Tikal - San Jose, Costa Rica - Turrialba 4 - 7 Dec 2005

On horseback to the Turrialba volcano

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Everything went smoothly at the airport again until we were told that they didn’t sell Avgas on Sundays. Much as we liked Flores, we were keen to get on with the journey and get to Costa Rica. The airport officials kindly offered to try calling the military apron on the other side as they could supply us with the fuel. After several attempts, they managed to find somebody with the key to the fuel pump who was willing to come to the airport on a Sunday, so we were in business!
Our other worry, though, was whether we could land in Liberia as we were planning on visiting the north of Costa Rica first. We knew we wouldn’t be allowed to overnight in Liberia as they hadn’t finished the work on the apron, but we had managed to send a request by fax to the civil aviation authorities for internal flights on Friday afternoon from Tikal. Although this didn’t leave the authorities much time to issue the permit, and we hadn’t received a reply from them, we still filed the flight plan for Liberia with San José Pavas as alternate. Once we were talking to the Liberia controllers over the radio, we asked whether the permit had been issued. The reply was ‘No’. There was no chance of them issuing it on a Sunday, so our only alternative was to fly on to San José.
It was about 2 p.m. by the time we were on the approach to San José and we had to pass through some cumulus clouds. They kicked us around for a few minutes and I wasn’t at all happy.
During the 4 hours, 20 minutes flight, we thought up a new plan for our 2 weeks in Costa Rica. Instead of visiting the Turrialba volcano last, we would go there first. The Turrialba Volcano Lodge was the only place we had reserved so we phoned them from the plane using the sat phone in order to change the booking. The original plan had been for them to send a car to pick us up at San José and drive us all the way to the lodge. The car wasn’t available that day, so they suggested we take the public bus to their nearest town Turrialba – almost a 2-hour bus ride.
We headed for the bus station in a taxi, and Flemming stood in line to purchase the bus tickets while I looked after the rest of the luggage.
We had been cautious about the means of transport in Guatemala, having read the “dangers and annoyances” section in the Lonely Planet guide book. And we were right to be cautious. We met a young Scottish couple in Tikal who told us they had only been in Guatemala for about 10 minutes – coming from Belize in a colectivo (shared taxi) – when they were held up at gunpoint. The bandits made them hand over their wallets and their money belts, containing both their passports and all their credit cards. Fortunately some of their money was in their luggage piled on top of the bus. (The problem with Guatemala is that there are still a number of ex-combatants from the civil war that are armed and out of work.)
Now that we were in Costa Rica, known as one of the safest countries in Latin America, our guard was down. Flemming was carrying his backpack on his back while queuing for the bus tickets and neither of us noticed the pickpocket. In fact, we couldn’t be sure that his driving licences had actually been stolen until we next returned to the plane, when it was confirmed. It was annoying to lose both his Swiss and his international licences – lesson learnt, never to carry them both together. But at least I still had both my licences so we could still rent a car. And, we were very lucky in that – just that day – Flemming didn’t have his passport on him, because he usually kept them in the same plastic envelope together with the driving licences. For once, the passport happened to be with me.
The bus was a slow one that kept stopping to pick up passengers – the direct one was fully booked – and it was dark by the time we reached Turrialba. We phoned the Turrialba Volcano Lodge again to say we had arrived and they sent a 4-wheel drive jeep to fetch us. The lodge owner, Tony, said it would be there in a half an hour, rather an optimistic estimate since it turned up one and a half hours later and it took us almost that time to reach the lodge. Annoying as we were very tired after such a long day and could have spent the time having a leisurely dinner at the Wagelia hotel, instead of a late one on arrival at the lodge. Boy, it was cold up there! At 2500 metres it was only about 10 degrees Celsius at night when we had been used to about 25 C at sea level. They lit a stove for us in our room and we had an electric heater, but I still had to wear the silk tights that my mother gave me once for Christmas (thanks, Mum!) and a pair of socks in bed.
The next morning Carlos, a young lad employed by the lodge, escorted us on a walk in search of the elusive quetzal – a bird with glorious electric blue wings which the Guatemalan currency is named after. We saw several flash by and land high up on branches of a tree. That afternoon, we ventured out on our own and I managed to spot another couple of them. We were very lucky with the weather. More often than not, the nearby Turrialba volcano would be hidden behind clouds, but it was totally in the clear for our first 2 days there.
The lodge was simple but homely, with one main building where we ate our meals and wood cabins where we slept. It was managed by a warmhearted couple called Yeti and Julio. They had hung plastic bowls with sugared water outside the dining room window so we could watch the colourful humming birds getting their ‘fix’ while we ate our meals.
There was also a playful Alsatian puppy that took a liking to Flemming, but didn’t know the strength of his bite and had to be reprimanded. On the second evening, Flemming left his hiking boots outside the cabin door, not wishing bring dirty boots inside. Later, when we left the room to go over to the main lodge for dinner, we noticed that the boots had disappeared. By this time it was dark and raining. One of the employees went in search of the boots but only found one of them. They resolved to look for the second one the next morning. They found it sure enough, but the shoe lace and half the back of the boot had been chewed up! Flemming is very fond of his comfortable boots and would not part with them. When we returned to Turrialba town, we just managed to find one (white) lace. It doesn’t match the other one but at least he can still use the boots. He gave the dog a strict telling-off but he didn’t even have the grace to look guilty!
On our second day we rode with Julio up to the volcano, which has three craters. One of them is still quite active but we were able to walk round one of the others where the fumes aren’t too strong. We – and our backsides – are not used to riding and by the time we returned to the lodge, we had sore – if not raw – hides!
The following day it was raining. We were almost glad as we needed to get some work done on the computer, so at least we weren’t missing anything outside. Julio drove us back down to Turrialba town late that afternoon. We stayed the night at the Wagelia hotel.

Angela updating the Jeppesen charts in flight between Tikal and San Jose

Angela spotting a quetzal with the Turrialba vulcano behind

One of these elusive quetzals.

Flemming and some mega 'rhubarbs' called poor man's umbrella at the path into the Turrialba crater

Angela and Julio during our hike down into the middle Turrialba crater

Angela at the summit of Turrialba (3300 m) with our guide Julio and one of our horses

JAlbum 6.0 Copyright: Angela & Flemming PEDERSEN

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