Wednesday, June 30, 2010

In the mouth of the bull

Bocas del Toro...what a great place. Bocas is an archipelago which is just a fancy term for a bunch of small islands. The main town is also called Bocas del Toro and that is where we are staying. Its a good sized town with the laid back Caribbean vibe that we love so much. Its a good backpacker spot which means that there are tons of hostels and its got a good nightlife. We dont really participate in the nightlife but are still enjoying ourselves.
Last night, we went to our friend's hostel for some 50 cent beers and to check on the guys doing the 100 beer challange. They didnt seem too enthusiastic about their beers but it was day 3. We found out this morning that they are now up to 85 so I guess they picked up their pace after we left. We only spent $2 on two beers each and a free shot so we left a little tipsy and feeling like winners. We got some dinner and then wandered the town for a while. We passed a nice little parade to honor the winners of a little girls pageant. Then we came upon the most random thing that we have seen yet. There was a guy walking up and down the street pulling a paper airplane behind him on a string. This was not just any paper airplane. He had obviously spent many many hours creating a 3 foot replica of a Leer jet. Rob says it was a citation for those of you who know what that is. It was complete with wheels, lights and spinning engine turbines. Most guys would spend all this time building something like this, finish it and then it would end up in the attic or the garbage. It was certainly way too big to display in your home. This guy decided to show his work of art off to the whole town. He fastened some fishing line to the front and paraded it up and down the main road of his small town. He looked sane and normal and nobody in town even batted an eyelash besides one little kid who came out in the street to look at it.
This morning, after our daily coffee, we caught the bus to the other side of this island to Bocas del Drago. There arent any great beaches around town but from here we can take a bus or a boat, pretty inexpensively to other beaches and islands. The bus was the best we have been on and it even had air conditioning. It took us through the middle of the island, giving us a chance to see the island. Its very green but the greenery was a bit different than what we have been seeing. I cant put my finger on it but it seemed less tropical than other places we have seen. After a while, we got to end of the road and we got out of the bus. We had been told that the best spot was about a 10 minute walk so we headed out. The whole area was gorgeous and dare I say, this is my favorite beach so far. The beach was just a thin strip and there was actually shade into the water. There were starfish everywhere. The best part is that it is completely undeveloped. There were only about 20 other people and not a building or snack stand or house or hotel or anything to be seen. There was nobody walking the beach trying to sell bread or drinks or ganja. We snorkeled a bit and although it was nothing like Roatan, I managed to see some really cool stuff. The best was the manta ray. Of course that was the one swim that I took without my camera, sorry. My only complaint about the beach was the ants that got all over our backpack and the little slivers of fiberglass like sand that would get in our feet. It wasnt too painful but annoying and I think that I still have a few in my right heel.
Thats about it. We will definately stay the week here. There are still a lot of beaches to see. Tomorrow we will take it easy and avoid the sun and then the next day we will take a boat out to another island.

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One more Puerto Viejo post

I'm doing a little out of order post with some pictures from Puerto Viejo. This was the setup for the wedding of an American girl living in the town. Her fiance built the little palapa which the next day were turned into goals for a beach soccer game.

We watched the American football (soccer) team lose to Ghana here. Notice the lack of shirts and shoes and the dog sleeping on the floor. I love a good beach bar.

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Monday, June 28, 2010

Map Update

I'm not sure why our locations have turned into red Xs but this will give you an idea of where we are.

Panama already???

This morning we arrived in Panama, our last country.  Puerto Viejo was a nice little town, although very touristy.  We spent most of our stay just hanging out at our hotel.  The guys who ran the bar and restaurant were from Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas so we felt very at home.  Finn, the chef, cooked the most amazing food every night.  The guy was so talented and being from out part of the world, he cooked the way that we like to eat.  Puerto Viejo seems to be a place that people stay for a long time thanks to the lovely beaches and virtual freedom to do whatever you want.  We met some really interesting expats who all wanted to know if we felt like Puerto Viejo was somewhere we could live.  Although it is a nice town and if some great opportunity presented itself, we certainly wouldnt say no but I think that we are still pretty smitten with Roatan.  I think that Puerto Viejo is just a bit more of a party than we really like.

The nice thing about Puerto Viejo is that it is located really close to the Panamanian border and we had a very easy morning.  We caught a bus in town and in about an hour we were at the border.  The crossing was easy.  At the border,we teamed up with 2 British girls, 2 German guys and a German girl and shared a taxi right to the boat that would take us to Bocas del Toro.  As usual, the boat ride was lovely and will always remain our favorite form of transportation although Rob grumbled a bit when they asked us all to wear life jackets.

Now we are here in Bocas del Toro which is a group of islands right off the coast of Panama.  We are in the main town which is also called Bocas del Toro and have checked into our 2nd choice of hotel and are happily enjoying some TV and air conditioning.  Its been almost 2 weeks since I have had decent internet access and we are still without it.  Hopefully tomorrow we will move into our first choice of hotel which for the same price has everything that we have here along with wifi and a communal kitchen.

As we were walking down the street here, I glanced into one of the bigger hostels and saw our friend that we have been running into since Nicaragua.  We ate lunch together and got the low down on the area since he has already been here for a few days.  It was nice to see a familiar face and we will head to his hostel later for some interesting entertainment.  The hostel offers a 100 beer challange and if you can drink 100 beers during your stay, you get a free dinner or something.  Well apparently there are some Irish guys who are taking the challange in 4 days and this is day 3.  It should be an entertaining happy hour since they will have 1 hour to make the most of the 50 cent beer special.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The end is near

I did it...I bought our tickets home.  We will be coming home on August 5 at around 1 pm.  Its not because we are homesick or sick of this lifestyle...its just time to go home and see our friends and family.  We are not happy about it so to help me come to terms with it, I'm going to list a few things that I'm looking forward to in Dallas.

Air conditioning
friends and family
cooking in a stocked kitchen
real showers where you can set the temperature
flushing toilet paper
replacing our wardrobe and burning the 3 sets of clothes that we have been wearing this entire trip
hopefully some financial income
clothes washer, drier and fabric softener

That helped a little.  I'm still focused on our remaining travel time.  We still have some great things ahead of us in Panama:  Caribbean islands, volunteering with monkeys, using US dollars again, the canal and hopefully many many things that I dont even know about yet.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Beaches beaches and more beaches

We are still in Puerto Viejo. The area is just beach after beach after beach. There is a beach for every sand, tan sand, beaches with people, empty beaches, beaches for surfing, beaches for swimming, even a beach with snorkeling.

Yesterday, we renting bicycles and rode out to Uva, the beach with the snorkeling. The day was perfect with clear blue skies and the water was the calmest that we have seen. The bicycling was interesting. I think that it has been 20 years since I rode and bike and I'm not very happy to say that since it makes me feel kind of old. Luckily it was like riding a bike and I didnt fall or anything. The roads here are interesting...they are in the process of improving them but not in any sort linear order. I assume that they are doing the worst spots first. There were some stretches that were brand new and paved that day and some spots were horribly bumpy which made our butts hurt really bad. When we got back to the hotel, we were spent. Probably the most tired we have been in a long time.

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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Puerto Viejo

We arrived yesterday in Puerto Viejo, another town at the southern end of the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica.  It will be our last stop in this country before we head to Panama, our last county.  We have decided to stay a week because it is a great base station for checking out a bunch of nice beaches.  The town is great!  Its full of travelers from all over the world and not very "Costa Rican" but its really lovely and friendly and we are very happy with our hotel, Kaya's Place.  If I can only figure out how to get the internet to work there, it will be even better.

More on this town later.


Here are the pictures of the 3 toed sloth that was hanging from the power line in town on our last night in Cahuita.

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more pics

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more pics

This is an eyelash pit viper. They are deadly and the rangers in the park pointed out 2 different ones that were just curled up in trees....very scary.

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More cahuita pics

Blue Morpho butterfly

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I'm sorry that its been a few days since I posted. Our hostel in Cahuita didnt have wifi it only had a shared computer. The computer had a spanish keyboard (which I hate) and was in a corner full of mosquitos, so I took a little vacation from the internet. I'm back now so here are a few posts to get you caught up on our stay in Cahuita. since we are now in Puerto Viejo.

Yesterday we arrived in Cahuita in the rain. The bus ride from San Jose was fairly uneventful besides the fact that we went an hour out of the way due to some sort of landslide on the usual road. The ride took about 5 hours and we were very happy when we pulled into the bus station in Cahuita even though it was raining. We put on our packs and headed around town to see what kind of rooms were available. I decided to be choosy since the town was so small and we checked out about 4 different places before settling on the Shangrila hostel. Its run by an Italian guy who just built the place. Its only been open about a month so the rooms are much newer than most of the places here. It rained on and off for most of the evening so we kind of laid low just wandering the small beach town. We did have an amazing dinner of red snapper with 2 different sauces. The fish was huge and the sauces were so tasty.
We woke this morning happy to see that the rain was stopped. Rob ran around town trying to figure out the best way to call his dad for father's day while I whipped up a terribly short email since the only internet access here is on a shared computer which has a spanish keyboard which I find very difficult to use. Sorry Dad! Happy Father's Day.
The world cup was on at the hotel and Italy played a pretty pathetic game but it was fun because the hotel guy is Italian.
We spent the whole rest of our day at the National Park. The really great thing about Cahuita that makes it stand out from every other beach town, is that the town is right next to a National Park. The best swimming beach is in the park and a trail follows beach through forest that has all kinds of great wildlife. You can see the water for most of the trail. The best part is that the entrance to the park is free so we can come and go as we please. We walked less than half the trail but enjoyed the walk a lot. Then we spent all afternoon just hanging out at the beach.
Anyone who has been reading a while should remember how we raved about Tapado in Livingston, Guatemala. I'd heard that here on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica is a similar soupy food called Rondon. I'd looked for it in all the restuaurants yesterday but didnt see it. Today, we walked by a small place that had a sign out front advertising their Rondon. The price was right at about $4 for a serving which is pretty cheap for Costa Rica. We just got back from eating it and it was delicious! Jose, the chef, let us know that a lot of times you will see it as a soup, but his is more correct and was more of a stew. He used breadfruit, yucca and plantain which he cooks for a long time in coconut milk and his secret blend of spices until all of the veggies are nice and soft and the broth was more of a gravy. He served it with a nice chunk of Jackfish or you could even serve it with beef or chicken. He mentioned a spice mix called bomba which we will have to look up when we get home. If you find yourself in Cahuita on Thurs-Sunday, find this little place right next to the payphones and the little park.
Tonight is our last night here in Cahuita. Last night we were talking to some folks here at the hostel and they urged us to walk the entire park today so we did. Boy am I glad that we took their advice. It was the perfect walk...perfect length, perfect wildlife sightings and perfect beaches. The walk is about 5 miles in total and we dragged it out over about 4 hours. We saw 2 eyelash pitvipers (with the help of the park rangers), a sloth, many howler and capuchin monkeys, lizards and birds. We even saw a manta ray jump out of the water and belly flop back in. For the second half of the walk we saw almost no people. At about mile 4, we stopped and made sandwiches with some items that we had picked up at the store on the way there (fresh bread, canned tuna with jalapenos, cream cheese, avocado and a little lime..yum). The sky was very blue and so was the water. At the end of the trail is a very long, deserted beach. It was by far the most beautiful beach that we have seen so far in this country with super fine sand that felt great on our tired toes. The beach was so deserted that I changed into my bathing suit right on that beach. About 1 mile past that beach, we caught a bus back to Cahuita tired and happy.
We've really enjoyed our stay here. This town really stands out from the other beach towns in Costa Rica. Tourism is probably the main source of income for the town but it has yet to be really taken over by gringos. The free national park is my new favorite park because for 99% of the walk, you are so close to the water that you can hear and see the waves through the trees.
After writing the last few paragraphs yesterday evening, we decided to go for a little walk in the town. On our way back to the hotel, as we were crossing the street, I happened to look up and notice something hanging on the power line. At first I thought it was some sort of canvas bag or some kid's backpack. As I looked closer, I realized that it was a sloth. I thought that maybe someone had hung up a stuffed animal as a joke or something but as we got closer, I realized that it was a real live sloth! We watched hang for a few moments and confirmed that its head was moving a little. I had been thinking all day about how Costa Rica is a country where you need to have your camera with you at all times but of course, I had left mine at the hotel. The nice thing about a sloth is that they dont move too much so we were confident it would still be there if we ran and got the camera. We walked quickly back to the hotel hoping that there would be other people awake and hanging out so that we could invite them to come with us. There was only 1 couple still up, a French couple. Rob told them about the sloth and even though they had a difficult time understanding what was there, they grabbed their camera and the 4 of us headed back. Sure enough, the sloth hadnt moved an inch. As we stood there taking pictures, he started making his way across the power line. We were suprised at how quickly he made his way hand over hand but after going about 35 feet, he stopped to rest and didnt move again while we were there. A local guy came out when he saw us taking pictures and offered all kinds of useful information about the sloth, like that some people eat them but he doesnt because of all of the bacteria that they carry.
My advice to anyone coming to Costa Rica is, first, always keep your camera handy, second, dont go to bed early just because everyone else does and third, always keep your eyes open.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Another day in San Jose

We went to bed last night with plans to catch a 10am bus this morning for the Caribbean coast.  As we were getting dressed, I watched Rob smell a shirt to see if it was clean enough to wear and he gagged from the smell.  For about 5 days, I've been saying that we need to have laundry done.  I hate having it done because it is crazy expensive and I've noticed that we have been going longer and longer between loads.  We try to do mercy loads in the sink but it would have been tough to dry stuff in the damp rain forest. We made a decision to stay here one more night so that we can have some laundry done before moving on.
This hostel that we are at is really weird but I'm ok to stay here one more night. The hostel is called Pangea and it is by far the hugest hostel we have seen.  It is very self contained with a bar and restaurant.  It has a nice view of San Jose which is so far, the only welcoming capital city that we have been in.  San Jose is the main hub in Costa Rica so there are lots of travelers here, mostly just arriving in the country or getting ready to leave.  Rob normally hates hostels but I think that sometimes its nice to be surrounded by travelers and people who we can talk to easily.  Sports seems to be the main activity and everyone speaks English.
Last night it was all about the basketball game which was a sad situation when Boston lost since everyone was rooting for them.  This morning, its all about football (or soccer for you Americans).  Sadly the US is losing, although all the Brits and Australians at the bar must be rooting for us because we just scored and everyone cheered.  I can tell how much this trip has affected us because we are actually interested in the World Cup and even find ourselves calling it football.
The strangest part of this place is the bathroom.  Its right in the middle of the building.  It took us ages to find our room because we have to walk through the bathroom to get to it which seemed counter-intuitive.  Then to get to the bar, we walk past the bathroom again.  My favorite part is the urinals that are right next to the stairs.  I assume that they are only used late at night after a few drinks because there is zero privacy.  I keep seeing guys walk up to the urinal and then realize that they are in the middle of the hallway and move to a stall.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Our Costa Rica Route


Yesterday was our last day in Arenal and now we are in San Jose. Every country has at least 1 very special place and in my humble opinion, Arenal is Costa Rica's special place. If you come here, that is the place that should not be missed. Take my advice and stay on the lava side of the volcano. We didnt spend any time on the other side of the volcano where most people stay but I think that they really missed out. The volcano erupts constantly every day all day long. The real show starts at dusk when you can actually see the lava rocks bouncing down the volcano sides. I tried to get a picture but without a powerful camera and tripod, this was the best that I could do. Trust me, its much better in person.

In a previous post, I explained about our wonderful hotel and the nightly cooking sessions. Check out the sushi that I rolled. The place was vegetarian so our rolls only had veggies, avocado, cream cheese and deep fried green beans. Even so, they were fun and delicious. My only complaint was that we only got 1 roll each when we all could have easily eaten 2 or more.

Last night was falafel night and we all got to participate in making and rolling the falafel balls. Below is Isaac, the genius chef teaching us about falafel. For the first time, last night, I felt a pang of home sickness. Not enough to send me home before the end of the trip but there is something about cooking and eating together with friends that made me really miss cooking and eating with my friends and family. Isaac, if you are reading this, I'm sure that my mom thanks you for reminding me about why there is no place like home.

If you look closely, you can see the rainbow next to the volcano. Like I said, this is a very special place. It is definately right up there with Semuc Champey in Guatemala, the Bay Islands in Honduras and Ometepe in Nicaragua.

I've mentioned before how great it is to run into people that we have met in previous places. Today, at our hostel in San Jose, we ran into half of the pair that we stayed with in Tamarindo. This world is very small. We have now been in 4 cities at the same time in 2 different countries.
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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Red eye frog

With all of the interest in my pictures of the frog, I thought I would post this picture. This is that same frog and what he looks like most of the time when he doesnt want anyone to see him. He sticks to the bottom of a leaf and you would never know he was there.

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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

This is what Costa Rica is all about....

We walked over to the serpentarium today and all that I can say is wow. I was expecting to see critters in cages but I was not expecting to get to hold so many of them. The hand in the 2nd picture is mine.

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Dinner and Lava

This is proving to be one of the best hotel experiences that we have had in a long time. Last night was Moroccan food night here in Costa Rica. The hotel was booked solid with a very international crowd. At 7, everyone made their way into the kitchen area. We chatted and kept an eye on the volcano while they got ready for us. Eventually he suggested that we wash our hands and get ready. A few of us shyly washed our hands and headed to the counter where he had a ball of dough laid out for each of us. He then walked us through flattening the dough, laying in some caramelized peppers and onions and then folding it back over. Simple enough and pretty hard to mess up, we were all pretty proud anyway. We layed them all out on the plancha and the ice was broken. We all chatted while we waited a few minutes and watched them put the finishing touches on dinner. We sat down family style with the German family with their 6 year old son and the American girl and her Costa Rican boyfriend that were on our shuttle in. Dinner was delicious and really fun. Did I mention that the place is vegetarian? Wierd, I know but we forgive them for it.

After dinner, we all sat around, had some drinks, discussed our lives and travel and watched the lava. I was really impressed with the amount that we saw. I'd love to photograph it but I think it will be a challange. Its very dark and I dont have a tripod. We were told that before 1968, they thought this was just a mountain and then one day it just erupted out of the blue and had continued to erupt since then.

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Monday, June 14, 2010


So far, I'm very happy with how today has worked out. We woke up to nice weather. Overcast as always but not raining with some blue sky. Our shuttle came at 8 to take us on the taxi-boat-taxi ride to the Arenal area. We rode through the beautiful Monteverde area and I kind of snoozed most of the way. These bus and shuttle rides really put me to sleep and it was nice to be on a private van and not have to worry about my stuff or missing our stop. There were only 6 of us on the shuttle and it was about an hour or so to Lake Arenal. It is a pretty lake, not as big as some we've seen. Our van pulled up to the lake and there were 4 or 5 other vans already there. Each company seemed to have a few vans and a boat. We all grabbed our bags, mostly backpacks in the whole bunch and we boarded the boat for a nice little boat ride. We had great views of the volcano and overall it was leisurely and nice.
On the boat, they put people in groups based on where we were staying. Most people head to La Fortuna which is the town and then others head to hotels outside of town. It was just us and another couple in our van headed to Castillo on the lava side of the volcano. The other couple didnt have a hotel picked yet so I recommended ours and they stayed here too.
Our hotel is called Essence and its pretty new so its not in the guidebooks. The reviews on tripadvisor were so great that I was getting a little worried that my expectations would be too high. I was relieved when we arrived to find a nice little hotel on top of a hill overlooking the lake and the volcano. Kelly met us at the van with a smile and showed us to our room. I'm happy with our room, on the end of a strip of 4 or 5 other rooms. He gave us a little tour of the grounds, the building with our room, the next building with the kitchen with dining room table and TV room, and then another building with couches, a few other rooms, the back patio with pool and fire place. He explained that every night, the chef cooks a different themed meal and everyone can come and help cook and learn the recipes. Its such a smart idea. Tonight is Morroccan food and tomorrow night is sushi so we will definately stay at least 2 nights. Maybe we will stay for falafel the next night.
There is a nice little hike that we took after lunch that goes through some secondary rainforest. I'm not sure yet what exactly that means but it was very lush and thick.
There is a howler monkey hanging out in a tree next to one of the buildings and we can here a group of howlers on the next hill. Its very peaceful here, just chirping birds, howler monkeys and the rumbling of the volcano.
Hopefully the other people staying here are cool and friendly. I can tell that the main evening activity here is to hang out and wait for the clouds to come off of the volcano to catch glimpses of the lava and that will be a lot more fun with good company.

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