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This domain name was used for the Get Happy Tour back in its original run around 10 years ago, when I used to do work for BFS and AOF. However, for the past 5 years it has been used for my travel blog as I never thought we would have another Get Happy Tour and I didn't want it to go to waste.

But as a favour to two bands who have done a lot for me over the years, and so you don't miss out, ticket info is:
O2 Presale: 10am on 25 September
General Onsale: 10am on 27 September.

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Archive

Posts Tagged ‘Central America’

Arriving home after a long trip

February 16th, 2012 No comments

I’m now back home after 3 weeks of long and exhausting travel days but also of many, many new experiences and new friends. This has been one of the most fulfilling trips I’ve ever been on even if it did end with three back to back flights.

My overnight flight from Panama yesterday went well. I caught up on a bit of sleep but could have done with a bit more, however it gave me a chance to catch up on my reading. I was impressed with the service on the flight – drinks came round all the way through the night at regular intervals to make up for the fact that all liquids were confiscated at the gate including ones we bought in the terminal and the staff spoke at least 3 languages which puts me to shame. The plane landed in Amsterdam on time and after proceeding through security I transferred over to my KLM Cityhopper flight back to Heathrow.

As I was on a small plane my bags came through by the time I made it through passport control and I didn’t get stopped at customs so it was one of the quickest arrivals at Heathrow I’ve ever had. I grabbed a quick coffee at Costa before catching the tube back to St Pancras ready for my train back home – the whole journey back was cold, wet and windy which is the stereotypical welcome back to The UK but I’m glad there’s no snow here like during the cold spell I read about while in Honduras.

I’m completely exhausted now so will be going to sleep shortly but I’ve had so many experiences and made so many new friends along the way I’ll have these memories with me for a very long time so it has all been worth it.

There weren’t really any bad points of the trip either – sure things were a little disorganised at time but things never run to schedule in Central America and Mena did a great job of making sure we were safe and that we got where we needed to go. If I had to pick a bad point I’d say the only one I can think of is the fact that some of the team who had been travelling since Mexico never really tried to let us integrate with their half of the team meaning that after a 17 night trip I still don’t know what some of their names were. However this didn’t cause any problems and didn’t stop me from having a good time or making friends – Team Breakaway ended up being far too awesome anyway and I’m happy to have become friends with them!

Central America is a destination I’ve wanted to go to for many years and it was one that didn’t disappoint me as I’m sure you’ll have noticed by the tone of this blog.

I want to go back!

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Last night in Costa Rica and the flight home

February 15th, 2012 1 comment
Pre-drinks with a big bottle

Kelly pre-drinking before we all hit the town in San Jose last night

Me and Guido

This is me and Guido my room mate

So last night was definitely eventful but I had a great time and it was a great way to finish what has been an amazing trip.

The night started out at a local Karaoke bar in town which had a great atmosphere and was really cheap – I think I only paid the equivalent of $5 for 3 vodka & cokes! I’m not much of a karaoke person but after a few drinks I was soon joining in with Mena and Kelly while they sang Bon Jovi songs. This was much to the horror of the couples in the bar who were busy trying to sing love songs to each other due to the fact it was Valentines Day yesterday but we were only in the bar an hour or so before moving. The other Intrepid guide recommended we checked out the bar up at the University of Costa Rica called Terra U so we all jumped in taxis and made our way out to the suburb of San Pedro.

I loved the atmosphere at Terra U and I’m not much of a club person but it had a mix of everything – nightclub, bar, disco, sports bar, TV lounge and terrace all in one with the atmosphere and liveliness of a University all in a great climate. The drinks were much more expensive and I think I paid as much per drink there as I did for all of my drinks at the Karaoke place but I’m glad I decided to carry on there with the group rather than head back to the hostel. I must say that a University bar on Valentine’s Day is quite a frustrating place to be when single but I wish we had gone straight there. We probably stayed there for an hour or two before starting to head back to the hostel in groups, of which I was in one of the first with Mena, somebody from the other Intrepid group and Miriam. We chatted over whatever drinks of ours were left in the fridge before heading back to our respective rooms but I didn’t sleep much last night for a few reasons.

Ice overload

They seemed to like giving us ice at the Karaoke Bar

Tequilla shots

One of the other Intrepid group had her birthday so it was Tequilla time

Me and Kelly

Me and Kelly singing Bon Jovi songs in the Karaoke bar

Me, Mena and Kelly

Me, Kelly and Mena in the Karaoke Bar last night

Terra U

Me, Gina, Kelly (& Guido) in Terra U - the bar at the University of San Jose

This morning I relaxed in the hostel partly to recover from last night and partly due to the fact I would have a lot of travelling ahead. I got up early to say goodbye to Gina who is travelling on to Panama on the next leg of the trip with Intrepid and then finished my packing while waiting for the others to get up. I had a transfer booked for lunchtime; I decided to book a transfer through the hostel rather than catch the bus like Mena so we just chatted for a bit until it was my time to head to the airport.

The lady that transferred me to the airport was one of the hostel worker and came from Colombia. We chatter for a bit during the transfer about our respective travel experiences and about what I did while in Central America and it helped pass the time as the airport is quite a way out of the city.

Hostel in San Jose

This is one of the social areas in our hostel

I checked in online yesterday before heading out into the city so When I arrived at the airport I paid my $28 departure tax before collecting the boarding passes from the bag drop desk – they gave me the option to go on an earlier flight but I decided to stick with my original flight due to the fact I had a seat with extra leg room booked. When I received my boarding pass I found out they had changed my seat but they had put me in an exit row which was even better as I have long legs so every little helps. Then it was time to proceed through security to grab some lunch and then relax watching the airport activity before my flight.

My COPA Airlines flight to Panama City was short and sweet but enjoyable. I read in the safety information leaflet in front of me that you are supposed to be able to speak fluent Spanish to be able to sit in the exit row for safety reasons but the flight attendant gave us the instructions in English and said she knew she could count on us if there were any problems. I’m glad that she felt she could trust me as I was the only person on my side of the plane at the over-wing exit, while there were two Americans on the other side of the aisle. COPA seem a fairly good airline in terms of service, comfort and quality but that was the only flight I’ve ever been on.

San Jose Airport

A view of San Jose airport while waiting to board my plane

Panama City Airport

Waiting to board my KLM flight in Panama City

I’m now in Panama City airport waiting for my flight to Amsterdam where I will catch my connecting flight to London to finish my trip. I was worried I wouldn’t make my connection on time but it looks like this flight is going to be delayed, and the inbound flight arrived right next to my ongoing one, so in the end I had plenty of time. It’s an overnight flight so hopefully it’ll give me a chance to catch up on sleep.

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San Jose on Valentine’s Day

February 14th, 2012 No comments

By the time I woke up this morning some of the group had already left for the airport but I said goodbye to the remaining early leavers while enjoying the free pancakes that the hostel seem to put on every morning. I was eager to explore San Jose today so as soon as the rest of Team Breakaway were awake and fed we wandered into town to do a bit of sightseeing. We all wanted to see the Museum of Pre-Columbian Gold and decided that the plan for the day would be to visit that followed by a relaxing walk around the tourist trail walk that we were told about that follows a path around the city taking in all the best things to see.

Walking into town

Walking from our hostel to the city centre

San Jose

San Jose city centre

Plaza

One of the many open plazas in San Jose

Mena came with us into town but decided to relax with ice cream in the plaza during our visit to the museum. The price for the ticket has increased since my guidebook was written as they’ve combined the three subterranean museums into one so we decided to get our moneys worth and look around them all. We started with the temporary exhibits space which was closed while they set up for an art exhibition but we still managed to see some of the paintings before moving onto the money museum which showed us exhibits of Costa Rican money from throughout the ages along with monetary instruments. It was all fascinating as I’ve never really read up much about the history of money but wasn’t what we went there for so after checking out the exhibits we made our way downstairs to the Pre-Columbian Gold Museum.

The Pre-Columbian Gold Museum contained all sorts of artifacts covering the history of Central America including population maps, original tools, mock ups of homes, an example of a tomb and much more but the main attraction to me was the gold section. Among the exhibits were amulets, head dresses, gold melting pots and more including maps showing the progression of gold works around Central America and the styles of such works in different parts of the region. This was the first museum I visited on the trip, unless you count Copan Ruins as being a museum, so even though I’m not a museum person it was nice to read about the history of the area after travelling so far to get here.

Gold statues

A few gold statues at the Museum of Pre-Columbian Gold

Old pottery

You can also see pottery and other relics at the museum

Maps

You also learn about trade in pre-columbian times

We met up with Mena for a quick lunch at a cheap Chinese cafe just off the plaza before embarking on the tourist walk I mentioned. If you’re in San Jose and short on time like we were it’s a good way to see the city and all of the sights it has to offer including old buildings, parks, plazas, churches, old steam trains and sites of architectural significance. It took us a couple of hours to do, including regular rest stops due to the heat, and have us a an opportunity to take loads of photos. The route took us all over the town and finished back in the centre where we had an opportunity to do some last minute shopping in the indoor market before heading back to the hotel. The walk is definitely worth doing and you can pick maps up at all the local hotels and hostels.

Me and a bird

Me with a new friend in San Jose

A park

On our walk we went through many lovely parks

A nice church

We saw this church on our walk

Central San Jose

Back in the centre of the city this is one of the main plazas

San Jose Costa Rica

One of the main plazas in San Jose

Post Office

This pretty impressive building houses, among other things, the main Post Office

After returning to the hostel we decided that Team Breakaway should have a final meal together and Mena, Kelly and myself went to the supermarket around the corner to buy supplies and stock up on local foodstuffs that we wanted to take home. The meal itself was a lovely pasta creation made buy the girls and was a nice way to say goodbye to everybody before we head our separate ways tomorrow – Kelly on to Panama, Mena to Mexico and me back home to England while Kelly and Gary explore Costa Rica on their own for a while. We also took some final group photos to remember each other… but the girls didn’t like me interrupting their food preparation to take photos!

Gaudy's Backpackers

One of the social areas at our hostel in San Jose

Team Breakaway cooking

Mena and Kelly didn't like me interrupting their cooking

Team Breakaway

Team breakaway group photo (-Gina as she was somewhere else)

Apparently we’re going out on the town tonight with the people from the Costa Rica – Panama Intrepid trip and their leader which should be fun.

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Mother Nature keeps me awake

February 13th, 2012 No comments

They say if you watch a kettle it never boils but in the case of last night it was “if you need to get to sleep then you won’t” due to numerous factors keeping me awake all night. Firstly I had to wait up until Guido got back from the club, which was fair enough, but when they all got back whoever was in the room next to us put the TV on quite loudly which kept us awake. Then I had to turn the fan off in our room as it was so loud but this meant it was too hot to get to sleep although I got used to it after a while – just in time to hear Guido start snoring. Our came the ear plugs and just as I thought I was drifting off to sleep we had an earthquake which shook the building for around 20 seconds. I decided that it really wasn’t my night and as it was almost 5am at this point I just gave up and sat up in bed collecting my thoughts – I can usually get through anything but I can’t compete with Mother Nature shaking me awake!

I wish I wasn’t such a light sleeper when I travel as half of our group didn’t even feel the earthquake. I’m not sure how they managed that as they’re estimating it was a pretty strong magnitude 6.0 on the Richter Scale with an epicenter just south of San Jose but it’s a skill I need to learn. I guess on a positive side it wasn’t the Arenal Volcano erupting like I initially thought when it shook me awake.

The earthquake

An image I borrowed showing the distribution of our Earthquake

After a last minute explore of the town it was back to the hotel to check out and wait for our transport to San Jose. Half of the group wanted to go rafting but were unable to fit it in along with the other activities available so Mena organised a way for them to be able to fit it today which was set aside for travel. One of the rafting options goes in the direction of San Jose so they were able to do that this morning and then the rest of us picked them up on route in a private minibus ready for the final part of our journey to the capital. It cost us a few dollars to upgrade from local bus but gave us a more leisurely day and meant everybody could do the things they wanted.

We arrived at the rendezvous point early so had to wait a little while for them to finish lunch and collect their belongings but we were soon on our way. We stopped for a quick lunch as those of us that didn’t go rafting hadn’t eaten all day – the others were annoyed but we were starving and they soon found ways to entertain themselves during the stop.

Lunch in CR

Stopping for a quick lunch on the way to San Jose

Anne and Kristy

Anne and Kristy entertained themselves while we ate

I relaxed and listened to music during the remainder of the journey to San Jose during which the scenery became a lot more mountainous as we passed over the mountain range between La Fortuna and San Jose. The scenery itself wasn’t as beautiful as some of the valleys in Honduras but it was more “large scale” if that makes sense with huge rivers to cross and larger rolling hills which were perfect to collect my thoughts on our last group transfer day of the trip. After passing over several hills and through several police check points we slowly made out descent into San Jose.

San Jose is the most built up and chaotic place we’ve visited on this whole trip so I’m glad we’re finishing here rather than starting. There is so much traffic and the city is full of one-way systems it’s just chaos unless you know where you’re going and it took our driver some time to find our destination, Gaudy’s Hostel, but we got there in the end. Gaudy’s is a nice little place with a couple of lounge areas, the rooms set out around various wings leading off a central courtyard and all the facilities you’d expect at a hostel like kitchen, Internet etc. The rooms could do with some improvement but San Jose is an expensive city compared to the others we’ve visited so it was a good place on our budget.

A river

We crossed this river before passing over the mountains to San Jose

Mountain Road

One of the mountainous roads we went along before San Jose

San Jose outskirts

The outskirts of San Jose

After checking in and freshening up it was time to head into the city for our goodbye group meal which Mena had booked at an oriental restaurant that came highly recommended called “Tin Jo” which was really nice but a little pricey. A few of us decided to stretch our legs after a long day of travelling and walked there but we managed to get lost due to the fact San Jose has no visible road signs and there are so many open parks and plazas which, although they are lovely, confused us quite a bit. We got there eventually and I tucked into a lovely meal of crunchy tofu followed by Filipino pork. During the meal the bulk of the group presented Mena with her tip but they didn’t even think to ask us to contribute – apparently they didn’t think we would want to give her a tip as we hadn’t been on the trip for as long as them which I found a bit rude. Mena has done a great job even though it’s only her first group lead and I’ve had a great trip so of course we would want to contribute. We’ll be having a Team Breakaway group meal tomorrow so I’ll see about organising one then, but I’m not going to let the whole thing bother me :).

Instead of walking and getting lost again we decided to get a taxi back to the hostel although this was an experience – the driver was absolutely crazy and drove the car like a mad man. From his random incoherent rantings I’m sure he was drunk or high or something but we somehow got back in one piece where we relaxed with a few drinks before bed. I’m glad I’ve booked an extra night in San Jose tomorrow night – I’m not ready to say goodbye to Costa Rica or Team Breakaway yet!

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The wildlife of Costa Rica

February 12th, 2012 No comments

When looking through the various guide books I bought on Central America I saw how amazing the wildlife in the area was so one of my top priorities before coming out here was to see lots of wildlife. However we haven’t really seen as much as I was expecting so today a few of us decided to take a trip to the Cano Negro National Park despite the fact it would involve a whole day of travelling.

After picking up a few people from other hotels we started out on the 90 minute drive out of La Fortuna all the way up to within a few miles of the Nicaraguan border. On the way we stopped at a couple of locations to check out the wildlife including at a bridge over the river where there were hundreds of iguanas sunning themselves on the trees. Our guide explained that there were so many as they have been protected to stop the locals eating them so their population has boomed.

Iguanas

We were shown a huge group of Iguanas on the way to the park

Cano Negro National Park

The start of our river cruise through the Cano Negro region

When we arrived at the park we saw a lot of people sitting on the jetty being watched by armed guards – apparently this is one of the places from where Nicaraguan illegal immigrants are deported back home as it’s so close to the border. However we were heading in the opposite direction into the park for what ended up being a 2 1/2 hour journey around the various waterways.

The trip around the park showed us more wildlife than I had seen so far on the entire trip. We saw Heron, Crocodiles, Swallows, Capuchin Monkeys, Howler Monkeys, Jesus Lizards, Kingfishers, Bats, a Hawk , a Sloth and much more so was definitely worth the exhaustion. I took so many photos but will only be able to upload a few of them to my blog.

Bats on a tree

A family of bats on the branch of a tree

Crocodile

I managed to catch this photo before he slipped back into the water

Cappuchin Monkey

We saw some Capuchin Monkeys which was awesome

Howler Monkey

I got some better photos of Howler Monkeys here than in Nicaragua

Bad timing for this photo!

A badly timed photo of a bird sunning itself

Cano Negro

A view of the river in Cano Negro

Me and a flower

Me on the river boat with some sort of flower from the region

Lunch for the day was at a typical local restaurant and the meal was good, when it arrived. They tried to give me the wrong meal a couple of times and in the end I had to pretend I had a seafood intolerance to get them to give me to beef – it worked! Then not long after I got my meal it was time for the journey home which was pretty fast until we got held up in some sort of horse rider parade just outside La Fortuna.

Gina had spotted an ice cream parlour in town and so we decided to go there after getting back from the trip to see if it was any better than the one in Granada, and it was, despite all the weird flavours we decided to try. During my time in town I stocked up on supplies ready for the journey to San Jose tomorrow and bought the last few souvenirs for everybody.

Team Breakaway decided to head out for dinner tonight at the Lava Lounge while the others went out drinking at a club. The food was actually really nice and I decided to sample a Thai Chicken pizza with a side order of Hot Wings. We stayed and chatted for a while before deciding to have another Team Breakaway catchup over wine in the hotel although this one didn’t go as smoothly as the other times. In Monteverde the hotel owner went to get us some glasses and then washed them all up for us but at this particular hotel they wouldn’t even give us glasses until we bribed them with money.

La Fortuna

Walking around La Fortuna after our nature cruise

Pizza

My 5th pizza of the trip so far

My room

My room in the Hotel Fortuna

I’m now relaxing in my room catching up on my reading and watching TV – I Am Legend is on which is coincidental considering Will Smith is filming just outside town. The door to my room is self locking so I hope Guido gets back soon as I’m exhausted and need to have a good nights sleep tonight.

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M. Night Shyamalan is in town

February 11th, 2012 No comments

There was no time for breakfast this morning as we left our hotel at 730am for the journey to our second Costa Rican destination – the town of La Fortuna which is next to the Arenal volcano. Once again this was a day where we were offered the option to upgrade to private transport for an extra $8 each and we decided to take advantage of it – instead of taking local buses all the way we used the hotel minibus to take us down to the lake and we used a boat to go across the lake to La Fortuna.

Leaving our hotel

Getting ready to leave our hotel in Monteverde

Luco the dog

Luco the dog was awesome, just a bit smelly

Leaving Monteverde

The centre of town as we left

The road to the lake was mostly unpaved, except for a short 50m section, and took us through some amazing scenery over the course of the 90 minute journey. We arrived in plenty of time so were able to grab snacks and use the restrooms at a little cafe before boarding – although when we got out of the minibus we discovered we were back in tropical territory so the jackets immediately came off!!

Costa Rica

Scenery on the way from Monteverde to Lake Arenal

Dirt track time

Most of the journey to the lake was on roads like this

Our boats

One of these boats took us across the lake

Arenal was shrouded in cloud but the 45 minute boat ride across the lake gave us some impressive views and allowed us to relax unlike if we were on a local bus. On the other side we were picked up by another minibus and driven to our hotel “Fortuna” in the town of La Fortuna. Half way along our journey we went past a huge tent in one of the fields and our driver explained that the new Will Smith movie is being filmed in town and that was one of the locations. Of course when I realised that this was the upcoming M. Night Shyamalan movie “After Earth” that I had read so much about (I’m a fan of his work) this got me really excited – so close but so far!

Crossing the lake

A view of the Arenal volcano as we crossed the lake

The other side

A view of the lake from the other side

Our hotel

We stayed at the Hotel Fortuna in La Fortuna

Walking through town

Walking through the town of La Fortuna

Our room wasn’t ready yet when we arrived so we left our bags at reception and made our way into town to grab some food, eventually settling on Pizza to make up for the horror that was Honduran Pizza Hut the other day! Unfortunately they gave us the large size pizza instead of the medium by mistake so this meant missing out on a group meal tonight with the others but some of the group are heading down to the hotel bar soon for drinks so I think I might join them. It’ll have to be an early night tonight though as we leave at 730 in the morning for a whole day tour to a National Park.

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Zip-lining through the cloud forest

February 10th, 2012 No comments

A fairly lazy start this morning ready for the activities ahead. We had breakfast in the hotel bar which was nothing special but it allowed us to have a lay in ready to be picked up at 1020 for the trip up to 100% Aventura to go zip-lining up in the cloud forest. We did the rounds picking everybody up and then it was up into the mountains where upon arrival we paid, stored our bags, suited up with all of our safety gear and proceeded through to be given our instructions for the day, where we saw there was a large group of school kids from the US ahead of us.

The $40 we paid included zip lines, a rope bridge, rappelling and an optional Tarzan swing and was a lot cheaper than the other operators in the area while offering the same things. The zip lines weren’t as bad as I expected – I’m not scared of heights just the idea of falling from them so I could stand on the edge of the Grand Canyon or walk across a tall bridge perfectly easily but things like glass floors I hate. The only scary bit was the rope bridge after the first zip-line when somebody a little bit behind me made it start swinging! They started us off on slower zip-lines with a lower altitude before moving us up to the faster, higher ones that offered us a great view of the cloud forest. We were given the opportunity of doing the final zip-line “superman style” – attached to the line from our back facing down rather than sitting like we had been. This made me a bit nervous but I had come so far and decided to follow through with it which I’m proud of myself for.

Kelly in her zip-lining stuff

Kelly getting ready to go zip-lining

Rapelling

I hated rappelling but there was no way around it

Rope bridge

The rope bridge at 100% Adventure

Zip-lining in Costa Rica

Mena zip-lining at 100% Adventure

Superman style

Mena doing the last zip-line superman style

Tarzan swing

One of our group on the Tarzan Swing


A two-clip video of the rappelling and zip-lining.

Both me and Kelly decided to chicken out when it came to the Tarzan swing though as the idea of being dragged off of a platform and swinging down to the ground just wasn’t for me. I decided to head down to the base of the swing to chat to the others and take photos instead.

After returning to town we stopped for lunchtime crepes at The Orchid Garden before I broke away from the others and ran errands such as buying batteries, sending mail etc. Then it was on to The Frog Pond, which was another item on my must-see list, to see some of the endangered frogs that are native to Costa Rica and Central America as a whole.

When I arrived at The Frog Pond which, despite its name, is actually rather large I was told that my ticket was valid for 2 visits within the week and that I could either wait for a while for a guide to become available or take a torch and walk around myself. I decided to start walking round on my own and wait for a guide to become available although during the time I was waiting I wasn’t able to see much as I didn’t really know what I was looking for. I heard a familiar voice coming from the entrance after maybe 15 minutes wandering around – it was Gary who, along with Gina, had decided to do exactly the same as me. They said a tour would be starting in another 15 minutes so I showed them what I had seen so far before heading back up to the entrance to wait for the guide.

Lunch time

This was a lovely lunch, despite how it looks lol

Outside Monteverde

Walking to the Frog Pond

The Frog Pond

Inside The Frog Pond

A frog

One of the frogs at The Frong Pond

Tree Frog

A tree frog at The Frog Pond

The Frog Pond is much better with a guide as you’ll be taken on a 45 minute tour that shows you all of the frogs that are around and provides you with a lot of biological information into the species. We saw all sorts of frogs of various sizes and colours from the common frog, to the cane toad and finally to the famous Green Tree Frog that appears on the front of many guide books. I found it fascinating and well worth the entry price although I was getting a bit dehydrated by the end so on the way back to the hotel we stopped at the supermarket to pick up supplies for that evening and the following day.

Dinner was, as predicted, back at The Tree House again like yesterday and it was just as nice as yesterday – I had exactly the same meal as before although I figured I liked it so much so why bother changing it. Some of the group weren’t as impressed with the place but their loss! There wasn’t enough time for another Team Breakaway gossip over win tonight by the time we got back to the hotel for the evening so I decided to just relax in my room and write the notes for this blog. I was going to read but we need to leave early tomorrow so I might just head to sleep.

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Into Costa Rica

February 9th, 2012 No comments

There was only one minibus available to take us to the 730 ferry to the Nicaraguan mainland today but somehow we managed to all fit inside with our bags on top. The ride back to the mainland was just as calm even though there was a strong wind blowing this morning so I didn’t need the spare seasickness tablet I found the other day left over from the Roatan crossing. The crossing itself went without a hitch but by the time we arrived back in San Jorge I was so hungry due to not eating since the BBQ yesterday so picked up a bag of some sort of sweetened corn bread from a seller at the dock which only cost the equivalent of 50 cents but filled a large gap!

This is the cottage I stayed in

The cottage containing my room on Ometepe

Back on the Nicaraguan mainland

Arriving back on the mainland

Mena worked out that the cheapest and easiest way to get to the Costa Rican border would be to take taxis from the dock and, just like the other taxis we used in Honduras, the ride was incredibly fast but the driver handled the car well and we arrived at the border earlier than planned which was just as well due to what was ahead of us. The local mayor has imposed a tax on visitors entering the border area so we had to pay $1 to these people in a hut on the approach to the border in exchange for a ticket which would allow us into the border area itself. Once on the other side the exit procedure from Nicaragua went smoothly and after paying my $3 for an exit stamp I helped translate for some of the group who were needing to exchange money.

After everybody had done everything they needed to we walked across the border into Costa Rica where we were presented with a VERY long queue for passport control. It seems they were being very detailed with their checks as over an hour later when we reached the front of the queue we found out they were checking the onward travel details of everybody before letting them into the country. This didn’t pose a problem for me as I had all of the details they needed but it posed a problem for some of the group who were travelling on an e-ticket they only purchased recently and didn’t manage to print out. Others just didn’t print their itinerary out which is always a bad idea but once again Mena managed to straighten everything out and the border guards let us all in… eventually. By this time we were exhausted and we were glad that we opted to pay Mena an extra $8 each to travel on from the border by minibus as opposed to travelling by local bus.

Liberia, Costa Rica

This is where we stopped for lunch in Liberia, Costa Rica

Scenery of Costa Rica

My first Costa Rica scenery photo

After an hour in the city of Liberia for lunch we started heading up into the mountains to our first destination in Costa Rica – the Monteverde Cloud Forest. It’s actually really nice up here except for the fact it’s freezing cold and we all need to wear our jackets that we didn’t expect to need until we arrived back home. The hotel we’re staying at here is really nice – the rooms are big, the setting is nice, the owners are friendly, they have an adorable dog called Luco, and also there’s the free wi-fi.

Going up into the Costa Rican mountains

Heading uphill into the mountains

A Costa Rican mountain village

A village we stopped at on the way up the mountains

Our hotel in Monteverde

My room at the Historias Lodge in Monteverde

Tonight some of the group opted to go on a night trek around the jungle to see some wildlife but I had read in advance that Tarantula sightings would be guaranteed on this particular walk so I gave it a miss – instead opting for a Team Breakaway dinner at a lovely but expensive restaurant called The Tree House. The food there was incredible – I had the “Tablito Tipico” which was a large dish consisting of all sorts of typical Costa Rican foods including tortilla, meats, cheeses, banana balls, lemon juice sauteed onion and much more. It was well worth a visit and Mena says she’s going to suggest we have a group meal there tomorrow which I’m definitely up for.

Yummy!

The food that we had on day 1 in Monteverde

The Tree House

The Tree House restaurant

Freezing Costa Rica

Kelly shows how cold it got at night in Monteverde!

Mena

Mena shows her appreciation for The Tree House

I’m back in the hotel now relaxing while waiting for the others to return as the door in the room is self locking and I’ll need to let Guido in. Although we did decided to sit in the hotel reception drinking a bottle of wine, playing with Luco, and chatting before heading back to our rooms which was really nice. I know I’ve said it before but I really like the people that make up Team Breakaway.


A video of us playing with Luco at the hotel earlier in the day.

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Kayaking in a shark-infested lake

February 8th, 2012 No comments

The first item for today, after a lazy breakfast, was to head next door with Gary and Kelly to go kayaking up into the National Park which for only 100 Cordoba ($5) each was probably the cheapest activity we have done so far!

We made our way out onto the lake and along to the National Park which, as I mentioned in yesterdays post, has been partially flooded due to the rising water levels in the past year. As a result we were able to go fairly deep into the park until mangroves and trees blocked our way to check out the wildlife and plant life that inhabits it. During our time there we saw, and heard, a whole family of howler monkeys along with lots of birds, fish, plants and flying bugs and it was nice to be able to get really close to everything without really bothering them which we would have done on foot if the place hadn’t flooded. Whether we were allowed in there on the kayaks that’s another question which I don’t actually know the answer to.

Me and Kelly on kayaks

Me and Kelly kayaking around the National Park

Me kayaking

Me kayaking in the National Park

After the National Park we spent some time kayaking around into the next bay where we were able to land on the beach to take some photos and walk around inside the park for a while. While we were on the beach we ran into an American guy who was staying at the same hotel as us and he said he had to walk all the way around the park, down a track and into the park from the other side to get to where we were so using the kayaks definitely saved us some time. However it was soon time for us to return the kayaks to the hotel and after doing so I decided to swim in the lake for a while just for the novelty of swimming in a shark infested lake. For those of you not in the know Ometepe lake is inhabited by a type of Freshwater Shark that has been known to attack people in the past but which has unfortunately been illegally fished by the locals so the population is nowhere near what it should be.

Our landing area

The area we checked out by Kayak

In a shark-infested lake

Me and Kelly in a shark-infested lake

This afternoon a few of us visited a natural swimming hole on the other side of the island which was apparently a nice place to relax and go swimming. The hotel organised a minibus to take us there, wait for us as long as we wanted, and bring us back for a set price. At the swimming hole the natural rock pool had been formed into a proper river-fed swimming pool which still had the natural bottom and fish swimming in it. There were facilities including a bar, restaurant, souvenir shops, restrooms and sun loungers and we probably spent a couple of hours there swimming and relaxing. I tried to order some food and drinks but they didn’t seem to understand what I was asking for so I just settled for a bottle of water which I know how to order in perfect Spanish. One thing that we thought seemed like a good idea at the time was to jump into the pool from the upstream end and let the current drag us into the pool – that was until I hit myself on the submerged rocks so be careful if you decide to do that while there. I also decided to see if I could swim against the current to see what it’s like but could get nowhere near the end of the pool.

Swimming hole

Me at the Swimming Hole

Swimming hole

The swimming hole

Swimming hole

The swimming hole was nice

Football game

A game of football on Ometepe Island

The road around Ometepe Island

The road around Ometepe Island

Ometepe

A view to the other side of Ometepe Island

When we returned to the hotel Mena was dealing with an incident involving some of the others in the group who had rented motorbiked. The guide at the hotel recommended they didn’t rent them as they have problems every time guests rent them from a local provider but they decided to go anyway. One of our group fell off and damaged the bike on an unpaved road and another one slipped off and badly burnt her leg on the engine. Mena managed to smooth it over with the company and the amount they were charged reduced significantly when she threatened to call the police. I didn’t really hear much of the conversation though as I wanted to get changed and showered ready for the special BBQ that was organised for tonight.

As it was one of our groups birthday today, and the hotel offered, we had a BBQ put on for us by the hotel consisting of all sorts of meats, rice and beans, fish and tortillas. The quality wasn’t as good as it could have been but it was really nice and they even cooked a birthday cake for him which we had for dessert.

BBQ

The BBQ that we had for dinner on Ometepe

Birthday cake

Birthday celebrations in Nicaragua

Tomorrow we head into our final country of the trip, Costa Rica, which is the most built up of all the countries on this trip so there should be plenty to do. Four nights in Nicaragua was definitely not enough – I’ve wanted to come to this country for almost 10 years and I like it here so definitely need to return again!

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Look out for the Howler Monkey

February 7th, 2012 No comments

Today was the shortest transfer of the trip so far and it only took a few hours to get to our next destination – the beautiful volcanic Ometepe island where I’m currently sat on a terrace overlooking the lake. I can’t really see anything as it’s dark but it’s a lovely atmosphere.

This morning we met at 645 ready to get a private minibus the short 75 minute ride to the ferry terminal at San Jorge. We arrived a little early so grabbed some snacks at the little kiosk just outside the dock – I had some sort of closed filled tortilla thing which was greasy but filled a gap and was cheap so I grabbed a few more before making my way onto the boat. When I saw how old the boat was I expected a really rough crossing with how strong the wind was blowing but the crossing itself was actually really nice – heaven compared to the ride out to Roatan in Honduras last week! The journey took maybe 90 minutes and gave us a chance to chat about things while watching the scenery go by.

To the ferry

Walking to the Ometepe Ferry

The ferry

The ferry to Ometepe Island

On the ferry

On board the Ometepe Ferry

Ometepe Island

Approaching Ometepe Island

After disembarking the ferry we all jumped in a couple of minibuses for the short ride to the hotel where, after checking in, we were told all about the various tours that we could take part in. I made use of the free wi-fi (the 4th place we’ve stopped at in a row to offer this facility – I’m sensing a pattern) to read up more on the island and decide what to do. Top of the list was the National Park just up the beach from our hotel so after dumping our bags in the room I wandered with Gina to check it out.

It was a nice walk past a couple of fields and hotels to the National Park and we saw plenty of wildlife on the way. We had trouble getting past at times due to the water level in the lake so had to cut through one of the fields – we found out after getting back that the level of the lake is much higher than normal due to heavy rains in the past year. This fact caused us a bit of a problem when we reached the park as it was partially flooded and we couldn’t walk too far into it before having to turn back, but we were able to see Howler Monkeys which were the thing we set out to see. Just make sure you don’t stand below for too long as we were only alerted to the presence of one above us when it threw poop at us – only missing Gina by a matter of inches!

Transportation

The transport to our hotel

The lake

A view from our hotel terrace on Ometepe Island, Nicaragua

Ometepe Beach

A beach on Ometepe Island

Ometepe Island

A view of one of the Ometepe volcanoes

Monkey!

The monkey that threw poop

I planned to swim in the lake for a bit but it started to rain heavily so I read while relaxing on one of the hammocks on the terrace before joining the group for dinner at the hotel restaurant. The food isn’t too great here but it was a great evening – as usual we formed Team Breakaway and had a long evening of drinks, jokes and random iPod karaoke – everything from Children of Bodom to AFI to Blink 182 to Billy Idol and back again. I like this group they’re a fun bunch of people, although I’ll just mention for anybody reading that we didn’t form Team Breakaway out of our lack of willing to integrate or anything – it’s just that as the new people on the tour me, Gary, Kelly and Gina all ended up bonding quickly as the others already had bonded as a group so we’ve done a lot of activities together, along with Mena who we all seem to have a lot in common with.

A Lizard

We spotted this lizard while on our walk

Kelly on the lake

Kelly enjoying the lake at our hotel

We’ve decided that tomorrow we’ll rent the kayaks from the sister hotel next door and check out the National Park – if we can’t explore them on foot due to the floods then we’ll explore them by water!

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