Finding (and losing) Friends in Costa Rica

The theme of our time between Guatemala and Costa Rica before flying home was taking time to meet up with other overlanders. People we’d met earlier in our travels, and those we’d only met online. Only a few hours after landing in Costa Rica this trend continued when Okan, Donna, and Indigo of Driven to Wander surprised us at our hotel breakfast.

I’d followed their blog since shortly after they set out, and had read all through Okan’s detailed build thread for their Dodge and Hallmark camper on Expedition Portal. We’d connected a few times online with questions and suggestions for each other, but this was the first time ever meeting in person.

Only 36 hours after meeting, we’d managed to lose them.

We didn’t spend much time together that Friday, since we were all busy freeing our trucks from the storage lot, but we did share in the happiness of getting back into our respective rigs and took the first opportunity possible to perform the obligatory “camper tour” each overlander makes when meeting one another.

We talked tires, air compressors, and camper-top lifting systems that evening, then spent the morning packing and organizing our wheeled homes before striking out through the abysmal San Jose traffic for a restocking trip to Wal-mart. Our ultimate destination was a remote camp high in the mountains on the shoulders of yet another volcano where we hoped to glimpse the elusive Quetzal and escape the heat of the lower elevations.

Typically, we pass out a two-way radio or two before hitting the road in convoy, but we both had GPS directions to the same location, so figured it wasn’t necessary. Somehow we managed to stay together through the mid-day city traffic and the frequent lane changes, one-ways, and hectic roundabouts. About 30 minutes from our destination though, we could no longer see our new friends in the rear view.

No problem, we stopped and waited for them to reappear. When there was no sign after 10 minutes or so, we made the decision to press on to camp, assuming they’d been re-routed after taking a wrong turn.

After climbing a rapidly deteriorating and steepening road to our target camp, we met a locked gate and a deserted property. While searching around for someone, a federal park ranger stopped and told us the place was closed because the owner was gone. Before we could get any additional information, the man sped off up the hill.

Since we still hadn’t seen our friends on what was definitely a one-way in, one-way out road we left a note on the gate and explored farther up in search of an alternate camp. Finding nothing available, the only sensible thing it seemed was to retrace our steps and head back down the mountain. We were sure to come across the big red Dodge along the way.

With searching eyes and hopeful hearts, we scanned parking lots and side roads for their rig, but found ourselves empty handed after arriving at their “point last seen”.

Grasping at straws, one of us had the bright idea to use an alternate GPS program to see if they could have been mis-directed to another point on the mountain. The route we were given using (as opposed to Google Maps, which we were using) appeared to wind up the mountain using small farm roads and trails, connecting to the main road at a point we knew there was no way to pass through.

While the Atamans are experienced and resourceful travelers, we still found ourselves worrying about what might have happened and where they might be. We chose to chase their supposed gps trail up ever-increasingly bad roads until finally asking a local farmer painting his fence if he’d seen another gringo rig similar to ours. “Of course!” he said, indicating they’d passed on the way up the mountain, then again about 40 minutes prior in the other direction.

Somehow we’d missed them. In the maze of twists and turns and steep, muddy, alternate routes we’d passed each other by.

Since we’d all only just arrived in the country, our friends had not yet set up a data plan for their iPad. We had cell service, but it was spotty. At this point we could only hope they’d find Wifi and be able to get a message to us.

Feeling defeated, sad, and guilty for not ensuring we had a better backup plan, we lamented not spending more time with our new friends before losing them to the beautiful Costa Rican countryside.

Just as we were about to give up, Taylor’s phone dinged, indicating a fresh Facebook message from Donna! She’d activated her “emergency phone” to get in contact with us and informed us they were safe and back on the highway only miles from us.

We met up along the road just as the sun set behind the rolling green hills and they recounted their harrowing adventure of stream crossings, mudslides, and an overheating transmission. We all hugged, I handed them a walkie-talkie, and we made our way to another camp in close formation, LEDs cutting through the thickening dark. 

The kindly Swiss hosts of the small property we pulled up to helped us squeeze both rigs through their gate and get settled among their pack of four friendly dogs and two cats. Okan and I popped two well deserved beers and we all toasted finding each other. Again.

We all spent the next four days together, enjoying each other’s company, the mountain air of the Orosi valley, the constant battle of San Jose traffic, and a tranquil beach on the Pacific coast. We found time to share dinner every night, play a few games of backgammon, pick up a little trash, and of course play and explore with 4-year-old Indigo.

On top of spending time with Driven to Wander, we also had the opportunity to become acquainted with a small selection of Costa Rica’s wildlife. At our boondock beach camp we woke up to the squawks of a half-dozen or so scarlet macaws, who just happened to be sharing the treetops over our rigs with a small troupe of capuchin monkeys. Signs around near the beach also warned against swimming because of strong currents, but the 14’ saltwater crocodile making the bay his home lent the final word to our decision to refrain from playing in the waves.

We also were lucky enough to be shown a baby sloth and his mother in the garden of a hotel we camped in front of. As of yet, no toucan’s however, despite being on the lookout since Belize!

Taylor and I also spent some time in the hammocks waiting for a paving project to be completed, hiked a waterfall, and visited a reptile sanctuary. We wish we could spend more time within the magic of Costa Rica, but we’ve got a boat to catch and we’re ready to see what Panama and then South America have to offer!