Tag Archives: Driving

Day 18 – Aquiares to San Gerardo. Interesting times

Wednesday 8 March 2023All we had to do today was to get ourselves from Aquiares to San Gerardo de Dota, about a three-hour drive. Once there, we could relax for the rest of the day. Simple, no?

Simple, yes. Also, interesting, almost entirely in a good way.  Almost.

We had the usual Hacienda breakfast – Gallo Pinto, fried eggs, coffee.  We tried the honey-processed coffee for a change and, although it didn’t have the farmyard aroma that so struck Jane, it didn’t frankly have the depth of flavour that we liked.

No matter, we had a nice view as we sat on the terrace overlooking the garden

although the clouds were fairly low.  We were joined (at a distance) by three Chacalacas

and I have to say that the fog lent the “Tree of Life” (a Ceiba tree) a very striking appearance as it overlooked the coffee factory.

As we exited the Hacienda to load the car, we heard a real commotion emanating from the trees near the car.

Toucans were gathered and shouting their fool heads off – we don’t know why, but are prepared to bet that it was with evil intent, because they’re bastards. Keel-billed Bastards at that, so we’d at last got reasonably close to them in the wild.

The route we followed started going up in the rather steep fashion that Costa Rican road designers quite frequently favour

but the surface was good and we eventually found ourselves among some really pleasant countryside.

However it soon became clear that we were on a very up-and-downy route, which invariably involves an encounter with a large, heavy and slow lorry, with its consequent tailback.

Under these circumstances, there’s nothing to be done apart from awaiting one’s chance to overtake in due course. We weren’t in a hurry and so it wasn’t too irksome. Once we did get past, we were treated to some lovely views

across what, it was increasingly clear, was agricultural land, with various kinds of materials used (we guessed) as shading for whatever was being grown there.

We passed through the town of Cervantes, which was tight in places

and gave us the chance to appreciate the arcane beauty of the local wiring systems.

We skirted the significant and not particularly attractive conurbation that is Cartago, and joined Route 2, which is the southern segment of the Pan-American Highway (locally in Central America known as the Inter-American Highway) that traverses Costa Rica, and therefore means that there is a significant number of huge trucks among the oncoming traffic. We passed wind turbines as we breasted one hill

and the attractive bits of scenery continued to make the journey interesting and pleasant – certainly the most enjoyable drive whilst we’ve been here, for me.

There’s a local habit of using old satellite dishes as advertising boards which is rather picturesque.

It became clear that we were quite high up in the hills

as we encountered fog from the clouds we were entering.

By this stage, we’d done all but about six miles of the 70-odd mile journey and it had taken us barely over two hours.  The reason that the overall journey time would be nearer three hours was soon borne in on us as we turned off the perfectly decent, if somewhat busy Route 2 on to

the trail leading down into the San Gerardo valley. The Pura Aventura materials had prepared us for it to be twisty and steep, but had given us the impression that the road surface was OK.

This was true for about the first mile. Then it became, in places, quite dramatically not true, a state of affairs hardly improved by the driving rain and thick cloud that enveloped us on occasion as we descended with, in at least the driver’s case, buttocks firmly clenched.

There were some great views on offer

but I have to say that I was greatly relieved to get to the bottom with car, dignity and sphincters intact, and to arrive at Lauraceas Lodge and check in.

The sense of relief at survival of those last miles was heightened when we got to our accommodation.  It was to be for only one night but it was quite something –

the best (of course!) of 4 cabins, large and roomy and all to ourselves with (praise be!) a kettle and mugs for the making of the well-earned cup of Twinings Earl Grey tea that we awarded ourselves. After a stiff drink and a late lunch at the Lodge restaurant, of course.

So, why, you might reasonably ask, had we subjected ourselves to this final descent? Well, you’d better tune back in tomorrow to find out, hadn’t you?

Day 11 – La Finca (Arenal) to Tortuguero. Tortuga Lodge, but no turtles

Wednesday 1 March 2023 – The third early morning on the trot.  We needed to be at an embarcadero, Caño Blanco, at 10am in order to be transferred to Tortuga Lodge, on the east coast of the country.

As you can see from the satellite map above, Tortuga Lodge is inaccessible by road (the only options are boat or air) so our hire car, nice as it was, wouldn’t get us there.  We had to be at the right place at the right time in order not to miss the boat. Hence leaving at 6am for a journey that officially would take three and a quarter hours.

The journey was fundamentally fine.  The roads threw no curve balls to upset the timings, going through pleasant countryside on decent surfaces

until we hit Route 32 .This is the subject of massive, massive roadworks, and it’ll be lovely when it’s finished, but it was a torturous mix of nice surfaces, pothole slaloms and carriageway changes.  By and large the surface is good, but the traffic can be heavy, in two ways: lots of it; and some huge trucks.  It’s obviously an important commercial highway, which is presumably why it’s being upgraded.  The roadworks threw up some oddities,

like the enterprising chap, who had set up his stall in the middle of the roadworks.  But we ground our way on, eventually leaving Route 32 for more pleasant roads, which then turned into dirt roads, albeit with a largely drivable surface.

The driving wasn’t all straightforward. In shady sections such as shown above, one could never be quite sure if a dark patch was a shadow or a crater. My success rate in guessing was over 75%, but our teeth were a little looser by the time we arrived at the embarcadero.

There were some interesting sights on the journey – some lovely orange-flowered trees

and a Crested Caracara having a late breakfast, presumably on roadkill.

The embarcadero is billed on Google Maps as a “tourist attraction”, which is, frankly, actionably false.

What it is is a hub for tourist transfers to and from the various lodges in and around Tortuguero.  We arrived well early, so it was fairly quiet, with only a couple of boats in

but as 10am approached, things began to happen, with incoming boats disgorging tourists and luggage. Eventually, a couple of boats labelled “Tortuga Lodge” turned up

and we gathered hopefully around them, along with a bunch of other people who were also bound thither.

The Lodge experience was described, slightly disparagingly, in our Pura Aventura material as “packaged”, as if that would offend the sensibilities of posh travellers like what we are.  What it is is very well-organised. Juan (chap with sunglasses in the photo above) checked us on his list and gave us labels to put on our bags so that they could be transferred directly to our rooms.  Then he got us to sign the waivers that said we wouldn’t sue if we were killed in some freak accident.

Our bags left before us

and then we were off as well.

It’s worth noting at this point that we weren’t at the usual embarkation point for our destination Lodge, which would have been at La Pavona, some 10 miles away from the Lodge as the crow flies.  However, the river there was apparently too low, hence the change of embarkation point (not just for today, but for the whole season – and I think the other lodges had made that change as well, judging from the comings and goings that morning).  Instead, we had a 22-mile boat journey of over 90 minutes in order to get to the Lodge.

That time wasn’t wasted, though.  Juan used it to give us a thorough briefing and to make some detailed preparations.

We were offered various excursions and could make bookings on those that interested us; and we were offered the lunch menu so that the restaurant at the Lodge would be ready for us on our arrival.  Very smoothly done.

We also saw some wildlife en route, and the boat occasionally slowed and stopped for us to see

a North American Crocodile and

some spider monkeys.  There were also herons and egrets (we had a few, but then again….) and other things that I quite failed to get photos of. The boat spent most of its time at full throttle and I frankly dozed for much of the journey.  Jane took a couple of shots of the scenery as it went by

and also recorded some video as we passed Tortuguero, the main town of the region.

We arrived to a cordial greeting and a fresh fruit juice cocktail from several members of the staff there, and then immediately went through to lunch in the very pleasant dining area,

which I was pleased to note also had what looked like a fully-stocked bar.

The Lodge and Gardens is a pleasant area

and we had a nice (cool!) room, with a colourful veranda, conveniently close to the bar reception and restaurant.

Even though we had no formal wildlife spotting activities planned until later, it was difficult to get away from the creatures that were all around.  There were, of course, the ubiquitous Montezuma’s Oropendolas (more of them in a later post), but there’s at least one large Green Iguana which uses parts of the Lodge as its domain

and we saw a Great Kissadee and a Grackle from our seats on our veranda

and also a young – and definitely green – Green Iguana.

I mentioned that there were organised activities on offer, and the Lodge offers a decent programme of possibilities, all accompanied by a professional guide, which is excellent, as they’re mainly wildlife-focussed. (“Tortuga” means “turtle” in Spanish, and there is often the possibility of turtle action among these activities. But it’s the wrong season right now, so there weren’t any for us.)

The programme details were a bit different from what we’d expected based on Pura Aventura’s materials, but no matter.  We both decided to take a morning boat ride to see local wildlife, and also to do a walk up to the top of a local, nay, the only local, hill.  Those were set for the next day, and you’ll just have to wait to read all about them.

Jane also elected to go on a night walk, while I decided that I was too tired and too much in need of a gin. So while I toiled away in my creative fervour and the bar, Jane went on a humid, bug-ridden but interesting walk with Miguel, “Monkey”, as the guide.

Miguel proved to be every bit as skillful as, probably more so than, Danny, our guide in Arenal.  He spotted tiny poison dart frogs

so called because of the toxins on the skin – natives would wipe their arrows on the frog to make the tips poisonous.  Miguel also spotted a tiny anole lizard,

intricate spiders’ webs,

a Black and White Owl

and also up a tree – believe it or not – a porcupine! He/she/it was directly above, foraging for fruit, so we present you with a most unusual view of the underside of a porcupine!

Miguel’s ability to spot things was uncanny, and born of decades of long practice, building up huge knowledge.  He was actually born in the forest, beside a mahogany tree, and his passion for watching wildlife shines through all the time.  Jane enjoyed the walk, despite the heat, humidity and bugs and despite the pushiness of a German lady in the group who clearly thought that having the biggest camera with the chunkiest lens entitled her to elbow others aside to line up the shot she wanted. (I can understand this, and I do try not to be that type, but I bet I’ve failed a few times over the years.)

After Jane came back from her walk, we went to the restaurant for dinner.  The food and service were excellent, and there was also a bit of cabaret for us, in the shape of a performance from the children of Tortuguero who were learning music as part of the Tortuguero Cultural Collective.

After the kids did their thing, a more conventional cabaret followed and I include a snatch of it which might bring a smile to the face of anyone who knows the name Stan Freberg.


A combination of the calypso singing and tiredness drove us back to our room to prepare ourselves for the following day. Which you can read about when you come back tomorrow, OK?  See you then.

Day 9 – Bijagua to Fortuna

Monday 27 February 2023 – All we had to do today was to get ourselves from Bijagua to our next stop, La Finca Lodge near La Fortuna, a two-hour drive roughly back towards San José in the centre of the country.

We achieved this without problems but not without distractions, mainly in the form of new birds to see on the feeders at Casitas Tenorio before we left.

(Those with a keen eye will notice that the nice folk at Easily, who host my website, have managed to sort out the problem that made it impossible for me to upload photos and videos, which cramps one’s style as a blog writer somewhat.)

Jane also managed to get a great video of the Montezuma Oropendola’s extraordinary call, which is accompanied by a unique display.

A coati got in on the action, too.

and Nana, the manager, fed the pizza that we couldn’t finish to the B&B’s dogs, Whisky and Dingo.

We were on the point of leaving when Nana’s husband pointed out a very unusual critter on one of the table ornaments.

He opined that it was an ogre-faced spider, but a swift Google search disabused us of that notion.  We showed this picture to a chap who was described to us as a professional naturalist who initially had no idea what it was.  Eventually, he thought it might be a leaf-mimic katydid. Whatever, it’s a weird beast.

We took our leave of Casitas Tenorio, which had been a very well-organised and pleasant place to stay and started the drive over to La Finca Lodge.  The roads were basically fine, with good surfaces, which made the whole thing more relaxing. The countryside was very pleasant, and Jane grabbed some shots of it as we went by.

One thing we noticed as we drove along, that marks Costa Rica out to us from pretty much anywhere else we’ve visited is something that I hadn’t explicitly clocked until Scott, the American chap on our tour last night, pointed it out.

The place is immaculate.

There is no litter. None.

Coming from the UK, where paths and roads are littered with burger boxes, nitro gas canisters and Red Bull cans, I find this extraordinary. The buildings may on occasion be ramshackle, but the place is spotless.

I wish the UK could find this sense of civic pride.

Our plan had been to visit, and indeed have lunch at, the Observatory Lodge in the park of the Arenal Volcano, which is one of Costa Rica’s better-known features. It was dormant until 1968, when it erupted dramatically and unexpectedly, destroying the small town of Tabacón. Arenal’s eruption from 1968 to 2010 is the tenth longest duration volcanic eruption on Earth since 1750. Since 2010, though, it has been dormant, which makes visiting the area slightly less daunting.

What was daunting, however, was the surface of the road that Waze suggested was the route to the lodge, which was something of a detour from the direct route to La Finca.  It was rough, boulder-strewn and cratered. We managed to do about half a kilometre before deciding that life was too short to endure any more.   So we turned round and resumed our journey to La Finca.  As we approached, we saw the countryside dotted with vividly-coloured trees.

We subsequently found out that this is called Corteza Amarilla, and we were exceedingly lucky to see its display, as it flowers like this for just one week every year.

Waze took us towards La Finca with unerring accuracy but its directions left us halted outside a large and rather forbidding-looking metal gate.  We weren’t sure (a) whether it was an entrance to La Finca or (b) what to do about getting in if it was. At that point, a car coming in the opposite direction stopped and its driver wound down his window, so I did the same.  He asked, in really quite good English, if he could help and we said we were looking for La Finca.  He confirmed it was, and did some magic which opened the gate for us.  We have no idea who he was or how come he could work this magic, but we were very grateful anyway.

We drove in and were greeted very cordially at their reception and shown to our room, which was called Gecko.  It was a very nice, large room

with, to Jane’s delight, a hammock on the veranda.  She lost no time in getting acquainted with it whilst I had a well-earned kip started backing up, selecting and processing photos for this blog.  Whilst she was resting out there, she had a small visitor, a humming bird of some description.

Come 6 o’clock we headed over to La Finca’s restaurant, where we had a very decent evening meal.  We also met Esteban, the founder and owner of the place, a charismatic, knowledgeable and slightly roguish man.  As part of our Pura Aventura itinerary, we could choose between various options for the following day – a float along the river spotting wildlife, hiking around a park with many waterfalls, a visit to the Arenal Observatory Lodge, a trip to see the Hanging Bridges of La Fortuna, and so on. Esteban was clearly very clued-up about the benefits of each and helped us make our selection.  We decided on the Arenal trip and an afternoon on the hanging bridges. The Arenal Observatory Lodge is in the volcano’s national park and features various trails and significant opportunity to see – you guessed it – wildlife.  This meant an early start the next day to give us the best chance to spot it, in the company of a very knowledgeable guide (the chap we puzzled with our katydid photo).

We agreed that the time to start was (sigh) 0730, so we headed back to our Gecko room after dinner with an intention to get an early night, which was only slightly spoiled by my staying up rather too long creating some of the deathless prose that you will already have read. You have, haven’t you? Good.

So, tune in tomorrow to see (a) whether we got up in time on the morrow and ( b) whether we had a good day. Spoiler alert: we did.