It’s hard not to think of Costa Rica and picture tropical beaches, it’s the main tourist draw card here. However, the center of the country has a lot to offer too. Volcanos, forests, rivers and waterfalls. After some hot and humid beach time it might be nice to cool off in the foothills for a couple of days.
We had heard of a place up in the mountains which has a lodge and, more importantly, an airstrip! After a phone call entirely in Spanish to a guy we had never met, a deal was made and we secured lodging for the night. But before we could leave Skip’s place we had to check the smoke and ash report for Turrialba, the volcano near San Jose. Luckily for us the wind was blowing the smoke away from the lodge in Moravia.
We asked the guy at the lodge about the condition of the strip due to the recent rains and he said it was fine.
After a quick flight bouncing between San Jose’s airspace and the hills we spot the airstrip. We didn’t realize until touchdown just how long and wet the grass was. The Maule doesn’t roll very well in wet long grass so take off power was used some of the time just to keep rolling!
A couple of guys met us with a pick up truck and we loaded the bags and drove to the lodge. Moravia lodge is an old hacienda at about 3500 feet above sea level and the cooler temps were instantly apparent. We ended up being the only ones there!
The place is nicely situated on a hillside with huge trees all around, not to mention all of the flowering plants and bird life. It resembled a botanical garden of sorts.
We try on some rubber boots then start marching up the hillside and into a forest so thick you can’t see more than 4 feet in front of you. The guide slashes his way through with a machete and the mud is slick and the color of peanut butter. Eventually we top out where the view is amazing and loop our way back to the lodge. It’s easy to get sucked into the tranquility of this place, the birds, the trees. Unfortunately our time here runs out and we need to forge on with this trip.
Since there was no truck to get us and the bags down to the airstrip, they came up with a smart solution. A quick call to a guy with a horse and minutes later the bags were on a horse and we walked down to the strip, in the rubber boots of course!
We regret not staying longer but it wasn’t exactly budget friendly, so we headed for Tortuguero out on the Caribbean coast.
You come out of the mountains and the heat of the coastal plain hits you in the face. The terrain goes from 11,000 feet to sea level in about 30 miles, we finally get a view of Turrialba smoking away above our altitude, looking up towards an active volcano from an aeroplane is unique to say the least.
The airstrip at Tortuguero sits at the end of a spit of land about 2 miles from the village. As we do an overflight, Sara sees turtle tracks in the sand, from nesting sea turtles. After we shut down a guy with a water taxi comes by to pick us up. There are no roads here, no cars either. A quick 10 minute rip in the boat and we’re unloading at the hotel’s dock.
As we check in, both the water taxi guy and the lady at the reception desk say they’re worried about us leaving the plane at the airstrip unattended. So, a few phone calls later, we hire a guy to stay with the plane full time for three days.
Tortuguero National Park is a large sanctuary protecting the coastal river system as well as many nesting turtle sites along the beaches.
There are numerous tour options to choose from so we jump in the boat from the hotel and cruise upstream into the park. The cool thing about this particular boat is that it can creep along with an electric motor in virtual silence. The bird life is amazing, caimans hang out on the banks of the river and we see an anteater in a tree. We return to the hotel happy and relaxed.
Then the phone rings at the hotel. The lady from the front desk says that border patrol is at the airstrip and they want to see me! I talk to the guy on the phone and he says it’s a routine inspection but he asks for the paperwork too. I had to take a water taxi back to the airstrip and notice the border patrol boat tied up at the dock.
About 5 guys in uniforms with large guns are milling about and the main guy comes up to chat. His English is pretty good and he asks to look inside the plane. A different guy goes through the paperwork and takes pictures with his phone. We chatted for a while. These guys patrol the coast line from Panama all the way to Nicaragua. It all because of narco traffic. Its not hard to figure out that we couldn’t look more different than narcos with our shorts and flip flops and the plane parked in broad daylight where everyone can see it. Once they figure out we are just tourists they wander off, jump into their fancy boat and roar off upstream with their flashing blue light. It all looks very impressive.
Sooner rather than later our time in Tortuguero comes to an end. We always want one more day, it seems, but Panama is calling.
A short 30 minute flight down the coastline takes us to Puerto Limon, an ‘international’ airport, or so they said.
We need customs and immigration to clear out of a country, well they are not at the airport but are in town. Also, the airport man says we need to pay the departure tax at the bank in town.
Great, another day is about to evaporate before our eyes, luckily we don’t have lots of flying to do today. He calls a taxi and before we know it we are zipping around town looking for various banks and offices. The taxi driver ends up being our fixer and he starts darting in and out of offices on our behalf. Eventually we get it all sorted, return to the airport and fuel up. With the final ink hitting the paper we are ready to go.
Panama here we come.