A Travellerspoint blog

Corn Islands

storm

On Sunday we got to Managua at dark - the bus ride is only an hour or so, but we left Granada a little late. We went straight to hotel Jardin de Italia, which we used as a base for departing to the islands (leaving some of our luggage there) and then to catch the bus to Guatemala, since the hotel is located round the corner from the Ticabus station. At Jardin de ltalia we wanted to go and have dinner, but Lesbia, the owner, forbade us saying it was too dangerous. When we first stepped outside and she saw us, she and the neighbours told us that we should not walk around and we heard them discussing it they should escort us or how could we get hold of some food. In the end Lesbia got the yellow pages and we ended up with a chicken home delivery. It was only 7 pm!!!!!

The next day was 4.30 a start to the airport for the Corn Islands. The plane was a small 15-seater just a little bit bigger than the mosquito plane we took to the waterfalls in Guyana, still a bit spooky, especially when the pilot decided to open the newspaper wide and read it while flying over Nicaragua....
The Corn Islands are two islands 70 kilometers off the Caribbean Coast, in front of the coastal town of Bluefields. These two islands offer the opportunity to see the Caribbean side of Nicaragua in a beautiful and mostly unexplored environment. Big Corn and Little Corn are both quite small and quite different from each other - the former has an asphalted road with plenty of taxis driving around it, while on Little Corn there are no cars at all and it is generally much less developed - you can walk it north to south in about 30 minutes, if you don´t get lost.
Once we got to Big Corn, we went straight to the jetty to catch the 10 am panga to Little Corn. The panga ride from Big Corn to Little Corn was an experience in itself, best described as powerboat racing. There had been strong winds and rain constantly for the past 2 weeks or so, so the sea was particularly rough ... While the guy at the front of the boat stood holding on to some ropes to look out for other boats, the guy at the back had his finger on a high speed engine. Every time he cut the power you knew that you were about to hit a big wave and that the panga would fly for a few seconds to then come crashing down HARD on the bit of 2X4 you were sitting on... It was real fun, like being on the rides. Less fun for Gregory, who was not sitting on the life jacket like most of the other passengers and who took some really hard blows where it hurts. Most of the passengers got soaked, if not all, but it was a really good laugh. Every now and then a negative thought would pass, like, erm, what if the panga breaks into two when coming crushing down?? Never mind losing all of your stuff, the real problem is that it would be a sharks´ feast.... but it did not split into two and we got there and back quite safely, if soaked.

From Granada we had booked an economy cabin over the internet at US-run Casa Iguana. Casa Iguana is a nice place, only problem being that it is overpriced. We booked an economy cabin for $25 without bathroom, since the ones with bathroom were a staggering $55. The place looked nice and particularly the dining/social area was really pleasant, however our cabin was very basic and we still had to go walking 50 yards to toilets & shower. On top of it all, it is located on a cliff away from the beach under some shady trees home to many lovely insects. After the first night of a few long trips to the loo, we decided that Elsa' s place at $12 for a cabin with bathroom ON the beach was a much better choice. So, despite having had a real fun night at Casa Iguana playing cards all evening after a very nice dinner with very nice people, and despite the running water we had there, we decided to move to Elsa's, owned locally and with no running water but much more appealing. The other thing that annoyed us about Casa Iguana is that they sent us a taxi to pick us up on Big Corn without telling us, and the friendly taxi driver charges us three times the normal fare!!! Elvis - do not get in his taxi if you ever bump into him.

While Gregory quite liked the islands, I was quite disappointed. When I think Caribbean island surrounded by coral reefs, I think of a nice island where you can snorkel and enjoy the sea. But that was not what we found on Corn this round!!! While all the regular ‘Caribbean’ features are present, such as turquoise water, white beaches, green palm trees and stunning reefs and marine life, the weather was a disaster. We had heard that it had been raining etc, but never really took into consideration the factor WIND. It was very very windy and the sea was choppy to say the least, so the beaches were covered in algae and rubbish and snorkelling was not really much of an option. Even those who dived were complaining of poor visibility. We later found out from the locals that the time to visit when the sea is calm is between March and May - don' t bother to come here at any other time if you are looking at swimming peacefully in the sea... Gregory still managed to do some snorkelling and test out his new underwater camera, but only got some 40 mostly brown-looking pictures which were quickly erased...

That said, during our stay on Little Corn we met lots of nice fellow travellers and the setting on the beach at Elsa's was really pleasant. We also managed to walk around a little, going all the way around the north end and almost getting lost. We went hoping to find calmer waters but no luck, it was just all the same, big waves and rubbish everywhere. The island is notorious for getting people lost at night, and indeed a young couple did end up spending the night in the jungle after their torch batteries run out...Gregory bumped into them the next morning all covered in mud and asked them what happened...

We left Little Corn back to Big Corn for a day with Lina, a nice Portuguese girl who was staying also at Elsa's. The hope was to find calmer waters...what a mistake!! It was worse than Little Corn, and without the nice beach setting of Elsa's. We drove around to three different hotels till we decided to stop at Best View, which was practically abandoned, though still about functioning. Only and fortunate guests there, we had a TV in the room, so we spent most of our time watching the X Files as there was an all-day special on Sci Fi that day. We also managed to go and console ourselves with some lobster dinner and a lunch with run down, the local fish specialty of coconut milk and boiled roots and plaintain.

On Friday evening we were back at Jardin de Italia, where this time there were a lot of people on the street and the restaurants were open around the hostel. Lesbia explained that as it was Friday and people just got paid, they were out having a nice time. It reminded us of old little England...small world isnt it. On Saturday we took the 5 am Ticabus to Guatemala, which is where we are now at last!!

The only way to Fly......

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boyz chillin with Lone

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Girls just Chillin......

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Mans best friend followed us all round the island

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Our cute cabin cleaner
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little corn crew assembled......

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De famous national dish- RUNDOWN
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a view from casa iguana's
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a view from Elsa place
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have you ever seen your crab so blue......oooh!
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greg-flav and Misses Corn islands 2017

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Posted by Flav-Greg 18:02 Archived in Nicaragua Comments (0)

Granada, Laguna de Apoyo & Masaya

Places in Nicaragua

sunny 30 °C

We managed to stick it out at the Oasis Hostel and planned our journeys and tours from there. The Oasis did grow on us after a while and was a good base of operations in which to plan next steps, while spending hours on their abundant free Internet stations. It is really an Oasis, really tranquil and relaxing. Not sure if it deserves the ´best hostel in Central America´title that we have seen around, but certainly a very nice one.

The first trip we planned was to the Laguna de Apoyo, organised by Oasis. A mini bus took us from the hotel a hour up a bumpy road to the laguna at a place called The Craters Edge http://www.craters-edge.com/. A really nice setting with some nice facilities. The lake is a really huge crater which acts as a water reserve and really nice to swim in, although the water can get a little rough. Fortunately there were no bull sharks in there, unlike Lake of Nicaragua. Apparently, Lake of Nicaragua was once full of bull sharks migrated in there from the Carribean - then in the Somoza´s years they were almost run to extinction by overfishing for fins, so that these days they are very rarely spotted. The day trip to Laguna de Apoyo was really peaceful and tranquil and we enjoyed every minute - Gregory swimming for hours and working on his kayaking skills, while Flavia spent the whole day reading on the hammock.

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The next day we booked a 5-in-1 trip with WOW Tours http://www.wowtoursnicaragua.com which included visiting the fortaleza Coyotepe, a fort originally built by the Spanish that Somoza turned into a political prison where many political opponents were tortured and killed. Then we drove up to Volcan Masaya followed by the Market in Masaya town, followed by the picturesque town of Catarina and San Juan del Oriente with their pottery and garden centres and splendid lagoon viewpoint.
The prison was a particularly gruesome place, modern and totally concrete, but still had the feeling of a 15th century chamber of torture linked more to the Torquemada than to anything modern. It is said that on the last days of the civil war with Contras and Sandinistas, by the time the Sandinistas got to the prison the guards had killed all the political prisoners in the jail.

Coyotepe prison
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Volcan Masaya is an active volcano. At the craters edge, on the day we visited it seemed to be spurting out steam instead of the sulphuric and acidic mix of gas and vapour. The crater is accessible by car - you park right next to the active crater and can literally look down inside it, 200 m below. There are actually 5 craters around the site, but the rest are inactive. At the car park you are advised to to face your car in the right direction for a quick get away in case it erupts, while the leaflets they hand out at the visitor´s entrance also suggest to use the vehicles as shelter in case it starts blowing out big rocks...

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Masaya market is the usual mix of artesan products and restaurants, though the bits on sale did not quite catch Flavia´s attention, for once!!! Especially good are the low cost good quality hammocks of all descriptions. The knitted ones are particularly good, but we decided not to buy any so not to have to carry them around all the way to Guatemala and Mexico. Hopefully we can buy a couple there.

The town of Catarina is really nice and seems to be where Nicaraguans frequent for a day out The road to Catarina is interesting because you see lots of children and adults with spades and tools who are busy filling in the pot holes in the road - then they stand aside and want you to pay them for fixing the road that the government has no money for. At the very top of the town you have a spectacular view of the Laguna de Apoyo >>>

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S Juan del Oriente has really great pottery of all descriptions - very hard not to buy anything.

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Today, after three nights here, we finally had the chance to walk around Granada itself and take a look at the beautiful architecture. We actually didn´t walk around a great deal, as we kept bumping into people and chatting for ages. We started the day at Kathy´s Waffle House, possibly the best place in town where to have breakfast. There we met a Canadian couple and stayed for ages. As we left, we then bumped into Aidey, a British-US chap who we met back in Canoa, Ecuador, at the fabulous Bambu hostal. In a nutshell, we walked very little and only saw the central area of Granada, but still managed to get a good few pics together >>>

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This is the best hamburger we have ever eaten in our lives - it costs $5 and it can be ordered at Zoom Bar in Granada.
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This evening we are moving on to Managua (only an hour away). Tomorrow morning we have a 6.30 am flight to Corn Islands, where we will stay till Friday. We are planning to go to Little Corn, which is the smaller island, nice and remote and with no internet access.
In Managua we will be staying at the Jardin de Italia hotel.

Posted by Flav-Greg 13:24 Archived in Nicaragua Comments (1)

Lago de Nicaragua / Ometepe

sunny 28 °C

While the first impression of S Juan del Sur granted a one-night stay, we ended up spending three nights there. Different reasons for this: 1) after we went to see the turtles, we were so tired that we decided to trade the upcoming 5-hour journey to Ometepe for the very comfortable bed we still had 2) Hotel El Puerto incidentally had the BEST BED we have come across in 8 months 3) S Juan del Sur is actually a really nice little touristy town which becomes particularly nice at night 4) we wanted to see Playa Majagual to get an idea of what the Pacific beaches in Nicaragua are like. So we booked the shuttle camion to Playa Majagual and spent a nice day at the beach - a fairly mediocre beach with big waves and strong currents, not really suitable for swimming. It was nice to be at the sea though, and we did enjoy the day - even when we had to endure a lunch in the only restaurant available where the next table was being served turtle eggs. And Gregory telling me to shut up and let the people enjoy their eggs... ARGHHHH! I understand that this is a cultural thing and they have eaten eggs for hundreds of years here, but times
change, don´t they. If you do not say anything, then they will never
t day we moved to Ometepe.

We spent 3 nights on Ometepe island - the maximum allowed by our by now incredibly tight schedule, though we could have easily spent a few more... Ometepe is a volcanic island made up of two volcanos, Concepcion and Maderas. The former is the highest and stripped of vegetation by lava flow and altitude, the latter is covered with dense cloud forest and its top is filled with a lake. We decided not to hike to either of them - this is a hot place and climbing up volcanos at high temperatures did not quite appeal to us that much. We went straight to the Maderas sector - 30 or so km which took us almost 3 hours by local bus - and stayed at the Monkey Island Hostel for the first two nights. This is a small place run by Señor Jacinto and his family near Merida - we felt good being there because this was a genuine family business run by nice people, really cheap ($8 a night for both, private room with bathroom), and nice and tranquil in nice surroundings. They have a small monkey on site which unfortunately they keep chained to a tree because it is a nuisance if let free - it likes to pick fruit and all food that can be found... surprise surprise. So the poor monkey sits there and hugs anybody who goes near and gets really cuddly and never wants you to leave. Really heart-breaking. At least they treat it ok and give it plenty of room by chaining it to a steel cable that runs between two trees, giving a lot more space than otherwise. But still, chained-up monkeys are not really the type of sight that we like to see, are they. Especially when the island is absolutely rife with monkeys - any small walk into the green will reveal some and also they can be heard howling all over the island (they are howler monkeys). A particularly bad story was the one of the close-y Monkey Island (Isla Congo). As per Jacinto, it appears that some tourism minister has decided to attract tourists to Merida and the Hacienda Merida by putting 12 monkeys on this small island, where there is hardly any food for them. So they survive by eating leaves and insects and they hate the rest of the world. If you decide to kayak to the island and desembark there, the monkeys will attack you and bite and scratch you to bits. We had read some blogs about these nasty monkeys but not many people seem to know why they are like this and that someone has purposedly put them there.

Anyways! Apart from the horrible predicament of some of the local monkeys on Ometepe, the island is actually a really nice place. It is extremely lush with an amazing agricultural output, owing to its fertile volcanic soil. We went to visit Finca Magdalena on Maderas, which is an organic farm producing organic coffee, where the Sandinistas used to operate. Today it is run by a cooperativa of 24 families and offers rustic accomodation to tourists. We visited the coffee production there and had a nice long afternoon, walking back to our accomodation along the main and only road. Transport on the island is really difficult, buses are not frequent and the road is soo bad that it is almost quicker to walk it than sitting on the bus... But of course we tried to sit on the bus whenever we saw one.
On the way to Finca Magdalena Gregory managed to lose his wallet. After spending a good half an hour looking for it in the streets, we assumed that he must have left in on the bus in the morning. Later on in the day, while walking back home, we bumped into the same bus that we took in the morning and, when Gregory approached the driver asking if he had found the wallet, there he pulled it out! So we got the wallet back along with all its contents. Quite amazing.

On our second day we decided to walk down to the lake to take a glimpse of Monkey Island - except that we were intercepted by some dogs and Gregory came running back down the path, with a scary worried face clutching a very thick stick in his hands... so we retreated and never actually made it to see this infamous islet. From Monkey Island we went to famous Charco Verde, probably the best spot and best hotel on the island. We were lucky enough to get the last available room and really enjoyed our short stay there. The hotel is inside a reserve with a looping trail - a beautiful spot with a calm beach, kayaks, monkeys nearby and lots of birds. We spent ages trying to take a good picture of one of the urracas, blue parrot-like birds with a long tail that are very very shy and fly away as soon as they spot you looking at them. They are all over the island and also probably Central America, but extremely elusive.
Charco Verde was one of the highlights on Ometepe - definitely recommended if anybody is thinking of going there, but best booked in advance.

We left Charco Verde yesterday morning and got to Granada at around midday. We are staying at the Oasis Hostel, which is acclaimed by everybody as one of the best hostels in Central America. Our first impression was quite disappointing - most rooms are dark and windowless - but other than that it is quite cosy.

PS: A real great find in Nicaragua has been the ESKIMO ice cream that they make worth trying for sure !!!!!

The boat to Ometepe
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Volcan Concepcion
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Monkey Island Hostel
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Flavia and Chico
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Finca Magdalena
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Mono Congo (howler monkey) around Finca Magdalena
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Charco Verde lakeside
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Charco Verde ecological reserve
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Posted by Flav-Greg 16:00 Archived in Nicaragua Comments (1)

Into Nicaragua: San Juan del Sur

Wildlife Reserve La Flor

sunny 30 °C

Our border crossing at Peñas Blancas went very smoothly and fairly quickly. Only glitch is that we hopped on a bus at the last minute and it turned out that it was a long distance bus to Managua where they wanted to charge us 200 cordobas ($11) for going only 20 km up ahead!!! We paid but started making a lot of fuss and demanding a receipt, but of course they did not want to give us one, because they were not supposed to pick us up and they were ripping us off. I kept arguing loudly till they got embarassed and asked us if we wanted to get off, and so we did. We then got the next local bus for 20 cordobas...

San Juan del Sur is a nice little village on the Pacific sea, very touristy. It seems that it is changing pretty quickly and getting really commercial. For us, it is retains a certain flaire - it looks fairly Caribbean/colonial. People sit on their rocking chairs outside and the houses are nice and colourful. The beach itself is not really for bathing, it is large and built up and hosts lots of boats of various types. As we got here, we thought we would stay just one night, but then today we got up at 4:30 to go and see the turtles and got back quite tired. The hotel we are staying at El Puerto is very comfortable and so...there was no question really about hanging around a bit longer.

Our turtle expedition was great. We are in the middle of a arribada, which is the Spanish for mass egg-laying. Literally thousands of olive ridley turtles (smaller type than the leatherback, they only reach 75 cm) come to shore about 6 or 8 times per season, between July and December, to lay the eggs. They come in thousands and then inbetween the arribadas you only see one or two per night. And we got here in the middle of one!! Last night there were over 1,000, we were told, there was hardly any space to walk!!! We however decided to book the morning tour because that meant that we could take pictures and also we would stop at another beach for swimming. We went with Hotel Casa Oro and that is the way to do it, if anybody currently in Nicaragua is thinking of taking a tour. There are other places offering transport to the beach, but at Casa Oro they are actively involved in turtle conservation and so this is the best place where to take your money. Plus they are a really nice caring family.
Anyways! When we got to the beach at 6 am there were about 30-50 turtles coming and going. Far from the thousand in the night but still quite a lot more than we have ever seen!!! We spent a couple of hours there and then we drove to Coco beach for a swim, which was quite good fun with the big waves. Gregory managed to lose his second pair of swimming goggles and so now he is in trouble, because they don´t sell them around here. So far he has managed to lose 2 pairs of goggles and two swimming costumes, not bad hey?!

Here are the precious pics:

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This baby turtle was being kept at the rangers house and it is not a olive ridley. The next olive ridley hatchlings are due this month but not quite ready yet
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Coco Beach
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Posted by Flav-Greg 16:30 Archived in Nicaragua Comments (1)

Playa Grande

Parque Nacional Marino Las Baulas

sunny 28 °C

Las Baulas is the Spanish for leatherback turtles.

For our last spot in Costa Rica, we decided to go and see the beaches, just so to have a more complete picture of the country. The aim was to go to Playa Grande to stay overnight and see the turtles, and then move up to Playa Conchal the next day - this having the reputation of being the most beautiful beach in Costa Rica.

Playa Grande has been part of the Parque Nacional Marino Las Baulas since 1991, when the government finally decided to protect the leatherback turtles that come to nest here. Having a national park here prevents FRONT beach development and ensures that one of the most important leatherback nesting areas in the world is preserved for future generations. Set back from the beach there is actually quite a lot of development for a national park - and more to come, seen the number of lots for sale that we saw everywhere - however not right on the beach, which ensures that lights are kept to a minimum. Lights disorientate the turtles and put them off coming back to lay their eggs - turtles tend to return to lay at the beach where they were born, so if they don´t, this impacts on them a great deal. This is why no lights are allowed on the beach, apart from the infra-red that the park rangers.

The leatherback is critically endangered from over-hunting, a lack of protected nesting sites and plastic bags, which look too similar to their main food, jelly fish. In an effort to protect the decreasing population of turtles, park rangers on Playa Grande collect the eggs daily and incubate them to increase the chances of survival. Normally, only 1 out 1,000 turtles make it to adulthood!!!! The problem is, even when they are incubated, sea turtles must hatch on the beach and enter the water by themselves, otherwise memory imprinting does not occur and they will never return to their birthplace to nest.

At Playa Grande you can book turtle-egg-laying sessions for $16, which all goes to support the conservation effort. Tourists go to the office to register for a place and are told at what time the nesting is going to occur for that night, depending on the tide. The turtles nest at high tide because they are very heavy and it is hard to hike up to the beach.... For us the time was set between 6 and 10 pm - during this period you go back to the office and sit there waiting around till a turtles shows up. At this point the rangers come to get you and they lead you to the turtle, which can be looked at only from behind and cannot be touched. We were lucky - like we have been for a while - and at 7 pm a 1.3 m leatherback turtle weighing 320 kg showed up. It is not like there are millions of this turtles coming to nest there, it is only between 50 and 400 each year between October and March, so I think we were really lucky. Leatherbacks are the largest sea turtle of all, they are huge. We were able to see her deposit the eggs in the meter-deep hole and then cover them all up (futile work since the rangers were going to dig them all up again...). The whole process takes 1-2 hours - to dig out the hole, drop the eggs and cover it up. So we had two groups of 15 tourists all standing there taking turns to look at this giant turtles depositing her eggs. They cannot see very well but I am sure they must notice all these people moving behind them... not sure how conservational this is, but I guess they must have figured out that it does not bother the animals to the point of not coming back. Quite a surreal experience for a human though!

Ah yes! The curious thing is that you only pay the National Park if you actually manage to see a turtle, otherwise you just book again for the next night. This means that you sit around waiting and, as soon as a turtle comes to shore, all tourists queue up to pay the fee and then run to watch the egg laying!! Crazy but very just.

The next day - after seeing the type of beach Playa Grande is now in the rainy season - we decided not to go to visit Playa Conchal, which on top of things could only be reached by an expensive taxi ride. We decided to walk back to Tamarindo instead along the length of Playa Grande, which took the whole of an hour as we were looking for sand dollars, which unfortunately were all broken. At the river estuary which separates Playa Grande from Tamarindo (big built up seaside resort) we boarded a small motor boat to cross the river and then negotiated a river tour with the boat owner to go and see the mangrove swamps, behind the lure of crocodiles, monkeys etc. The river trip was excellent until we desembarked to go ´looking for monkeys´. We were wearing shorts and T´shirts and I had flip flops on... Ever tried to walk in the mangrove swamps?? Well. You should NOT go there with short sleeves or flip flops. The ground is very soft and muddy, I was slipping all over the place and it is not like there is a path there, you have to walk through vegetation some of which has got big thorns. And of course it is full of mosquitos, some carrying dengue!!!!! We ventured in for about 20 mins and our guide actually led us very quickly to some howling monkeys, which we looked at for about 3 minutes till we decided to quickly retire back to the boat, myself covered in mud from the flipping of the flip flops which kept getting stuck into the mud, whenever I did not lose them along the way. Arghh!! I was really furious with the guide for not saying we were going to walk through this place and lie about the mosquitos - he said there were none when I asked!! Ok, that was probably a stupid question to ask - are there mosquitos in the swamps... - but saying no was not too brilliant either. Later it was a good laugh but at the time I guarantee it wasn´t. Plus we could be incubating dengue as we speak!!!

So fingers crossed...

Playa Grande - this is the beach where the turtles make their nests
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Pics from the river trip

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Mangroves
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Today we have crossed into Nicaragua and currently we are staying at the El Puerto hotel in San Juan del Sur. Tomorrow morning at 5 am we are going to see more egg-laying turtles, but a different breed.

Posted by Flav-Greg 19:32 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (1)

Parque Nacional Rincon de la Vieja

Amongst monkeys and fumaroles

overcast 27 °C

On Tuesday we visited another of Costa Rica`s super national parks, Parque Nacional Rincon de la Vieja - the old lady`s corner! Excellent park, one of the best we have seen. The weather was terrible - we are in the rainy season at the moment, which is how we are not having great difficulty in finding transport and accomodation. During the tourist dry season things are apparently very hard to manage as there are people everywhere. Already now we are seeing lots of tourists, more than we have in a long time, so we can just about imagine what the high season is like. Anyways, the rainy season is finishing but about two weeks ago it has rained so much that most of the Guanacaste region (where we are now, north-west Pacific area) has been flooded and lots of people have lost their homes.

So the weather has been pretty miserable with daily rain, and when we got to the park, the volcano could not be seen at all. In fact, they have shut the crater access off because of mud slides and other dangers. It is almost 2,000 m high and therefore a hike uphill of 8 steep km, which probably we would have not done even if the weather had been good.
We hiked around the Sector de las Pailas instead, the cauldron circuit, which was absolutely stunning.

The land here is very alive (Rincon de la Vieja last erupted in 1991) and the hike takes you through hot springs, surphur pools, bubbling mud pots and lots of fumaroles. The north-eastern part of the trail goes through dense forest with beautiful huge ficus trees and LOTS OF ANIMALS. We came across a large group of white-faced monkeys with babies which stayed around for ages - in fact, after about an hour of intense observation, we were the ones to leave the scene! Then we saw a large rodent of which we cannot remember the name, a beautiful white squirrel with a black line on the back, a smaller group of capuchin monkeys and... the coatis. The coatis turned up just as we were setting up our picnic, as they do. As soon as we spotted one coming towards us, we started taking out the cameras, not knowing that the coati had a plan... Before we realised what it was doing, it had been on the table and grabbed hold of our big packet of cheese and ran off!! After about 5 minutes it came back, at which point we started to feed it bread to ensure it would not get the rest of the food (we had 2 packages of cheese, luckily). Notices in the park warn not to feed the animals, but quite frankly we had no choice. Either we fed them, or we could have not had any food ourselves... they are quite ravenous and have big teeth and claws. Later we heard stories from the rangers saying that some tourists got scratched up and needed stitching for trying to retrieve the food back from the coatis!!

We almost forgot: in this park live the most vicious sand flies we have ever come across!

ANGOLO ITALIANO

Questi angoli italiani si sono quasi estinti perche`purtroppo non riesco a starci dietro! Ci spostiamo abbastanza rapidamente (specialmente ora che ci mancano soltanto poco piu`di due mesi) e scaricare le foto, selezionarle, caricarle e scrivere il blog richiede tempo - forse un paio di ore per capitolo? Dura quando si rientra stanchi da un giro e poi il giorno dopo si riparte subito... e la nostra stagionatura certo non aiuta...
Comunque!
Il parco nazionale `L`angolo della vecchia` e`un parco bellissimo. Una parte include fumarole e pozze di fango ribollente, l`altra una foresta tropicale asciutta con alberi vecchissimi e molto molto scenici. E in mezzo agli alberi e`pieno di scimmie! Abbiamo incontrato un gruppo grande di scimmie dalla faccia bianca, bellissime, all`inizio facevano le boccacce (cercando di spaventarci e farci andare via, immagino) poi si sono rilassate e sono venute anche abbastanza vicino. Poi abbiamo avuto un incontro con dei coatis (non credo ci sia un nome in italiano) che sono delle specie di procioni con il naso appuntito quasi piatto per annusare il terreno, molto carini e famelici. Uno ci ha fregato il pacchetto di formaggio e se l `e`filata!! poi e`tornato e per timore che si fregasse pure l`altro gli abbiamo dato mezzo pacchetto di pane. Tra un po`me lo strappava dalle mani!! Mazza questi animali selvatici...

insomma una giornata megagalattica, paesaggi nuovi e interessanti, ponticelli di tronco di albero, sentieri bellissimi, e le scimmie e i coatis a completare il quadro!

la costa rica e`davvero un paese ricco di animali, ne abbiamo visti piu`qui che in tutto il viaggio messo insieme (a parte le galapagos, chiaro). sono solo circa 30 anni che il governo ha preso la direzione dei parchi nazionali e dell`eco turismo, pero`pare che l`abbiano fatto in tempo prima che distruggessero tutto. I costaricani sono generalmente carini e gentili ed e`chiaro che prendono il turismo molto seriamente. Raccomandiamo una visita da queste parti a coloro che non sanno dove fare le prossime ferie! Magari combinata con il Nicaragua, che ancora non abbiamo visto ma che essendo qua attaccato dovrebbe avere anche lui parecchie scimmie e coccodrilli da offrire.

Ecco le foto:

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Posted by Flav-Greg 08:10 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (0)

Arenal to Eco-Disneyland, erm... Monteverde

sunny 20 °C

As already mentioned, from La Fortuna we bought a bus-boat-bus package to Santa Elena/Monteverde, a beautiful ride over the Arenal lake that saved us the 8-hour bus journey that nobody really does... We booked a couple of nights at a hostel on hostels.com - the Sleepers Sleep Cheap hostel. What a great place! When we saw the name online, we tought we had to try it, and what an an excellent choice!! The owners are a young family, Ronny and Joceline, who have 3 young children and are extremely sociable and helpful. For $16 a night we have enjoyed a nice clean room with bathroom and view, a kitchen, free internet, breakfast, private locker, and... well everything we needed, really. Bloody great, and it proves that Costa Rica is only partially expensive...though surely expensive.

The hostel
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We got to Santa Elena at around midday but, as the bumpy ride and the overwhelming scenery indeed overwhelmed us, we felt too tired to start another tour straight away. So we took the afternoon out to have a look around and try to choose what activities to do - this place really reminds you of Disneyland - just the stuff is real. There are butterfly farms, humming bird farms, reptile and frog farms, insect farms, bat farms, a number of canopy/zip lines, hanging bridges, you name it. Oh yes, and the cloud forest reserves!! These are the Santa Elena reserve and the more famous Monteverde reserve, which is the main reason people actually come here, though in the end they all probably end up all sort of other stuff.

RANARIUM

The first place we decided to visit was the Ranarium , a fairly large place that turned out to be absolutely amazing. They have some 30 species of frogs on show, one more stunning than the other. On the way in, in the corridor, we came across a non-resident orange-kneed tarantula, another amazingly beautiful local creature, of which we managed to take a few good pics. Here is one:
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Unfortunately, the frogs cannot be photographed with flash as otherwise they go blind, so we have very few and very blurred pics of those. We were allowed to flash them out on our first tour, which gave us great joy and satisfaction but that now makes us feel really guilty... Anyways! The amazing frogs. You have frogs that rely on camouflage and try to remain as low-key as possible (leaf frogs, usually green with some other striking feature, who are active at night) and others, such as the poison dart frogs, that try their best to stand out . This is a defense strategy that entails advertising a frogs toxicity with bright colours > i. e. do not touch me!! So you have glass frogs, hour glass frogs, milk frogs, bull frogs, gaudy leaf frogs (the front cover frogs of all) they are so perfect and gorgeous that they look like they are fake.

Below are a couple of our photo attempts...
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Leaf frog at night, active
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Leaf frog during the day, sleeping - yes, we went back to see them again...
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This website has some nice pics that give an idea of what sort of frogs we are talking about >
http://www.waterfallgardens.com/lapaz-frogs.htmlhttp://www.waterfallgardens.com/lapaz-frogs.html

SANTA ELENA RESERVE

We decided to visit the Santa Elena reserve as opposed to the Monteverde one mainly because the former is much less visited, something like 10 times less. Monteverde is private and gets a lot of money and scores of people go up and down it every day, while Santa Elena is managed by the local High School and is less touristy and wilder. So we thought we could spread the money better and also have a better chance to see animals by going to Santa Elena. But we were wrong regarding the animals: our guide informed us that there are very few animals around: we are in the rainy season and there is little food around and they tend to stay at lower altitudes.. The only animal that we saw was a resident peccary ( like a small wild boar) which introduced himself by sticking his head between my knees while we were standing chatting... I thought it was a dog, till I looked down and got a real fright, which immediately turned into concern about the new colour of my trousers...Peccaries are not exactly the cleanest of forest animals.
So we spent the morning walking around in the beautiful cloud forest with the guide showing us tiny flowers and plants with his very powerful telescope. Quite interesting, especially since we could take pictures via the telescope which made it specially good fun.
So it was a good visit but we felt somehow disappointed not to see any monkeys or sloths. Later on the same day we booked a night walk at the Ecology Sanctuary - a place where there are banana and coffee plantations and therefore lots of food for animals - but even there we saw relatively little. We saw a sloth on a tree, a couple of orange-kneed tarantulas nests, a few insects and that was all. Maybe all a trap to make money out of tourists? We will never know, the forest is not a zoo and so each trip is different. Nevertheless, going into the woods at night is quite an awesome experience in itself.

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One of our best telescope shots..
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Just outside the reserve entrance lots of water feeders were attracting dozens of humming birds of many kinds. We spent about one hour looking at them - the big ones seem a lot more concerned about humans than the little ones.
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JEWELS OF THE RAINFOREST EXHIBITION

On our last day we went to see the world's largest private insect collection at Selvatura - by world famous entomologist Dr. Richard Whitten. Thousands of insects, butterflies and other incredible specimens from all over the world, all collected in one huge room and displayed like an art collection. WOW!

While we were there, we also visited the reptile and amphibian live collection - more snakes and frogs and a very curious lizard that they call Jesus Christ Lizard because it is so fast that it runs on water!!!!

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The Whitten collection
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After lunch we took a bus to Liberia, more north-west, from where we are going to visit another National Park and the beach.

Posted by Flav-Greg 23:17 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (1)

Volcán Arenal and the Baldi hot springs

semi-overcast 20 °C

We left San Jose on Friday in the morning and got to La Fortuna at 13.30 - La Fortuna is the town next to Volcan Arenal. By 14.30 we were being picked up by a minibus for an evening tour to Volcan Arenal and the hotsprings, and on the right tour. La Fortuna is extremely touristy and competition is fierce. As soon as we got to our hotel we were immediately approached with a volcano tour offer. Great price, tour starting at 5 pm and ending with thermal baths in the... local river!! When we mentioned that we wanted to go to the Baldi hot springs (the river somehow did not sound too right...), the guy told us that we should not go there because people tend to pee in the water and the pools are quite stagnant!?! and the local river was better. Right. We went to check out a couple of agencies and got a good offer for the hot pee-baths starting 20 minutes later. It was a good pick, we started early with time to hike at the base of the volcano where the 1992 lava field is and even saw some animals on the way - a beautiful toucan and a group of hungry coatis that some cars were feeding.

The coatis
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Then they took us to the Arenal Observation Lodge, which is a posh hotel with an observatory and sismograph where the view of the volcano is really excellent. There we stayed till it got dark and were lucky to see a good bit of lava coming out and hear all the spitting and spewing. From there we then got taken to the thermal baths, which were quite good - probably the best ones we have tried in our lives!

Volcán Arenal (1,633 meters) is a picture-perfect cone. It's also Costa Rica's most active volcano and probably on every tourist's itinerary. Arenal was sacred to pre-Columbian tribes (it is easy to imagine sacrifices tossed into the inferno), but it slumbered peacefully throughout the colonial era. On 29 July 1968, it was awakened from its long sleep by a fateful earthquake. The massive explosion that resulted wiped out the villages of Tabacón and Pueblo Nuevo, whose entire populations perished. The blast was felt as far away as Colorado.
Today it is regarded as one of the world's most active volcanoes. Its lava flows pretty much constantly and eruptions, though relatively mild, are continuous.

Arenal by day (the white smoke is smoke, not clouds!)
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The next day we moved on to Monteverde, the most famous cloud forest in Costa Rica. We bought a transport package known as minibus-boat-minibus which entails being transferred from La Fortuna to a boat, crossing Lake Arenal and then continuing by minibus to Monteverde through a very rough road and stunning scenery.

The Arenal surroundings on the way to Monteverde
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Baldi hotsprings
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Posted by Flav-Greg 01:14 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (1)

Costa Rica

Volcan Poas and Sarapiqui river trip

sunny 25 °C

The bus journey from Panama City to San Jose was quite tiring. We chose to travel with Panaline and, although the bus was of a good standard, their seats did not recline enough to allow a good sleep. So we slept little and got to San Jose at 3pm tired and in a bad mood. We landed at JCFriends Hostal, as suggested by our taxi driver, which is somewhere west of the city centre - not really sure about where, as we have not explored San Jose at all during our two-nights stay there. All we did was walk down the road two blocks to the cash point and restaurant and then back to our bathroomless room.

The same day we arrived, we decided to book an excursion with Expediciones Tropicales, which is one of the big agencies here. The idea was to stay a couple of days and visit the Volcan Poas, a coffee finca and other bits and pieces, however, when we started reading about this 4 in 1 combo tour where they take you to see the volcano and 3 other sights all in one day, we thought it may be worth investing some money and save a precious day or two. So we booked the $80 a head all day trip, which would have included a visit to the volcano, the La Paz Waterfall Gardens, arts and crafts shop and coffee plantation visit. Well, the program turned out to be a little different and absolutely worth every penny. First thing we went to see the volcano, which must be seen in the morning before the clouds roll in. The weather was terrible and we honestly thought there was no point walking up to the viewpoint - we did anyways and surprise surprise, the clouds were everywhere but above the crater!!! So we managed to get a good look at this active volcano and its huge crater filled with milky turquoise broiling water with the smell of rotten eggs. Quite impressive. On the way back, from the minibus the driver spotted a sloth hanging from a telephone cable, so we all got off and started taking pictures till the sloth realised that he was at the centre of the attention and slowly moved back into the trees. From the volcano we were taken for breakfast to a restaurant with beautiful landscaped gardens and lake. After that, we visited the La Paz waterfall and then from there it was a two-hour drive to the Sarapiqui river, where we were put onto a boat to ´look for caimans´. The boat trip was completely unexpected and worthwhile: we saw a number of caimans and American crocodiles, a few large iguanas, spider monkeys, another sleeping sloth and a few birds. The boat took us to a private area where they had a serpentario, a ranario and a mariposario and where, after visiting all three, we had lunch. While the butterfly farm was fairly pathetic, they had a good few interesting snakes but above all the frogs! They had the frogs in a net garden rather than under glass, which made it so much nicer to look at and photograph them. Tiny red poison dart frogs and black and green dart frogs - there are no golden frogs in Costa Rica - they are highly toxic and absolutely gorgeous. Then it started pouring down but by then it was time to head back to San Jose. Absolutely great day, amazing what money can buy....

So far, our impression of Costa Rica is very positive. It is all true, the country is fully geared up for tourism - the excursion today and the countless ministry of tourism posters in our simple hostel proves that they are extremely serious about it. ´More than a country, a commitment to the world´ - how strong is that!!!
Everywhere there are signs of properties with butterfly farms, trout farms, coffee tasting, canopy lines. Yes, it is very touristy, but no wonder! It is an impressively LUSH country, a country of volcanos, rainforests, cloud forests, abundant wildlife and beaches. The Costa Rican Nation has 185 years of independent life and democracy and is known worldwide for its political stability, in sharp contrast to the brutal conflicts and poverty that have affected most of the rest of Central America. It also has no standing army since 1948 - a smart country that has focused its interest and resources to the development of education, health and environmental sustainability and awareness. Our guide today mentioned that 100% of the energy in Costa Rica is renewable, the majority coming from idroelectrical plants, then wind, then thermic and finally biomass. Now, that deserves a lot of respect!!

VOLCAN POAS
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La Paz waterfall
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Starting our Sarapiqui safari
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The most talked-about snake in Central America, the fer-de-lance, much feared for its aggressiveness and lethal venom.
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Black and green dart frog
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Blue-jeans dart frog - this one must have washed them too much... most of these frogs have really noticeable dark blue legs and waist, quite funny
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SLOTH on the Wire
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Posted by Flav-Greg 12:55 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (1)

Panama City

City of diversity, cosmopolitanism and strategic location....

semi-overcast 35 °C

Panama City is a very cool place.
It has pleasantly surprised us for a number of reasons. First of all, contrary to what our ancient guide book states, it is incredibly cheap. We ended up in the Caledonia area, where the main road is lined with super-cheap clothes shops where everything seems to cost a few dollars; freshly squeezed orange juice on the street is 25 cents, portion of patacones something like 50 cents, a whole pizza $2.60!!! Our hotel room, complete with TV, air-conditioning, towels and soap, $12!!!!! While our area is pretty run-down and ugly, there are areas which are super modern, incredibly modern. An entirely new area, Paitilla, has been rebuilt about 4-5 years ago literally from scratch, with high rise buildings and incredibly spotless shopping centres. We hate shopping centres but because we were looking for a new camera we went to one - the Multiplaza Pacific. That was well impressive, top brand names beginning to end, from Cartier to Mandarina Duck to... Sony!! We arrived in Panama with my camera still operating on a paper clip and Gregory´s one not working at all. So we took mine to the Sony Service Centre (where they repaired it within 24 hours for a very good price, urrah!!) while Gregory´s was beyond economic repair, which meant...new camera for Gregory! We decided to buy an underwater case to go with it, however they sell the kit separate from the underwater filter - which is the one that makes all the difference - and this filter was only in stock in this Multiplaza place, so there we went. We actually felt very insignificant and poor in this mall, it was really really not like Central America at all.

Anyways! Apart from camera fixing and camera shopping, while here we went to visit the Canal at the Miraflores Locks. It was interesting to see how it operates, lowering these huge ships through the locks, and visiting the museum etc. Since 1999 the Canal is administered entirely by Panama - the US has pulled out - and now they are looking at expanding it because ships nowadays are a lot larger than back in 1914, when it started to operate. Can you believe that? Something like that excavated and built a century ago.

Today we went to walk around the San Felipe area, which is meant to be the old colonial part of the city, and this was pretty disppointing. It is really old and decrepit - not much colonial about it, certainly nothing like Cartagena - but they seem to be restoring it pretty seriously, given that most of the buildings were under scaffoldings. It seems that Panama has had a real injection of money lately and they are building and restoring the place like crazy. They also seem to have some real aggressive plans to attract foreign capital and investment, with already an increasing number of retirees from the US who are investing in bed & breakfasts and small hotels all over the country. These immigrants, together with the many others and especially Colombians, have caused a surge in the real estate market and construction industry. Panama even has ´residency programs´to attract foreign capital, like the ´Retiree Visa´, the ´Reforestation investor´, etc, depending on how much one earns or invests you can get different sets of benefits.

A small note for backpackers who would like to leave their luggage at the hotel for a few hours then collect the luggage later and take the night bus to another destination. We stayed at the Hotel Aqua Marina in 5 de Mayo and we wanted to check out at 3pm (normal there) and put our luggage in deposit. The manager does not have a deposito and will not take responsibility for anyone luggage which means that you may have to pay for another night into a cheaper hotel and not use it or do as we did go and play pool for hours followed by the internet to use up the time, carrying our luggage with us. The hotels in Plaza 5 de mayo are not really geared for backpackers, no tourist information whatsoever , the plus side is already written above.

From what we can see and read in 3 days, Panama in general is one of Central Americas best kept secrets, you have nice people, big city life, unspoilt rain forests to explore and beaches, and its quite cheap.

Tonight we are taking a bus to San Jose in Costa Rica - 15 hours in total - it should be a pretty good bus, especially if we go by the standard of the bus station... the biggest, most modern and spotless bus terminal we have ever come across!!

The fish market in Panama City is not to be missed!
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Lunching at the fish market restaurant with David and Evelyn from our boat voyage
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The Panama Canal at the Miraflores Locks
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View from the Casco Viejo, old town
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Local artesania and Kuna molas - we have bought enough!
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One of the famous ´red devils´of Panama - awesome and truly beautiful
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Posted by Flav-Greg 15:30 Archived in Panama Comments (0)

Cartagena to San Blas/Panama

luxury travel...

semi-overcast 30 °C

The Roxy lived up to our expectations in all senses - it was a very good boat and I suffered severe sea sickness throughout the voyage, the whole 36 hours of it. If I think that El Joshua would have done the same stretch over three days, I guess I should not complain too much...
Apart from the sea sickness, everything else went really well. We got the biggest available cabin, with a double bed and really comfortable, and a nice bunch of people travelling with us. It was Ulf and Christine, the boat owners (Swedish), plus 4 other passengers in addition to us: Alison and Jennifer from Canada, and David and Evelyn from France and Switzerland.
Ulf and Christine are retired and have been sailing on their new boat for a couple of years now. They really like Cartagena and San Blas and so they have decided to stop here for a while and take backpackers back and forth to get some spending money together, but especially to mix with a different bunch of people and get some company- it sounded like they were a bit fed up to discuss water pumps performance with other sailors... Best choice! None of us had a clue about sailing and boats. They served us really good quality food throughout, with freshly squeezed orange juice every morning, beef fillet and giant crab!!

So we spent the first two nights and one whole day at sea, and then we had two days in the San Blas archipelago, which is a long stretch of tiny islands to the north-west of Panama, in the Caribbean sea. The San Blas islands are also known as Kuna Yala and they belong to an indigenous community called the Kuna. The Kuna have obtained governamental independence from Panama and are very autonomous and culturally separated from the rest of the Panamians - they do not like to mix with outsiders at all and have a very distinctive culture and traditions.

In San Blas we went to visit 2 different snorkelling spots - Coco Bandero and Dog Island, the latter with a really nice ship wreck. The coral reef in San Blas is very healthy and there are a lot of different corals and fish.
When we first arrived in the San Blas islands, our first impression of the local Kuna people was not very pleasant. It seemed to be a dollar-per-step economy, where they were approaching us constantly wanting to sell fish, molas (their local weavings), asking for money to snorkel the wreck, to put down the anchor, you name it. We had just started to have enough when Ulf took us to one of the inhabited islands and we had a chance to get to meet them in their homes. While from the boat the islands look absolutely overcrowded and dirty, when you actually see them from within they are really neat and tidy and after the first 2 minutes of them expecting $1 per each photo taken, they relaxed and it turns out that they are actually very friendly and pleasant people. The old lady in the hammoc below did not even want us to take a picture, and once we had sat down and started chatting and looking at the molas etc and bought a couple, she started jumping around smiling and joking.

Things went really well and we had a chance to both snorkel and meet the Kuna. The weather was very changeable and generally overcast - it let us swim and get a bit of sunburn but denied us a barbecue on the islands, which could have been very nice. At times we felt that the journey was too organised, in that Ulf obviously had taken this whole business of transporting travellers very seriously (he is a very professional person) and planned everything quite carefully, like getting to the islands at a specific time, having the mola top vendor to show up promptly, visiting the local community etc. Somehow we don´t think that this would have all been so smooth if we had gone with Freddy, who on the other hand would have probably made the whole thing more spontaneous and unpredictable. Possibly more fun too, but certainly not as comfortable as we had it.

Overall, we had a great trip. From San Blas we had to take a small boat up the river for 40 minutes or so, and then a jeep all the way to Panama City though Panama´s virgin forest, which was also quite enjoyable and gave us the opportunity to travel through some primary forest.

Here are the usual pics -

Our group
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Ulf and Christine
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One of the islands of Coco Bandero
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Dog Island with tip of wreck emerging from the water
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Alison, Jennifer and Christine cleaning the giant crabs
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Kuna village

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The molas
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Posted by Flav-Greg 09:15 Archived in Panama Comments (2)

Still in Cartagena...

change of plan, or rather, of boat!

sunny 35 °C

We have not left Cartagena on Saturday like it was planned. El Joshua was not ready to go on the day and Freddy the captain came to refund us the deposit, and so leave us free to go with someone else if we could find another boat. So guess what? The beautiful yacht I did not want to let go of was still free and so we are leaving today in total luxury! Mega colpo di culo! It is a Swedish middle-aged couple who are taking us and they don´t do this for a living - we have not quite understood why they are doing it, but hey! We will never ever have the opportunity to travel on such a first class yacht for this price ever again! The yacht is called Roxy, we are boarding it today at 4 pm and so we should be in Panama by Saturday.

Given the amount of days we have already spent in Cartagena, we decided to go and kill some time in Playa Blanca for a couple of days. We took a boat similar to Alcatraz, just a better one, and stayed overnight on the beach. The are a few basic places where you can hire a hammoc or do some camping (and even some rooms but a bit expensive), so we decided to stay at Hugo´s Place, which is a small place that Hugo from Medellin put up about 7 years ago. Really basic, no showers, toilet flushed with sea water buckets, but absolutely great! We loved it, the food was really tasty and we were just a few steps away from the sea shore, lying on the beach all day with vendors coming and selling coconut sweets, corn fritters and nice stuff like that. Then Gregory took the kayak and managed to end up at the bottom of the beach and Hugo had to go and rescue him because the wind was too strong for Gregory to come back on his own....

Here are the pics

Hugo and his place
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Posted by Flav-Greg 17:58 Archived in Colombia Comments (2)

Next stop Central America

sunny 35 °C

Tomorrow we are taking the boat to Panama, which means that our South American days are over and our adventures in Central America are about to start.

We are about 3 weeks late on the original itinerary. This means that we will have only about 10 days to see Costa Rica, 2 weeks for Nicaragua and 2.5 weeks for Guatemala, with no time for Honduras at all. We are keeping the original full month for Mexico, given that it is such a big country and we will need to stay put around Xmas to ensure we have somewhere to stay... Time is running out!
We are a little 'late' mainly because we have included Cartagena and Panama into the itinerary, which were places we did not originally plan to visit. We thought it was going to be five days in Cartagena and then fly to Panama, however we recently decided to take the boat instead of the plane, and this has meant a relatively big delay. First of all we have had to wait for a boat, secondly it will take 5 days to get to Panama City once we are on the boat.

The boat business has been a little frustrating. While there seemed to be a lack of boats leaving on the dates we wanted, yesterday and today at least 4 have turned up ready to leave within 2-3 days, one of them absolutely great, called Roxy, with 3 private cabins, TV, DVD library, fridge, showers and even satellite Internet !! Arghh!! TIMING IS REALLY EVERYTHING. Because we are not prepared to wait any longer (not to forget that we have committed to sailing tomorrow), we will be travelling on a boat without cabins, without showers and one toilet between 9 people, and paying exactly the same money !!!!!!!!!! Hard for me to let go, but like Gregory says, I have to let it go!! Let it go , let it go, let it go!!! The good thing is that the captain looks really cool and the hope is that he is going to make up for the lack of facilities by making it really sociable and knowing the good spots in the islands, apart from obviously having lots of sailing experience on this route. Here is his website: http://www.myspace.com/veleroeljoshua

South America has been a fantastic place. The ancient cultures, the mountains, the desert, the Andes, the people, the animals, the music, the arts and crafts, the food and the fruit. Amazing fruit, especially here in Colombia: papayas, mangos, zapotes, nisperos, guanabanas, guavas and tons more. Will miss all this!

Good-bye South America!

Posted by Flav-Greg 16:57 Archived in Colombia Comments (1)

Cartagena de Indias

Amazing colonial city

sunny 36 °C

Legendary Cartagena flourished into the main Spanish port on the Caribbean coast of Colombia. Because the Spanish stored here the treasures plundered from the Indians, the city became a target for pirates and suffered several sieges. In response to pirate attacks, the Spanish decided to make Cartagena an impregnable port and constructed elaborate walls and a chain of forts. Today Cartagena is a living museum of 16th and 17th century Spanish architecture, with narrow streets, churches, plazas and colonial houses with beautiful overhanging balconies.

Cartagena is really beautiful and we are really pleased we have made the effort to come here. In complete contrast to Colombia’s bad reputation, the place feels quite safe – both while travelling through the country by bus and while wandering about town, and especially considering that we are practically living in the slums of the city!! We are staying in Getsemani, which is a poor residential colonial quarter next to the posh Old City – the place where backpackers tend to stay. It is actually a nice place to be, very authentic and with a vibrant street life. You walk through the streets and the houses are open and the people sit on their rocking chairs in the street, watching their own TVs from the outside, where obviously is either fresher or more sociable. We have found ourselves a good room in Hostal Viena, which is listed in the books as the first backpacker hostel and which we had ignored thinking it would be one of those really basic and cheap youngsters places – but in fact it is really OK and offers good facilities, like Internet and kitchen and tourist info and even a family of cats with a litter of four 2-weeks-old kittens. The cats like our room and they enter it every time we forget the window open – the tomcat likes to sleep in our wardrobe and the female jumped in our bed one night, scaring the hell out of Greogory...ah ah ah - that was funny. We have had another cat jumping in our bed in the middle of the night back in S Pedro de Atacama, which was another fantastic place we really liked – maybe these cats symbolise good karma?

Since we have decided to go to Panama by boat instead of by plane, it looks like we are going to hit a 10-day-stay record in Cartagena, which would be one of the longest stays we have had in our journey, excluding Cuenca. The reason is that there are not so many boats going and we have had to work pretty hard to get hold of one. We have finally signed up with El Joshua, a French vessel which is leaving on Saturday. Cutting the story short, we have seen some tiny terrible boats and a really posh one which we have let go for ethical reasons too long to detail here, so now we either took El Joshua a bit late for our liking or we would have had to fly. Since everybody says that the San Blas islands which you pass on the way are fantastic, we have decided to opt for adventure and sign up for this boat, which will carry 7 passengers and has no cabins...only beds in a common shared area. The captain is Colombian and seems very laid back and quite pleasant...so we are taking a chance and we’ll see. We have to take our own food and we will sail for 3 days till we reach the Blas islands, which belong to Panama and are governed by the local indigenas, who have their own laws etc and where the place is quite pristine. Coral reefs and lobsters for dinner etc hopefully will pay off for the long 3 days at sea sharing our personal life with 6 other strangers...

Given the long stay, we have both taken advantage to sort out our teeth. Today Gregory had 6 fillings re-done (so that now he looks like he has perfect totally white teeth back to front) while I have had a deep clean and a whitening treatment to my front tooth, which had turned very dark over the past few months. So far, so good. The next big professional help we are going to need is for my camera, which broke while in Barbados. Barbados was a camera breaker – the underwater one opened while swimming, while the shooting button of my super Sony DSC-H2 fell off, leaving me to take shots with a paper clip, which is really NOT very elegant nor practical. The paper clip solution should not be knocked though, since it continues to provide the pictures we are all currently viewing...

There are a few beaches near Cartagena, many of which are in the Bocagrande area in the city, where the rich and possibly famous live. The best beach we have tried so far is Playa Blanca, 2.5 hours away (by cheap slow day-trip ferry loaded with Colombian tourists - once again, we were the only gringos onboard), which is nice except if you go by ferry you spend less time at the beach and more time queueing for your all-inclusive lunch, then back to town. The many speed boats that passed us seemed the better option, but for some reason the hostel does not recommend them.

If Cartagena is anything to go by, Colombia is a beautiful country well worth a visit. It does appear that the bad old days are behind Colombian life and the good nature of the people here is striking.

We will try to update the blog again before we take the boat on Saturday.

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The slow boat that we took to the Islas del Rosario and Playa Blanca - ALCATRAZ!!!
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The acquarium on Isla del Rosario
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Playa Blanca once all the tourist were loaded back onto ALCATRAZ
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Posted by Flav-Greg 10:09 Archived in Colombia Comments (3)

Barbados

There´s an Island in the Sun

sunny 36 °C

Barbados: A truly Rastafarian land…

It was only 5 days in Barbados for us - plenty for our budget, too short otherwise...

Barbados is called Little England for a reason – it is bloody expensive !!! It is also quite English in its culture, somehow. Like Guyana, they drive on the left, they eat fish and chips (though with a Caribbean flavour), they speak English and they have a government system mirroring the British one. They also have a very high concentration of educated rastamen: many and varied. We booked a studio flat on the internet and when we got there, guess who the landlord was – Gregory the rastafarian!!! Living with a German lady, Isolde, very nice and helpful and offering the most down-to-detail flat we have ever come across. Everything pea green and blue, from the tiles to the towels, the plates, the sofa, the bins, the cutlery, the wardrobe doors, the table lamps, the vases and every other piece of furniture you can think of. The studio flat was $50 a night and really worth it, situated in the south side of the island, which is the most built up and closest to the airport, where the sea is slightly wavy. We had a gorgeous beach about 10 mins walk away, Maxwell beach, with turquoise blue clean water. The whole island is like this, beaches with the most stunning turquoise water surround the whole island, quite striking. The only problem is that it has been and it is being built absolutley everywhere, so access to the sea is not so straightforward. There is one coastal road running along the south-west and it is all built up left right and centre, which is a real pity. The same road offers very limited pavement, often missing completely, which makes strolling about absolutely dreadful. So basically there hasn’t been any sort of building planning in this place, and the result is very obvious.

While here, to make the most of our time we did a couple of organised day trips - one day snorkelling from a catamaran and one day ‘jeep safari’. The catamaran trip was excellent, though the coral reef was not as good as we expected. The highlight was the turtle encounter, where you stop at a spot where green turtles hang about and happily swim around you, being fed shrimps by the guide. Beautiful green-yellow turtles!!! Unfortunately we do not have any pictures, since the underwater camera we enthusiastically bought – it said ‘reusable’ as you can reload new films in it - decided to open up in the middle of the sea and I rescued it only thanks to my super fast reflexes.... we have not tried to develop the film yet to see if anything has come out at all. On the catamaran they had an ‘open bar’, which means that we could drink anything we liked for the whole 6 hours of the trip....crazy! The obviously have a lot of rum to give away and generally the tourism offering is quite highly developed and organised. Like calling the turtles and schools of fish to the snorkelling spots by feeding them and so on – very organised and tourist-oriented, though to me a little too over-developed, like the whole island.
The other trip we did by jeep was also quite good, though that day I had gotten up with a really sharp pain in my back which, by the end of the trip, became so bad that I could hardly walk. Our driver was a local celebrity that looked like Spyro the little green dragon – he had been a boxer, a fire-eater, a children’s music band manager and much more. Very chirpy and enthusiastic, he made sure our adventure safari through the country was really such and drove at kamikaze speeds through the sugar cane fields and up and down the hills, with stunning results on my back. We went to see the east side of the island, Bathsheba, which rocky coast ideal for surfing and some other more or less significant points here and there on the island.

On Monday we flew to Trinidad, where we stayed one night waiting for our flight to Caracas. From Caracas we managed to take a bus to Colombia the same day - only problem is that they told us it would be 16 hours and instead it was a whopping 26!!!!!!! The journey was not that terrible, really, if it wasnt’t that the Colombian police kept stopping and searching the bus every 15 minutes for a good 2 hours, making us all get off the bus each time and stand in the scorching sun at unbearable temperatures. At one point I got so exasperated that I promised Gregory to refuse getting off the bus again and telling the officers that it made little sense to keep stopping the bus and searching ALWAYS the very same bags and maybe they should get a bit smarter and radio each other to see what the hell they were doing. Fortunately after that point the searches stopped and we were able to continue our odyssey. Despite the good advice that Becky gave us to break the journey and visit the Tayrona National Park, on the way to Cartagena, we bought a ticket straight to Cartagena, where we eventually arrived late at night. We managed to share a taxi with some Isreali boys and check in at Hostal Familiar in the Old Town. So this is where we will be for a few days, till we find a flight or a boat to Panama.

Inside Our Room 1- Emville Guest house
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Outside Our Room 2- Emville Guest house
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Catamaran Drunkards trip (flavia looks sober, but she isn´t)
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Maxwell Beach closest to guest house
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Gregory had to get into the water
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Gregory and great aunt Ileen aged 92 and a half
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The Jeep touring crew with Cassius-Clay ( I´m loving it )
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Flavia and Gregory on the East side
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Some East side beach
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Posted by Flav-Greg 13:30 Archived in Barbados Comments (4)

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