From November 3 -23, I visited Costa Rica on a solo trip (my first to this country). I speak basic Spanish (rusty on the tenses but with a good accent), understand more, and read well. With limited time to plan, I had thought about trying out. I was surprised to learn that OAT does NOT cater to singles, but expects you to pair up, and has only a few spots open for singles even if you are willing to pay the supplement. (As fortune would have it, I crossed paths with the Oaties several times.) It also seems to be prime season for migrating birds and following twitchers. It was rather amusing to see the evening and morning briefings and checklist processing…and rather convinced me that I don’t want to go on a bird watching tour! So..no tour, not much time to plan, but I fell across some great low season discounts, which brings CR into the realm of not too crazily expensive for one person.
Arrival and First night, Alajuela, Pura Vida Hotel.
My flight was booked on TACA, the nonstop redeye from LAX. I had reserved a “Procrastinator’s Special” (kind of a proprietary Priceline deal at $90 all in) into the PuraVida Hotel in Tuetal, Alajuela (they reimburse the airport taxi). Excellent place, excellent dinner by Nhi, and Bernie is the master of irony. Recommended highly, especially for a first visit to CR. Be sure to reserve for dinner…best food in CR. Two large doggies will entertain but not bother you. No TV in my room (the Volcano) but there is a lobby TV. Hotel is deservedly recommended by most guidebooks and Tripadvisor. Bonus: Blue crowned motmot in the morning.
Tomas and the Deluge.
That night, in the early morning hours, torrential rainfall caused by a low pressure system combined with remains of tropical storm Tomas caused extensive flooding and landslides, loss of life and blocking roads around much of the country. Even growing up in hurricane country, I had never heard rain fall that hard for that long (like standing under a shower on full blast for hours). I had a feeling it wasn’t “normal” even for “green season”. I had known Tomas was out there in the eastern Caribbean, but wasn’t following it and was hoping it would turn north like it should have…not park itself over CR for 3 days!
Driving in Costa Rica.
What can I say? You need the inborn sense of direction of a homing pigeon, a 4WD, and to be confident, alert, aggressive and defensive all at the same time. The steep gutters and sharp edges to your right, the oncoming traffic dodging potholes toward you, the motorcycles overtaking out of nowhere, derrumbes and hundimientos in the via (not to mention disappearing sections of the via), the occasional pushcart on the freeway, oh! Let’s not forget the lack of street signs and addresses. Personally I don’t think a GPS helps. The one time I followed someone leaving Doka with a GPS we got lost in the coffee fields. I used good old paper maps, printed out directions from hotels, and as a last resort the “Estoy Perdido Donde Esta” method of navigation. I used Solid Rental which is …solid. They’re supposed to have all new cars in their fleet by December, so ask! I had a Jimmy which has enough clearance and gets you up the hills but sucks as far as comfort. Cost was $600 for 17 days including taxes, mandatory insurance but not CDW.
Detour at Cartago.
My rental car and I departed Alajuela the next morning, headed for El Toucanet Lodge in Copey. I made it (in 3 HOURS!) to Cartago, where the Interamerican Sur (Rt 2) was closed for removal of “derrumbes en la via”. Those stuck at the roadblock gathered in the local soda to watch TV coverage of the disaster (I think it was Soda de Carretera or some other word related to a roadway). Good food with homemade hot salsa. I got to practice my Spanish with a student at a bilingual Spanish/English school in Cartago (the schools were closed throughout the country). Eventually word passed around that the road might reopen at 3pm. I asked two uniformed truck drivers (who were trying to get to the coffee plant near Santa Maria de Dota) if I might borrow their cell phone…a trick learned from the Amazing Race! Amazingly, I was able to reach Gary, the owner of El Toucanet, who advised…No way, it would be “too much of an adventure to try to reach us,” it was starting to rain hard again, and he wasn’t sure if the road really would open. Later it turned out that Copey and the adjacent areas were isolated for days.
There was a well informed local who was tracking the road closures… the only place I might reach was Turrialba and the Caribbean coast. Not wanting to spend the night in my car…I stopped by Hotel El Guarco just slightly upstream toward Cartago, and booked one of their two remaining rooms. I headed out toward Turrailba, found that the roads to Orosi and Paraiso were also closed, and finally found Lankester Gardens . What a great place, even in the rain, which was still falling. I wore my plastic bag rain hat and was mocked as a little Dutch girl by some detoured “Oaties”…I learned to always bring the rain poncho…always. The collection of orchids and the heliconia gardens were my favorites. Back to my hotel (after a bit of circling round Cartago) and the soda for dinner.
Up Next: Quetzales!!!
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Costa Rica SoloTrip Report around Tomas (November 2010)--LONG!