We arrived in Changuinola at 05h30 only too pleased to get off the bus. It was raining quite heavily, so we sat under the shelter of the bus terminal for a while, until Michael discovered there was actually a rudimentary waiting lounge around the corner. We were joined by Suzanna from the USA who was also on her way to Costa Rica. At about 07h00 we caught a taxi to the border crossing and waited in the drizzle for the immigration office to open at 08h00. There were no problems departing and we walked across the railway bridge to the Costa Rican side. The bridge was pretty rusty and the train clearly didn't use it any more, but quite a few large trucks drove across to the sound of loose planks clunking loudly.
We showed the immigration official our letter from Maritrans when he asked where our departure ticket was and he seemed happy enough. Michael quickly changed money and within 15 minutes the bus for Puerto Limon arrived. We paid our $3 each and got the best leg room seats at the front of the bus, but by the end of the three hour journey our bums were numb - they were the most uncomfortable seats we had sat on for ages! On the up side, the scenery was beautiful, although we didn't get to see too much of it as the bus windows were so filthy!
We arrived in Puerto Limon just before lunch and took a taxi out to the port at Moin where the commercial ships dock. We found the agent's office without too much rouble and they told us the Horncliff was due in at 15h00. We raced back into town to start the customs formalities. We were accosted by an agent pretty much as soon as we got there, but we declined politely and got the forms we needed from the customs official, Gerard, and filled them out. It was, as we expected, all very frustrating, with extra copies of everything to be made and insurance to be bought (although it was cheap for $10 and easy to get).
There were three other people ahead of us who were importing cars and household goods, (two were from the US and one Costa Rican who works in the US) and that slowed everything down considerably as there was only Gerard working with the 'tourists' and the office closed at 16h30 and it was already 15h00. The frustrating thing was that the other people were all 'working the system' giving incentives for faster results, so I knew there would be some expectation of the same from us. The Costa Rican guy said I must tip the staff and we had a slightly heated debate about the rights and wrongs of corruption. In the end I felt like smacking the guy, so I avoided any further conversation with him. then discovered that Michael was meant to be there to sign some forms but he had gone back to Moin to be ready to manoeuvre the car as necessary. I said I could go and get him, but they said it would take too long and Gerard said he would come out to Moin, get him to sign and do the inspection at the same time. (Now I felt that was going the extra mile)! As it turns out Gerard kept me waiting (when there would have been plenty enough time to get Michael back there) and then said we must come back tomorrow morning at 08h00 sharp to sign the forms and then an inspector would come out to Moin with us. There wasn't much I could do about it, so I left feeling peeved.
Michael and I spent another four hours waiting on the dockside (which was pretty grimy and smelt of urine) before they were ready to lift Nyathi out of the hold. It was quite unnerving to watch tem unloading the containers as the sea was really rough and the crane drivers were not brilliant - we saw a number of containers bang into the side of the ship and the dockside building. Dropping the containers onto the flatbed trucks waiting below provided some anxious moments too with one truck being lifted at least a foot in the air when the release mechanism didn't work and was sent crashing back down to earth! I was really nervous when I saw them unfolding some nylon straps, looping them through some bent and kinked steel cables and swinging them into the hold. If that was for Nyathi - I did NOT want to watch. Luckily Michael was in the hold to supervise the connecting , although the stevedores foolishly put the strapping on the front and middle axles instead of the front and rear. When they started to lift Nyathi the straps began to break, and the cracking noise told them to put her back down swiftly!
So, back out with the strapping and I got to see them loading a brand new Discovery into the strapping and sing it precariously on board. Then they brought across some heavy duty steel cable strapping and connected that together for Nyathi. It was absolutely awful to watch her rise up out of the depths of the ships and swing wildly out across to the dock - we were both so relieved to see her safely on the ground!
Nyathi was instantly soaked in condensation as the entire hold of the ship is refrigerated and the humidity outside was pretty high. She was really cold to touch, no wander Michael had come back up from the hold earlier and asked for a sweatshirt. We were told to park Nyathi near the entrance to the port next to the security guards ready for inspection in the morning. The security guard was very pleasant and said we could sleep there overnight if we wanted to. That really suited us so we opened the tent up to get some fresh air in and went along and shared a mediocre dinner of fried chicken and rice at the port canteen. We tumbled into bed at about 23h30.
We caught the 07h00 bus into town and wandered briefly through a supermarket to do a bit of comparative shopping. It's more expensive than Panama and even more so than South America. We were at the customs office at 07h45 and we waited patiently. By 08h30 Gerard still wasn't there. His boss came to us eventually and siad if he wasn't there in 15 minutes he'd let us sign the papers instead. Gerard arrived at about 08h50 we signed our papers, made five more copies of everything and he told us to wait. Unsurprisingly, we weren't the real reason he came in. Annoying, bribe-paying Costa Rican man arrived shortly afterwards. Gerard delayed us until he was ready with the other people's paperwork and at 10h00 we went on a circuitous walk to the little house where the inspection people were. All of our papers were in order, but we spent another half an hour while the others got more copies etc. Gerard took this opportunity to tell Michael he must pay the inspector $7 for services rendered. Michael said he thought there was no chare for customs, but Gerard said it wasn't official, it's just so the inspection runs smoothly. Michael said he'd think about it (no chance)! It turns out the inspector was a nice guy and took us to Moin in his own car, although we offered to get a taxi. He had a brief look around Nyathi and went to the port offices to check we had done all we needed to there. So that was it - we gave him the equivalent of a taxi fare ($4) and stated that was what it was for. We had to have the vehicle fumigated for another $5 for which we received a receipt and we were on our way to San Jose!
We were driving along looking for a restaurant when all of a sudden there was this loud bang from inside the cabin and the smell of something electrical burning - I turned round to check the inverter, which had lights flashing red and went to switch it off, but it already was! So Michael pulled over while I switched the battery cut-off, off. It turns out that there was a short that caused it to switch on by itself and fry... It is really annoying because it wasn't a cheap piece of equipment and it was tremendously useful. Still, it is under a two ear warranty, so we'll see if we can get it sorted in the USA.
We treated ourselves to a delicious lunch in a pleasant restaurant en route. The rest of the drive was uneventful. The scenery was lovely and until we started climbing the mountains a little, the road was good. We got fresh-out-the-oven baguettes at a local supermarket and ate them as is - delicious!
We found a lovely little hotel in Fortuna called Hotel Cordosa, where they let us park Nyathi for the night and sleep. We had a drink at their poolside bar which normally had spectacular views of Arenal Volcano, but there was so much cloud we could even see there was a volcano there.
We left at about 07h00 in the rain. There was still so much cloud around, it was hopeless to stay around hoping it would clear, so we made our way toward Santa Rosa National Park. We drove alongside Lake Arenal which was beautiful. It was also very windy and we saw a line of over a dozen wind generators up on the hilltop. The road was pretty poor with lots of potholes and small sections washed away by rivers. The villages were neat and colourful and we saw quite a few people tending their garden. I love the fact that lots of people have rocking chairs of some shape or form on their front veranda - it gives things a really homely feel.
We stopped in Liberia to get ice for the coolbox, but decided to get bread in the towns closer to the park, eroor of judgement! When we arrived at the entrance of the park we discovered there is not food available inside, so we made a 50km to get bread and some tomatoes and onions. We stopped at the first camp area to fill some jerry cans and Michael noticed we had a flat tyre - so he did that instead! The road down to the beachside camp was slow going, with ruts and a fairly steep descent into the valley. It took us about 45 minutes to do the 12km stretch, but it was great to be back in the bush!
The beach was pristine and backed by forest and mangrove swamps. The irritating thing for us is that they wouldn't let us drive and park Nyathi in the camping area, even though we explained our tent was on top and our gear fitted in the vehicle. There was a road which vehicles use to get to the campsite to unload, but the ranger was being a real jobs-worth and we ended up having to camp in the parking lot, 200m from the campsite and beach, so we decided we'd only stay for one night.
Despite that we had a very pleasant time. It was peaceful and we saw white-tailed deer, loads of big lizards, racoons and some beautiful birds. The sea was a lot colder than on the Caribbean, but still nice to swim in. We met Tom from the UK while swimming and we invited him to join us for dinner. There were also about ten other people there, including a group of spring-breakers from the USA, who were a nice bunch and introduced us to tamarinds (a shell pod encrusted fruit which tastes slightly sour - like dried apples).
We had an enjoyable evening with Tom and rounded off our gourmet spaghetti meal with our bottle of very sweet wine from Peru (which Michael discovered afterward was in fact a dessert wine - small saving grace).
We were up early as the ten got too hot. The American people came to ask for some drinking water (as the racoons had knocked theirs over) and have a guided tour of Nyathi. We said our goodbyes and watched them, heavily laden with 7 people and all their surf gear, head off. About ten minutes later they returned as they thought their tyres were a bit flat and asked if we had air. Michael pumped up all their tyre and we said our farewells again.
Michael spent the morning checking oils (I did the ritual pumping). I read my book in the shade. We went for a walk down to the fresh water lagoon further along the beach. No sight of the promised caiman, but it was lovely and tranquil and we wished we'd had a little boat to row up the quiet waterways in search of wildlife.
Michael went for a swim in the sea and I had a shower. We gave Tom a lift, so the guys put his backpack up top. The road out was a little more challenging up hill, but we made it to the main road within an hour. We stopped at the main camp to see if they could radio Arenal national park to see what the weather was like, but they weren't tremendously helpful.
We decided the chance to see an active volcano glowing red in the night and potentially throwing out incandescent rocks was worth the drive back to see, in the hope the weather was clear. It looked promising most of the way, but when we got to the lake, it was cloudy and there was no volcano in sight! We stopped along the way at La Carreta in Tilaran to get a take-away burger for Tom and a pizza for us. The place is now owned by Roberto who was delighted to see us and made us feel welcome.
We ate the food on the road, which was filling, but not the best we've had. It got dark as we were driving around the lake, where the potholes were bad and well-hidden by the pouring rain. To make our evening a lot more interesting, we got two, simultaneous punctures. Luckily the rain wasn't too drenching and Tom said he was impressed at how we took it our stride (all that practice - I think).
When we arrived at Jungle and Senderos Los Lagos (re commended by LP) it turns out the information is incorrect. Anyway, the chap who was there told us we could camp near the entrance to the park. We couldn't see what he was talking about when e arrived, so I spoke to the policeman in the little hut on the roadside and he said we could just camp there. He asked if we had any coins from our home country, so for the price of a few spare SA rands, we camped next to the road and had washing water to boot, although it was wet and rainy so after Tom pitched his tent we crawled into our respective beds and fell asleep to the rain.