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Costa Rica and Panama, summer 2005

Trip Members: Joe (Author), Anna

I spent 12 days traveling around Costa Rica and Panama with Anna who was working all summer in central Costa Rica. I got in to Juan Santamaria Airport in San Jose, where Anna met me. We waited in a downtown bus station for the bus to Turrialba 2 hours away. The next day we bushwacked with a few other people (two of them had machetes) through the jungle to a 200 foot high waterfall. The hike to the waterfall was only about 3k but took about 3 hours. At the waterfall we had fresh, wild oranges and waded in the ice cold river. The hike out, we took by way of a ranch and it only took about an hour. On the 4th we took a bus to San Isidro de General where we missed out connecting bus and had to take a taxi up into the mountains on an old rocky road to San Gerardo de Rivas where we spent the night. The next morning we got up early, got our passes to hike up Cerro Chirripo, the tallest peak in Costa Rica (and central America). We met two guys at the ranger station, David from Seattle and John from England who were also hiking up that day. The hotel mamager gave us a ride up to the trailhead and we started our trek at about 730 in the morning and 4980 feet elevation. The first kilometer led us through coffee plantations and grazing land but eventually gave way to tropical rainforest. Nearly every surface in the rainforest is used by some other ogranism to grow on. A single tree trunk will have hundreds of species of fungus, mosses, lichens ferns, epiphytes, vines and other numerous life forms. It is truly amazing how dense and full of life the rainforest is. Dozens of species of birds can be heard up in the canopy, hundreds of feet up but are rarely seen. We made our way up through the rainforest, into the cloud forest which lived up to its name. At times, the clouds were so thick the tops of the trees could not be seen and at other times passed through and over the canopy in eerie ghost-like whisps. We reached the halfway point at around noon at a shelter house on the Llano Bonito (Beautiful Plain) and had lunch. We continued up the mountain, leaving the canopy of the cloud forest behind and entering the first of many sub-alpine ecosystems. A mild case of altitude sickness soon followed, the worst for Anna. I did not start feeling it until we reached the 10,000 foot mark. We finally reached the hostel at 11,200 feet after about 6,500 feet of gain in under 10 hours. Between the two of us we had one backpack with minimal gear (no tent or sleeping bag) and not quite enough food. The situation seemed more bleak when we found out the hostel was out of sleeping bags and all that was left for rent were 30 year old wool blankets and temperature began to drop (there was no heat in the hostel). we met up with David and John and had dinner which they graciously shared with us. People who had summited in the past couple of days said that by summiting the moutnain within an hour of sunrise, before the humidity sets in, you can see both the pacific and atlantic oceans. So we decided that this sounded like a splendid idea and we should all (John and David as well) would set out on the trail at 3am. We actually managed to drag ourselves out of bed at 2:45 only to fins that there were clouds on the horizons and there was thunder and lightning in the distance. To this, John proclaims in his cocney accent "I hope we don't get pissed on today!" Well his hoping helped, we didnt get rained on, but instead made it up the 1500 feet in 5.5km to the summit of Cerro Chirripo just as the sun was rising. In fact the clouds stayed away from the summit, giving us amazing views of the Cordillera de Talamanca mountain range which bisects Costa Rica. We made it all the way down the moutnain that afternoon, approximately 8,500 feet down in 25 km. We spent that night nursing our knees and calves in San Gerardo and headed to David, Panama the next day.

It turned out that John was also going to David so we ended up traveling that day with him. The travel guide book we had made the observation that "there is no reason to go to ugly, stinking Paso Canoas, other than to get into Panama." and it was right. There were only two times I was scared on this trip, the first time was in Paso Canoas. It truly is a filty, ugly, stinking border town that is infest with slum lords, beggars and drugs. It is apparent that they are trying to change this, a new border crossing building was in the process of being built. However we were not lucky enough to have full use of the building. The three of us were one of the first off the bus and headed directly to the immigration building for Costa Rica and went through with no troubles. We were next instructed to follow a kid across town to the immigration building for Panama, who passed us off to another guy, who told us to follow him down an alley. We immediately stopped and argued with him for a few minutes and finally John got tired of this and said" well if I get mugged youll know not to follow". It turned out that the immigration building was in fact down there where we had to stand in line for a while only to be told that Anna and I, since we were Americans, had to go back to the bus area to get a tourist visa for $5 but John who was from England did not. Up till now we had not seen any of the other 50 people on the bus and began to worry we were in fact being scammed. But we did as they said,went back, got the tourist visa and made our way back to the Panama Immigration, got our stamp and headed back to the busses where we had our bags searched. After over an hour of frantic running around we were finally on the bus in panama to David. We arrived in David, the second largest city in Panama and the three of us took a taxi to The Purple House a well known backpacking hostel. It was full. So the taxi driver took us to another hostel which looked nice on the outside and in the lobby. So we paid for our room and they guy took us back and the worry came back as we walked through narrow dark concrete corridors to our room, about 1/3 the sizeof a dorm room where the bed area was seperated from the sink, toilet and shower by a 6 foot high concrete wall and curtain. We made jokes about being in jail, etc. It turnsout we later found out it really used to be the city jail! The next day we headed up to the Beautiful mountain town of Boquete where we spent the night. The area around Boquete is world famous for its high quality coffee, considered to be some of the best coffee in the world. We walked around town and took in some of the sights. The next day we took the bus over the mountains to the Caribbean coast where we spent the night in Chenguanola. During the bus ride we met 2 girls from Belgium who somehow got into Panama through the same Paso Canoas without even getting their passports stamped! They stuck with us that night since Anna by far spoke the best spenish in our little group and crossed the border with us the next morning somehow without getting into trouble. Anna and I however, stood in line for an hour only to be told we had to have a bus ticket that we would never use back into panama before we could get back into Costa Rica. We got our ticket, stood in line for almost another hour and headed to Cahuita where we spent the next two nights. The hotel we stayed in at Cahuita was on the Caribbean sea, on the beach. From the balcony we could throw a stone into the ocean, for only $30 a night. We spent that afternoon on the beach and swimming in the Caribbean. The next day we headed over to Puerto Viejo and rented Sea Kayaks for the afternoon. We paddled out of the harbor through a narrow channel in the barrier reef. At this time the waves were only about 2 feet high, not a problem. We paddled down the coast for about an hour and Anna began to get seasick as the swells rose to 3-4 feet. We decided to head in to a beach for a bit but just as we got to the breakers realized there was a reef between us and quickly paddled back out to open water and decided to head back to where we started. By the time we got back to that area and where we thought the channel should be the waves were 6 feet high and we could not find the channel. We discussed the situation and what to do. Anna suggestd making a break for the beach during brief periods of smaller (3-4 foot) waves trying to get over the reef. I thought this was a bad idea but she made a break for it and just as she got to the reef zone a 7-8 foot wave broke at the tip of her boat and realized it was not such a good idea. We paddled around a while trying to signal people on the beach and finally caught the attention of one lady with a kid who thought we were just saying hi but realized after 5 minutes we actually werent. She directed us another quarter mile down the shore to where we found the channel and got in safely. Keep in mind that all this time we were also watching two storms come in at us, one with lightning striking the shore. Our plans for surfing lessons that afternoon were thwarted. We spent that night in Cahuita and headed back to Turrialba the next day, where Anna was living. We spent the last day bumming around Turrialba then I headed back on the 14th to the US.  

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