I arrived in Costa Rica and went straight to house sit my friends’ house in Atenas. It was wonderful to be sedentary for a while and staying in a gorgeous house with a swimming pool to boot. But after 6 weeks I was itching to get back on the road. I decided to start my discovery of this wonderful country by driving to the Caribbean coast. My first stop being the Parque Nacional Volcán Irazu. Up and up we climbed lush peaks that soon became completely covered in thick fog.
We easily found our camping spot for the night a bit down the road from the park’s entrance. It was wonderful to be layering clothes again and pulling out the heavy blankets, hey I’m Canadian after all! The air was thin and crisp. The valley below was shrouded in clouds; a lone crater peeking out of the whiteness.
The pets were in heaven with a lush countryside to explore. The temperature dropped to 8 degree Celsius that night. Brrr! The next morning, the sun was out. I was at the park’s entrance as soon as they opened as I had read that often the fog would come in late morning making any sighting impossible. I didn’t realize that the craters were 2 km away. I probably walked 8 km that day. I was walking to the uppermost crater and would stop every few minutes to take pictures of the luxuriant vegetation. Everything was new to me and I loved my walk. As I was climbing the steep path to the uppermost crater the fog started to rise, covering everything in a thick blanket. It was 9:00 am and I hadn’t even started my visit yet! I got worried but luckily, by the time I reached the lower craters, the fog had lifted and the sun was out for the rest of my visit.
As I was walking across a large crater, it started to steam! The sight of the rising smoke was quite impressive and the ground was warm to the touch. That was the highlight of my visit for sure, having never been around volcanoes, being inside of an active crater was quite magical.
I was home to the pets by noon. I had decided to stay another night in this high altitude heaven (we were parked at 3,432m) but decided that I was not up for another cold night. There was an annex to the volcano 12 km below that I heard was worth the visit. 12 km would definitely make a different in the temperature I told myself. And sure enough as I drove down the steep road I watched the temperature rise from 17 degrees to 25. Prusia is a park, annexed to the Volcán. I didn’t know much more about it and was hoping to camp there for the night and explore the area the next day. Unfortunately I soon discovered that no pets and no camping were allowed. Bummer! I had done all the hiking I could muster that day, so I decided to go back to the main road and drive to Cartago, the main city in the area.
Cartago used to be Costa Rica’s capital city until 1823 when San Jose took the title.
In itself there was not much to see. It is a surprisingly small town for a former capital city, nestled in the mist-shrouded peaks. However, the Basilica is worth the visit. The beautiful grey and white Byzantine Basilica of our Lady of the Angels hosts the “Negrita” a black virgin relic that appeared to a native woman in 1639. The Basilica was built on the site and despite several earthquakes due to the Volcán Irazu nearby, it is still standing. The black virgin is Costa Rica’s patron saint and the Basilica is a place of pilgrimage, on August 2nd, date of its appearance.
The exterior is beautiful and different from all the churches I had visited in Central America so far, but the interior, with its high ceiling in dark rich wood forming honeycombs and its tall gilded and painted columns was really stunning. It was of an understated beauty, not overdone, just right in the grandiose and reverence atmosphere it conveyed. Also, the energy was utterly calm and serene. It was 3 pm and people were coming in and praying, some supplicants would walk down the nave on their knees. I returned to the church 3 times to bathe in its wonderful energy.
We were parked on the side of the road, right next to the church and had a quiet and safe night. The merchants in front of me were curious about my truck and asked for a “visit” which I gladly obliged.
I have to say the response I am getting from Ticos (Costa Ricans’ nickname to themselves, in the same way Canadians are Canucks and New Zealander are Kiwis) has been very warm and enthusiastic. I would be driving down a road and cars would pass me by, yelling “Kiki” and waving their arms, they would honk their horn and show their approval of my traveling their beautiful country. I even had a truck slow down at my level, the driver showing me his baseball cap with a red maple leaf – a fellow Canadian!
Costa Rica stands apart from the rest of Central America. It is more westernized and feels very rich by comparison to its neighbors. Their physical appearance too is very “western”. The aboriginals having been for the most part completely integrated by the Spaniards and other European settlers through interracial marriages. They do not have the dark skin of their Latino neighbors. Costa Rica also very expensive! The price of gas is double what I would pay in Canada – Ouch! This makes my rambling around the country very costly. Everything else compares to what it would cost in the USA. So I am trying to dry camp as much as possible to compensate for the price of gas, and lucky me, it is quite safe to do so in Costa Rica.
After one last meditation in the Basilica, I left Cartago for Puerto Limón, the main harbor town on the East Coast of Costa Rica. I was eager to get some Caribbean vibe!
Until next time my new road amigos!
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Au plaisir de la route!