Looking for tickets or info for the Get Happy Tour 2018 featuring Bowling for Soup, Army of Freshmen and The Aquabats?

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.

Tickets available from ticketmaster.co.uk and bowlingforsoup.com
 


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Posts Tagged ‘Lake’

Eagle hunting and Lake Issyk-Kul

June 2nd, 2015 No comments

Today ended with an overnight stop at a beautiful lakeside retreat, but earlier in the day I witnessed something which will stick in my mind forever. Those who are squeamish, or those who believe that hunting is wrong, may wish to skip to the end of post as it contains information and photos from an Eagle hunting demonstration which was organised for us.

After breakfast at the home stay we made our way into Kochkor town to pick up some supplies. Prices here were a little higher, although still cheap by western standards, but they had a wider selection and we were able to stock up on personal items like toothbrushes and pens for letters in addition to the usual group supplies. We spent an hour or so shopping before getting back into the truck to head towards Lake Issyk-Kul.

My bed

My bed at the home stay

Dining area

Dining area at the home stay

Home stay

This is the Kochkor home stay

Kochkor

Outside the home stay

Kochkor town

Kochkor town centre

Kochkor

Kochkor town centre

The journey was through the same lovely scenery but this time I spent more time thinking than looking at the landscape going by. The wi-fi started working in the home stay last night as I going to bed and so I was able to get in contact with people and chat to them for a while, but this has made me start to consider whether I want to stay until the end of the trip or come back early. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the trip, in fact I’m having a great time, but somebody close to me is leaving the UK forever on the day that I’m due to arrive back and with all the problems people had with Turkish Airlines on the way out it would be too much if I was delayed and missed saying goodbye. I won’t have any internet tonight to be able to look into prices but should do in Karakol the day after. Although more about that later, if I do decide to come back early, as for now I want to tell you more about my day today.

Kyrgyz scenery

We stopped at a lake to take photos

Helena the truck

Helena while we take photos

A couple of hours passed before we turned off of the road and made our way to a remote spot behind a hill, where we set up lunch. This was also to be the place where we would be given a demonstration of how the locals hunt for food with Eagles, and so was out of the way in order to give the Eagle a quiet place to hunt. Lunch was the usual selection of sandwiches and we had some time to walk around and take in the scenery before the Eagle hunter arrived.

The eagle hunting demonstration was the only part of the trip that I am not sure should have been included so far. I agree that it is part of local tradition but over half of the group were unsure about whether an animal should have to die in order for us to understand the tradition. The animal chosen was a rabbit that was raised by the eagle hunter and which didn’t stand a chance when the Eagle was let loose from a hill overlooking the valley.

Lunch time

Lunch time in Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyz scenery

Helena being dwarfed by the scenery

Kyrgyz scenery

Some lovely Kyrgyz scenery

Final warning for those who don’t wish to see photos from the Eagle hunting.

One thing I will say is that I am amazed with the beauty, majesty and strength of the Eagle. I have never seem one up close but was given a chance to get up close and personal with her while the hunter was telling us about the local traditions, and about how he came to own her. For the local tribes owning an Eagle is a sign that you are a man, and when you come of age you take your friends up into the mountains to take an egg from a nest (occasionally having to fight off the parents in order to do so). The egg is then incubated by the hunter and the Eagle is raised from birth in order to form an unbreakable bond which allows them to hunt together and remain loyal to each other. A couple of the group said they were going to write to Dragoman to complain but I’m not sure this is necessary – we were all given a chance not to watch the demonstration and to go for a walk while it took place.

Eagle

The hunter and his eagle

Eagle

Vicki and the Eagle

Kyrgyz scenery

Some more beautiful scenery

Eagle hunting

The Eagle closing in on her prey

Eagle hunting

The Eagle proudly guarding her catch

While I’m not sure it was necessary I did find it a very informative and effective insight into local culture. I’ll never forget the images, or the noises, from the demonstration though.

The drive from the Eagle hunting demonstration was fairly uneventful and we arrived at our destination for the day after not much more than an hour. We are staying at a camp on the shores of the lake which is owned by a family and where we have the option to camp or upgrade to a yurt. I was the only guy who chose to upgrade and as the camp is fairly empty I have been given a yurt all to myself. It doesn’t have any lighting or power like a couple of the other yurts but it will be my space and I’m looking forward to it tonight. Don’t get me wrong I love the interaction you get with people on this sort of trip, and that’s one of the reasons I come on them, but you do need your own space occasionally to make sure people’s individual habits don’t bother you.

I spent some time later on at the shore of the lake. The scenery was beautiful and the air was really warm but wow was the water cold. Obviously due to the high altitude, the glacial melt and the deepness of the lake it doesn’t get too warm so if you are planning to swim here please take care. The only other place I have been swimming where the water was this cold was at a national park in Namibia so I was only able to stay in there for about a minute before having to get out.

Lake Issyk-Kul

Lake Issyk-Kul

Lake Issyk-Kul

These were at the Yurt Camp

Yurt Camp

This is our Yurt Camp

After dinner a few of us made a bonfire out of some wood that was made available for us, but we were basically given whole trees so this meant a lot of axe work to make anything small enough to burn. It was also really wet so was hard to light and we had to use a combination of fire lighters and toilet paper to get it going. Once it was lit we had a great time chatting to each other and soaking up the atmosphere, although I’m a little worried about one of the kids from the camp who decided to join us. He showed us a video that he had on his phone, and acted it out, but it looked and sounded like some sort of jihadi extremist propaganda video. Hopefully I’m just thinking too much into it but it was a bit scary!

Bonfire time

Bonfire time

I’m sat in my private yurt now and am thinking some more about whether or not to make the journey home early. I think I probably will come back early as long as flights are available but I will have to wait for two more days until we are in Karakol before I will have wi-fi in order to check. As I said in a previous entry I’m not thinking about coming back early due to the trip itself it’s simply because I have something I need to take care of back home – sometimes you have to do what you have to do.

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A day at Song-Kul Lake

May 31st, 2015 No comments

I wasn’t wrong. Last night was indeed one of the coldest nights I have experienced while travelling and despite being in my sleeping bag, fully clothed, with about 5 blankets on top of me and the burner going I was still up shivering for half of the night. I will definitely need a couple of extra blankets tonight, and have started to doubt my dream of travelling to Antarctica and taking part in the overnight camping trip which some of the operators offer. They will be in tents specifically designed for it, naturally, but it’ll be even colder than here!

I woke up at 7.30 this morning and went straight into the dining tent to warm up in the warmest clothes that I had. The dining tent isn’t particularly warm, there is no heating so by most standards it’s quite cold, but it’s just so cold outside. That’s one reason I decided to take part in the horse riding which was offered to us as I think it’ll warm me up a bit. I used to really enjoy horse riding but haven’t been on a horse for many years – I tried to persuade some of the group to come horse riding with me on Ometepe Island in Nicaragua a few years ago but we didn’t have sufficient numbers to be able to go.

Dog time

Playing with the friendlier of the two dogs at camp

Getting ready

Getting ready for the ride

The ride took us up a hill overlooking a lake so that we could get a good view. The horses are trained not to go faster than a trot with tourists riding them, despite my best efforts, but it was great to be back on a horse again. I’m not sure what the real name of my horse was but I called him Monty and he was great to ride, until half way back when he tripped, throwing me off and making me hit the ground hard. In the past when I fell off of a horse it was always onto sawdust or soft ground, not hard ground that is frozen solid, so I was winded quite badly but I knew how to roll so as not to injure myself. Overall I really enjoyed the ride and if you are given a chance to go horse riding when at Song-Kul lake then definitely do it – you will not regret it. The only annoying thing for me was that one of the dogs from the Yurt camp followed us the whole way and kept distracting our horses.

Me on a horse

A bad photo, but this is me on the horse ride

Horse Riding

Horse riding at Song-Kul Lake

Annoying dog

This is the dog that kept distracting the horses

Song-Kul Horse Riding

On our way back to camp

Me and Monty

Me and “Monty” the horse

One thing I didn’t like, being a horse lover, was how the front legs of the horses are tied together when they’re not being ridden to stop them running away. It seemed a bit unnecessary as there was a post with long rope which they could have been tied to but I guess this is the traditional way.

I spent the rest of the day just walking around, taking in the scenery and taking some photos by the lake. I also had a chance to catch up on writing the notes for this blog – as explained elsewhere on this site I write my blog in note format when travelling and then type it up properly when I get home. I have found that this method works best for me as I generally try to immerse myself into a destination when travelling rather than spending hours writing, although it can sometimes mean that I fall behind. I had a bit of a shock when I finished writing the notes today – I had been sat on the shore of the lake for maybe 2 hours but when I turned around there were several hundred sheep behind me which made me jump. They were apparently as startled by me as I was by them and no sooner had I stood up but they all ran away.

Song-Kul

Sitting on the shore of Song-Kul Lake

Song-Kul scenery

Song-Kul Lake scenery

Song-Kul Lake

This is the bar of land we walked along yesterday

Song-Kul Yurts

Looking towards a yurt camp at Song-Kul Lake

Cows

Livestock on the banks of Song-Kul Lake.

Song-Kul Lake

One final photo of the lake from my walk

While I was at the shore of the lake a number of group members either went horse riding as well or walked around the lake taking in the beautiful scenery. If you like walking, photography and mountain scenery, like me then this is definitely a special place but as it’s in the middle of the nowhere it doesn’t have much else to do. It is worth every piece of effort to come here, however. I have really enjoyed my time here so it’s sad that we have to leave in the morning but I’m looking forward to getting back to lower altitudes and warmer climates again. Take my advice – no matter what time of year you come here bring some cold weather gear or thermals. You will need them!

Unfortunately it rained for a while this afternoon so I had to hide in the truck, chatting to other group members and watching the family who run the camp dig a new toilet pit, until dinner was ready. Once again the food served was nothing special but it filled a gap before another early night. Hopefully this one won’t be as cold, although judging by the snow which has been falling tonight up on the mountains I’m not going to hold my breath!

Snow inbound!

Some freezing low level cloud laying fresh snow on the mountains

Sunset at Song-Kul

Sunset and cloud formations

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Arriving at Song-Kul Lake

May 30th, 2015 No comments

What a place Song-Kul Lake is. After seeing it for myself I’m not sure that this is the lake in the photo which inspired me to visit Kyrgyzstan but it’s the place I was looking forward to the most. So remote, so beautiful and with the freshest air I have ever breathed (depite the low pressure due to altitute).

The day started with breakfast in the home stay in Chaek, before a chance to stock up in the local shops. The guys were right when they told me about the prices here yesterday – I bought two large bottles of vodka, one large bottle of fanta and one large bottle of water for the equivalent of 4.5 US dollars. You wouldn’t even buy the fanta and water for that price in Europe so take my advice and stop at the little stores in the villages if you visit this part of the world. They may not have the range that supermarkets in the larger towns do but they are cheaper and you will be supporting the local people rather than businessmen in Bishkek.

Chaek

Leaving Chaek

Cheap shopping

This is where we stopped for cheap supplies

Scenery

Kyrgyz scenery

We are the first overland vehicle to visit Song-Kul lake this season. Apparently there was a high amount of snow over the winter and the first pass has only just opened up enough for us to get through. This means that we had to go the long way around but that there is still plenty of snow for us to see. There isn’t much to tell you about the journey up to the lake as until we began the climb up to the pass it was all on paved highways. We stopped for lunch just before starting the climb, remaining inside the truck due to rain, and then it was time for high altitude!

Mountain Pass

Stopping at a mountain pass

Scenery

Some more diverse scenery

Lunch in the truck

Making lunch in the truck

The start of the climb was ok, and was mainly through farms and valleys, but we were soon travelling along mountain roads with only just enough room for our truck to pass and with steep drops on the side. After surviving the climb we stopped at the pass to take some photos, although at 3500m altitude it was freezing so we didn’t stay long. This is why I’m here though – to get away from it all, relax, see some beautiful mountains and maybe discover some things about myself along the way so a bit of cold won’t stop me. The high altitude is likely to get me before the cold does as 3500m is 11500 feet, which is higher than the altitude at which you can start to develop altitude sickness unless you take precautions!

Mountain scenery

The scenery is definitely more mountainous now

High pass

Me at the highest we have been all trip

After arriving at our Yurt camp on the shores of the lake a few of us decided to go for a walk along a bar of land that stretches out into the lake. It looked from first impressions that you could walk all the way around in a big loop, and indeed some people tried, but apparently the land became too marshy and they had to turn back. We later found out that officially that area of land is off limits, we just didn’t understand the sign in Kyrgyz along the shore telling us. I treated the walk as a chance to acclimatise to the altitude and get away from the truck for a bit. On these sorts of trips the truck is your home away from home but you do need to get away occasionally so you don’t go mad – I can only imagine how the leaders feel being stuck on the vehicle for 8 months at a time.

Yurts

Song-Kul Lake yurt camp

Song-Kul Walk

Going for a walk at the lake

Song-Kul

Song-Kul Lake

Song-Kul

Skipping stones during our walk

Lake

Song-Kul Lake

Song-Kul

A small bay on Song-Kul Lake

Dinner was served in a separate dining tent and wasn’t served in particularly large portions but it was tasty and filling. We also had a table full of snacks which we could load up on. Some of the group are outside drinking but I have decided to head to bed. It’s not even 9pm but I’m getting really tired for some reason, perhaps the altitude, and it’s also too cold outside. Way too cold outside! I have taken 3 spare blankets from the pile but I have a feeling this is going to be one of the coldest nights I have experienced.

Dinner

Dinner at Song-Kul

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Real coffee and another home stay

May 29th, 2015 No comments

Unfortunately I didn’t get much sleep last night. The ground was so hard, my tent mate snored loudly, and he also woke up early in order to prepare breakfast but this gave me a chance to do a bit of walking and take some photos before everybody else got up.

The Lake

The lake by morning

Helena the truck

Helena by the lake

Helena

Helena and the lake

Breakfast was a nice huge portion of scrambled eggs, which went down a treat, and was very welcome due to the long driving day ahead. Our guides cheered us up by telling us that we would be stopping for lunch at a service station which served real coffee. Anybody who knows me knows how much I like coffee and how much this piece of news would have excited me!

The long journey was worth it today as we saw so many scenery changes, all of which showed us something that was more beautiful than before. I have said it so many times but it is so beautiful in Kyrgyzstan and is worth the long travel days and lack of sleep. Our first scenery change was a mountain pass which we needed to travel along in order to reach our destination and, at 3150 metres, was freezing cold and covered in snow. We were allowed out to use the toilet, which was just as basic and horrifying as the truck stop I visited in Uganda a few years ago, before having some time to take photos of the scenery and start our first snow ball fight of the trip.

Scenery in Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyz scenery

Me at the pass

Me at the mountain pass

Lake

The lake, which the toilet dropped into

Lunch was at the previously mentioned service station where we set up in the car park out of the way of vehicles. My job within the group is to fill up the water tanks when we stop and this was the first place I was able to for a few days, however it had to wait as I was in need of the long-awaited real coffee inside. It was only from a machine, rather than a coffee bar, but was great. They even had almond syrup which is my favourite!

Lunch

Lunch time again

Lunch time

Lunch at the service station

Riding a horse

Another Kyrgyz horse rider

This afternoon I had a chance to sit up on the roof of the truck while we drove through a canyon and it was a perfect opportunity to see the lovely scenery pass by. This was the first time I had ever sat on the roof of the truck while travelling with Dragoman but it was great so it’s a shame we didn’t have a chance while in Africa. The journey took us along the side of a river, through a couple of valleys and past the construction sites of some new power lines that are being installed – the construction workers seemed to enjoy seeing our truck and waved when we went past. One thing that struck me today, even more so than in previous days, is the diverse and rich colours that the landscape is composed of. I’ve been to some pretty amazing places before but Kyrgyzstan is already the most beautiful country I have visited… and apparently the best is yet to come!

Kyrgyz scenery

Kyrgyz scenery as we enter the gorge

Kyrgyz scenery

Kyrgyz scenery

Workers

Construction workers say hi

On the roof

Riding on the roof of the truck

Kyrgyz scenery

Kyrgyz scenery

Kyrgyz scenery

Kyrgyz scenery

The original plan for tonight was to wild camp somewhere near the river but our local guides found us a home stay that was available in the nearby town of Chaek. It was a large compound that was previously owned by a local politician who was killed in some sort of accident and the workers keep the house available for people hoping to stay in the town. Toilets were the usual drop variety but we were all in one building, it was hot, there was laundry available, the food was brilliant, the power worked all the time and most importantly we had hot showers! In the west we take things like a hot shower, laundry facilities and power for granted but when you travel to places like this they are a luxury which you are happy to see when available.

Chaek doesn’t have much to do but after my shower I spent some time wandering around, taking in the sights, taking some photos and stretching my legs. Some of the group stocked up on supplies in a local shop and apparently the prices here are the cheapest they have seen all trip so I’ll have to make sure that I buy anything I need before we leave tomorrow.

Chaek

The town of Chaek

Chaek

Monuments in Chaek

Chaek drinks

Socialising before dinner

I sat on the porch of the house chatting to a few of the group while waiting for dinner and it was nice to be able to get to know some of them more. I haven’t connected with anybody as much as I did on the Africa or Central America trips yet but they’re a good bunch of people and are fun to travel with. We chatted some more over dinner, which was sit-down style in the large dining room. The food was so nice that we asked for extras to be cooked to take with us for lunch tomorrow!

At the moment I’m sat on my traditional bed in the room reserved for the guys. The others are mainly outside drinking on the porch but I’m ready for sleep so decided not to join them as we leave for Song-Kul lake in the morning and I’m really excited so want to be awake!

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Camping in Kyrgyzstan

May 28th, 2015 No comments

After leaving the home stay this morning we proceeded to a local market in the town of Kochkor-Ata to buy supplies and I was surprised how cheap the prices were! We were given a budget of 5000 som to buy dinner, breakfast and lunch for the group but only ended up spending 3250 (around 40 US dollars). Not only was the market so cheap compared to prices I am used to it was fun to browse around. Luckily the local guides were on hand to translate at the butcher so that we could get the cut of meat we wanted and have it chopped into cubes for dinner. The only problem was that the money had recently been drawn from a bank so our money was a 5000 som note, much to the annoyance of the first stall we went to where we only spent 350.

My room

My room in the home stay

Dining area

The dining area of the home stay

Our home stay

Leaving the home stay

Helena the truck

Helena parked up by the home stay

Market

The market in Kochkor-Ata

Lunch today was at a quarry overlooking a lake and was really beautiful so I was glad when we were told there was some free time to wander around before we would have to head off. I just can’t get used to how quickly the scenery changes in this country – what you see in these photos is the third area of drastically different scenery that we have seen today.

Animals in the road

One of the smaller herds

Lunch

Lunch at the side of the road

Lake photo

The lake where we stopped for lunch

Marker

A common sight in the former USSR

We had to travel along a few narrow roads to get to our final destination today and this wasn’t easy due to the huge herds of sheep and cattle being driven to new pastures that had to be avoided, with oncoming traffic making a point of pushing through aggressively, however when we arrived at the lake it was worth the hassle as the view was breathtaking.

The lake, as we found out this morning, is the result of soviet-era dams and powerplants which flooded the area in order serve the needs of Moscow. The lake it created is a bit green, as were some of the suspicious looking leaves growing in the surrounding fields, but the locals didn’t seem to mind swimming in it. I opted to stay on the banks and have a walk around before it was time to get ready for dinner while the others either drank or chatted to some Swiss people that they had seen a couple of times in Uzbekistan.

Camping in Kyrgyzstan

Camping with a view

Helena

Looking back towards Helena

A lake

The lake was lovely

Suspicious

These were growing sporadically around the field

I was in the cook group tonight, for the first time all trip, and we put on a lovely feast of stir-fried beef with rice and vegetables. I thought that we had cooked way too much, which was surprising considering the cost, but everything was eaten except two servings of rice which made me happy.

We chatted for a bit before calling it a night. I’m starting to get exhausted but I’m having a great time.

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Into Kyrgyzstan

May 26th, 2015 No comments

Today we made our way across the border and into Kyrgyzstan, the country I have been looking forward to ever since seeing that photo. It is a shame that we didn’t see more of Uzbekistan as there is so much to see but it Dragoman do offer a segment of overlanding between Turkmenistan and Tashkent for people who want to see more. I would have loved to have done the entire month between Ashgabat and Bishkek but unfortunately I can’t take that amount of time off work.

We had an early start in order to give us a head start with the border crossing and I’m glad we left when we did as it took a long time to cross. It didn’t take time as the border guards were lazy it took a long time as they were very, very thorough. We had our passports checked several times before getting to the immigration desks and, after filling out lots of forms, we joined a slow queue for the final passport and customs check. This wasn’t the end of the process, however, as we had a detailed bag search before we were able to leave Uzbekistan and walk across no-mans land to Kyrgyzstan. I assume the checks were to stop drug smuggling but I can’t be sure.

Inside the truck

Inside Helena the truck

Heading to the border

Heading to the border

There were a number of passport checks on the Kyrgyz side but the whole process went a lot quicker. We were through immigration and stamped into the country in no time and as a result my first impression of the country is exponentially better to that of Uzbekistan. The people seem friendly too – after being stamped into the country I was making my way out of the building and a Kyrgyz Army officer was attempting to come in at the same time. I stopped to let him pass first, naturally, but after enquiring whether I was a tourist he said “No, you are a tourist to my country. You first” before stepping to the side to let me pass which was really nice of him. If only border guards and officials could be this friendly everywhere *cough* America *cough*.

It took a while for our truck to go through the border so we had a chance to get to know our local guides before finally resuming our journey. Our first stop in Kyrgyzstan was Osh, the second city of Kyrgyzstan. It seemed a nice place but we only spent enough time here to change some money, have lunch and stock up on personal supplies for the trip. I changed $140, thinking this should last me until I am able to work out how much I’ll need for the entire trip, but judging by the price of lunch I don’t think I’ll need to change any more – including drinks and tip I only paid $5!

Osh

Arriving in Osh, Kyrgyzstan

Lunch in Osh

This is where we had lunch in Osh

Osh

The town centre of Osh

As we drove from Osh towards Arslanbob, where we are staying tonight, the scenery kept changing so quickly that I almost didn’t have time to take photos of everything. Due to the delays at the border we didn’t have a chance to stop and take many photos, unfortunately, except for having to stop for 20 minutes next to a lake so that the President of Kyrgyzstan could drive past. No I’m not joking.

Scenery

Kyrgyz scenery

Waiting for the President

At the lake

Helena the truck

Helena by the lake

The President of Kyrgyzstan

The President of Kyrgyzstan passes

Kyrgyz lake

The lake we stopped at was beautiful

Kyrgyz people

Kyrgyz riders

The last leg of today’s journey was the final ascent into Arslanbob, after one more quick stop to buy supplies. We are staying in home stays for the next couple of nights and the house I’m staying in is really nice. It has a little stream passing through the garden, has lovely views, a working power supply, nice beds and the family seem really nice. The food is plentiful too, judging by dinner tonight, and I definitely won’t go hungry!

Kyrgyz scenery

Kyrgyz scenery

A donkey

A donkey blocking our path

Dinner time

Dinner in the home stay

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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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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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