A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: sp8j

Nicoya peninsula

After our morning hike at Rio Celestè we jumped straight in the Jimny and programmed the sat nav for Playa Sàmara. Pacific coast here we come. Most of the roads I this part of the country are "unpaved" - hence the 4x4- this meant several hours of very rocky, very pot-holed and very bumpy tracks in and around the mountains. Finally, after many humorous alerts of "dangerous bridge ahead" and many shaken bones we made it to the main - Tarmac - road to beautiful Sàmara. We swiftly checked in to our first hotel The Sàmara Tree House Inn. It was stunning. Right on the beach our room was built on tall stilts providing epic views of the pacific. This really was the place to take it easy and chill. Next day we moved to a more remote hotel with its own private entrance to a public, but unused, beach - just us and the hermit crabs. The trail was about 400m through jungle and lead to an amazing, rocky beach. All good unless you attempt to tackle the muddy jungle path and stony shale with bare feet! But well worth it. We didn't do a huge amount in samara except beach it up. Happy days.

The next jaunt made us a bit nervous. The route we had planned involved and I quote "river crossings that even experienced 4x4 drivers may struggle with" intrepid as ever and armed with a free road map, the sat nav and a pdf i downloaded to my phone. we journeyed through yet more spine rattling "unpaved roads". Stopping at a couple of well recommended beaches for lunch and rest we ventured on to rougher tracks and finally our first river. We weren't really sure about depths and currents or the best route but figured that if i wade in and it stays below my knees then it is probably crossable in jimmy. So off i waded barefoot through jungle rivers while jon followed in the car. 7 rivers and various obstacles dealt with the 60km journey ended at Mal Paìs, the salty rustic surf haven with an enormous pacific beach and an amazing sunset and of course a well deserved beer. We are SO intrepid!

Here our beach time continued and it carried on right through montezuma too!

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Posted by sp8j 17:14 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (0)

Tortugero and La fortuna

sunny 33 °C
View Costa Rica on sp8j's travel map.

So costa rica then, this is different.

Unlike most of the countries I have visited on this trip costa Ricas history is not dominated by civil ward, power struggles and conflict. When Central America celebrated its independence in the early 1800's and where as Guatemala and Nicaragua had civil wars to contend with Costa Rica focused on building an independent nation, roads, towns, newspapers and its own currency were all part of this. The 19th century also saw the Costa Rican coffee boom. Helping to stabilise and grow the economy much earlier than any of its neighbours. Then in the 1940s they had this epic president (in my view) who dissolved the military, taxed the hugely wealthy, nationalised banks, gave voting rights to minorities and women and established a welfare state. His decrees are regarded as the foundation of current democracy here. Forty years later another president, Oscar arias Sanchez reasserted the nations indepdance by making the country's neutral stance clear to the US and writing a peace plan which ended the Nicaraguan war and earned him a Nobel peace prize. He also started a foundation for peace and human progress and ratify the Central American fair trade agreement. He seems like someone to have a coffee with.

The result of all this is a country that is pretty laid back and whose national mantra is 'pura vida' - pure life. A mantra that jon has embraced, although i'm not sure smoking cigars is quite the epitome of it. There is little poverty or illiteracy here in comparison to other Central American countries. Education is both free and mandatory and the importance of their ecological heritage is taught from an early age along side a sense of national pride and mutual cooperation.

Their love and pride in all things natural is wonderfully evident. The country is considered a global leader in tropical conservation and more than 27% of the country is set aside for conservation. Being a good visitor here is about investing in Eco friendly and sustainable businesses.

Jon and I quickly left San Jose for tortugero. It's a national park on the Carribean coast only accessible by a two hour boat ride through the jungle. It's pretty cool and full of misquotes. We stayed in a jungle lodge in the middle of it all and were surrounded by wildlife. Spider monkeys, sloths, snakes, river turtles, caymen, three different kinds of toucans. It was amazing and awe inspiring, a notion captured in Jon's ever gaping facial expressions.

One evening we went to watch green turtles laying their eggs. We were delivered by boat to the beach most frequented and carefully protected. After explaining the rules to us the guides lead us carefully across the beach to where a turtle was beginning her trek up the shore. It was dark and we weren't allowed to use any lights so as not to startle or disturb the turtle which would cause it to return to the sea without laying. The first turtle stopped and began digging too close to the water so it turned back. Further up the beach we gathered to wait. As luck would have it a turtle made its way straight toward us. Determined, she walked right up to the group, walked around us and started to dig. We were so close the sand she displaced was thrown at us. It was amazing to see such a serene beast at work. Watching her lay her eggs was both cool and a little strange. They go into a kind of trance thing though when they do and then spend up to an hour and a half covering them up. It was absolutely amazing.

The next day we journeyed to la Fortuna and volcano arenal. The volcano is stunning and you can see it from almost anywhere in the town. Having learnt my lesson from the last volcano I visited we opted not to climb it (I don't actually think you can climb this one, honest!) instead we went rappelling - absailing down waterfalls. That was definitely one of the the coolest, funest things I have done. The last one was over 75m! We caved and did the touristy thing and purchased a cd of photographs which I will post in due course for your amusement.

We spent a few days here chilling in an amazing hotel and walking around the volcano. We also met lots of nice Americans which was a pleasant surprise. We then picked up a little 4wd jimny to get us through the next two weeks. Ok, ok, it's not the most environmentally friendly thing we could have done but its about the only way to see the things on our list and negotiate the roads and rivers. Plus it's a real test of orienteering skills trying I decipher Costa Rican addresses such as turn left at the oak tree and go three blocks. Or we're just past the old van a few down on the right. Brilliant!

Rio celeste was our next stop and the beautiful bright blue waters. It was a fair old jungle trek and Jons first but it was totally worth it. The Río Celeste’s colour is a true natural wonder. Local legend says that when God painted the sky, he washed his blue brushes in this river, and that is how its waters obtained their magnificent blue colour. Well, thats one theory, there is of course a sciency one to compare to. That is that the river’s colour is the result of the chemical mixture of sulphur and carbonate, which originate in the nearby Tenorio Volcano. However it happens seeing this sky-blue river flow through a dense rainforest is an undeniably amazing experience. The waterfall and lagoon are stunning and we carried on to the point at which the colour is created. Hopefully the photos give some semblance of the what it is like.

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Posted by sp8j 17:59 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (1)

The last word from dad

We walked the half a mile with backpacks, feeling very stiff and sore from the triathlon the previous day. This enabled us to catch the 6.00 am ferry, to get a taxi, to then sit by the road in Rivas, waiting for the Tica bus to come at 9.00, and it was only twenty minutes late !! It then took over 2 hours to get across the border into Costa Rica. We then caught an Interbus minibus to Monteverde , where during a bus change we managed to avoid being hit by mangoes thrown by the Howler monkeys from the trees above, which could have given one more than a headache.
The last 30 kms took just over 80 minutes on the unmade roads upto Montverde at 1600 metres. It was immediately much cooler, and the scenery and forest were stunning. They receive over 2700 mm of rain per year and this is one of real bits of cloud forest left.
We stayed in a very friendly hostel for three nights, with Me sleeping on the top bunk. We then did a night wildlife tour - saw a sloth, a snake and a tarantula - so were slightly underwhelmed. We also did an amazing coffee tour, where the grower was so knowledgeable about fair trade , coffee and cooperatives, it was a privilege to take the tour - an outstanding highlight. The next day we did 13 zip rides,one over 1000 metres, in the canopy of the forest with a Tarzan swing which was exhilarating and amazing. In addition we did a couple of hikes around the reserves and cloud forest, which was beautiful especially seeing Humming Birds and the other wildlife. The other great moment was when Rebecca met up with half the group from the previous trip, and nobody paused for breath.
We are now in San Jose, which is not a cultural highlight, and Jon has arrived, so it is time for me to leave on a jet plane tomorrow. I have just managed to master whether I put loo paper in the bin or down the loo, take my debit card out of the cash machine before or after i get my cash - but only occasionally get dollars instead of the local correspondent, and worked out how many it is to the dollar,it has gone from 20 to 30 to 49 to 500!!!
I have had a great time, seeing and experiencing many fantastic things, but most of all spending real time with my daughter , Rebecca , of whom I am very proud.

Posted by sp8j 17:52 Archived in Costa Rica Tagged monteverde Comments (2)

Nicaragua

16 hours after we left roatan, Honduras we arrived in Granada Nicaragua. Thankfully Granada is a wicked city with plenty to enjoy and our hotel was ace so the day of travelling was quickly forgotten on the consumption of beer and food and a good nights sleep.

Granada is a restored colonial town and we spent a day just wandering through its beautiful streets. Nicaragua is a place where being conscious about where we spent our money was even more important. Nicaragua is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere after Haiti. 48% of the population live below the poverty line and on less than $1 a day. Only 28% of children finish primary school. Civil wars, natural disasters and dictatorships fill its history. The entire world was shocked when an earthquake took out the capital 40 years ago and raised 70 million dollars to send in aid which was met with a tearful thanks from the then president, anastasio Somoza, who then put the whole lot in his Swiss bank account, not a pound, dollar or franc ever went to relieve the suffering.

So we opted for a non profit hotel whose surpluses are invested into education programmes supporting children to finish primary school and families to understand the importance of education. Projects aimed at enabling people from all warps of this society are dotted around the streets. We visited a cafe where people who are deaf and have no or very limited verbal communication are taught how to run a cafe and also how to make hammocks. We visited the pulsar project which combines the talents of artists across the country and sells their wares on their behalf so they can stay in school. After dinner one evening we came across a impromptu street dance performance from the grandad street crew. They were ace and even did a tongue in cheek gangdam style dance which would give even Julian Fennell a run for his money. The proceeds went to shelters for street children.

We only had time for two nights in Granada before we journey by bus and old school ferry to Isla de ometepe. An island formed by two volcanoes rising out of Lago de Nicaragua. As you can probably imagine it is pretty stunning and unlike nothing else I have ever seen its also a really charming, unspoiled, sleepy kind of a place which is wonderfully low key despite the number of tourists that make the journey over each year.

So the next day we did what all good tourists do and climbed a volcano. This is not easy. In fact it is really hard especially in the rain. But I managed it, just. 1000m through steep sweaty rainforest. The pay off, of course being the wonderful panoramic views of the island, lake and other volcanos. Except when its raining there is no view as you are in the clouds. So we climbed back down. I still climbed a volcano though!

As of that wasn't enough for one day and in the spirit of making the most of our time we decided make the day into some weird tourist triathlon and cycle to the beach for a swim in the lake, a walk on the black sand (which was pretty ace) and a view of the two volcanos. Beer has never even so well deserved.

Today we have another long travel day to take us over our final land boarder to Costa Rica!

From the older point of view I can only endorse what Rebecca has said. We have managed to play a lot of cards and dice games, and only when a street child stopped at our table, did he manage to help me beat Rebecca at cards!!! Granada is a beautiful small colonial town on the side of Lake Nicaragua, with a surreal centre on the lake, which felt abandoned. The contrast to all of this was the visit to Isle of Omepeta, which was very laid back. The first volcano was covered in cloud when we arrived by ferry, so we could not really see everything, We had nowhere booked, but struck lucky with a German man, Zwinki, where we got a huge r for £20 per night for both of us. The next day we went halfway up the volcano, had rain , wind and a bit of a view, which took 6 hours, as well as seeing Howler monkeys and some beautiful butterflies. Then cycled to a sand bar in the lake, to get the real panoramic view of both volcanos, a quick swim and cycling back which included cycling over the runway .
Have just crossed into Costa Rica, with a two hour border crossing, and you can already see how more expensive and western it is. Off to Monteverde tonight and se fun in the forests, before down to Sam Jose on Friday . Will be at work this time next week!!!!

Posted by sp8j 12:16 Archived in Nicaragua Comments (1)

Honduras

With dad!

I met dad in Antigua for lunch (so you can breath out now if you were worried about me....... jackie!) and after a little walking tour we joined the group for a salsa lesson. Dad brought moves to salsa that even the teacher was previously unaware of. Including the lunge and dip, which resulted in a small domino effect of my travelling friends. Dancing in a salsa club later that night the lunge reappeared but did not seem to catch on.

The next day we journeyed to Copan by a slightly hair raising and incredibly sweaty seven hour shuttle to see the ruins and break our journey to the bay islands. The Copan ruins are really different to Tikal. Tikal is incredibly tall pyramids in unlikely terrain, Copan is all about the sculptures and engravings and the world famous hieroglyphic staircase which depicts the story of Mayan history (at time of chiselling) We got there early and practically had the place to ourselves which was pretty cool. There were also lots of brightly coloured macaws flying about.

Honduras seems very different to the other countries I have visited so far. Less open, less relaxed and not as friendly somehow. I could tell you about the people in Belize and Guatemala because I feel like I got to know them a bit and understand In some way a bit about their culture and history. For some reason I did not feel this about Honduras.

We continued up to the bay islands via la ceba, where we committed to ultimate travelling faux pas and went with the hostel recommended at the bus station. To be fair it could have been worse and was probably reasonable value for money but we were very glad to leave the next morning and arrive in another Caribbean island. Yeay!

Roatan is the island we stayed on, at half moon bay. We got a cabin by the water, it was literally a few steps into the crystal clear bath temperature waters and a few strokes to the edge of the barrier reef. It is the bottom part of the same reef I snorkelled in Belize. The fish were amazing and plentiful. Roatan in famous for its reefs and its easy to see why.

Today we flew from roatan after some serious confusion with tickets. And had less than an hour to get from the airport to the bus. We did it, just! And the bus even left early! 8 hours and a border crossing later we should arrive in Granada, Nicaragua.

Here is the view from the dad, who has so far been mentioned, but not seen! It was surreal to FaceTime Rebecca earlier last week from home and then be FaceTiming the other way around- beam me up Scottie!!! I can report that everything blogged so far is true if not better.
She has been travelling with an amazing group of people and it was sad not to meet up with them again. This should be rechristened The Smoothie tour as the quality of food and smoothies is amazing!! We are enjoying colonial splendour in one of the poorest countries in the world but everyone has smiling faces not something we are used to seeing everyday.

Since I last travelled with Christopher Columbus the Internet Naha arrived and you seem to get it in the most unlikely places. It is amazing that you can see and book everything on line except bus tickets and doing the travelling. It can create insight and build expectation, but it does not prepare you for the beauty of the skyline with volcanos, the flash of colour as a macaw flies overhead or the perfect symmetry of bright coloured fish swimming in shoals just like in Finding Nemo! Best of all is sitting on the beach with a cold beer, watching the sun go down and having another beer to make sure it has really gone in preparation for 14 hours of travel the next day - back to the hammock it is now one week down (although it feels like two) with one more week to go. I am sure that will be just as amazing as the last!

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Posted by sp8j 11:19 Archived in Honduras Comments (3)

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