Monday, 29 December 2014

Sickness in San Juan Del Sur

Arriving in Rivas amongst the many taxi drivers eager to take you wherever you want to go, we found another couple also heading to the beach town of San Juan Del Sur. Jumping in a cab with them, we parted ways with our Swiss friends for a few nights. When we arrived at our little green side street hostel, we were kindly greeted by Mama Sara who offered us some empanadas. Thankful and hungry we downed them in no time. A few hours later at supper, I couldn't eat anything, the smell, taste and thought of food made my stomach turn and head spin. Quickly we left the restaurant and the long, ugly, painful night began. I can't think of the last time I felt so terrible, laying in bed in agony before vomiting in the adjacent bathroom. Once I was finally able to lay down without the fear of vomiting again, Travis was hit with a migraine headache and we both were immobile. Thankfully God gave us strength to continue to care for each other all night through brief moments of clarity. We don't know what we had for sure but we assume innocent food poisoning courtesy of Mama Sara may have been the cause.

The next few days we took it easy as we tried to recover from the worst experience of our trip so far. On our last day we rented a quad and rode up the hill to see the large Christ statue which over looks the town. From there we were also able to soak in the incredible view of the ocean and surrounding country side, it was breathtakingly beautiful. We had hoped to do more in San Juan del Sur, like turtle watching, surfing or simply visiting surrounding beaches. However with our low energy we settled on finding good food and watching the sun set into the ocean each night, still filled with gratitude to be in this beautiful country. 

The following day we took a 45 minute taxi ride back to Rivas and bought a few groceries as our next stop would not contain the oppurtunity to get much in the way of essentials. When exiting the grocery store, we decided to take a ride aboard a manual rickshaw to the bus stop. It was fun, although we felt sorry for the guy peddling both of us, plus our packs and groceries (we gave him a nice tip for Christmas). While on Ometepe we gained a new friend, Fearghal from Ireland, who works in Vancouver. We made plans to meet in Rivas and go spend Christmas on the beach together. As we waited for Fearghal to arrive from Granada, the taxi drivers trying to give us a ride were overwhelming with their persistence and competition with one another. Finally we found one we were comfortable with and headed for Popoyo beach with Fearghal and his friend Morgan, excited to see our Swiss friends again and enjoy some of the things we missed out on in San Juan del Sur. 






Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Adventures on Isla de Ometepe

With a bit more energy from a good nights sleep, we walked onto the ferry with our two Swiss friends (after taking a picture with a big random chair at the ferry terminal) and spread out on the upper deck. The lake breeze was welcoming as we headed out on our four hour journey to the island composed of two volcanos in the middle of the largest fresh water lake in the world. Unfortunetly, the water didn't look so fresh and we decided right away against swimming in it. The sunset was beautiful from the ferry over the distant hills of Nicaraguas mainland. Arriving in the dark we climbed into a shuttle van and headed for the hostel our friends hoped would have room, sadly it did not. Tired and hungry we finally found a hostel and crashed for the night. All through the night the local roosters crowed allowing for little sleep, we would have understood if the sun was rising but these fellas didn't seem to care if the sun was up or not. At 6:30am we got up and researched other island options for accommodations. Walking through the village it was very difficult to see the numerous starving dogs all around, it broke our hearts. 

That afternoon we found a great spot to stay right on the lake where we could enjoy the sunset each night. Our private room had a large hammock out front where we peacefully read and relaxed for the next two days. The place was called Hacienda Merida and helped fund the Billingual (English) Elementary School attached to it and also leads the recycling program on the island that creates many work opportunities for the locals. With these two factors in play, it made the rather steep price of the rooms a little easier to swallow. On our third day we went kayaking with our friends along the lake to a river heading inland. This was my first time kyaking, It was challenging and tons of fun. We saw a small caiman (1.5 metres), turtles, cranes and many other beautiful birds. I felt like Ariel from The Little Mermaid floating in the romantic lagoon as Travis paddled, shalla lala lala.... 

The next day we rented a dirt bike and headed out for a cruise around the islands. We had noticed that most of the locals didn't wear helmets so made the assumption that it is optional. We were wrong. After a splendid half hour we were pulled over by an eager police officer who happily handed Travis a $20 ticket while putting his drivers license in his pocket. You see it was Travis's ticket because only the driver is legally supposed to wear one, go figure. So the obstacle race began, we were instructed to find a bank on the opposite side of the island before 4, pay the ticket and then find the police officer again somewhere along a different stretch of road (he wasn't sure we're he would be) to obtain the drivers license. With some frustration and laughter we embarked on our new journey while still enjoying the island scenery. We passed many pigs, oxen, horses, chickens and dogs crossing the road. We drove over the runway of the airstrip which doubles as a road when there are no planes. After three attempts to find the right bank, we paid our fee and later found the officer with ease. With that behind us we went for a dip in the natural mineral pool, it was refreshing. With about  one hour of sunlight left we decided to complete our goal of driving around both islands. What we didn't know is how rough the final stretch of road would be. My husbands dirtbike riding skills were put to the ultimate test as we raced the dark along the very rough, very narrow road strewn with large rocks and boulders. The poor dirt bike hit the bottom of the suspension on more than one occasion. While barreling along the road, we were drawing closer to a section of road flooded by a river from the volcano. I was unsure of what we were going to do and asked Travis if I should get off the bike and let him try to cross alone. He quickly spotted a very narrow pedestrian walkway and went straight for it before I could completely comprehend what he was doing. Nervously, I tried to sit still as the rails of the walkway were mere inches from our knees, but Travis didn't falter or slow down to give any other option anyways. Thankfully, we made it around the island just in time to watch the sunset on our home stretch. After a good night sleep we packed up, loaded in a truck (with the men in the box) and caught a one hour ferry ride to Rivas.




Friday, 19 December 2014

The Flurry of Entering Nicaragua

It wasn't easy figuring out transportation options to the border as the best option was full for three weeks! Finally we decided to spend a bit more and save some time by booking a shuttle. The next morning as we climbed into the shuttle we struggled with disappointment as this was the first day in 10 the sun was actually shining. We wanted to zip line in Monteverde just not in the pouring rain, but now it was too late. When we left Panama we felt like we truly enjoyed and experienced the country. This time we felt let down by Costa Rica, the weather and high costs brought on by increasing tourism were frustrating. Nevertheless, we reminded ourselves of the good times and good people we had met, as well as the fact that Costa Rica is somewhere we can visit again someday. After a stop along the way to see some macaws, we renewed our excitement to move on and meet up with our Swiss friends, Michael and Michelle in Granada. 

The border on the Costa Rican side was smooth and simple, however entering Nicaragua we fumbled about for what seemed like an hour. With no signs posted as to where and who to pay and constantly trying to avoid the people coming up and trying to sell you customs papers which we knew were free left us a bit frazzled. Finally we paid our fees and found out where the bus stop was. Since there was no food around we bought a large cacao chocolate bar to share for lunch, sadly it was dried out but we nawed on it anyways. We thought the drivers were wild in the souther country's but so far, Nicaraguans take the cake. We sat back and laughed one time when our driver pulled out and passed two large semi trucks at the same time on a busy narrow two lane highway. Every 5 minutes we pulled over for more people to climb aboard through the front and back door, packing the narrow school bus walk way. At the same time others would crowd on yelling above the noise to sell their food products, jumping off at the next stop. Once we were finally released from the crowded noisy bus, we ate a quick bite and jumped in a taxi which took us to Granada. Travis and the driver got in an argument over the price which caused a spike in my heart rate and a dramatic spike in Travis's adrenaline/anger as for the first time on our trip we really felt like someone was trying to rip us off. In the end, Travis gave him what we thought was fair and we quickly ducked into our hostel. It was so wonderful to see our friends again. We enjoyed wandering around Granada's town square that night with them, then crashed hard after our busy day of travel. 



La Fortuna and Monteverde with Canadians

The bus ride North to La Fortuna was long and held more than its fair share of sharp curves, as most of the mountain roads do. We happened to met a great couple from Prince George on the bus and enjoyed visiting with them as we went. When we arrived in La Fortuna we parted ways in the rain and headed out looking for a hostel. Not sure were to stay we ran into a fellow Calgarian named Ryan at the entrance of his hostel and could tell we would get along well, so we decided to stay there. With the cost being higher than we hoped we decided to brave the dorm life. The beds were very comfortable but it was an adjustment to sleep in the same room as 6 others again. Thankfully they were all good people and we enjoyed sharing travel stories with one another each night before falling sleep. Our first day was disheartening, our expectations for La Fortuna were high with Volcan Arenal on our doorstep and the promise of many fun activities all around. However, the realization that everything blew our backpackers budget hit hard. Travis consoled me with a gelato and a walk around the beautiful town square followed by an outdoor body weight workout in the rain before taking a dip in our cold hostel pool. With a smile on my face again, I was able to remember that just being in a place like this is an activity in itself. The next day Ryan joined us for a 7 km hike up hill, in the pouring rain, to a waterfall. It was awesome getting to know him and learning that he had been to my parents business before, it made the world seem so small! The waterfall was incredible, I had never seen one with such water volume and power before. We decided to strip down to our underwear and go in, it was cold, the bottom rocky and the strength of the current emense, I loved it! I realize more and more on this journey that I care less about my appearance and what others may think and more about enjoying the moment. The third day it also was overcast and rainy so we sadly never did see the Arenal volcano. 

Climbing into a shuttle we headed for Monteverde. Transferring to a shuttle boat to cross a lake we spotted our friends from Prince George! With neither of us having booked a place to stay we agreed to find somewhere together. Thankfully, the first place Travis had in mind had room for all of us. We met a couple from Quebec staying there as well and the 6 of us instantly hit it off. We decided to go see the hanging bridges and hummingbirds right away. The birds made us think about my Grandpa, he loved his hummingbirds. We took a video to show my Grandma when we go home, I know she will also appreciate how many there were buzzing around the nectar. Travis and I had a lot of fun together walking and running along the bridges in the rain, again it made me so grateful for this time together. We went for supper with our friends from Quebec and visited late with our Prince George friends, building very cool connections. However, in the morning both couples moved on and we stayed another day making plans for Nicaragua.





San Jose Revisited for Protein Powder

Not everything, scratch that, many things in life don't turn out as we had planned. But even through the challenges of change, I am beginning to find joy in the goodness around me, more than ever before. We arrived in San Jose at a bus stop which ended up being a 45 minute walk away from our hostel. With daylight and a cool breeze on our side we decided to save a few colones and walk. Talking away as we walked, out of the corner of my eye I caught a glimpse of a persons barefoot on the ground and jumped to the side. To our astonishment there were people curled up inside extremely narrow cardboard boxes all along the street with just their feet sticking out. It was difficult to swallow as we looked back and realized we had walked by others already without noticing. The next block we walked in silence. This short journey through the harsh reality of poverty served to solidify our decision to not take a taxi as we made our way across downtown to our hostel, Kaps Place. Even though our feet were sore under the weight of our packs, our hearts were filled with gratitude. When we arrived at our hostel the outside of the building was very unassuming but upon entering we discovered the cutest hostel yet where each day we could play ping pong and enjoy a delicious breakfast. 

Our main reason for coming to San Jose was to meet up with our lovely friends Marcia and Fernando. However their family came down with a terrible flu and we were unable to get together. Through our understanding and disappointment, Travis and I still enjoyed a day out at the large mall. First we walked across downtown for an hour through the thickest crowds of people we have ever encountered with loud music blaring from the stores and the constant changing smells of food, garbage, sweat and waste until we found our bus. At first when we arrived at the fancy mall, as nice as CrossIron Mills in Alberta, we felt a sense of comfort and belonging. With Christmas decorations everywhere and English Christmas music playing we felt at home. But the longer we wandered around, the more we felt like we didn't belong there. Remembering the simple life we have been living, the people in boxes and now the stark contrast of the exuberant amounts of consumerism before our eyes, it made us not want the buy anything and suddenly we felt out of place. However, we did thoroughly enjoy a DQ blizzard and happily bought some protein powder from GNC to help supplement our rice filled diet. 

The bus ride home was slow, traffic was heavy as there was a marathon going through downtown. As I watched some people struggling mightily in their effort to run the race with terrible running form, I felt grateful for Travis' knowledge; knowing I have a coach for any event I pursue. Anyways, the bus had not moved for 10 minutes so we decided to join the locals and walk the rest of the way. Travis was in front of me as we rounded the front of the bus, he didn't realize the bus was in the middle of traffic. I watched as he stepped out and Instantly jumped back just before getting hit by a car. Both of our hearts were racing from the very close call for the next hour as we walked to Kaps Place and I thanked God for his protection. On our third day we spent more time researching and planning our next move north and visiting with other travellers which is always helpful. 

Monday, 15 December 2014

Costa Rican Honeymoon and Rainymood

Confidently, we traveled to the Costa Rican boarder on the locals bus and crossed quickly without a problem. We thought about our nervousness during our first boarder crossing with a shuttle guide and how far we have come in our willingness to brave potential obsticals on our own. Not wanting to travel more than 4 hours we stopped at a small bus town and paid way too much for a not so nice motel room, but at least it had A/C. In the morning we crowded on the local bus again and headed up the Pacific coast to a small town called Uvita. The heat was stifling when we arrived, it must have been in the high 30s. Drowning in our own sweat under the weight of our packs, we walked 1 km uphill to the cabina we booked just out of town. When we finally reached our destination we were rewarded with a perfect oasis. This brand new little cabin was owned by a lovely Italian couple and was cozy as can be with the much needed A/C. Each morning they served us a cute breakfast and at night a romantic pasta supper by candle light where we could watch the fireflies dance in the grass around us. For three days we felt like we were on our honeymoon, it was wonderful! One day we walked 5 km to the national park beach where we played in the waves as we watched the tide go out until there was a sand bar we could walk across, a sand bridge to an island. From an aerial view this long stretch of sand strongly resembles a whale tail. After our day of walking in the heat we decided to hitchhike back and were picked up by a kind local couple. On our last day we met up with our friends from Switzerland, who we did the hike with at Lost and Found hostel in Panama. It was so great to see them again! In the heat (what else) we walked 1 km to a beautiful waterfall where we swam and played in its refreshingly cool waters. After a couple hours it was time for Travis and I to head to our next destination up the coast.

We arrived in Quepos hungry and in the pouring rain just before dark. Spotting a Subway we decided to splurge and order some familiar food and I downed a foot long pizza sub, it was delicious! Shortly after filling up, we found the hostel we had booked and this time we were met with disappointment. It wasn't very nice, bearable would be the best word to describe it.  We tried to leave only to discover that since we had booked 3 nights online they wouldn't give us our money back. The town was nothing special either but we found happiness in the familiar surroundings of a fantastic gym! We went each day and enjoyed a watered down protein shake after our workouts. Thankfully the bus ride to the beach at Manuel Antonio was short and cheap so we could go there each day as well. Even in the rain we happily playing frisbee with a guy from our hostel and jumping in the dark blue waves. After 3 days of making the best of a rather poor predicament, we climbed on another bus and headed for the big bad city of San Jose, pleased to be moving on.


Friday, 5 December 2014

Panama City Day 2 .... Boquete Week 2

After San Blas we were able to spend the day with our new friend Manuel in Panama City who we met  while staying in Bocas Del Toro. Manuel is an engineer from Tijuana Mexico but works in Panama City. He was kind enough to tour us around, showing us the monuments of the founders of the Panama Canal, as well as the historic remains of Panama Viejo, the city destroyed by Captain Morgan. Taking the extremely over crowded bus around the city was comical, as Travis stood taller and bigger than everyone on it. After supper we said asta luego and climbed on the overnight bus once again. Thankfully this time we were in the very front so the motion sickness did not rear its ugly head. Over the next six days we enjoyed the comforts of beautiful Boquete once again. Our days were spent going to the local gym, eating healthly food, researching Costa Rica and relishing in our clean clothes. On our last day we watched a parade celebrating Panamas independence from Spain. It consisted primarily of students in marching bands from all over Panama. When the Boquete students went by we knew the beat by heart, as we had been hearing them practice for a couple hours each day in the school yard across from our hostel. I will miss the sound of the drums and trumpets as we cross the boarder to Costa Rica. Oh yes, I also snuck in a little Black Friday, small town shopping, new gym shoes!