With our Mexican adventure drawing to a close we arrived at the airport full of excitement that in a few short hours we’d be landing in the Costa Rican capital of San Jose and the next chapter of our travelling story. We presented ourselves to the check-in desk attendant in plenty of time and handed over our documentation only to be told to attend the SAGARPA office of animal exportation [located within the airport] to obtain one final document to grant Hamish permission to leave the country. No big deal, or so we thought….. It was here we found ourselves in the midst of bribery and corruption. The official refusing to sign off the documentation stating Hamish needed two vaccinations before he could fly. I knew this to be incorrect from research and a visit to a Vet two days previous but she refused to budge. Another official decided to “help”, and with a sly wink, suggested I “give them something” to make the problem disappear. A lot of talk and a lot of waiting around saw no money change hands. A visiting Vet who was there for another couple helped our case and backed our claims that no vaccinations were needed. Hamish was given a tick treatment which seemed to satisfy the official. However, as a result of the to-ing and fro-ing we missed our flight and had a mammoth 11 hour wait until the next one, which we also had to pay for. Anyway, we eventually made it to Costa Rica and breezed through customs, Hamish’s paperwork barely being glanced at. Some vindication that our preparation was correct but slight disappointment that an excellent few months in Mexico was sullied by the actions of some dodgy government officials.
San Jose park and food market
We initially booked San Jose for one week, our plan would be to move to the rainforest then to a costal resort. However, Tracy took ill with a fever which lingered for about two weeks so we extended our stay in the capital and hung about the immediate neighbourhood. Not much to do or see that would greatly interest us, a couple of trips to town [about 25 minute walk] to the food market and twice a day to the large Sabana park just two blocks away to walk Hamish and mingle with the locals.
With Tracy almost fully recovered we booked 9 days in the rainforest, at two different locations, and hired a driver to take us there. Hiring a private driver was recommended as one of the safest, most reliable and cost effective ways to get around the country. Certainly safe and reliable and for us the best way to move around with the amount of luggage we had in our possession. Also travelling with a dog this would be our best option.
So off we went and about two hours north of San Jose through winding highland roads, we arrived at San Lorenzo in the heart of the Costa Rican rainforest and an isolated resort hotel called Lands in Love. The quiet retreat serves as a base for tours and outdoor adventures in the area including:- zip lines, canyoning, rafting and hiking, to name a few; on site there was an animal sanctuary and pet hotel.
Our cabin sat on the edge of several trails and though we checked in late afternoon we decided to try a quick walk towards the river just to get an idea of the type of terrain we’d face. The three of us took off on the narrow path through dense vegetation and, at times, the deafening sound of jungle wildlife, reverberating like a never ending echo of noise; monkeys, birds, insects and frogs added to the orchestra, with the occasional dog bark from Hamish.
We passed wooden signposts pointing to different trails but carried on towards the river, crossing suspension bridges which hung precariously across deep ravines and gorges. With our sense of adventure driving us on we pushed the boundaries of daylight for as long as we dared before turning back and making for home without reaching our destination.
The return journey should’ve been easy but in the failing light we missed our turn and carried on for a spell before realising our mistake. Doubling back we found the correct path and made for home, though we were now in the throws of darkness and the screeching sound of a vibrant rainforest took on new meaning as we gingerly traversed the forest floor, using our phones to light the way. Amazingly, the illuminated screens attracted fireflies floating in the night air like little balls of dancing neon. Finally, we made it and after a tiring day, we retired and left the world to the nocturnal with the promise of tomorrow and setting off earlier for extra daylight… and another crack at reaching the river.
The following day say us complete a trek in the morning (once again failing to reach the river) and the afternoon a visit to a coffee plantation. As we approached, the air was filled the the aroma from the roasting room, not too dis-similar to bread toasting under a grill. This for me was the highlight and although very informative and educational, I was assured the coffee was delicious, was not converted by the real McCoy. Still, for coffee lovers a decent couple of hours.
We were due to stay at the resort for a few more days but decided to check out and move further north to a resort called Kokolo, about 7km from the small town of Fortuna and closer to the Arenal National Park, for four nights before returning to Lands of Love for two at the end of our Costa Rican stay.
With the official national park entrance refusing dogs, we chose to hike one of the many other trails which were available but not so well advertised and with that proceeded up the Cerro Chato volcano [3740ft], first past fields of cattle and horse before moving into the rainforest and a truly difficult but exhilarating trek to the summit and the promise of some stunning views of the green lagoon, which filled the crater below, and the still active Arenal volcano towering above us above us at over 5479ft.
The walk past the open fields was steep and at times slippery, the ground under our feet a fine gravel and sand mix which easily gave way with almost every step. Walkers we met coming down, many with minor injuries warned us of worse to come… but for Hamish it was an absolute breeze as he skipped through the treacherous underfoot with ease, often going some distance ahead before waiting for his lumbering masters.
After about forty minutes we reached the jungle entrance with sign postings warning not to feed the animals or take any home. The trail now closing in with vegetation sprouting from every pore of the rich volcanic soil; the real trek began.
We clamoured over thick root branches which spread their tentacles across the forest floor in every direction, at times using them as a foot-up on this ever ascending road to the summit. Easier sections were about a shoe width wide, at times about three or four feet deep and snaked like a canyon river round trees and other plant life. Animal life too was in abundance and once again we experienced a philharmonic noise of nature to rival any operatic concerto.
Ever onward and non stop, to avoid mosquitoes, our legs tired, our lungs at full capacity but with every breath we could smell and taste the fruits of the forest as we sucked in as much oxygen as our humid surroundings would allow.
Suddenly, it went quiet, the jungle cleared… We reached the top and the beautiful views promised were upon us, our legs received a new lease of life as we walked the summit with a Motown bounce and youthful exuberance before heading for home with an ebullient feeling of achievement. A fine day with Hamish entertaining other walkers from all corners of the globe and thoughts of cold beer and a warm bath.
The following day we promised ourselves an easy shift; we ventured to the small town of Fortuna, located in the shadow of the national park, for a look around and a bite to eat, Tracy treating herself to a foot massage to soothe the aches of the previous day (I wish I had done the same) whilst Hamish and I chilled in the local park. Apart from few bars and restaurants, several tour operators, pretty park and a church, there wasn’t a great deal to do so we decided to make for home, our walking heads on we marched the 7km back to the resort, Hamish once again leading the way, before chilling in the hot outdoor mineral pool.
The final few days would see us just walking the trails and sorting out Hamish’s paperwork for leaving Costa Rica and entry back into the USA. And with everything complete it was just a case of praying for cooler weather as most airlines won’t transport dogs when the temperature is over 85 degrees. It would be touch and go…. But we made it with 1 degree to spare and with that, Miami bound…