Muddy Pits and Cloudy Forests: Exploring the Interior of Costa Rica

This grasshopper was so chill. You could pet him, or throw him at your friend and he would still love you.

When Nicole said she was going to rent a car for inland travel, I expected her to bring back some four-wheel drive American monstrosity, which would be perfect for the rock hopping roads leading to many of Costa Rica’s best destinations. Instead, Nicole rented a Toyota Yaris. If you are unfamiliar with the Toyota Yaris, it resembles a stripped down and smooshed Toyota Corolla. If you are unfamiliar with a Toyota Corolla, get on the internet and stop wasting my time. I’m not complaining because I didn't spend a dime to rent the car, but deep down inside I was deeply disappointed and viewed the rental as a fatal misstep in traveling to anyplace outside of the supermarket.

Our fearless Yaris Jackson, a car who thought he had four wheel drive.

View from Palo Verde National Park.

A mean mugging praying mantis.

Our first venture was to Rincon de la Vieja National Park, a self-proclaimed “Yellowstone of Costa Rica.” Having been to Yellowstone as a child and having my mind blown by the experience, this was a pretty tall order. Would we see bison? Bears? Roosevelt's Ghost!? I was skeptical to say the least. Our late start was pushed back even more as we searched for the most perfect hiking lunch the local Jumbo supermarket could conjure up. We settled on a cheese platter, two bottles of Jet Fuel energy drink (more on this later), Dutch crumble bread, meat and a box of the finest wine. Onwards and upwards, our road turned from smooth freeway to dirt backway, and eventually devolved to rocky bullshit. The Yaris’ stiff suspension showed how unfit it was for such a venture. No problem, with complete coverage insurance from the renter, we could enter the Yaris in a demolition derby.

By the time we reached the trailhead, my spine was tingling. The parking lot was filled exclusively with four-wheel drive vehicles. Our plucky little Yaris was obviously out of place. It was the rainy season, so all the trails were primarily mud. Despite the slipperiness, I enjoyed the tactile sensation of squashing into the muck, and we moved slowly enough that it really didn't present any slipping danger. Almost every 10 feet we had to stop and examine something that was interesting and new. The eerie call of the manakin, a small stubby bird, reverberated through the forest as we walked. At the time I didn't know what was making the noise, so I kept my gaze high in the branches. I managed to stumble only a few times.

Mud + Incline = Mudslide.

Leaf, jasmin blossom, and shadows

Nicole and the hopper.

As the smell of sulfur intensified so did our pace. The trail opened up to hot tub-sized fissures cracking the forest floor apart. You could see the inside of the earth pouring into the open air. This phenomenon is so prevalent here that several geothermal power plants dapple the landscape. It certainly didn't rival Yellowstone, but watching the bubbling mud pits was almost therapeutic – hypnotizing. I think we must have spent an hour watching one pit in particular. Zened out by the mud, we tromped back to the Yaris.

Lunch next to the sulfur pit.

Me getting too close to the sulfur hot tub.

If the sign is on the ground it can be ignored.

Sulfer clouds rising from the forest floor.

By the time we reached the marina, our thoughts had wandered from reminiscing about the past 6 hours to planning a future trip to the famed cloud forest of Monteverde. We gave ourselves one buffer day to fully prepare, and then we were off!

Post hike shoe circle. Its like a drum circle but silent.

The Yaris was starting to grow on everyone. I initially hated it, but the car was a trouper. It didn't take no for an answer. I named the car Yaris Jackson and decided it was bi-curious. Strange, but if you rode in Yaris Jackson I’m sure you would come to the same conclusion. Everyone liked the Yaris… until we had to fill it up with gas. Since Costa Rica doesn't produce any petroleum, they don’t provide a subsidy. Gas is expensive. There was a good 5 minutes of pure hate for Yaris Jackson until we opened up a fresh bottle of Jet, our beloved energy drink. Think of a Red Bull with extra sugar and twice as big; that was a Jet. It fruit fairies tickling your tong with their fruity magic. For the next half an hour we were all talking very fast and going off on non sequiturs like it was our job. This high was disrupted when we got lost. The thing about Costa Rica is that they don't really believe in street signs or even addresses. The fancy marina Bella Star was docked at didn't even have a proper address. The Jet turned everyone against each other. Aggressive bickering spurred a serious freak out by Nicole. She obviously couldn't hold her Jet. After much hassling, and because she was the only one who spoke Spanish, she got out of the car and walked right into someone’s house to ask for directions in what could only be described as a Jet blackout. Bold, and successful.

A never-ending bag of potato chips is the perfect co-pilot.

The road to Monteverde was so terrible I don't even know if it could actually be classified as a road. The view was gorgeous, but it was constantly shaking. The impossibly steep parts were the only places that were paved, but these smooth respites provided enough of a break to bear the trip as a whole. Yaris Jackson made it like a champ. Minus the part where we had to walk to the San Luis waterfall trailhead because she/he couldn’t make it through the river, of course.

Monteverde is a sweet little tourist town with just enough infrastructure to support the population, but not enough to encroach on the wildlife. The place exists to cater to travelers, foreign and domestic, and they do a fantastic job. Within 2 hours of being there, we had a wonderful meal in a huge tree house, a place to stay for the night and a solid lineup of activities planned for the next two days. A day hike, a night hike (with a guide), a zip line tour and another hike. BREAK!

Tree house restaurant, Monteverde.

To avoid going into too much detail, I will give highlights of each activity.

Day Hike:
Saw some awesome birds. Swam in a waterfall. Got a blister.

Chestnut-headed oropendola. These birds make an incredible noise.

Chestnut-headed oropendola nests

Waterfall beyond waterfall.

Night Hike:
Spied/Discovered/hated a disgusting tarantula that made me want to vomit. Watched a two-toed sloth move 5 inches in 10 minutes. Spotted a sleeping toucan. Awesome!

I wanted to crush this Tarantula, Nicole wanted to pet it, and Aaron was indifferent.

Zip Line:
Smiled a whole bunch. Decided people ascending to heaven travel there via reverse zip line. Caught a break when by some malfunction of the reservation system, our three $45 zip line tickets were free. Score one for the little guy.

Try not to look down.

This zip line is a tree hugger.

Aaron's blue magnum face

The final platform. The Big Kahuna!

Last Hike:
Saw a noodle-nosed loud bird AKA a Three-wattled Bellbird. Had an up close and personal motmot encounter. Decided I should replace my water consumption with Jet.

My favorite bird after a toucan. Wish I had more light during this sighting.

Auxiliary Incidents:
Experienced frequent Jet hallucinations. Stared at a hummingbird feeding farm for an hour. Hid a huge bag of potato chips from Nicole. Picked up a dead snake.

After struggling through the jungle for a full day, we finally found a pack of hungry pale tourists. Aaron looks excited.

Hummingbird fight.

This is how wars start.

The trip was fantastic. It wasn't cheap, but it also wasn't terribly expensive. I have never been so satisfied with how I’ve spent my money. If you can go to only one place in Costa Rica, Monteverde would be a safe bet. If you can only do one tour in Monteverde, the zip line tour at Selvatura Park would be my suggestion. Just be sure to ask for the reservation fuck up special.

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2 Responses to Muddy Pits and Cloudy Forests: Exploring the Interior of Costa Rica

  1. We’re so glad to have found your site (from Doolittles)! We’re currently getting our 1987 Catalina 30 (Nirvana) ready for cruising and we’ve had a hard time finding other Catalina owners that are liveaboards and cruisers. We plan on putting the house on the market in about 2 weeks and then get serious about getting Nirvana ready for cruising next summer (if house sells quickly … we think it should). Born and raised in New Orleans, LA and we’ll be “setting sail” from there.

    While surfing your site looking for pics of Panache (looks great) I came across so many amazing photos that you took! We’re thinking about trashing the idea of davits …. looks like you don’t need them! We’d love some advice (or links to your posts about this) from you about what your Catalina 30 has (or doesn’t) for cruising. Any interior ideas for making living more comfortable? Storage ideas? Gear and anchor info, etc?

    We’ll definitely be following along from now on!

    Ken n Cheryl

  2. ZSOL says:

    Thanks! Davits would be nice, but self steering is much more important. I have a Scanmar Auto-Helm on the back of Panache and the thing is bulletproof. The unit is actually the prototype for that style of airvane, created before the patent was even sold to Scanmar! Hands down the most valuable piece of gear on Panache.

    I have a bruce anchor with (200′ of chain) and have done very well for myself, but Rocna owners seem to be doing better. If I was buying a new anchor I would go with a Rocna for sure.

    Upgraded the Kerosene stove to propane, but if you don’t mind cleaning dirty burners Kerosene will give you more burn for your buck.

    I don’t know much about comfort or storage (I tend to just throw everything in the V-birth and sleep on the starboard settee). I do know that Catalina, and many other boat makers, tend to leave particular cavities of their boats empty. The previous owner put in several additional cubbies to take advantage of this wasted space. Take a look around and don’t be afraid to cut some holes. Space is at a premium.

    Having an anemometer with no moving parts would also be ideal. If its a traditional anemometer, you can bet a fat bird will use it as a resting spot and destroy it. Mine is stuck pointing forward thanks to an exceptionally fat brown booby.

    Having a inner forestay comes in handy during heavy weather when de-powering the boat or if you really want to make the boat scream on a beam reach. This would also involve having secondary winches (not sure if thats standard on the 30), but its worth it.

    Great to hear from another Catalina 30 owner! Email me at if you have any other questions.

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