About 40km east of San Jose we reached our destination of Paraiso in the dark, so we drove a little way out of town to a mirador which we thought might make a nice camp for the night. Unfortunately we found it gated and bolted shut so we headed back into town and parked up outside the church on the brightly lit police patrolled main plaza. After an awesome dinner of pan roasted chicken and veggies, it was earplugs in and eye masks on to crash out for the night.
Rising early we headed back to a now sunlit viewpoint just outside of town, where we pulled in to cook breakfast and enjoy a morning coffee looking down into the Orosi Valley below (the view was free as opposed to paying to enter the mirador, which was still closed).
A scenic drive on route 224 winds down from Paraiso through the valley and across the River Reventazon, where a metal suspension bridge connects the two sides of Orosi town. Passing by mildew laden churches and steep sided coffee plantations it was a great way to spend the morning before passing by Lago de Cachi and joining back onto the #10.
The rustic feel that we’d been missing on the Pacific Coast began to return, and as it started to drizzle the coffee gave way to banana plantations and we knew we were finally descending to the Caribbean coast. Finally making it to flat tarmac after some steep climbs, we passed through the once lively port town of Limon which is best seen gazing out of the car window.
Christopher Columbus stopped by in 1502, but the port was only founded in 1870 to export bananas and grains. A 1991 earthquake did a lot of damage, as did the huge number of cruise ships who now dock here…something we try to avoid. The coastal road meanders along the shoreline until it reaches the sublimely laidback enclave of Puerto Veijo.
With a balanced mixture of surfers, locals, travellers and hippies alike, the town thankfully lacks the polished edge of the Nicoya Peninsula, along with it’s stuck up expats and shitty road conditions. With scattered shacks along the beach, open air restaurants and bars playing a mixture of ambiguous music our first reaction was
Ahhhh breathe out and relax
Happy to be back on the coast and in amongst a more authentic kick back vibe, we set out for Rocking J’s to stop for the night.
If you’re the kind who demands attentive service then avoid this place. A 15 minute wait leaning against the counter with four staff behind it offering the occasional glace whilst skillfully avoiding eye contact only served for tired legs and tried patience. Walking out (with still no reaction) and moving along to Coccles Beach further on, we were shortly warned that this stretch of beach can be dangerous of a night time, with others having been robbed at gun point. Changing tact we drove back to Rocking J’s and entered through the back gate and parked up for the night.
With Rocking J’s being the place for the backpacker bunch to accumulate (due to the huge amount of options from sling your own hammock to rent a tents, dorms etc), the grounds are an ever evolving art work of mosaics and sculptures. Big grassed areas are sprinkled with gazebos, surrounded by hammocks and tents all under the watchful guard of the fort at the rear constructed from shipping containers.
Being full of travelers, it wasn’t long before Sarah was in conversation with an English girl, George, when Utila and diving becomes the topic. We soon realise that we’d met her and her boyfriend Ian one drunken night two months back when they’d come to Utila to visit our dive instructor Sam, one of their best mates.
Sinking a few brews Sarah and a Swiss girl who’d joined the group were heading back from a cigarette out on the beach when they spot a verandah party going on and head towards to light to say hi. Pretty quickly they’re told it’s a private party, however after being invited to stick around they’re soon introduced to Rocking J himself, along with rocking chair sitting, tie dye wearing, long term expats Mama and Papa Dope.
These guys looked like they’d had their fair share of free lovin’ in the 60’s and you can bet they were probably at Woodstock rolling in the mud with the best of them. Papa Dope eventually offers the Swiss girl what appeared to be a walkie talkie, and she promptly began to talk into it, before telling him it’s not working. Papa Dope pretty quickly set her straight that it is working and to stop wasting his time,
“It’s a f*&king vaporizer full of dope, are you gonna smoke it or what?”
These guys were quite the characters and topped off a great first night in town, if you ever get to meet them you’re in for a real treat.
The next few days were spent alternating between lazing the days away parked under a tree on Coccles Beach and finding a safe, quiet place to park in town when the sun went down (tough life hey?). Finding a perfect place on the water out the front of Johnny’s Place, we had WiFi that reached the van and a Police station adjacent, so we rested peacefully, assured that this was by far the best pick of locations. Just be wary if you’re in town the Fiscal Police might ask to see your vehicle import and insurance documents, and if they do they’ll check them thoroughly (they went so far as to make a few phone calls when checking ours) so make sure you’re paperwork is in check.
Coccles beach is a great place to park up for the day, with or without a van, with one not wanting for anything as the constant stream of food vendors, beer merchants, masseuses, surf rentals and waves can keep you fully occupied for the day (just remember to bring water or it’s a long walk back to town to get it). If you’re feeling energetic there’s also a late afternoon volleyball match each day.
Deciding one day to branch out by venturing further down the coast, Playa Manzanilla is the end of the line for the road and the local’s choice of sand. Although lovely in itself, the constant blaring of music, people zooming up and down the dirt road showing off on ATVs and lack of shade ensures this place pales in comparison to the tranquility and surf conditions of Coccles (plus we scored free bananas off a local surfer on Coccles so it gets our vote).
Driving back to town enjoying the jungle trees dripping with plant life (every tree looks like it hosts a dozen different species on it’s branches) soon enough a group of people are noted aimlessly staring up with cameras trained into the canopy. Pulling over to see what all the fuss is about we realise that this here is sloth territory.
The sloth is one of those strange creatures that needs to be seen to be believed. The slow moving mammals come in either the three or four fingered variety and always seem to have a slightly stoned smile dressed upon their faces. Whilst they might look clumsy on land, they’re apparently great swimmers and lucky for them they only need to pee and poo once a week…though strangely they always do it in the same place (thought you’d be interested in that bit!).
Gathered around waiting for a good shot it doesn’t take long for some idiot thinking they are the next superstar photographer with their barely unwrapped D-SLR kit camera to be up in the poor animals face, snapping away with the flash blinding it to the point that it cannot keep grip on the tree, falling with a thud to the ground below. Some people just don’t and never will get it.
In need of a beverage and a place to chill out for the late evening, Kaya’s Place located at the start of town opposite a striking black beach makes for a peaceful retreat from the busyness of town. Situated within is the BriBri Springs Brewery which make a nice Sundown Brown Ale, though at $5 for a glass (this is Costa Rica after all!!!) it’s a pricey venture into the search for local craft beer.
Check our more of our Costa Rica pics on Flickr.