Costa Rica feels different than the rest of Central America. There is a lack of men with guns everywhere. You can pull a bag of ice out of a freezer (rather than having to wait for someone to unlock it). We refilled our propane at a gas station. After nine months, Costa Rica feels the most like the U.S. It’s funny because we met some Americans who were complaining about the way people drive here–so it’s not exactly the same, but close.
The prices feel like San Francisco. Costa Rica is the sixth country we’ve entered so far, and it is by far the most expensive–especially when compared with Mexico, the cheapest country we’ve visited.
A five-gallon jug of water: $5 (Mexico: $1-$1.50)
Gasoline: $6/gallon (Mexico: $3.50)
National park fee: $10 (Mexico: $1)
1 kilo of chicken in the supermarket: $5 (Mexico $1-2)
In addition to the prices, the other bummer about Costa Rica has been its dog restrictions. We had assumed it would be otherwise, since they gave us zero problems crossing into the country with Milo–no paperwork, no fees, no nothing. But since so much of Costa Rica is a wildlife reserve, dogs are not usually welcome. We had hoped to camp at Junquillal Bay the first night, just over the border from Nicaragua, but they wouldn’t allow us in with Milo. Milo couldn’t come on a (very muddy) walk with us in Rincon de la Vieja national park. Except for ancient ruins like Palenque and Chichen Itza, these are the first outdoor places that Milo has not been allowed in with us, which is a big bummer for us. The last thing we want to do after a long drive is to leave the dog in the car and go for a long walk without him. In Mexico and the rest of Central America, we’ve gotten used to “No Mascotas” (no pets) signs that appeared to be purely decorative, but here they actually enforce these rules. I wish there were more resources to get heads-ups about this, but unfortunately I think for this country we’re going to have to assume that Milo won’t be allowed in most places.
Obviously, the dog rules are in place for a reason: the wildlife. We’ve seen Coatis and Agoutis and Capuchin Monkeys so far, the biggest diversity in mammal life we’ve yet observed. This is really different than El Salvador, where something like 80 or 90 percent of its native mammal life has been wiped out. After being rejected from Junquillal Bay, we were directed to a free camp spot on Playa Soley, so close to Nicaragua that we were camped right in front of the border patrol station.
The other great thing about Costa Rica so far has been the cool weather we’ve found. At Rincon de la Vieja, the nights cooled down considerably, and here in Lake Arenal, I even need a blanket at night to sleep!
Here in Lake Arenal, we followed the lead of some friends and came to check out the Volcano Brewing Company, an all-inclusive hotel where they are not charging us to camp, but we are still dropping a ton of cash on their delicious beer and food. Even without the brewery and the awesome pool, it would be hard to tear ourselves away from this lakeside paradise. Everything feels more manageable in the cool weather. Our bug bites are even going away. We have somehow managed to avoid the rain and are beginning to get a bit of it in the afternoons. But it’s not so bad being in the van during the rain when it’s so cool out. The van feels cozy and yet spacious when everything is put away.
Never underestimate the power of a cool breeze.