A Travellerspoint blog

Costa Rica

Costa Rica

Every shade of green

I had always assumed that a place like Costa Rica, which is incredibly developed for tourism, would be fairly predictable to travel. It is good to know that a place like this can still surprise you. Costa Rica has wild and inaccessible sections like any of the other Central American countries we’ve traveled. We beat up our truck pretty hard on the Osa peninsula, floating it through a river once, almost getting stuck another time, and enjoying (almost) every minute of it. We headed down the Pacific coast from Alajuela, enjoying camping in incredibly hot and wet weather. We are still very much in the midst of the rainy season. No matter the weather, we are stoked to be back on the road having spontaneous surprises and enjoying the company of quirky people.

Last week, Paul and I arrived in a small town called Puerto Jimenez. We drove around a bit looking for a place to stay and eventually pulled into a campground run by a very friendly man named Adonis. Upon checking in he informed us that “hay crocodillos”. Ok… there are crocodiles. I didn’t know what to make of that. Is it a warning? A threat? The price was right, so we decided to stay. We settled in and visited a local mechanic trying to source a new pin for our brakes (the mechanics in Alajuela, though cheap and fast, were a little bit smashy breaking an integral piece of our braking system and doing a very poor job of repairing it. Phyllis was now creaking and whining over every little bump in the road). We got the part for fairly inexpensive and decided to chill out and celebrate with a beer. Just as it started to get dark, Adonis came over to our campsite and informed us that it was time to feed the crocodiles. Another German roadtripper (also camping at Adonis’ site) had bought a large bag of meat, and we were told to follow them into the woods… with flashlights. A little nervous, I decided to follow expecting to find crocodiles in cages. Nope. Adonis started calling out to the crocodiles (both Cayman and American) and called them by names. “que linda” he says (how beautiful). All I am thinking now is- there are 20 odd live crocodiles five feet away from me. I am most definitely out of my comfort zone. Adonis starts breaking off chunks of meat and feeding the crocs, he tells us to stand back since the American and the Caymans fight over the meat sometimes. I wanted to climb a tree. In the end I was relieved to be back at the campsite, surprised at the turn of events that evening, and fairly impressed that I didn’t crap my pants.

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Posted by SusieMiller 10:36 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (3)

On the Road Again

Back in Costa Rica heading south

Reunited with Phyllis in Costa Rica, we are super stoked to be back on the road. Paul and I flew down from the west coast and were expecting to find the truck in ruins. We were setting ourselves up for the worst, but found her fairly intact and much less mouldy than our vehicles at home will be after a winter of outdoor storage on Vancouver Island. Part two of the Pan-American journey starts this week. Over the summer, we had our doubt that we could make it happen financially. A slow fire season and significantly higher costs of living in South America made it tempting to head back to Mexico, though it felt like unfinished business. A late fall saved our bank accounts, and we are back on the road a month later than expected.

As promised, here is the detailed process for getting a truck out of government storage in Costa Rica:
1. Get your insurance. You will need regular old Costa Rican car insurance that can be purchased at the INS (institution nacional de seguro) office in Alajuela. It is super close to the airport and pretty straightforward, though you will need to take a cab. We ended up paying just under 20 dollars, but our permit is good for six months. Maybe if you request less time, the price will be lower.
2. Get your import permit. This has to be done at the Aduana Santa Maria (airport customs office). You definitely need your old cancelled papers, along with your passport, drivers licence, the vehicle title, and insurance papers. This should probably be obvious by now, but the vehicle owner must be present. We were helped out very promptly upon arrival. Mario, the super cute vehicle customs guy, started work at 10am when we arrived. He is without a doubt the friendliest and most helpful government worker we have met in our trip to date. He speaks great English, and is ‘the man’ around the office. Try to connect up with him if you can.
3. Go get your vehicle! Make sure you have all your papers for this step. They will need to see your permit, your insurance, and your ID. After paying the bill, we were directed to another counter where a man inspected our papers and gave us a ‘permission to leave’ paper that you give at the gate upon exit. We found Phyllis in a different spot than we left her. I am not so sure how anyone managed to move her without disturbing the contents inside or the tarp covering her, and without a key. Nonetheless, she was ready and waiting, and nothing inside her was too mouldy. Paul went to start her up, and she was quite reluctant. After a few minutes of coaxing, she roared to life, and the six odd employees cheered for us. We drove her back to Alajuela, and celebrated.

More to come in the coming weeks.

Posted by SusieMiller 18:53 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (2)

Going home

How to legally store a foreign vehicle in Costa Rica

We set out on the Pan-American trip knowing that we would have to complete it in two sections. We work six months out of the year, and do not have enough money to skip a fire season, so the only solution we could come up with was to store the vehicle in Central America, and to complete the second leg the following off season. Seems very simple, but of course nothing is as easy as it seems. Vehicles are worth a lot more in Central America than they are back at home, and apparently it used to be a really good deal to buy something cheap, drive it down, and flip it for more, funding the trip in the process. Of course, governments caught on, and the days of doing that legally and above board are over. We enter each country on a temporary vehicle import permit. These are only good for 30-90 days, at which point you and your vehicle must be out of the country. You are not allowed to sell the vehicle, and some countries will not let you leave without it (Honduras stamped the vehicle info directly into Paul’s passport). I don’t know what would happen if you were to try and leave with an expired import permit, but I have heard horror stories of confiscation without compensation.

The only information we found about storage was that you have to use a bonded government storage warehouse, which apparently is expensive, and somewhat inaccessible. Needless to say, we wanted to do it above board, and cheap. We started researching super early, but there is very little information on the internet about this, and most expats who will be in Central for any length of time, go through with the full import process paying the high taxes to get local plates and unlimited time. There had to be another way… we decided to arrive in San Jose early, spend a couple of days setting up the storage, and then book our flights home knowing that if this doesn’t work we might have to drive back in record time. We found it fairly accessible and a lot less hassle than we expected. Mario, the guy who works at the customs office at San Jose airport was super helpful (and hot), and with a little bit of perseverance and some knowledge of the Spanish language, I am convinced anyone would be able to get a pretty good deal.

1. Get to San Jose Airport

2. Find a bonded storage warehouse that suits your price range and expectations. These are privately run, so the security and set up varies a lot. Some are indoors, others are outdoors. Some quoted us six dollars a day, while the cheapest one (the one we went with) quoted us three dollars a day. Though there are many more, and probably better deals to be had with a bit of bargaining.The Spanish word for bonded storage is Almacén Fiscal, there are many by the airport, and the man in the customs office can give you a list of all of them with their phone numbers.
We chose to store in Almacan fiscal ‘El Coco’. This one is hard to find. The guy at the Aduana could not give us the phone number, but did give us directions. Follow the signs for the strip club ‘Fiesta Polano’. They start right from before you even get to the Aduana. Once you pass the club, follow the same road for 2km, and you will see El Coco on your right. Really cheap, but we did not look into indoor storage options, so I don’t know if they have it.

3. Store your vehicle. Drop your vehicle off at the bonded warehouse during their open hours. If it is outdoors, and you plan to store it over the wet season, you might want to tarp it, and prepare it for rain, sun, and general rough weather. The warehouse will give you a sheet. Keep this safe.
Dropping it off went pretty smoothly. We spent quite a bit of time sorting it out with a tarp. We had to insist that they give us a flat spot to park the truck.

4. Bring the warehouse paper, along with your temporary vehicle import papers to the customs office at the airport (Aduana Santamaria). Here they will suspend your vehicle import, and you can leave the country. Upon returning you will get the remainder of the time on your permit.
As with everything bureaucratic in Costa Rica, this can take a while. We were lucky to be in and out in less than 2 hours. The paperwork they give you is super important. We are making many copies.

Picking the car up might have more steps, so we will update this when we return in October. I hope that that picking it up goes as smoothly as dropping it off…

Posted by SusieMiller 11:54 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (7)

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