A Travellerspoint blog

Part 8: From the Mountains of Nicaragua...

...to the Shopping Malls of Honduras (with way too many hours on the bus in-between)

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We made two further stops in Nicaragua before crossing another boarder.

The first in the mountain town of Matagalpa, where we took a tour to the local weaving workshops, purchased some goodies, got a demonstration andLa Casita even got to have a go at the weaving ourselves.

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After which we visited a local view point, to get a spectacular view of the surounding hills.

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Next was the cowboy town of Esteli, though we didn’t see many cowboys and there was a distinct lack of cowboy hats for sale, we visited the local war heroes museum...

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...had a very nice lunch at La Casita a simple café (with a beautiful garden) on the outskirts of town

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...and finished the afternoon by visiting a pretty local waterfall.

The next day we were again faced with the crazy bus-bus-walk-bus-bus boarder crossing into Honduras, where we faced the additional problem of the irregular Honduran bus. Despite this, we made it in good time to Tegucigalpa (the Honduran capital), and we were super excited to be there; for the past two weeks we had been eagerly browsing the website for the humongous Multiplaza Mall in downtown Tegucigalpa, and thinking first of the necessities (of course) we were had been imagining what we were going to eat at TGI Fridays, what film we were going to see at the cinema, and I had been fantasizing (with added drool) over the cinabon I was planning to eat!

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...an excited taxi drive to the mall latter...

And needless to say we had a fabulous time, I enjoyed a fresh glass of pink fizz at Fridays and devoured my cinabon in record time, saving the strong coffee I got with in, and then we sat with fingers crossed during the introduction to Safe House (the film we watched), praying it really was going to be in English (but thankfully it was) …oh and we bought all the things we went to the mall for, as well, but that was by-the-by.

The next day was a really long bus ride; as we aren’t stopping at many places in Honduras. We travelled almost 8 hours up to La Ceiba, were we stayed two nights, not in the city, but in a pretty little jungle lodge a 20 minute taxi ride into the surrounding hills, it was a little over our budget, but totally worth it, it was a super cute little place, in the middle of no-where, the food was pretty damn good (particularly the breakfast), there was a refreshingly cold pool, and our room was absolutely lovely.

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Whilst there we took a half day white-water-swimming tour, which was fantastic; we spent the morning climbing rocks, and jumping off them, swimming through rapids, being pulled along by rapids and tumbling down rock slides, it was amazing fun. We again didn’t want to leave, but as we really couldn’t afford another day of luxury, we packed our bags and bus-ed it to the docks of La Ceiba for the 9:30AM ferry to Utila, one the picture perfect Honduran Bay Islands.

Utila is beautiful, a very cute little town, a very nice beach, and totally picture perfect on a post card (or it would be if central America did nice postcards), unfortunately however it is not quite so perfect in real life… It is actually unbearably hot here, the beach is covered in sand-flies (I got bitten to death the first day, with little red dot bites that swell up meanly on me; a lot worse than mosquito bites), and worst of all, the restaurants are abysmal, there is no good food here, everything is average. The reason for being here though (for me anyway), is the diving, and it has been really good; I’ve been on four dives and I’ve seen so many pretty fishes and corals, a sunken ship, many sting ray (including a huge eagle ray and its baby), a person sized moray eel (actually quite scary) and on one dive we did some really cool swim throughs. So whilst it has been a fun two days, I am kinda glad we are on the move again tomorrow.

Posted by marajade1_200 19:34 Archived in Honduras Comments (0)

Part 7: A Crazy Crossing into Nicaragua

Two quick beach stops, and an extended stay in Granada

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…And what a bus journey it was; or should I say a multi-bus journey. One bus to the main highway, one bus to Liberia (a nearby town), one bus to the boarder, a pretty long walk across no-mans land (where we somehow managed to get lost!!), another bus to the San Juan del Sur turn off and then a taxi into San Juan del Sur; the famous beach and surf town of Nicaragua!

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Helen and I might not be surfers, but we still managed to enjoy the laid back vibes of the town and the huge waves down on the beach, where we spent the next day; relaxing, drinking juice and beer, eating tacos, jumping (and diving through) some humongous waves. It was a pretty beach, but having already been spoilt by the lush beaches of Costa Rica we decided one day was enough and we packed our bags, heading for the Isla de Ometepe.

Ometepe is an island on Lake Nicaragua, formed of two volcanoes, the view was very pretty on the way in as it was a beautifully clear day. We stayed on the pretty Santa Domingo beach, in a lovely little lake-side guest house with a view over one of the volcanoes, very comfy beds, a few hammocks and delicious breakfasts and we spent a day and a half relaxing and swimming.

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From there we took a boat-taxi-bus to Granada, the colonial city of Nicaragua. We planned to stay two days, but loved it so much we ended staying five. First impressions were of a colourful city, full of character thought slightly dirty and even smelly in places.

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However, investigating further, we found the peaceful, tree lined main street was beautifully kept, and although the outside of allot of the buildings are crumbling and not well cared for the insides were a different storey. Every old building in Granada has a little courtyard, often with a garden and a fountain, and we spent a lot of time in going from restaurant to coffee shop, to ice-cream-parlour visiting pretty courtyard gardens, sampling delicious food and good coffee. We also purchased some beautiful jewellery from very talented artisans along the main street.

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This is us breakfasting in our favourite restaurant, the garden was beautiful and even had fairy lights at night.

Whilst in Granada we also ventured out on a number of day trips…

Our first trip out of town was to the Masaya Markets which were sadly disappointing, though discovering some unique hand made cards and lunching at a super cute Mexican restaurant saved the day.

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The second was a day trip to the lake-side-sister hostel of our hostel in Granada, positioned right on Lake Apoyo, a beautiful setting. We were wishing we had done the overnight option when the bus came to take us back.

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The third day trip was out to the Isletas, the islands of Granada by bike and by boat. Granada is situated on the lake side of Lake Nicaragua, where the peninsular creeps out into the bay with hundreds of little islands clustered close to the shoreline. The islands are individually owned by locals and foreigners alike; we saw some restaurants; some luxury holiday homes, some rentable, and some for sale; some fisher men; some monkeys; a ship yard; and the ruins of an old fort from the time of pirates.

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And one last thing not to forget, the flash flood we experienced on the 4th night in our hostel... On the right is me swaying in the hammock in the kitchen at midnight, look closly at my right foot and you will see it is submerged in water!! And there is a huge ripple just in front as well. On the left is our bag tower; the water rushed into our room and there was a good two inches of it within minutes, if Helen hadn't been going to the bathroom and seen it coming our stuff would have been soaked! Look closely and you can see the bin floating...

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We were sad to say goodbye to Granada, but for now we must plough our way onwards…

Posted by marajade1_200 17:05 Archived in Nicaragua Comments (0)

Part 6: Exploring the Costa Rican Mountains

Saying goodbye to Costa Rica and goodbye to Jo

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La Fortuna was another cute little town, with a few nice restaurants and a few little shops, and a spectacular view of Costa Rica’s most famous and most active volcano, Volcan Arenal. Helen, Jo and I spent two days here; on the first we did a hike to the base of the volcano with a very good guide, though unfortunately it was cloudy, and we then spent the afternoon running errands.

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Our knowledgable tour guide explaining to us the history of the volcano

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Me with the volcano warning sign and the volcano view point only 1km away, with the unforuntate cloud cap

The following day, we decided to do an independent hike. We got a taxi out of town to a beautiful waterfall; which we climbed down the steep steps to view.

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The waterfall

Once we got back to the top again Jo set off on the hike back to town whilst Helen and I started our hike up another hill … Jo had no interest in the mammoth hike of Cerro Chato, but she missed out, it was absolutely beautiful.

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This is a map of the hike we did, to the crater-lake at the top

The lonely planet said it was a really tough 5-6 hour hike, and our guide from the day before had said it was the hardest hike in the area; me and Helen was super psyched. When we got to the foot of the trail we saw a sign that said it was 3km, and the women in the office told us it would take about 2 hrs to reach the top, needless to say we were slightly disappointed, only 3km, only 2hrs? We had been expecting something more… the first 2km we did in about 45mins, we were breezing along, but the trail quickly got steeper and we were began to realise why this hike was considered so hard; towards the end it became super steep and hiking through the rainforest was extremely humid, by the time we reached the top we were exhausted, our legs were like jelly and we were so sweaty we might have achieved the same effect by jumping fully clothed into a swimming pool.

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We were well rewarded for our efforts at the top though, we had an amazingly clear view of both peaks of the volcano (a sight 50% of tourists to the region never see), and we had a beautiful view of the lava crater we hiked-up, during a short but steep decent into the crater-lake.

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This was quickly followed by a refreshingly cold and goose-bump filled dip in the lake, when we eventually got to the bottom. The climb back up to the view point and then back down the hill was more pleasant and much easier, and we stopped for lunch half way down, at a small stop with a beautiful view of the town.

On leaving La Fortuna we took a transfer across a large nearby lake to Monteverde, another beautiful national reserve in the Costa Rican Mountains. We travelled by bus-boat-bus on a well organised trip, with a great view of the volcano, clear again.

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Monteverde was blissfully cooler than the rest of Costa Rica, and we spent an action packed two days...

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...visiting the local cheese factory (for a tour, a cheese tasting and an ice cream)...

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...adventuring out on a night hike where we saw a huge butterfly, a number of spiders (including a fisherman spider, who throws his web to catch prey), a viper snake (scaling a banana tree), a glow bug, and various other creepy crawlies...

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...visiting the Hanging Bridges...

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...and the Hummingbird Gardens...

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...and exploring the beginnings of Costa Rican Coffee on a Coffee Tour where I drank so much coffee and ate so many chocolate coated coffee beans that I didn’t sleep well that night.

After two exciting days of activities Helen and I arose at 5AM to say goodbye to Jo (heading back down to San Jose for her flight home), and got on the bus towards the Nicaraguan boarder…

Posted by marajade1_200 19:20 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (0)

Part 5: The Last of Panama, The First Steps into Costa Rica

Quite a bit of fun and a little bit of a challenge...

Bocas del Toro, our last stop in Panama was not quite what we were expecting. Where we’d imagined a pretty little beach town, we found a dirty, drab seaside town with little character, which looked like it had seen better days. We had two full days there though, and we definitely made the most of them.

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We spent one day on the recommended boat tour, and whilst it was nothing like the sales man promised we did see a deadly poisonous frog, a stunningly beautiful beach, many fish and coral during a short but sweet snorkelling stop and we also spotted lots of dolphins.

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Us looking out to sea and The red frog beach

We then spent the morning of the second day on a chocolate tour which was super interesting and we got to try out making chocolate. We were taken round by one of the local farmers, who explained the process step by step up to the point that they sell the totally organic cocoa beans. They then showed us the chocolate they make and sell in Panama, the beans are sweated, dried, roasted, crushed and then cooked again (with some milk and sugar) to make the chocolate (95% coco bean). It was truly delicious.

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For the second half of day two we rented bikes, riding to another of the famous and beautiful beaches of the area, 8km out of town. Unfortunately I had a blow out after about 2 km, so we had to cycle back and change the bike, meaning it was a longer trip than planned but we got there, and it was well worth it. We then got absolutely soaked on the way back, as it poured with rain, but it was a perfect day and we treated ourselves to a lovely dinner to make up for getting so wet!! And that was our final day in Panama.

To get from Bocas del Toro to our first stop in Costa Rica was a mission. We took a boat, bartered for taxi, jumped on a bus to a main town, searched out another bus to the boarder, walked across the boarder carrying our bags and then took a third bus to Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, and all that was before 11AM. It was a long trip, but worth it, we loved Puerto Viejo immediately and spent the afternoon wondered why we had spent so long in Bocas...

With the day only just begun we grabbed lunch and a lovely vegetarian place, and we hired bikes and visited another beautiful beach, Punta Uva, where we went swimming. We stopped for smoothie and cake on the way back and in the evening we visited the quant little market stalls along the front where I purchased more earrings for my collection along with a beautiful purple necklace.

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The following day was white water rafting, which was a totally amazing adrenaline fuelled extravaganza, I got truly sunburnt legs, and my arms ached beyond belief the day after, but the river was gorgeous, the rapids were exhilarating and I have found a new adrenaline related sport that I could easily get hooked on.

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After an amazing three days in Puerto Viejo the following two days were a little bit of a nightmare, we did the complicated boarder crossing alone very easily, but this next part of the trip we decided to do with a tour company, and in hind sight I wish we had done it ourselves as we got appalling service, you can read my Letter of Complaint if you are really interested, if not continue reading here for the fun stuff.

Our next destination was Tortuguero, we had a private shuttle followed by a boat ride up the canal’s to get there and were again disappointed with dirty humidity of the town, we were only there for one night however and we were not there for the town, we were there for the turtles…

We hiked for nearly 3 hours across the beach that evening, from just before 10PM until about 12:30AM. We were stupidly tired, really thirsty and disheartened by the end when we turned back, not having seen anything. The had guide told us we only had a 50% chance of seeing a turtle, but it still felt hugely disappointing when we turned back.

Rather than walking back along the beach we trudged back along the airstrip (a lot easier on the calves than the sand), all of us were heads down, no-one was speaking we were all feeling very dejected. Then the guides phone started ringing and he was speaking into it in very fast Spanish, when he looked up his eyes were excited, and he said “let’s run” and we all pegged it back the way we came. At first I saw nothing, and then I looked harder and I saw sand moving. It was pitch black, and we weren’t allowed torches, but our eyes had become accustomed to the dark, and guide had a small red torch he was shinning. And there in the sand was a huge leatherback turtle, moving the sand around, the guide explained she had just laid her eggs and was now camouflaging the nest. We watched for about half an hour as she finished her task and then made her slow and ungraceful way back to the sea. I was absolutely stunned by the experience it was totally amazing seeing a turtle nesting in the wild.

The day after we got back on the boat, leaving the humidity behind we headed down to La Fortuna and the Arenal Volcano...

Posted by marajade1_200 15:30 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (1)

Part 4: A Mad Dash through Panama

San Blas, the Panama Canal, Boquete (again), then on to Bocas del Toro and beyond...

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After three weeks of going slow this last week has felt like a bit of a mad dash, but an exciting one. After the eight hour bus back into Panama City, Helen and I had a lovely dinner followed by the excitement of Jo’s arrival! After a girlie gossip we fell into bed about midnight, only to be up again and ready for our 5AM departure to the islands of San Blas.

A bumpy but beautiful 4x4 drive through the mountains, was followed by a confusing three hours of sitting in the sand whilst other people bundled past us onto boats and we were told urgently to “wait, wait, boat coming”. Finally we were getting on a boat ourselves and then we were trundling over the waves …

“Imagine a turquoise tropical archipelago with one island for every day of the year. With white sand and waving palms, these islands cheat no-ones version of paradise.” The Panama Lonely Planet, 2010 (It says it all).

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San Blas really is a paradise but hold that thought and exchange the 5* hotels you are imagining for beach huts, the yachts for peeling motor boats, and add a bucket flush toilet. San Blas is not for everyone, but to me it was perfect, reminding me a lot of the deserted beach I stayed on in Mexico in 2007.

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There is also a true wealth of culture on the San Blas islands. The Kuna are an amazing people, with there own culture and there own laws, some amazing art work, and an amazing business scene, no foreigners (Panamanians included) are allowed to own businesses on the islands, and the Kuna are racking it in, us tourists cannot help but love it; the islands are an amazingly, almost unspoilt wonder. The Kuna understand and love nature in a way I really appreciate and the islands are still as beautiful as they are, because of this.

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When we first got there we weren’t sure we could hack it for three days (there really wasn’t a lot to do and none of us are really sit on the beach kinda gals) but in truth we didn’t want to leave when the three days were up. We spent our days relaxing in hammocks, sunning ourselves on the beach, swimming, talking with Tony (our Kuna host) about Kuna life, drinking a beer or two, visiting other islands, snorkelling and reading (if we got time), and that was the hectic life of the beach.

The ride back to Panama city wasn’t fun, the sea was very rough and I got badly seasick, which didn’t let up over the mountains roads on the way back either, but we made it back for 1PM and squeezed a trip to the Panama Canal in the afternoon, which was also really spectacular.

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The following day we were back on the bus to Boquete (three times was three time too many for that bus). Whilst we were here for two weeks before, we purposly saved some things to do with Jo, so...

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...we have been on a couple of walks (through hills, forest and across many rivers)...

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...we’ve been to the hot springs and had a dip in the freezing river...

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...where the cheaky pet monkey stole joes t-shirt...

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...we’ve drunk more coffee...

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...eaten strawberries and drank strawberry batido (imagine milkshake, but better)...

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...we've visited a gorgeous view point...

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...eaten some delicious food at various restaurants, and went back to Zanzibar for some cocktails (rock on $4 Caipirinha’s). We enjoyed the familiarly of the town, whilst seeing some new places and showing Jo around our old haunts of the previous two weeks.

Tomorrow we are on the bus again tomorrow this time off to Boca’s del Toro, our last stop in Panama!

Posted by marajade1_200 15:48 Archived in Panama Comments (0)

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