Expecting the unexpected

by Aaron on January 6, 2011

The whirlwind tour continues.  We are on way to Cartagena after a minor mechanical issue.   We rolled towards the runway yesterday ready to depart but one of the spark plugs wasn’t firing properly as we did the run up prior to take off.  Patrick had the engine running fine again in no time yesterday but we had to stay another night in Panama City because of the delay.

I’m more than a few days behind here so I’ll try and recap what’s happened.  We made it into La Fortuna on the 1st after the weather finally broke enough to make it there.

We were pretty excited to be able to finally get there but true to form it’s the journey not the destination that makes a trip.  The flight in was fantastic as we had to climb over a mountain ridge and begin descending as soon as we crested it.  The airport was tiny and the landing was made even more scenic with the Arenal Volcano in the background.

The volcano was half hidden behind a pretty thick curtain of clouds though so there would be no nighttime lava viewing or sweet pictures we’d hoped to capture.  We decided to go “explore” the hot springs that evening instead.

It’s always funny to see how expectations play out with reality when you go somewhere.   It’s impossible to travel anywhere without having some image of what to expect upon arrival.  That image you have of a place helps form the adventure as you travel to unknown places.  We envisioned La Fortuna as a high adventure type place.  And we all three had a pretty consistent idea of what we were expecting the hot springs to be.

We figured the hot springs would be these awesome natural pools carved into the earth complete with swim up bar and good looking women(the latter part was my envisioning at least).

We were waaaay off.  When we pulled up to the hot springs we began to get a different picture.  The small little hot springs we were expecting to see had a massive entrance with bright lights that rivaled a casino.  Add to that about a hundred cars, a hotel staff in the front charging admission, and we were starting to scratch our heads.

After putting some of our stuff in lockers(complete with rented key), paying tourist prices for a beer, seeing zero attractive women, finding dozens of massive paved hot springs pools, and going down a really freaking fast water slide we realized with hilarity that this wasn’t some off the beaten path hot springs carved out of the side of a volcano.  This was a heated version of a water park in the US, ha.

The water was indeed hot, and refreshing though.  We joked that there was probably some giant hot water heater somewhere in the park and that the warmth wasn’t really coming from the volcano’s geothermal energy(it was of course….we think:-).

When we left La Fortuna the weather was iffy over numerous parts of Costa Rica.  We literally had to look at the map and pick 3 options so we could decide in the air after checking out the weather.

We ended up flying into Tamarindo on the Pacific Coast to have the best chance at good weather the following day.  Once again our expectations were to be challenged.  I had heard that Tamarindo was ridiculously touristy and expected an airport to rival it.  What we found was an amazing little airport right on the coast that had a small town feel too it.

We flew in right over the ocean and mangrove swamps and landed on the “paved” runway as a few of the workers there and horses in a nearby pasture looked on.

Unlike some of the international airports where security was tight we had pretty much free reign over the place.  I finally broke out the quad and attracted a small crowd while we did some filming.

We then found a hostel(Pura Vida), set up shop, and went out on the town.   Patrick had managed to scratch his mosquito bites into a pretty bad foot infection so he stayed back at the place.

After fixing Patrick’s infection with a local mix of Aloe and native plants, Alex and I decided to go out.

(That’s a complete lie. Much thanks to Doc Stahl, aka my Dad, for providing us with some powerful antibiotics pre-trip in case something like this happened.)

The woman who ran the hostel was great and provided us with some info about the bar where everyone was congregating that night.(small town, so only one hot spot per night).

She told me and Alex that it had quite a few drug dealers and that there were gangs that worked in packs to rob people. It sounded a tad extreme to believe but she obviously knew more than us.

We decided to go anyway with a group of Argentinians we met.

True to the theme of this post the expectations weren’t quite in line with reality.  It was just a lot of surf bums, ticos, gringos, and people having fun. There were a few shady characters there but Alex and I made it just fine.  Tamarindo was a pretty fun little town and a great place to spend a day.  Given more time it’d be a great place to do some surfing.

The next day we took off for Panama. Costa Rica had hosted us for an amazing 6 days but it was time to bounce.

The approach into Panama City was increíble.   We had the Pacific on the right and the Panama Canal on the left.  Patrick will have a video up of it later today hopefully.

We decided to rent a car the next day to explore because we thought it would be better than cabbing it everywhere and thought it would provide us a little more freedom getting around.

After experiencing the cab ride on the way to get the rental car I began having some doubts.  Here I was about to rent a car and navigate the mayhem that was Panama City traffic.

By noon that day I’d driven the wrong way down a one way street, killed it twice(standard transmission), pulled a U-Turn on the interstate(it was completely necessary), narrowly dodged pedestrians and cars, and probably committed a half dozen other traffic violations.  I was starting to get the hang of it.

For the family’s of Alex and Patrick, my insurance agent, and anyone else who’s interested, I’ve never had an at fault accident and wasn’t about to start.  Despite somewhat aggressive driving I consider myself pretty safe.  Your kids were in good hands and the car was returned without a scratch.

We made our way over to the Miraflores locks that afternoon and explored the Panama Canal.

The Canal itself is an amazing feat of engineering made even more incredible by the fact it was built 100 years ago.   We watched as a ship made its way through the locks an on to the Pacific ocean.

We spent the rest of the evening hanging out in the city and watching the Hogs game(which I’m still getting over).

We are about to leave for Colombia and Cartagena shortly.  We will be flying over one of the wildest places in the Western Hemisphere, and the spot I’m most excited about flying over, the Darien Gap(more on this to come later).

We have an idea of what to expect en route and upon arrival but are fully expecting more of the unexpected.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Lee Mattix January 6, 2011 at 10:31 pm

I agree w/ your assessement of the hot springs. The group I was with chose to participate full bore in the “frivolities” but I chose to participate as an amused observer and felt that I really didn’t miss anything.


Great Grumpy Z January 7, 2011 at 12:29 am

You guys are having a great adventure. My brother and I have flown from Florida to Brazil numerous times in a single-engine Mooney. Flying in to foreign airports are always full of the “unexpected”. I am looking forward to what you run into in the next day or two as you fly into (or over Venezuela).

Beware of the noon and after thunderstorm activity flying from the Bahamas back into Florida.


Aaron January 7, 2011 at 1:32 pm

Very cool, thanks for the heads up! It’s looking like we may be turning north after Aruba towards the Dominican Republic. Venezuela isn’t too friendly to U.S. private aircraft unfortunately.


Great Grumpy Z January 8, 2011 at 3:41 am

After Santo Domingo, we stop at Xuma to overnight before flying into Florida during morning hours. If you fly into Xuma, ask for “Junior” (a big black guy who is like the King of taxi service, refueling, etc, etc at Xuma International Airport and the Island in general!). Tell Junior that one of the Zimmerman brothers (Mooney N6704U) suggested that you contact him; ask for his recommendations on accommodations for the night, good place to eat and also for any night life you might like to experience.

I’ve never been to Nassau, your other option between Dominican Republic and Florida, so no suggestions there.

Gadzooks!! You guys are sure having fun!!!


Jason Ensminger January 7, 2011 at 1:30 am

You mentioned the videos Patrick was uploading, where are they?


Aaron January 7, 2011 at 1:29 pm

It’s coming right now. Made it into Cartagena yesterday after some interesting times in customs, more on that later. Headed to Aruba in a couple hours!


Patrick January 7, 2011 at 2:17 pm


Sorry its taken so long we’ve been on the hunt for internet the last few day… Finally found decent internet in a cafe this morning in Caragena so I have two clips going up today!


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