We decided to race to San Jose, Costa Rica, because I had found a shop that claimed they would be able to fix my camera. It ended up being a pretty tough couple days of driving, but the payoff was amazing when we eventually found ourselves relaxing at Lake Arenal.
However, I’m jumping ahead! Let’s start back in Nicaragua. We left the beautiful beaches of Nicaragua early one morning in an attempt to make it all the way to San Jose in a single day. We knew this would be a long drive (and it included a border crossing), but it was important to get the camera dropped off before the weekend.
We were making great time and were optimistic about getting to San Jose early when we arrived at the border. Little did we know that this would be our most difficult border crossing in Central America.
It turns out that the previous day two people were caught smuggling more than $2,000,000 across this border. The border agents were on high alert, thoroughly searching all vehicles that were leaving Nicaragua. A fixer told us we might be able to skip the vehicle inspection if we offered the official $20 (yeah, try to figure that one out for me.. you think the guys with $2M were so cheap they didn’t even offer the officials a few bucks??), but we decided against it. We figure any time we pay a bribe like this, we’re just making it harder for travelers coming behind us, so we always refuse.
We waited for nearly 30 minutes just to get our vehicle inspected, and then spent the next two hours experiencing the most thorough search of our entire trip. Erica was with two officers inside the XPCamper who were literally trying to tear up the floor boards looking for loot. At one point, they found a bag of oregano, and were sure they had just won the lottery until they opened the bag and found that it wasn’t the marijuana they were looking for.
Meanwhile, I was outside with two other officers, emptying the contents of our truck cab and flatbed boxes, unpacking everything, showing it to the officers, and then putting it all back.
During this intense search, the intense Nicaraguan sun was beating down. Not even a small breeze made it to the inspection area. The heat and stifling humidity made each minute crawl slowly by.
Finally, the officers finished inspecting our rig. Maybe the heat was getting to the them as well–they were dressed in uniforms with longs pants and long sleeved shirts (they didn’t even have the benefit of our shorts and flip flops). We headed across to Costa Rica where we spent another hour and a half running around in order to get our vehicle entry permit.
We were way behind schedule at this point, but decided to push on to San Jose. Luckily, Costa Rica has some nice roads, and by 5pm we found ourselves on the outskirts of San Jose.
Unfortunately, it was clear that this was turning into one of those days where things just aren’t easy. The camp site we planned to stay at had shut down. The sun was setting and it was getting late. We really needed to find a place to spend the night. This trip isn’t just amazing beaches and sunsets.
We decided to head towards Parque Nacional Volcán Poás, an area just north of San Jose. In the worst case, we figured we would be able to find a spot to camp nearby.
Dusk doesn’t last very long in these countries that are close to the equator. The sun seems to drop below the horizon and suddenly night arrives. We were soon driving in complete darkness. Fortunately, our luck was about to change.
We pulled up to a restaurant that looked like a promising spot to camp (in other words, the parking lot was empty and our rig would easily fit). As we pulled in and hopped out to take a look around, we were approached by a Costa Rican. Maybe he could sense how weary we were (we had been on the road for twelve hours at this point), or maybe he was just a naturally friendly and open person. He welcomed us with opened arms, showed us a quiet place to camp on his land further from the road, and when we asked how much it would cost to camp for the night, he wouldn’t even hear of it! He said that his house was our house.
The next day, with our batteries recharged from a great night’s sleep in the cool mountains of Costa Rica, we again hit the road. First we headed into the heart San Jose, where we dropped my camera off at the repair shop. While at the camera repair shop, we also picked up a new Canon Rebel T5. This would serve as a great backup camera while the other was being repaired, since we could use all the same lenses. After that, we headed back north towards Lake Arenal.
By that afternoon we found ourselves at Lake Arenal Brewing Company, drinking microbrews and enjoying the views of Lake Arenal. Everything had worked out in the end, as it usually does.