an idyllic place on the beach under the coconut palms. Unfortunately they are planted just a little too close to each other for our truck. But, sometimes with only millimetres to spare, Juergen managed to back the camper as close to the beach as possible. The first night was quiet - only the sound of waves breaking on the beach. The second night we had a group right in front of our camper getting drunk - they were there late in the night and reappeared at 4.30 am. I yelled at them. Juergen yelled at them. Finally the campground owner came out and told them in no uncertain terms that they should leave. The third night was disturbed again, this time by dogs - it seems there was a bitch in heat and every male for miles around was courting her within earshot of the camper!
Samara itself is a quiet and undeveloped town. The beach is nice to look at and walk along, and the sunsets are magnificent, but the water is a bit too much like soup for my liking - I don't like things I can't see brushing up against me in the ocean, even if its only driftwood or seaweed. So after 3 nights there we decided to travel up the coast a bit - and we discovered the roads that Costa Rica seems to be famous for... The road we were on was so bad that we did wonder if we were actually on the main coastal road to Nosara and beaches north. We could maintain speeds of only 10mph or less, so progress was extremely slow. Then we came upon a point where the road just seemed to disappear into a river, with no visible exit on the opposite bank. We sat there and looked at it for a bit and then another vehicle drove around us, through the river, and out the other side. So we followed. By the end of the day we had lost count of river crossings both small and large, but they were all shallow enough to cross easily in our truck.
We stopped for lunch at a really nice beach called Playa Garza. Unfortunately it was too early to camp but would have made a nice spot. We talked to an American there who now lives nearby and he told us that basically you can camp on any beach you like because it is all public land. We finally stopped for the night at Marbella beach. There were a lot of people around, mostly surfing, but as dusk arrived they departed. It was an amazing sunset and made for some beautifully romantic tropical photographs. During the night I was woken by the sound of waves crashing very close to us. I went outside to look, and the high tide seemed to be getting very close to the camper. The full moon probably made it more extreme, but we were just on high enough ground not to get our feet wet. Juergen slept so well he didn't even notice my nocturnal wanderings and wonderings.

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