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
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.