Costa Rica continued to charm us as we successfully sought out the elusive quetzal, hiked through cloud forests, and crossed many more rivers to make our way to deserted beaches on the fringes of wild jungle.
Heading southeast we crossed over the spine of the country at near 11,000ft. It was blissfully cool and foggy in the mountains and we were treated to amazing vistas as the Pan Am wound its way through cloud forest and jungle.
Several years ago Tim and his sister had been able to easily see the beautiful but elusive quetzals at a small mountain town called San Gerardo de Dota, so we decided to see if we would have the same luck. The road down into the dream-like little town might have set a new record for shockingly steep and windy, and for the thousandth time we were so thankful for our granny gear. It was low tourist season so we were able to camp for free in the parking lot of a closed hotel. At dawn we left our warm bed and walked in the crisp mountain air back up the road towards where a local told us the quetzals liked to hang out. We waited around for a few minutes wondering which tree we were supposed to be looking in when a whole group of tourists and guides carrying huge spotting scopes arrived and within minutes spotted the first colorful bird.
For those who aren’t familiar with quetzals, many people consider them to be a fantasy bird. They’re gorgeous – both the males and the females are brightly colored, and the older males have very long tail feathers that give them an even more exotic look. But they’re also very elusive, rarely spotted in the wild, unless of course you know where to look. If you ever want to see a quetzal, go to San Gerardo de Dota and ask a local where they’re hanging out. In the course of a few hours we saw several different birds, both male and female, most just hanging out in the trees, but a few delighting us with short flights.
It was time to head back to the beach, so we made our way to Dominical, well known for its consistent surf breaks. We were not disappointed, the waves were great and we found more awesome free beach camping.
Continuing down the coast we crossed the Osa Peninsula, well known for its amazing biodiversity in Corcovado National Park, to Drake Bay. Surrounded by lush jungle filled with wildlife, with turquoise water and palm-lined beaches, Drake Bay is incredibly picturesque. The road is rough and involved several river crossings, so most tourists come by boat from larger towns. We spent a day walking the beaches, swimming, and watching the scarlet macaws (guacamayas) flitting about.
Then we braved the notorious road out to Playa Josecita, an even more remote and gorgeous destination. We were lucky to have only light rain for several days so the three river crossings between Drake Bay and Playa Josecita were low both on the way out and the way back. We had read about these rivers being swollen and impassible, so we kept our fingers crossed and an eye toward the sky.
Here’s a video of two different river crossings on the Osa for a taste of what it’s like:
Every once in a while there were bridges…
After our Osa adventures we traveled further south to check out some potential longboarding in Pavones. After a long, bone-jarring, bolt-rattling dirt road we were happy to reach the little (mostly ex-pat) town and see the long waves curling around the point. We camped outside of a cool, funky hostel at the end of the road and spent a few more days beach bumming, watching the monkeys, and riding Señor Platano.
Despite being just a stone’s throw away from Panama, we decided to retrace our steps all the way back across the spine of the country to the Caribbean coast. We stopped in the mountains at another lovely little town called San Gerardo de Rivas, where we bathed in the thermal pools and hiked part of the trail up Mount Chirripó.
At the end of a long day of driving we finally reached the Caribbean, for the first time on this expedition. We were greated by gray skies and churned up seas, it had been stormy for several days. This meant that we weren’t able to see (or ride) the classic long breaks that draw so many surfers to Puerto Viejo and the surrounding beach communities. But we enjoyed checking out the coastline, chatting with the locals and throngs of ex-pats (in skirpies…), and noting the influence of Caribbean culture.
After a great three weeks of livin’ la pura vida we braced ourselves for the challenges to come in Panama – the dreaded shipping across the Darién Gap.