costarica

Final Week in Costa Rica

Quick Thoughts on Costa Rica

  • It's gorgeous
  • Shit is expensive
  • Many places are very commercialized
  • It's very safe and laid back
  • Don't bother with weather apps - you just never know if it's going to rain or not
  • It gets brutally hot on the Pacific coast, and the air is much cooler once you head into the mountains, e.g. Monteverde. 
  • Be prepared for sand to get into everything. I mean everything. 
  • Don't stay at resorts where only other gringos go; you may as well just go to Florida. Seriously. 
  • Don't be afraid to negotiate. I suck at it, and pretty much always forgot to try, but you totally should. 
  • Make sure you eat a typical Costa Rican breakfast with fried bananas if you go. It's very damn good. 
  • Bring some probiotics and ginger; you never know when you're going to need that shit. 
  • The people fall into a few different categories, as far as I can tell (I know, people are more complex and all that, but I'm just going off of my tourist experience). 
    • Category 1: You, the tourist, are only walking money (especially if you are confused looking walking money).
    • Category 2: You are a fellow human being and part of the family after a few minutes of conversation. 
    • Category 3: You don't really exist. 
    • Category 4: You're someone to be acknowledged and treated with fundamental dignity, but we ain't friends. This is what I'm primarily used to in the states, but it really fluctuates a great deal in Costa Rica, depending heavily on where you stay. 

A Bit About My Last Week

For my last week, I decided to rent a car and explore before going to the airport. Somehow I wound up in Tamarindo again, which is cool but heavily commercialized and has about as many gringos as Wyoming at any given time. I know this probably doesn’t sound like a lot considering the population of Wyoming, but cramming the population of white people into a small Costa Rican town is some feat indeed. The cool part about it is that I met some great people from Quebec. Seriously, I didn’t know people from Quebec were so damn cool. Max and Patricia, you 2 are such an incredible couple. Keep being who you are, because it is awesome!

Next up was Puntarenas, which was much less touristy I felt. Everyone spoke mainly in Spanish, and nobody tried to sell me anything (unless I didn’t hear them or didn’t notice – I get pretty immune to people marketing shit to me on the street. It was just chill. If you’re a runner like myself then you’ll appreciate the long boardwalk which stretches for a few kilometers or so. I stayed at a hotel there, and the guy who ran the place told me that southern Costa Rica is the most beautiful part of the country and that it’s not commercialized like practically every other part. I think it was around Isla Violin maybe? Maybe Potrero? I really need to start writing things down. 

Then I went over to Manuel Antonio. There’s a decent beach there in front of the national park, but it really is just decent. The beaches inside the park are much better, though I didn’t see any surfboards for rent, so there’s that. I ended up staying at “Que Tuanis” hostel, and as far as hostels go it’s pretty damn awesome. The owner is a great dude who does business the right way; he doesn’t do it purely for profit and makes sure that the guests are very well taken care of. The breakfast at the hostel was the best breakfast I had during my whole month or so stay. I totally recommend it. I met some great guests there too, namely my new friends from Philadelphia and New York. One of the dudes from Philly was going to get marrried in a few weeks, so they were in bachelor party mode. I joined them for one night, and it was pretty crazy and awesome. If you want to know about it, PM me ; )

I was pretty spoiled with the last car I rented. It had a great stereo system, and I could plug my iPhone into it so that I could charge the phone while using Google Maps and jamming to spotify. There were some American moments in Costa Rica in that car, where I sang along to Jimmy Eat World songs or who the hell knows, and it was pretty damn cool. I got to the point where driving in Costa Rica was just pretty alright. 

I’m way behind in updating this blog. I know this. Life, oh beautiful and treacherous life, has gotten in the way, and I’m grateful for it. To give you an idea of how far behind I am, I’m now in Buenos Aires, and I still haven’t written about my time in Brazil.

Holy shit I have videos to edit! Damn I have music to record and edit and promote! I have to find a good tattoo artist here in Buenos Aires and decide what tattoo I’m going to get.  There is much to do, and I feel like I need to hire a team. Maybe someday, someday maybe. 

I ordered a beer at the restaurant where I wrote this, and instead of being a standard beer, it turned out to be a pretty large bottle. I hope this post makes sense. Patagonia is a nice refreshing beer. Time do walk this food and beer off. Next up I should have some posts about Brazil, Buenos Aires, and some short how-to articles. The how-to articles will be succinct, and I think Google may appreciate some more focused articles. 

Ciao! 

Weeks 3 and 4 in Costa Rica - Additional Thoughts, Stuff Learned, and Experiences

Howdy! As I write this I only have about 1 week left in Costa Rica, so after this post I’ll have one more about my time here. Okay, on with the info. Let’s start this post off with some good old-fashioned:

TIPS, TRICKS, and Places

Tenorio National Park

If you plan on visiting Tenorio National Park, then bring cash. We didn’t, and ended up driving to Bijagua to pull out cash from an ATM. It’s about 7-9 kilometers to Bijagua, but it will take you a good 30 to 45 minutes to get there because the roads suck so much. It’s a beautiful drive, though.

How to get to the bank: take a left out of the park entrance and follow that bumpy ass road until you hit highway 6. On highway 6 take a left and cruise for a kilometer or so until you see the bank on the left-hand side of the road. Seriously, though, some places need to know about Square. 

The magical thing about this park was Rio Celeste. It’s this amazing turquoise blue, and the guy from ExpertVagabond explains the park and river very well: http://expertvagabond.com/rio-celeste-waterfall/

Google Maps

Google Maps has been effing awesome to use in Costa Rica. I’ve been using GMaps in conjunction with T-Mobile, and it has worked out great. Seriously, I don’t give props to big companies much but it’s made life easier for me to have a robot tell me where the hell to go. Cuz’, you know, how the hell do you use paper maps?

Animals on the Road and in Skate Parks

It’s not uncommon to see random horses, cows, and of course, dogs on the side of any road. Sometimes you’ll have to stop your car because there is a small herd of cattle blocking your way. This happened to us as we were on our way to pull out cash at the bank in Bijagua. There was a small herd of cattle, all of whom started peeing when we drove up. One of them was taking a particularly long piss and a calf or miniature cow, whichever, started drinking the piss like it was coming from an upside down water fountain. I guess when you’re thirsty you're thirsty. 

There are goats in the skate park next to my apartment sometimes. Their goat master takes them there to graze because no-one really goes there to skate (though I have seen a kid or 2 from time to time). I decided to shoot some video there and tried to pet the largest of them, who had pretty massive horns. Check out the video at the end of the post to see what happened. 

The dog situation can be pretty sad here. There are just a million of them roaming around all the time, and some look a little worse than haggard. Sometimes, however, you see a spritely dog on what appears to be a mission. The other day I was walking to various coffee shops to get work done, and each time this one dog ran past me as if he had a dinner appointment with a foreign ambassador. It made me wonder about that dog’s story. He ran with purpose and grace. 

Shoes

I brought a pair of trail running shoes and a pair of boots. Both are pretty damn fantastic, but check out the skinny on the foot cover situation:

  • Bring a strong but comfortable pair of flip-flops. I did not, and have purchased 2 pairs here, both of which muck up my feet. The strap kept coming out of the first pair I bought, so I ended up skinning toes on things like jagged beach rock. 
  • The second pair I bought were a bit like delayed razors. The strap is just not cushioned enough for these feet. I totally need some feet calluses. 

*I bought both pairs at supermarkets so that may have something to do with the quality. 

  • Get yourself a good pair of water shoes. These will be invaluable if you plan on trekking through some jagged beach rock and don’t have awesome calloused feet. 
  • Get some good water repellent to spray on your shoes and other things. I did not, and my shoes that I walked 5 miles in the rain with did not smell good for a while.

My trail running shoes are the Saucony Peregrine 5 Trail Runners. My ultra comfortable yet stylish boots are made by Bullboxer, which I found at DSW.

I’m Not Loaded!

As is the case with many destinations, people will try and sell you things. I get it, people need to get by and they have to market their stuff. Some places are definitely worse than others, and so far Playa Brasilito and Playa Conchal has taken the proverbial cake. One dude basically held us hostage with a flurry of words trying to sell everything from lunch at his restaurant to boat rides out into the deep for spear fishing to a trip to Nicaragua. I really wouldn’t have been surprised if he suddenly tried to sell us a bucket of sand. 

I really need to figure out a way to advertise that I DON’T HAVE MUCH MONEY, AND WILL WALK TO A GOOD SNORKELING PLACE, THANK YOU. I guess that could be my next tattoo. 

On the snorkeling note, you totally can just walk to a good snorkeling place without paying $ to go somewhere with “amazing” snorkeling. This is about budget travel, not Playa Matapalo “I’m in Costa Rica but it’s pretty much just a resort in Florida” travel.

If You’re Bald Like Me

Wear a surfing hat, otherwise your head will feel the heat.

Update on Transportation

I initially purchased transport from San Jose to Playas Del Coco via http://www.transportationincostarica.com. It was $52, and now that I’ve learned a thing or two, there are better ways. If you need to go the ultimate cheap route, then this post from MyTanFeet gives specific advice about how to use the bus. It’s about $8 one-way. 

There are about a million beaches and cool spots to visit in this country, so instead of taking the bus or a shared shuttle I decided to rent a car. As I outlined in my last post, the ultimate company to use when renting a car in Costa Rica is Economy Car Rentals

Sunscreen

Costa Rica is awesome, but man some things are really expensive, like sunscreen. It always makes a WTF statement glare in my mind when I see the prices. For a good bottle or spray bottle of sunscreen, you can pay between 6,000 to 12,000 colones, which is about $12-$20. So stock the hell up on your favorite brand in the states or wherever you are and bring it with you. The cheap kind I’ve been getting is functional but watery and burns when you put it on. I imagine neither these are not good signs. 

First Aid Kit and La Fortuna

Make sure you have one. My friend Josh Bolinger slid into the jagged end of a rock at La Fortuna waterfall and got a nasty gash on his leg. It was white and red and somewhat gaping. Between both of our first aid kits, he was able to get that thing taken care of. Oh, shit at the pharmacy can be pretty expensive too, so bring the goods. I highly recommend getting a bottle of cheap-ass hydrogen peroxide and putting half of it into a travel container. It’s come in handy for both Josh and myself. I’ve mainly had to use it due to the damage caused by my sociopath sandals. 

La Fortuna waterfall is pretty amazing. It’s as if you’re transported into a new and frenzied realm, and not at all in a bad way. It’s very cool and is around the same temperature as Barton Springs Pool in Austin, TX. I definitely recommend it. The city of Fortuna is quaint, and the Fortuna hotel was a good place to stay. 

Surfing

Basically, I suck at it, but it’s a lot of fun giving it a go. Not to mention it’s a fantastic workout. The only practical advice I can give on the subject comes from Carol Bolinger, who lived in Australia for a couple years and knows these things:

  • Stretch before you go out there. My sore left ass and hamstring can testify to this. 
  • Wear a rash guard shirt. The right side of my stomach gets tore up with rash guard. I’m going to buy one somewhere here, cuz there is more surfing in my future. Note: you can rent them at surf shops when you rent your board. 

Nosara

Nosara and Nosara beach are both really cool. I guess there is a lot of yoga that goes down here, and it has an awesome little bagel shop restaurant called “Nosara’s Bagel House.” If you go, try the banana bread. It. is. amazing. 

There is also good surfing here, and a couple of surf shops to rent boards from. FYI, if you break a fin off of a board (like I did), it will run you about $20. I was talking to a couple of very nice women from New Zealand who said that the vibe in Nosara was exceptional. I wasn’t there long enough to make a judgment call on this, but I’ll take their word for it. 

Random Things and Updates:

I finally have my Patreon account going! You can check it out here if you like: https://www.patreon.com/jnickelworld

I have my first Costa Rica video up on YouTube. Here it is: 

Costa Rica 2 Weeks In

There is a lot going on! 

Before getting into the trip details, check this out:

1) I found extraordinarily awesome and cheap travel insurance via the website Squaremouth. It was only $193 for a year and is fairly comprehensive.

2) You can get a permanent address with US Global Mail or something similar like Scan Mailboxes. I went with US Global Mail. 

3) Before going to another country, I recommend you:

  • Find out if you need a vaccine
  • Determine the visa requirements
  • Find a place on Airbnb
  • Get a plane ticket after determining where you’ll be staying so you can hopefully fly to the nearest airport. This doesn’t always workout because you can often save a lot of cash by flying into a major international airport. 
  • Try to find a cheap-ass plane ticket
  • If the country you’re staying in has visa requirements and you need to show next country flight information (either return flight or flight to your next country) then get that next plane ticket. 
  • Print out your passport
  • Make sure you have transportation figured out
  • Ensure you’ll have cell service and Google Maps
  • Get Google Translate on your smartphone
  • Bring some ginger capsules with you for gastro-comfort if needed
  • Have credit cards/debit cards ideal for traveling. I use Charles Schwab and Etrade for ATM withdrawals (no fees), and Barclay/Chase travel cards for credit cards (again, no fees). 
    • No foreign transaction fees
    • No ATM fees
    • Earn some travel points while traveling
  • Call your credit card companies and make sure they know you will be traveling
  • Know the fundamental customs of the country you’re going to
    • What things are just completely rude?
    • What things are expected?
  • Know the crime level
  • Know at least a bit of the language spoken there (even if it’s just “please” and “thank you”)
  • Make sure there is coffee. If not, avoid at all costs. 

Okay, on with the details. 

On the flight there, the stewardess handed all of us documents to fill out for customs. This is expected when you’re flying into another country. What I didn’t expect was 2 documents, one of which I thought the stewardess called “family.” 

Word to the wise: you need both documents.

  • One is used to present to customs
  • The other is used to present to the people who check your bags before you’re allowed to exit the airport.

When I arrived at the airport I immediately went and pulled some cash from an ATM. DO THIS instead of using the currency exchange services; they will charge you for it. 

I stayed in San Jose the first night, but it was too late to explore, and to be brutally honest I’m not that interested in the city itself. It’s the rest of Costa Rica that I wanted to see. I took a shared shuttle to Playas Del Coco, and it’s ridiculously lush all around. Costa Rica is truly beautiful. 

Notes on transportation:

  • Public buses only take cash, there are no tickets that you can buy. I imagine you can purchase something in a fancier bus loaded with other foreigners, but I don’t mind being the only gringo on a public bus. It can get pretty crowded, fyi. 
  • Getting a rental car here is interesting. The first time I tried I found myself about 20 kilometers outside of the city walking along the highway to see if the rates were all the same. 

Here’s the story with that. 

I thought I’d struck gold. I found a great deal on Kayak to get a rental car for $1 per day. I took the bus up to get it, and found out that in Costa Rica you can expect the following 2 things just as much as you can expect death and taxes:

So instead I found out that I would have to put down between $900 to $3000 for the deposit, and pay the liability insurance. Okay, I was naive to think that I could get a rental for $1 per day, but it’s all good. I was determined to figure this rental situation out because I wanted to go wherever I wanted in the country, whenever I wanted to. 

That’s when I discovered Economy Car Rentals. They were able to offer comprehensive insurance for a decent price, and their deposit was only $750. Believe me, $750 is the absolute cheapest I could find.

Playas Del Coco

It's an interesting area. If you happen to visit I recommend checking out The Monkey Farm. The name sounded a bit odd to me at first because it made me wonder if they were farming monkeys in cages with the intent to create a monkey empire to do their nefarious bidding. 

This was not the case, however, and I found that they provide a sanctuary for monkey troupes. They're all about sustainability and have a no frills setup that is endearing. 

Check out their video here: 

You'll find that Playas Del Coco, while a tourist destination, isn't quite as touristy as other places in Costa Rica. The place where I'm staying is surrounded by locals going about their daily lives. The narrow streets are filled with people walking, riding bikes, riding motorcycles, riding scooters, riding motorized bicycles, riding bicycles with children sitting on the frame, riding motorcycles with any number of things (children, construction materials, etc). It is also filled with dogs, cars, trucks, more dogs, some cats, and more motorcycles. There are probably more dogs running about than you're imagining right now. If aliens landed in Costa Rica they might mistake dogs as the dominant species.

The street I'm on is a bit like a large sidewalk where anything is allowed to pass through. I honestly wouldn't be surprised if a small airplane was rumbling down one of these roads. Not all roads are like that mind you, but the roads by my apartment are.

When I'm driving here I just always expect to see someone on any road, so try to be pretty careful when behind the wheel. On the highways expect to see people walking and riding their bikes along the side of it. Hell, I was one of those people during my debut with CR rental cars. 

Just yesterday we drove past someone sitting on the side of the road facing away from it, and there was no shoulder on this road. 

The Beaches So Far

Coco

On Coco beach, expect some major humidity and heat, at least in the month of October. I just expect to sweat a lot all day. It’s like having an outdoor sauna that you don’t have to pay for! The water is by no means cold, so when it rains it feels a bit like heaven. I also have a hard time getting my water cold enough in my apartment. It’s a small price to pay my friends. 

It’s certainly not the best beach in the world. It’s just not really taken care of that well, but it’s beautiful in its own right. Also, there is an outlook that you can go to where you can get stunning views of this horseshoe beach. 

Ocotal

Playa Ocotal has beautiful black smooth sand with a gold tint. The water is fairly clear on the north side of this beach. Watch out for strong undercurrents, otherwise the water is fairly easy going. 

Neither Coco or Ocotal is good for surfing. 

Brasilito and Conchal

Playa Brasilito is adjacent to Playa Conchal, and seems to be okay for surfing, but we really didn’t see many people at this beach at all. It was mainly a place to start from to get to Playa Conchal. Why? Because Playa Conchal is made of seashells instead of sand, and the waters are crystal blue. It’s truly beautiful. 

Tamarindo (aka Tamagringo)

There are a lot of what appear to be Americans here. It’s a surfing mecca, and (obviously) heavy with tourism. On a Tuesday afternoon in late October, that beach was filled with people. There were tons of surfers either adeptly navigating the waves or just learning how to stand up on the board. 

Josh Bolinger and I rented a board each at Banana Surf School, which is located on the main strip parallel to the beach. We loved this place because the people there didn't try to sell us a billion things we didn't need or want. That day we must've looked like tourists who wanted to spend a bunch of cash on stuff. Expect that if you go to Conchal or Tamarindo. 

We were pummeled and thrashed by the waves, and Josh had better luck than I when it came to riding the waves, but it was hella fun. We’re going to be going again today, but to a different beach. 

Inland trips so far

It was truly an adventure going inland and through the mountains. All of a sudden I found myself on extremely bumpy and pot-hole ridden gravel roads that winded around mountains. The views were stunning. I had to stop every ten minutes it seemed just so I could try and capture some of the beauty. 

To give you an idea, here are a few of the pictures snapped:

 

Volcano Arenal

So beautiful, so rad, and the air is cool. I stayed at Arenal Essence, a boutique hostel, which was superb. 

Monteverde

Initially I was going to go to the could forest reserve, but I made it there late and didn’t want to pay the $20 to get in. 

I was kind of recovering from having eaten something that didn’t sit well with my stomach too. I don’t know if it was food or the fact that I drank a SHITLOAD of tap water the night before. I suspect the latter, so I’m playing it safe with bottled water from here on out, forever and everywhere. 

The food is delicious here, though, and I recommend getting a nice breakfast with fried plantains. 

Volcano Poas: I drove there but didn’t see it because it was covered in clowds. Oh well!

Also, for some reason I’m waking up ridiculously early (like 4 am). I guess this could be because of the fucked up roosters who start their morning routine at 3 am instead of when the sun is rising. More than that though, it just gets dark early as hell already. At around 5:20 is sunset, and 5:45 it is straight up dark. So I’ve been going to bed early so I can get a real early start to the day. It's a new life, and it beats the hell out of cubicle life, for real.

Until next time amigos.

- Jeremy