Hasta luego to our dear friend Angi. She had an incredible, life-changing two weeks with us in Samara and is already planning her return trip.
Just after dropping Angi off at the airport we got pulled over by the policia. Apparently we had not paid our 2016 Marchamo fee, which we were unaware of. They wrote us a $100 ticket and removed our license plates on the spot. I can understand the ticket…but taking our license plates off? That seems loco to me. I was worried we were getting scammed by some corrupt Costa Rican cops, so I made them all write their names and badge numbers down (after shedding a few tears and yelling a few bad words at them…good thing they didn’t speak English).
We drove back to Samara, with no license plates, and packed up our lives once again into our forerunner. Heading back to Liberia to pay the ticket and pick up our plates, we hit the road Jack. We’ve heard many complaints about the lazy Costa Rican system, but this time we got to experience it for ourselves. The cops told us they thought we could pay it the next day and pick up our plates, but apparently they aren’t paid to think.
Stopping at two banks, the INS office and Cosevi, and waiting an hour in line at each place, we were told a different story each time. There was no record of our ticket or license plates in the system. One place told us to wait until manana, another said to come back in two days, and yet another said 8 days. Our Tico friend Brian warned us it could take a month for the cops to enter our info into the system. We’ve come to realize that “manana” in Costa Rica is a non-existant time in the near future where everything happens, yet the day never actually arrives. Each day we were told to try again manana, existing in our own version of Groundhog’s Day. Welcome to purgatory in Liberia!
Luckily we found a hotel within walking distance to all the offices we needed to shuffle back and forth between, so we wouldn’t have to drive our non-license plated car. From the outside the hotel looked like a prison with chain-link fences topped with razor wire. It was next to the chaotic freeway, surrounded by dust and the constant sounds of 18 wheelers engine-braking.
Walking into the hotel grounds we were shocked to enter a tropical oasis hidden from the miserable outside world. Covered in mango and papaya trees and bright green grass, with a winding pool and hot tub, it felt like the perfect escape from the hot, stuffy city of Liberia.
Although we were frustrated with our situation, and the fact that we were already paying rent on a beach cabin in Puerto Viejo, we decided to treat this ordeal like a mini vacation. Our room had a comfy king bed, a flatscreen TV with HBO, A/C and wifi, and a delicious breakfast included. We were able to walk to a nice restaurant each evening to enjoy dinner and drinks. It definitely could have been much worse.
Each day we stood in line at the bank to pay our ticket, and each day we were told there was no record of it and to try again manana. After 5 days of Liberian purgatory we got lucky and were finally able to pay our ticket and get our plates back. See ya never, Liberia!
Getting a late start on Thursday, we decided to drive 2.5 hours and stay the night in La Fortuna, which is a quaint little town at the base of the Arenal Volcano. Within an hour of our drive the landscape around us changed dramatically. The dry, dusty desert transformed into a lush rainforest. The vibrant jungle foliage surrounds the winding road and bamboo forests. Lake Arenal is breath-taking as we were given glimpses of it around each corner. Windsurfers and kitesurfers took advantage of the strong winds as the sun bounced off the water. We turned off the A/C in our car for the first time in 6 months and rolled down the windows to enjoy the refreshing cool 70 degree mountain air. It was as if we drove straight from hell, right into heaven.
Along the way we notice a “please don’t feed the coatimundis” sign. Coatimundis, also known as pizotes, are a small mammal species usually mistaken for raccoons. To us they look like a combination of raccoon, monkey and anteater. Right after the sign asking people not to feed them, we notice a tourist bus pulled over, surrounded by about 30 coatis. The coatis were all begging, standing on their hind legs, as the tourists fed them nuts from the windows. Leave it to the Americans to disregard the rules. But it was a fascinating sight and we enjoyed seeing so many of them, including some small baby coatis.
Pulling into our hotel we admire the quaint, colorful cabinas and the well manicured grounds. The cloud forest moves in above us and it begins to downpour. The air fills with the wonderful fresh scent of rain. We both fall in love with this area and add it to our list of places we want to live.
The drive from La Fortuna to Puerto Viejo took us about 5 hours. Along the way we see four rare green macaws soaring above us, as if guiding us to our new home. The Caribbean side doesn’t have much of a dry or wet season, it rains year-round so the foliage stays a vibrant green.
Arriving at our tiny beach cabin, we notice two low-hanging coconut trees right outside our door. Fresh coconut water for breakfast every morning tastes like happiness. Our cabin is very small, but perfect for us. A short 2 minute walk to Playa Negra, we are at the quiet end of Puerto Viejo.
After unpacking, we drive up and down the main road, scoping out potential restaurants for our first Caribbean dinner. We’ve been told that the food is incredibly flavorful on this side of Costa Rica and we make a mental list of places we want to try.
The town is busy and crowded, but the laid-back reggae beach vibe filters through the ocean breeze. It already feels like home. Everyone is incredibly kind and welcoming, with a smile and greeting ready for every passerby. Caribbean sodas on every corner and rasta beach bars line both sides of the street.
The guy we’re renting our cabin from, Michel, recommended a restaurant called Stashu’s, which is a global infusion of Thai and Caribbean food. We choose a seat in the funky restaurant and admire the décor. We order Jamaican hibiscus margaritas, spicy red curry mussels, sweet and spicy chicken, and thai peanut chicken with lemongrass and ginger. It’s the best meal we’ve had in weeks.
The owner, Stash, comes over and introduces himself. He is warm and friendly, sharing with us some information on the area. His smile lights up his face and is infectious as he shares his love for this town. It was an incredible meal and we promise to come back.
The next morning we meet our new neighbors who are staying in the beach cabin next to us. Two sisters Damion and Kaitlyn, and Kaitlyn’s husband Chris. They are all from Virginia, but Damion has lived in Portland for a few years and Kaitlyn and Chris are planning to possibly move to Portland also, after their cross country road trip. Oregon connections always brings out the love in people and make instant friends out of strangers. We spend the next couple days getting to know the area and our neighbors, and we already consider them our new BFF’s (although we do miss our Samara peeps!)
The internet is extremely slow at our cabin, worse than old-school dial-up speed. So no photos on this blog for now, but we’ll try to post some soon. I may have to use the wifi at the resort next to us for my future blog updates. The limited internet access already seems like a blessing, as it causes us to spend more time in nature and to be more present in the moment.
This town instantly feels like our new home and we are overflowing with love and excitement to get to know this new piece of Earth. I’ve done a lot of research on Costa Rica and the Caribbean side doesn’t have the best reputation. Everyone says it is much more dangerous than the Pacific side and to not walk the beach alone at night. Although we will follow this advice, I’m starting to think people over-exaggerate the danger just to keep the tourists away. Walking the beach and wandering the streets, I see nothing but smiles and happiness around us. But we will still make sure to bring our machete on our beach walks, especially at night.
From Liberian purgatory, to volcanoes and rainforests, to rasta, reggae and black sand beaches to new special friends…it has been a whirlwind of a week. Let the new adventures begin!
Kari Pinkerton Silcox
It would be a tragedy to die, having never really lived. Which is why my husband Andy and I quit our jobs, sold our house and decided to chase our dreams. We moved to Costa Rica without a plan, and this is the story of our adventure.