A visit to Costa Rica
travelogue by Bob - N4CD

I arranged a visit to Costa Rica to stay with TI2HMG ([email protected]) at his B&B near San Jose, the capital city of the country. Henry picked me up on April 4th, and we headed over to the Government License Bureau to get the necessary TI2 paperwork. I was going to stay 2 weeks, and do some sightseeing as well. I had been to VP2E and VP5 to rental places, and had high hopes that this place would be as good. I hadn’t been Dxing in nearly 10 years.

Getting a license was very easy. All you need is your original license, your passport, and a copy of each, which they retain for their records. Henry had done this many times before, so it went quickly and smoothly. I was issued the call N4CD/TI2. (the region 2 is San Jose area – they have call areas similar to the US)

We arrived at Henry’s small hotel in a small village 15 miles from the airport. He lives high on a hillside with 30 mile views to the east, north, and west. From the hamshack room, you have a large panoramic view over 180 degrees way out to the volcanic mountains. Big picture windows all around, and fantastic views. One could sit on the balcony and look out for hours at a time! I hooked up my radio (an IC706), power supply (Astron 30 amp switching PS), key (Shurr mobile paddle), MFJ Mobile Tuner, and got on the air quickly.

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I may have picked the worst time in years to try and operate HF. People kept telling me about the big X-flares, largest in 25 years, geomagnetic storms with auroras seen in Mexico (very very unusual), and that conditions were very bad. However, the place to be when propagation is bad is at a low latitude, and when you have primarily north-south propagation, there is someone to talk to. It seemed many were hearing almost nothing on HF bands for days at a time, when I was working 500+ stations every day, day after day. It seemed I was in the right place at the right time, even in bad conditions.

The antennas at TI2HMG are a 2 element Lightning Quad which covers 10,12,15,17, and 20 meter bands. It is nice to have WARC coverage as few TI hams do get on the WARC bands, and fewer yet on CW. (translation: instant pile ups). For 30,40, and 75, there are dipoles. I brought along my mobile tuner since they were cut for SSB parts of bands. Henry’s FT890 has a built-in antenna tuner to take care of that.

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Over the next 13 days, I worked more than 9320 stations, SSB and CW, on 10 through 80 meters. Most of the operation was on 10 and 12m, which had propagation for near 8 to 10 hours every day, even when no signals were heard below 15 meters for hours at a time. I worked hundreds on 12 (cw and SSB), 15(cw/ssb), 20(cw/ssb), 40(cw), and a few on 80cw. All I had to do is call CQ once or twice, and it started a pile up that could go on for 3 hours or more. There’s an adrenal rush to being ‘wanted’. After 10-12 hours a day, one is thoroughly worn out from making and logging 500-700 contacts.

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My poor little IC706, with a 500 Hz filter, had a tough time coping with the the very very loud signals on 20m. It didn’t take me more than a few minutes to figure out I would have to operate split on cw most of the time, so the people who kept calling and calling wouldn’t drown me out when I answered. However, as soon as I worked one person up by a KHz or two, ten or 20 stations would exactly zero beat and call. Absolutely nothing intelligible was there – the S meter just sat at 40 over S9…..I tuned a little off, and the smart guy calling 500 Hz off got the contact….then everybody zero beat him and I had to tune a little to find someone else. That happened the most on 20m – maybe more Dxers hanging out there? Oh, how I longed for a FT1000 with cascaded 250 Hz filters and cw peaking filter and ability to narrow things further! Then again, the IC706 weights about 6 lbs, and my FT1000 weights about 66 lbs, hardly ‘carry-on’ luggage!

I ran the IC706 at 100watts on SSB, and cranked it back to 50w on CW. I didn’t want to stress it too much – it had to last – and I was running CW for 3 to 5 hours at a time. I use a Shurr mobile paddle, which I usually use for County Hunting, and it is mounted on small piece of wood. Rather than carry heavy paddles on big base, I carry this, then put something heavy on the board, like a power supply or big 2 liter bottle of water! I used the IC706 mobile hand microphone. All the equipment I brought came in carry-on bag on the airplane.

Henry has an FT890 and SB220 amp available. He had some earlier problems but assured me that all is in good working order now. I didn’t need more power. People kept telling me I was loud with just the hundred watts. I used my own radio since I am familiar with it, and it is set up the way I like, modulation and cw wise.

It was nice being "DX". I live in Texas, and many days, the only thing you hear on 10 meters are stations 1500 miles away, which means stations in the Caribbean or Central/South America. Often, there are three of them, and 1000 US hams on. Needless to say, you can keep pretty busy being one of the 3!

I don’t run that much CW except on the County Hunter Net (usually around 25 wpm), and maybe once or twice a year get in ARRL SS and work 100-200 stations. The speed demons who send at 40-50 wpm probably called a long time since I don’t copy much over 30wpm – It goes in one ear, and just disappears. I had to sent a few "QRS 30 WPM" to get them to slow down. After hours of cw operation, my brain is challenged by just 25 wpm copy, hi hi! When there was static, it was hard at times to even go that fast. (in April you begin the rainy season, with thunderstorms and the associated QRN, plus many days there was S7 QRN on 30/40m). When the pileups weren’t too bad, I could run 100 stations in a row with ease. And there would still be 100 calling! The DX clusters got 50 to 100 people on within five minutes once a spot was posted.

All sorts of interesting stuff went into the logs, although for me, the only things that count for anything are counties, since you can work them from anywhere, with any call, and they count! So I got many new counties on CW. Was I supposed to get excited when BA4RF called me??? Or a 4K1? I hadn’t been Dxing in nearly 20 years, so there were hundreds of new prefixes I had never heard or seen. Was T88T a valid call? That’s what I copied. I worked them and logged them. Some really strange calls in the log, but I suspect I’ll see QSL cards from at least a 1000 of them.

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Every day started out with maybe some time on the bands at 6:30 am local, and then off to breakfast at the sumptuous breakfast table of Henry’s B&B. After filling up on all sorts of fresh fruit, bread/rolls, maybe an egg, ham, cheese, several cups of coffee, juice, it was back to the hamshack to work the world. Many days HF propagation was zero on all the bands below 12 meters as we experienced the worst flares in 25 years, and major geomagnetic storms. Usually by afternoon, 15 and 20 were going gangbusters, and 20 stayed open many days until midnight local time. There were openings nearly every day to JA land on bands 10 to 20 meters, and I concentrated to work them for as long as conditions lasted. Hundreds and hundreds of JA calls in the log, mainly on CW, but many on SSB as well. Maybe a thousand Europeans are in the log.

At dinner time, it was a short 5 minute walk down the hill to a local restaurant, Paso Fino, where I had dinner many nights. This place, too, has a ‘million dollar’ view. You can watch planes land at the airport 15 miles away, and there are 100,000 lights out there in the Central Valley down below you. (And it will cost you about $7 for a dinner). Then it was a 15 minute walk back up the hill. I went into town once with Henry to buy some snack food, buy some post cards, and see the town. From his place you can take a bus to town or to San Jose. He offer tours provided by a nearby tour service to the major attractions, so if you don’t want to ham all the time, you can go off to the tropical forests, the volcanoes, beaches, etc. He’s got them listed on his web site.

If you get a craving for junk food, yes, Pizza Hut does deliver right to the door! (comes on the back of a motorcycle). Beware the "El Supremo" – it is got some extra kick to it! Otherwise, there are two nearby restuarants within walking distance, and more a short, cheap bus ride away.

Henry and family run a nice B&B and if you’re looking for a nice place to visit in a nice country to visit, that has many many bargain prices, you might think about coming here. The quad really gets out great, and you can make as many or few contacts as you wish.

I met several of the other guests staying at the B&B. Some come for a few days, others for a week. Henry can arrange a rental car if you wish to go off touring on your own. Bus transportation in the country is inexpensive and ubiquitous.

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I haven’t figured out things exactly yet, but it looks like about 90 countries worked, all US states, and well over 9000 QSOs in 13 days. A very successful radio operation. The time to go home came quickly. I’m sure others will visit Henry’s QTH and keep putting out great signals, so if you missed a contact, there will be many future opportunities. .Now next year I will go back and tour the rest of Costa Rica for a week or two. It is nice country with friendly people, with lots of activities, and very very reasonable prices. What more could you want?


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