9/9/2009-Crossing the Honduras boarder at El Florida
The highlights of this day were, driving through Guatemala city without getting lost, crossing the boarder/frontera without any problems(about a half hour). We did come down in elevation about 2,000 ft. so their was a big temperature difference. It was in the 90's. We found a nice motel that would allow us to park the Van and camp for $12.00 a night or rent a room. We decided to take the room option, the heat/humidity was so that a fan all night was quite tempting.
We got up early in the morning and walked to Copan. This is one of the furthest southern Mayan towns to be excavated. It was smaller than others that we had seen but had some features that made it quite unique. The sculptures are its forte. It existed in the Mayan classic period (640 AD to 850 AD) The complex at its height had around 20,000 inhabitants in and around the city. The museum at Copan is incredible, primarily for the reconstruction of the Rosalia tomb,decorated with painted sculptures, Wow.
John and Sharon, arrived at the Casa Maria motel. We were happy to reconnect again. It seems like we are easily finding one another along the way.
9/11-12/2009-Celeque national park
After a horrendous rain storm and an almost impossible dirt road to the Celeque National Park entrance. We parked and set up camp for two nights. It was near 4500 ft in elevation and quite nice temperatures for sleeping and hiking. This park was familiar to John, he had done research at this park in the late 90's. A couple of the locals recognized him and told him that they remembered him. On of these was a Gal named Alejandrina. She owned a home and had a little home spun restaurant a short distance from the campground. Sharon and Karla bought some home made tortillas from her-oh were they good.
The second day there we took a hike straight up the side of a mountain along a beautiful creek. This was the water source for the larger town below us. I was hoping for better birding, but did see some old friends/birds and on new lifer(yellow backed oriole). The drive out of the park was down hill and the road had time to dry from the previous rain. That road was the limit for taking Paco on, when you have to try three times to get up a steep section, it is very stressful...
9/13/2009-Eco park in southern Honduras
We had a long drive from the National park, it was green and beautiful. We took a new road back to the Pan American highway- unbeknownst to us it hadn't been finished. Which lead to some long dirt track and some close encounters with graders/rollers and dump trucks.
We lost John and Sharon after reconnecting to Ca-1(pan American Highway). We got our wires crossed about how we were going to go through Telegasegapia. We had agreed to go into Nicaragua at a highland town. So we pulled off the road at an Ecological Park and camped the night for $10.00. Went birdwatching the next morning and saw a Scarlet Macaw fly into be with the caged Macaws. Boy are they noisy.
9/14/2009-Norome hotel, Nicaragua, on Apoyo Laguna
We were still missing John and Sharon, we later found out they went a different direction through Telegasagapia. We continued onto the direction of a small boarder town into Nicaragua. Stopped along the way to see if John and Sharon emailed us what they were doing I emailed them to let them know we were going to stay the night at a beautiful Lago. Just out of Granada.
Made it into Nicaragua with little incident. Took about a half hour. These crossings can be tricky, especially when you can't speak Spanish too well. The roads were wonderful and made good time.
Finally made it to Apoyo Laguna, a beautiful lake that was in the middle of an old blown out volcano. It was beautiful. We had dinner at a lakeside restaurant and got permission to Park/camp in the parking lot that evening... OOOH was it hot and humid... Birded the next morning you know that it is a wild and beautiful place when a Turquoise Rowed Mot Mot is fly catching next to Paco while we eat breakfast. A trogon was also perched on a tree limb just down the road from our parking spot...
9/15/2009-Crossed boarder into Costa Rica camped at Panama Beach
The road out of Apoyo Laguna was steep and narrow. We wanted to get to the Costa Rican boarder before lunch so we headed out early. Still no sign of John and Sharon. We stopped at Lake Nicaragua and had some refreshments and waded in the water. Took some pictures of the Volcanic Island and put that on our list of things to do when we come back.
This is the northern migration season, we drove through about 5 to 10 miles of 1000's of flying swallows. All kinds. This part of Nicaragua is very narrow and is no doubt a land bridge for migrants to use to get further south.
Made it to the boarder at about 11:15 after driving through some more beautiful fields and pastures with intermittent lowland forest. This crossing was very expensive, because of our stupidity. I didn't spend time looking up some of the cost and exchange rate. Because of our great experience entering Nicaragua we never thought about how confusing and frustrating the biggest crossing place in all of Central America could be. This was the worst... Alfredo offered to help us for nothing? He got us through all the 4 different stations before lunch..whew. I believe we must have given him an extra $30.00 to hurry some of the process along. So that was relatively painless and now to the Costa Rican side..... Giovanni was to help us through, we must have given him over $80.00 in what we thought were fees for immigration, auto permits etc. While we were just starting to get all the paper work finished, John and Sharon drive up. Yes, Giovanni said he would help them also. Things started to go sour when Customs official wouldn't accept my colored copy of the car registration as an Original. John and Sharon were all finished and needed to get going because they had gotten through without any one seeing their animals. The customs officer would not accept the colored copy. This is the first time any official questioned this colored copy, HMM. Giovanni told me that another $50 would be enough to get us through,I blew up and Giovanni and all his helpers disappeared. That is when a Costa Rican Police officer, who spoke perfect English told Karla that all those things were free in Costa Rica. The customs officer who refused my copy left for lunch so I proceeded to use the same information with another officer. Guess what, it worked and we were out of there... NO MORE HELPERS, please. Only an extra hour of stress.
Now we had no Money and had to stop at the first ATM we saw in Iberia. We had made arrangements with John and Sharon to meet them at a hotel in a beach community called Playa de Panama. We found the hotel. After a delicious dinner with John and Sharon, rehashing the hassles of the crossing, we found a campground with electricity(for the fan). Ah, finally in Costa Rica.
9/16/2009-Drove to Volcan Malverness, stayed at a nice cabinas with hot pools
After a nice time at Playa Panama, we decided to spent a couple of days in the mountains of northern Costa Rica. We made arrangements with John and Sharon to meet at the Town square in Allejela on the 19th. We looked at a map and decided to travel up to a close Volcano and spend the night. We drove along the Panamerican Highway and saw a sign with camping and hot Pools, well you have to know that that is a call to Karla that can't be ignored. So up the road we went with only a few wrong turns. We looked at a couple of places and decided to stay in Paco at a hotel with hot pools for only $10.00 a night. Check the pictures out... I could have stayed here a week.. Had some refreshments while soaking in a tepid pool.. oh the life.
9/17/2009-Drove to La Fortuna via Lake Arenal and the Arenal Volcano
This morning we had a typical Costa Rican breakfast, Gallo/pinto. With a little hot sauce and a dash of salt I was in heaven. We traveled that morning through the Arenal lake area, stopped at the Austrian bakery in Nuevo Arenal for a strudel (it was closed, dang, for remodeling). Found a park on the lake for lunch and enjoyed the birds and nice refreshing breeze. We then headed to La Fortuna, to look up a friend, Sharesh at Defasio. It is a rafting, tourist company that Andy Sininsky and Seresh started back in the early 90's. He was out for the day, we left a message and found a hotel with a thermal pool that let us camp/park and hook up to electricity. $19.00 a night. Had a great steak dinner that evening, but the Volcano was covered with clouds. Rather disappointing because the Volcano Arenal was in the clear all day as we traveled around the lake. The hotel had some great birdwatching that evening and the next morning. No new birds but many colorful old friends that I hadn't seen since my last trip to Costa Rica in 2000.
9/18/2009-Drove to the entrance to Juan Castro Blanca National Park with Car problems
We decided to drive to Poas Volcano to try and find a camping spot. Well this was the beginning of a bad day and some more car problems... To start off the road we took from the North to Poas National park was washed out and closed to through traffic. We didn't find that out until Paco started to cut out on us going straight up on the very steep road... We found a place to have a shaded lunch and I thought the problem was the air filter that I had just cleaned that morning. So I checked that out and cleaned it with gasoline. That appeared to fix the problem we started down the road after lunch and Paco started to cut out again, ohhhh no. It was like the water in the tank problem we had before. So we pulled off the road and I pulled the fuel filter and cleaned the fuel pump. Yes, there was water in the gas again... Not much but enough to slow the flow of fuel through the filter. After I cleaned it out by starting the car about 20 times, It seemed to be clean. I drained about a half gallon of gas out of the tank itself and got no water... Yes, fixed. Well not so fast.. put everything back together and tried to start it ---No battery left. Not even a click... so I pulled the cables from the battery and cleaned them. Both terminals were really corroded. Put it back together and boom it started. Whew, another roadside repair. I thought... Traveled the rest of the afternoon on the road back to San Jose, and found a turn off for another National Park, Juan Castro Blanca. Went up this road that was unbelievably bad... There was road work being done and Huge trucks had to stop to let us pass... It made us wonder if we should even be here but it was only a few Ks to the Park so we plunged on. After the work on the road the road conditions deteriorated considerably. We made it to a restaurant which had a trout farm next to it, it was closed. It would have been a great place to park/camp but I didn't want to push it. We were at about 7,000 ft in elevation. We had seen a small church with a parking lot in a settlement we had passed and decided to try that for the night. Pulled into the parking area and saw a bible study going on inside. I interrupted them cordially and asked if they thought it would be OK to park for the night here. They said, sure... So that is what we did..
9/19/2009-Met Jack and Sharon in Allejuela, drove to the Hotel just outside of Chirppo National park
This was to be another day with car problems unbeknownst to us..... Had a great cup of coffee and a great Karla fruit and cereal type breakfast. Saw a toucan and heard a great morning chorus of birds. Packed Paco and pulled the top down. Tried to start the car and had some trouble... I thought that the battery was bad and starting the car was going to be tricky with our a standard transmission. So started Paco and kept it running and drove down the hill through a little town. Stopped at a store to see if they had water, Mistake. I turned off the car, we both looked at one another and new we were toast. I asked the store keeper if he knew of a electricidado mechanico nearby. Well, holy cow, there was a guy just up the block rebuilding alternators and starters in his shop. After an hour of checking out the battery and all found that the Starter celunoid was the culprit. The mechanic cleaned the terminals at the starter and told us to knock the cellunoid with a hammer if it didn't work. I asked the electrician how long before the cellunoid would stop all together, he said maybe one time maybe 100 times. That seemed to fix the problem the rest of the day.
Not so fast, Gary. We started to drive toward our meeting place with John and Sharon. I had to stop and so did Karla. Pulled off the road did our business, oops turned of the car. After a couple of knock with a hammer he started right up, whew. Pulled back onto the road and heard a weird noise coming from the rear right tire. MMM , twenty minutes later we had our first flat.... What a place to have this happen, a steep mountain road with no shoulder... so I drove on the tire until we found a place to pull off safely. So, I got out the stuff and pulled the spare, took the flat off. Just then a man and his wife stopped and said he would help me... He just took over and finished the job.. He said have a good day and wish us a good journey and disappeared down the road. Who was that man Tonto?
After all this we were almost a half hour late to Allejuela. We met John and Sharon and decided to continue south and meet at another hotel up near ChirrapeNational park. I had to get the tire fixed first so they took off with us planning to meet up with them either today or tomorrow.
The tire was destroyed so I had to get out the second tire and have it mounted. We were on the road in about an hour. Drove through a horrendous down pour. Three accidents and flooded underpasses and all the motorcycle riders were hiding under bridges and store awnings. Cheeees. Drove around San Jose with few mistakes and drove up the Calle de Muerte(the road of death). Well it is over 10000ft and cold. Many people traveling years ago from San Isidro to San Jose died because they were unprepared for the cold... this is great Quetzal country, I will have to stay longer on the way home. We finally made it to the Hotel Pelicanos. Planned to stay here with John and Sharon and get the starter fixed before we went further.
9/20/2009 A day of rest at Hotel Pelicano, great birding and another Thermal pool.
Shared a room with John and Sharon. Had great meals and got to know the young manager well enough to have him contact a mechanic that will help us on Monday. In fact he wants us to return on the way back and he promised to give us a 30% discount. Why, because he wants to hear all about it..
The birds here are awesome. The Emerald Toucanet was center stage for our breakfasts. A two hour walk to the thermal pools was fun. It was a hot day and it was good that the pools were tepid rather than hot. They actually were quite refreshing. Actually a great day of r&r. I only got out the repair manual once but closed it quickly and vowed to just let it rest. I will wait till Monday to see what happens.
9/21/2009-Had the starter motor removed and fixed then drove to a small town San Vita,near the Panama boarder. We found at a nice Eco finca Cantaros, thinking it was the botanical garden.
Had breakfast after an early bird walk. The Mechanic showed up and tested the battery, starter, and cellunoid. I told him what was happening and what had been done through the Manager. He took off the starter, and drove off with it in his motorcycle. We were to call him after about an hour to see how things were going. I was ready for the worst, new starter that was going to have to be ordered from Germany and on and on... Calm down Gary! We called and he said he fixed it and would be back shortly to reinstall it.. You have got to be kidding me. The young mechanic was back in no time installed the cleaned unit and told me that the cellunoid was just full of dirt and was now working fine. I asked him if it was good for another 200,000 miles, he just smiled. He said it was like new... So he wanted $18.00 for the repair, can you believe that. I gave him $20 and still felt guilty that I took advantage of him...
We were back on the road just after lunch. I was hoping to catch up with the Matsons in San Vito. By about 3:00pm we were gassing up in San Vito and heard someone calling my name. It was John up the road having a refreshment and some fries...
Made arrangements to meet at the boarder the next day and went to find a place to stay.. The gal at the restaurant told us about the botanical gardens and thought there might be camping there. So off we went to find it. We stopped at a place we thought were the gardens walked in to a library office and found a nice American woman just getting ready to close up. Come to find out she and her husband had purchased this old farm and there was camping possible. We got to talking and she was also a birder and had a great list of birds at this little oasis. She told me that just last week there were 5 Masked ducks in the lake... I am always just a little late it seems to see this dang duck... birded the next morning and saw some more of the old Costa Rican birds seen years ago...Gail was quite helpful, she told us that before we left in the morning that she would give us a detailed writeup of what to expect at the boarder crossing.