Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Costa Rrrica....Costa loadsa!

But let's start with all the great things about the place. 

You can drink the water straight from the tap. Fantastic, reduce my plastic consumption and save a few colones.

The women here, like most of Central America, are magnificent. They have bosoms and bottoms and they love wearing tight t-shirts and short shorts that are all a size too small. But they are wonderfully confident about being all woman.
The people here are incredibly friendly, helpful and offer you drugs a lot.

The weather, we Brits love talking about the weather so no good for us. It's pretty much the same all year. Hot, but not too hot and humid. No harsh winters and a not so rainy rainy season. So fairly perfect all year round with not much to moan about.

Rubbish, or lack of. There's a bit more education about rubbish and so you don't see kids and adults throwing their plastic bags and bottles out of the bus windows. There are bins to use and people use them. Novel.

Bugs, well there's a few but not so many that I have to slather on insect repellent all day and night.

Stuff to do, there's shit loads to do here. Zip lining, cloud forests, rain forests, turtle sanctuaries, sloth sanctuaries, white water rafting, beaches galore, hiking trails, coffee plantations, chocolate factories and the list goes on. One catch to all this amazing activity...you need shit loads of money to do it all. Pretty much everything, even hiking trails, have a charge or you have to have a guide. And, unfortunately, the charges are not a just few quid but ridiculously huge sums of money.

Anyway, on to what we did do.

We spent a week in a cute little apartment in the suburbs of San Jose, a city of a little over 2 million people and chilled a bit. We visited Heredia, a small town about 20kms away which was a non event. Then from there visited another town called Barva. This was a curious little place with strange animal heads on spikes over the bins and signs and 4 parks around the town that we thought would give us a place to walk to. After the second shite park that was locked and overgrown with a concrete slide in it, we gave up and got the three buses home. So we spent about six hours on various buses and had a slightly bizarre day. 

Barva - Town of decapitated heads
We did find a great local market for our fresh fruit and veggies and tried a local dish, Churreada. It's made of, yes you guessed it, corn. It's the same stuff they make those f**king tortillas from but stuffed full of cheese and fried in a griddle. I hate to say it but it was actually very tasty and filling.

Post office San Jose
We wandered around the city for several days taking photos of the theatre and post office and the numerous churches and parks. Oh, talking of parks, there's a huge one called La Sabana park on the outskirts which is also nicknamed the lungs of the city. It's absolutely gigantic and facilities for rollerblading, cycling, football, skateboarding, running, speed skating velodrome and picnic areas with BBQs and a vast lake used for fishing and pedaloes. It was a beautiful day and it was really busy. 

The architecture around the city, and most of what we have seen of Costa Rica, is a bit confused. There are a few beautiful historic buildings but then it seems as though you can do whatever you like without consideration of what your neighbours have or what might be tasteful. And, for a safe place,there were bars on windows and razor wire on most places. But they do do outdoor/indoor spaces well. Lots of covered areas for sitting and chatting but almost like they're living in their garage. 

Build what you want
So enough of the city, we thought we would see what all the fuss is about and check out a 'cloud forest'. I thought what's the difference, cloud forest, rain forest, same same. But they're not. I won't bore you, you can look it up. Main difference for us walking around was we didn't get soaked with sweat and have to carry gallons of water to avoid dehydration. It was pleasingly cool and had some different vegetation. We saw an LBB, that's a little brown bird, a jungle turkey and a band of coati. They are a bit like a raccoon. Not too challenging which was lucky cos Chris had a bad back but our hotel was a bit pooh so we wanted to do the walk and move on!

One of a band of Coati
(or whatever the collective term is.. You decide)
So, done a city and a cloud forest now for the beach. We decided to visit the Caribbean coast as the Pacific coast in El Salvador and Nicaragua had been for the surfers and we thought Costa Rica may be the same. So we ended up in a small town called Puerto Viejo. A bit of a drag from Monteverde, two bus journeys, each about four and a half hours long both of them ending up on the sunny side of the bus and one with no air con, the other with no room even for my little legs. The joys of travel...Puerto Viejo and a border crossing to follow.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Nicaragua - The second bit

Granada is considered to be the jewel of Nicaragua. It’s a well deserved title as this small city is quite spectacular. Horse drawn carriages take tourists through street after street of colonial homes. Each with colourful walls, large windows and impressive doors that open into high ceilinged salas and internal courtyards.

There are several impressive churches which, by law, must stand higher than the surrounding buildings. Imposing government buildings with impressive columns and cool porticoes and bustling markets. Spacious squares have numerous benches placed under the shady trees where you can watch the world walk by unless its a tour guide, then they walk by ten times and ask you the same question about whether you want to go on a boat trip, horse ride etc.

It’s not an overly busy town. Considering the number of hotels and its self proclaimed ‘Jewel’ marketing you would expect to find far more tourists. Perhaps because of this the town lacks either the energy of a real town or a more touristic place. We did look a round a few properties that were for rent or sale (great prices for a lot of house) but, there was just something missing in the place – maybe music and art – I don’t know. It just left Rachel a little underwhelmed although I was conversely pretty whelmed. We stayed for several days though.

The further from the centre, the poorer the people and housing. But even so the homes are generally well maintained, the faces friendly and there was no sense of threat (although Rachel noticed a different and more leering attitude to her when walking to the supermarket alone than with me). Welcome to my world Rachel – At least she didn’t have to bat ‘em off with a stick like I do when I go out alone.

The town is in a great location. It’s directly beside the huge Lake Nicaragua which is reached by a gentle amble down main street to the promenade. In another direction lies Volcan Mombacho and in another Laguna de Apoya. We took some bikes and did a 25km ride around the edge of Lake Nicaragua which was very pleasant. We passed a few of those pesky tour guides near the town who actually tried to sell us tours whilst we rode past them! The promenade runs for several kilometres along the shore. A dirt roads then heads off through the jungle on a promontory and we pedal through small villages packed with smiling kids and machete carrying women until we reach the end and sit and have sandwiches on a dock whilst watching a boat load of roughly 9 year olds struggling to row from school to home against a strong wind – strange entertainment!

Another day we went with Vince (owner of our hotel) his girlfriend and Anne Marie, a fellow guest from French speaking Montreal, to Masaya for a market – and Laguna del Apoya which is sited in the crater of an old volcano. Here with the sun shining down we laid in the sun and read (Rachel) or swam a bit, canoed a bit and read (me). A nice day with nice people in a nice place. What more could you want?

Next stop Ometepe. An island made up of two volcanoes half way down Lake Nigaragua. The boat crossing was fun! We arrived at 11.00am and the ferry’s had been cancelled until 4.00pm due to high winds. However, the intrepid (stupid) Lancha service announced a crossing at 1.30pm we jumped at it. And so with about 80 other locals and backpackers we made the 1 hour crossing in 1½ hours. People were throwing up, gripping their seats with white knuckles and wide, popping eyes. Water flowed freely over the gunwales and into the cabin, slooshing around our feet and soaking possessions. The wind pulled at the window coverings and waves crashed through the openings wetting the occupants of nearby seats.  The joy on people’s faces when we reached the port was akin to looking upon the face of God. 

We stay in a small AirB&B which we thought would be quiet since it was on a back street of the small town. Unfortunately the next street along had one bar that played loud beating music till the early hours to what was probably an audience of 5 backpackers. BASTARDS! That aside it's a nice island. We hired a trials bike for a couple of days – great fun and a while since we have had a bike – and set off along the quiet roads – 50% of which were tarmacked. Hence the trials bike! Interestingly we came across the airport (just a runway really) that the road crossed. When a plane comes in they put a rope across the road until the plane has touched down. Cool little runway though – with a volcano one end and a drop off into the sea on the other. We saw our first decent sunset for a long time here. Standing on a sand spit that reached out toward the fading sunlight.

We rode to the further olcano and trekked up a reasonable path to the Cascades de San Ramon.  A 50m high, 10m wide waterfall that cascades vertically into a pool. Well in the wet season that's what it does. In the dry season its meagre volume trickles and mists its way down the drop. Not as impressive as one would hope but cooling to stand under and pretty to look at.

Seeing as the island is effectively just two volcanoes it takes a while to get anywhere because you have to go around the base of each rather than in a direct line. That was OK. We loved riding the bike, feeling the wind on our faces and having the freedom to see stuff that it afforded. Unfortunately as we had to have the bike back by 6.00pm on day two we missing the bull riding event that was happening in one village and were only able to see the rambunctious way they unloaded the huge bulls from lorry to pen.

Last place in Nicaragua is San Juan del Sur. A seaside resort on the pacific coast. Its touristy but our place in a quiet barrio. We have a couple of pushbikes and can bike to town or an empty beach – both about 20 minutes away. We do both – the town route was nice in the day and we locked up the bikes and walked on the nearly empty beach in the surf. At night, the same journey was less fun, with no street lights, bike lights and only a high vis vest and glimpy torch to keep us alive. The other way – to a different beach was over a dusty bumpy path that led though the hills to a small cove with a few surfers and a bar. Its good to be alive and seeing all this but we are definitely in a need for a change. So today we have booked flights home to England. We leave in about 5 weeks or so and are not sure of our plans. Still moving about but maybe do some work in Spain. We will see. We still have Costa Lotta (Rica) and Panama to squeeze in before that so stay tuned.

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Nicaragua - The first bit

We’re in Nicaragua in Central America. Little Miss Know-it-all has been looking forward to getting here so let’s see how it pans out…

The first stop is Leon. It’s a great city. It’s busy, bustling and has a reasonably pretty centre. There are plenty of churches, a pleasant central square which is overlooked by a magnificent cathedral that is 4 years into its restoration. The majority of the town is not overly decorative but there are still a lot of nice colonial buildings and it definitely has something about it that is compelling. The people look and act the same as other places in Central America but everything feels a little more charged. Consequently we wandered tirelessly about the various districts noting all the usual suspects but also see ‘adobe’ building styles (sort of wattle and daub); noisy street sellers ringing bells tirelessly to attract customers whilst annoying the existing ones by tirelessly ringing a bell; a family barbequing with friends in the street with cars passing the kerbside, paddling pool filled with naked children. Drunks fast asleep in impossible positions and places about the town. Its nothing special but it doesn’t stop it being ….special.

We took the chicken bus to the beach one day. It was so packed I spent the first half of the journey hanging onto the door surround whilst hanging outside of the bus on the back step. The beach is about a 40 minutes slow bus ride from Leon and is split into sections Penitas – the busier more commercial end and the quieter end, called Polenoya, which has only a few restaurants and beach houses set by the road. The beach itself is wide, gently sloping and runs down to the pacific ocean. The sand is warm and soft and virtually empty of people – even more so if one wades a shallow inlet at the far end and then there is no one for as far as the eye can see - just sea, sand and jungle. Quite lovely and, unlike many beaches we see in these underdeveloped places, there is no rubbish. Just a huge dead turtle and some dead stingrays that were being systematically picked clean by a flock of huge swooping Frigate birds.

Another day another chicken bus ride and we stayed in the cheapest hotel in the town of Esteli. The ceilings didn’t reach the walls so we could hear everything from rooms on either side (tv’s, arguments, shitting… you name it). Our room opened directly into a restaurant that played loud music so the punters all had to shout to be heard above it. And we, in turn, can hear them. To top it off we have a tv and sofa outside our room where the deaf father of the hotelier sits and watches game shows at full volume. .. Boinnnnng! Ha ha ha, AHH AHHHH! It was horrible. But, suddenly, at 10pm it all stopped. The restaurant closed, father was evicted, bar staff finished cleaning, the neighbours turned off the tv’s and did one last slash and silence reigned. I could have cried I was so happy. We lay on our bed cuddled up and gently drifted off.

WTF! 3.30am. The twat next door was talking loudly on his phone. This woke us and our other neighbors who then made noisy weeing noises before turning on their tv again and watch a movie. I dunno how long it all went on but eventually, at 6.00am, our alarm woke us and, making considerably more noise that we normally would, we packed our things for a day’s trek in the Somoto Canyon.

We meet Magili, Lola and Megan (three young women we met at a tour office yesterday who are also doing the tour) and jump in cabs to take us to the bus park a couple of miles out of town from where we catch a local bus that takes us to the Somoto Canyon.

The Canyon runs through the hills in Northern Nicaragua and has a gentle flowing river running a long the bottom. In the wet season it is a raging torrent but in the drier months it babbles and tumbles over boulders and slowly makes its way through steep sided rock formations. The tour follows the canyon over about 10km and is a combination of trail walking, rock scrambling, swimming, wading and leaps of faith into deep pools. It's a joy to follow the small river along, bounding from rock to rock then having to swim through rock arches or along narrow channels with 30m high rock faces standing vertically on either side. Along the way are climbs along the cliff walls and points where the brave or foolhardy can jump. I fall comfortably into the latter section and gripping my balls jump from a 12 metre platform and am immediately up staged by the guide doing the 18 metre jump. Testosterone challenge be damned. I was content to repeat the 12 but at 55 years old I think going much higher would crumple my old legs. Rachel, much more sensibly, contents herself with the swimming and trekking  aspects. A big challenge for her since she doesn’t normally enjoy being out of her depth but here the exhilaration took over and we both came away having had a great day.

Next stop is Matagalpa. A right old up and down city that is spread over a few valleys so that any walk through the town involves hills. It's another city that has no real beauty in it but is filled with friendly people. There seems to be a correlation between the number of foreigners in a given place and the amount of friendliness that they receive from the locals. Less foreigners = more friendly foreigners. Not sure why but am sure its not a good reason. Anyway Maltagalpa is nice. We stay at an incredibly quiet hotel ran by a lovely woman and wander about the town looking in thrift shops and American clothing stores. We pick up a few items that needed replacing. Bargain of the day - some Keen trekking boots that look like brand new and would deffo cost over 100 quid back in Blightly.

I am not sure why we are here. In this city. I think it was to break up the journey on our way to Granada and avoid getting into Granada too late. Consequently we have no real plans but did schlep up a hill and through a protected area which was quite a challenging clamber to get to a viewpoint. From here the four of us – Rachel, me, baby Jesus and his mum (them being about 20mtres bigger than us) look down over the town and the valleys below.

Good bye until next blog from Granada