The Places I've Never Heard Of

Discovering Arenal, Costa Rica

By the time we left Panama, we had already crossed six borders. We've learned that borders are tricky and unpredictable, especially if you are crossing with a vehicle, a dog, and a motorcycle.

We decided to leave Panama through the Rio Sereno border, a different border than the one we entered. At the border office, we checked out of Panama and then proceeded to the Costa Rica immigration building. No problems.

Next, we proceeded to the Costa Rica aduana office (vehicle import office). They tell us our original vehicle permit was only for 5 days, and we have already used 2 days, therefore our vehicle must be out of Costa Rica in 3 days. Panic twirls around in my stomach.

Fortunately, our tourist permit was for 30 days. So we were permitted to be in the country, but our vehicle was not. This was the worst possible timing for border issues, because we are supposed to meet up with our friends, Sonja and Rose. They rented a house for us, and we had plans. Not to mention, we planned to use our truck as transportation, and Sonja and Rose were counting on that.

We asked if they could extend the vehicle permit to 30 days, same as our tourist visa. No can do. We went round and round, thinking of solutions, but each one was shot down by border officials. Finally, they said to go to the original border (Paso Canoas) we entered Costa Rica at, and see if they can work it out. That border is at the opposite side of the country.

We should have looked more carefully at the vehicle permit. However, I assumed that once we left Costa Rica the first time, our tourist visa and vehicle permit would be cancelled and re-issued when we returned, and our time would start over. I should not have assumed anything.

I sent a text to Sonja to let her know what was going on. She writes back in her usual calm and soothing tone, "So sorry that happened! Postitive thoughts, don't let the situation get the best of you. It will work out." Okay, she's right. I'll take it one step at a time.

We start the long journey across Costa Rica to the Paso Canoas border. Once there they tell us the same thing, our vehicle must be out of Costa Rica in 3 days. The only other option is to store our truck on their impound lot, and during that time our remaining permit days are frozen. If we put the truck in impound, we would need to rent a car.

We knew that was our only solution, so Jorge set the truck up for the impound lot while I tried to reserve a rental car online, on my phone. I couldn't believe that the cost for an economy rental car started at $500 per week. But at this point, we have no choice, so I book it. We have to travel to Liberia to pick up the car at the airport location.

It starts pouring rain. Jorge runs off to find a taxi, and returns in 10 minutes with a beat up old taxi that is probably unregistered. As usual, Jorge and I are trying to be very aware, as taxi's can be dangerous sometimes. People have been robbed and assaulted in taxis. No need to be paranoid, just aware.

Without being invited, PJ (our dog) jumps in the back seat of the taxi. The driver immediately asks me if he bites. I reply, "Oh, no, he's very friendly. He only bites if I tell him to."

We get all our stuff packed in the so-called taxi. We drive about 10 minutes and the driver stops at a gas station. We notice his tank is almost full. He only puts a couple dollars worth of gas in the car, and he makes a call. He didn't top of the tank. Weird.

I see a guy on a motorcycle at the gas station. He was fully loaded for travel, with Alaska plates on his bike. I get out quickly to say hi. I tell him I am from Alaska, and ask him where he is from. Turns out he is from Germany. He bought the bike in Alaska, where he began his long journey to Argentina. I love meeting people doing amazing things. He was about 30 years old, traveling alone. We talk for just a couple minutes, wish each other luck, and say goodbye.

The taxi driver starts driving again, and we are flagged to stop at a police checkpoint. The police asked for the driver's papers, and our passports. The driver gets out of the car and hands over some paperwork. He looks nervous. We hand over our passports. Five minutes later the policeman starts to remove the license plates from the taxi. Since they are taking his plates, I'm wondering if we will have to get out of the taxi, and be left there on the road. We wait. If the police take your plates or your drivers license, you must be off the road within two hours. The taxi driver gets back in the car, and we continue on toward Liberia.

Finally, we get to the car rental office, and get out. We are still alive. The taxi leaves. We show our car reservation to the consultant, and she tells us they over-sold and they don't have any cars. Then she stares at us with no expression. I was waiting for her to apologize, and start working toward a solution. No, she doesn't care. I wonder if she is enjoying herself. Jorge tells her to figure it out, and he goes outside.

Fifteen minutes later a miracle happens and they have a mini van available. The consultant smiles sweetly and tells us we have to also purchase required insurance, and that is $700 additional dollars for the week. Oh my God, that would be $1200 to rent a car for a week. I know for sure she is enjoying this, I see it on her face. That is more than ALL my expenses for an entire month. Even if your own car insurance covers you, you are still required to buy it. I am thinking I may need to kick this girl's ass.

Unfortunately, we are stuck with no choice. We do the deal, and off we go. Jorge tells me to let it go, but I need fifteen minutes of silence to get over the robbery. We drive toward Arenal, the place we are meeting up with Sonja and Rose. It was a gorgeous day, and the closer we get to Arenal, the more magnificent the landscape becomes.

Arenal is a rural town located in northern highlands of Costa Rica. This place is known for the serene, 33-square-mile, Lake Arenal, and the looming Arenal Volcano. My mood changes as we drive through green, sloping hillsides, wide open spaces, and then to tropical jungle. We turn a corner, and I caught sight of the deep blue lake. It puts me in the moment, and I feel the stress fade away. I know I am priveledged to be in this special place. I want to enjoy every moment of this wild adventure we are on.

We drive along in search of the rental house, and we happen to see a gang of monkeys. Maybe 5 of 6 adorable creatures just chillin' in the tree. It was so amazing to see them in their natural environment.

Sonja knows how to choose a great destination. She sure does. She's a traveling gypsy at heart, and even has a travel website - I've realized that the most interesting places are the places I've never heard of. They are still mysterious, magical secrets, not yet crowded by tourists and make believe attractions. You get to one of these places and you can't believe the whole world doesn't know about it. I am happy to report from the road that there are so many places that are still undiscovered and untainted.

Sonja booked a beautiful house overlooking the lake. See house photos below.

Sonja and Rose arrived later that evening with smiles and hugs. It was so great to see old friends after all this time away! Rose is Sonja's 14 year old daughter. I was looking forward to hearing all her teenage comments and opinions in the coming week. She did not disappoint!

Rose and PJ

Apparently, it can rain heavily in Costa Rica for days on end. We experienced that our first couple of days. It was refreshing, and we didn't let it stop us. The first day we drove around Arenal and the neighboring town of Fortuna. The second day we went to Hotel Los Lagos, to soak in hot spring-fed water, while the heavens poured down on us.

On the last rainy day, we visited Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges Park. We walked 3 km over the bridges through the mesmerizing cloud forest. We crossed 15 suspended bridges above the trees, through the thick, wet jungle. It was an enchanting place, especially in the rain. At the end, we were lucky enough to see a sloth hanging from a tree.


On another day we went to check out "living nature" at the Arenal Natura Ecological Park. The most interesting area was the frog and toad garden. There are several poisenous frogs in Costa Rica, and getting poisened by one is not uncommon. Everyone told me that if PJ (our dog) licked one, he would be dead in an hour.

Anyway, the park was over-priced, and just okay. The highlight was the guide, who was really into it. I loved his passion. I mean, he really knew his stuff. He was so serious about his reptiles, I was sure there would be a pop quiz at the end. I was watching Rose, and I could tell she was soaking in all the information. I am amazed at the information she has retained in her 14 years, on many unusual subjects too!

In my opinion, the best day was the day we kayaked on Lake Arenal in the morning, and then took a drive to Tenorio Volcano National Park where we did the 4.5 mile waterfall hike. It's a gorgeous walk along the bright blue waters of the Rio Celeste. The highlight is the roaring Rio Celeste waterfall. The trail was very well maintained, and is so gorgeous it doesn't seem real. The trail was very muddy, due to the rain. For me, that made it more fun. At the end, right before we returned to the parking lot, we crossed a little creek. We took the opportunity to wash the mud off there. Rose decided to just lay in the creek and let it flow over her completely, which was so cute. Teenagers.


I should mention that the drive through the countryside to Tenorio Volcano Park was pretty dreamy. Along the way we passed through a little tiny town, where a man was cooking chicken skewers on the side of the road. I was surprised that Rose wanted some chicken that wasn't properly inspected by the health department. She went crazy over it, and said if she had to order her last meal, it would be that chicken. She makes me smile.

On the way back from Rio Celeste, Rose keeps talking about the constellations. Her and Jorge are going back and forth about it. So Jorge finds the perfect spot to stop the van near a wide open field, with no civilization lights to be seen. The sky was clear and the stars were bright that night. They got out of the van, and she gave Jorge a little tour of the sky. Where does she get this? She says she gets her constellation information from her Dad, Noel.

On the last day, Sonja and Rose went ziplining, and Jorge and I went swinging over a wonderful waterfall along the side of the road. Sonja decides to take her daughter "extreme" zip lining, no surprise. Photos of their zip lining and our swinging adventures below.


Thank you, Sonja and Rose, for a fantastic time in Costa Rica!