The final hurdle out of Nicaragua was the border crossing. Entering Costa Rica was easy enough, but leaving Nicaragua was full of hoops to jump through. First migracion then aduana, then everywhere in between as we had to seek out the proper forms and signatures. We finally got our paperwork in order and after a few hours were headed towards the Pacific coast. We saw plenty of surfboards on passing cars and couldn’t wait to hit the beach. Unfortunately, we were still a few hours out. We pulled into Dominical, Costa Rica on the back end of a wild rain storm. You couldn’t see a thing other than the outline of the road and the surrounding green of the jungle, but somehow we found the small pull – off just as the rain let up. We drove down the steep hill and passed a few beach bars and a soccer field, locals and gringos alike milling about the streets. We pulled by them and headed towards the beach. It was a gorgeous locale, albeit still a bit grey, with low hanging green trees covering the beach right up to the sand line. A few surfers were watching the waves as we got out for a quick walk, and then we headed towards town for a bite to eat.
That’s where we found Tortilla Flats, a beach bar admittedly aimed at American tourists, but one that still boasted great food and a local charm. We had house nachos and a lengthy discussion over which Costa Rica beer was the best with our bartender. They were mostly the same, but we learned that their perception of a “dark” beer was far lighter than our own standard. Either way, we posted up for a bit and caught up on highlights from that afternoon’s Champion’s League final. We had missed the actual game due to our heavy driving schedule, but the highlights alone did not disappoint. I had hoped for an Atletico victory, but Real turned it on in overtime and deservedly achieved their decima. The night wound on and a few loud drunk Americans began to fill the bar. There was a dance party that night, and as more locals began to arrive we chatted with Jordan, a Dominical native and surf instructor. We had just discovered that we had an extra day to spend in Costa Rica due to a delayed Panamanian port schedule, so he gave us some tips on what we should do the following day. We took his advice – though not that in picking up Costa Rican women – and marked a nearby waterfall on our map for the next day. The party was just heating up, but we retired to the car and drifted off to sleep to the undeniable beat of regatone in the distance.
We “slept in” until around eight the next morning and took a stroll down the beach. Just outside of town a large river met the ocean, so we watched the two waters merge, then returned to Tortilla Flats for some desayuno. After eating one of the best breakfast burritos I have ever had, we said goodbye to Dominical and relocated down the road to Dominicalito, an amazing beach just off of a point in the Pacific. We climbed about on the rocks and took a refreshing (and much needed) wash in the ocean. Our next stop was the waterfall Jordan had told us about. It was poorly marked and the people we asked each had their own vague recollection of where it was, but we finally turned down a gravel side road, forded a small river, and we found it. The falls were tucked away in the jungle and served as a secluded swimming spot for the surrounding locals. We didn’t take a turn on the giant rope swing, opting instead to rock hop down the river and explore some of the jungle. Grant was the first to slip, soaking his tennis shoes in the cool, clear water, but we trekked on through the wilderness and quickly were out of site from the falls. We eventually found a small path leading up into the hills, and saw a secondary falls coming down the back side. It had been gerry-rigged with a pipe system to supply water to the houses below, and by following the rubber tube we got a fantastic view at the top. Heading back to the car, my flip flops finally have way, and I crashed to the rocky ground. Apart from embarrassing, I also had my camera in tow. Disaster was imminent. By some miracle I managed to throw up my right hand as I fell, keeping the camera safe from most of the water, and getting a nice bruise on my hip in the process. With my right side soaked and the camera safe, we got back in the car and headed out with the windows down.
A few hours later we turned off the highway again. We had planned to stay the night at another national park deep in the jungle. To get there, we followed a gravel road and then a dirt road as we wound through small houses and farms. And then it stopped. The clearly marked road led us to one last farm, and then ended abruptly courtesy of a large wooden fence. We got out and looked for a different path, but apart from a nearby river, there didn’t appear to be one. When we were out wandering around, I noticed a solitary figure watching us from the farm. I waved. Grant waved. Nothing. Finally we yelled an hola and the figure began slowly lumbering our way. The farmer told us that the road was closed for the season. The river was in fact the road, but due to higher water levels, he informed us, you needed four wheel drive to make it. Well we had four wheel drive and when he saw the car, the man said we would be fine, and we crossed the first section. The water wasn’t too high for the car, but the real issue was sand and gravel that comprised the riverbed. Fortunately, we could make out other tire tracks on the various banks, and quickly picked up on the proper lines to take. After the first few switchbacks across the water, we were feeling good.
Crossing rivers is a lot of fun. You find the line, gain speed, and jet across the water as the wake you create rises on either side. We forgot to roll the windows up and caught a few splashes of water as we passed, a refreshing mistake in the humid jungle air. We trekked on, following the tracks as they made their way upstream. There was no end in sight, and worse, no signs to indicate, well, anything. By now the sun was rapidly setting and we were anxious to find the park and stop for the night. Maybe it was that anxiousness that made us misread the track and get stuck in a hole. We started just fine across the bank, but hugged the left side river bank too tightly, and as a result found ourselves trapped in a deeper pool of water with the tires spinning aimlessly in the gravel below. I don’t mind getting stuck, but when it’s getting dark and you’re in the middle of the jungle with no one else around, it gets a little stressful. I was very concerned but Grant marshaled us through the ordeal. We trudged through the water and found a large tree on the bank, and set up the wench. Our front right tire was off the ground, so with me hanging on to the side if the car as a counter weight, we managed to wench and gas our way out. After finally getting out of our trap was dark and we decided to set up camp right there on the bank. Ironically, the entrance to the park was on the other side of that same bank, but of course it too was blocked by a fence, and despite lights being on, no one came to see what was going on. We sat outside reading and avoiding bugs, trying to relax after our brief ordeal, but the sound of something large breaking a log in the jungle around us sent us quickly into the car. It was a muggy night, but sleep came soon and our Costa Rica adventure came to a close.