Monday, July 25, 2016

Day 155 to 156 - While we were reading they were raiding!


Day 155

There's a lovely view of the beach from the house so we headed down to the village to grab some breakfast and check out the place. The town has a lovely laid back vibe to it which combined with the great house we're staying makes us regret slightly that we've already paid for our next booking, we could easily spend more time here.

We had a long swim in the ocean and spent the afternoon relaxing in beautiful, peaceful surroundings, watching the capuchin monkeys playing just near our balcony, stripping and eating mangoes hanging in the trees.

Day 156

Today we decided we to explore the surrounding area, as there are supposed to be some very nice beaches and beach towns not too far away. The roads are all in pretty bad condition, all dirt, lots of ruts and bumps, but maybe that helps to keep tourist numbers down.

We drove through Mel Pais and then stopped at Santa Teresa for a nice coffee and cake at a bakery with incredibly rude staff, before taking a walk along the beach. Based on our extensive survey of the area (all of about 30 minutes) we decided we preferred Montezuma, where even the ferals selling trinkets on the street have a little bit of charm and are quite friendly.

It wasn't me!
After some heavy relaxing back in the hammock on our veranda we could hear some monkey business nearby. We watched the monkeys scrambling around the veranda and the trees while we tried to work out what they were eating, it looked like peanuts. Then K spotted one monkey running along the wall with her peanut packet in his hands, the monkeys had snuck into the kitchen downstairs and taken the plastic container containing the packet from the kitchen bench. There also seemed to be a packet of noodles missing, confirmed when we found the empty packet lying on the ground, and not far away was the empty packet of chicken flavouring. We had thought it was strange that there were so many monkeys around .... now we know why, it was a coordinated raid!

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Day 154 - Relaxed queuing

Monteverde to Montezuma

Our time in the mountains had come to an end so we spent the morning driving to Punta Arenas, where we were to catch the ferry across the Gulf of Nicoya. We planned to catch the 2pm ferry, but as we arrived around 11:30 we thought we had plenty of time to check out the town and get some lunch.

First thing we needed to do though was to check to make sure the ferry time was correct - lucky we did, because there was already a long line of cars all the way along the esplanade waiting to board. We had to drive around again to find the end of the queue a long way back, and it was very hot by this time as well.

The ticketing system is unusual, drivers have to wait for a staff member to come to your car and give you a laminated card, only then can you go to the ticket office to buy your ticket. Then once you have your ticket, you need to wait near your car until it's time to move.
Queuing for the ferry (that's our car)
We were fairly lucky that our part of the queue was across the road from quite a nice restaurant/pub where we could cool down with a drink while keeping watching on the car. Enterprising locals were serving food and drink along the way, so lunch was some quite nice pork kebabs with tortillas cooked on a barbeque on the footpath.

We had our ferry tickets and were in the pub finishing our drinks around 12:45pm when we saw the car line starting to move, so M sprinted to the car to drive it on to the ferry, while K sorted out the bill and met him at the entrance of the boat.

The hour or so trip on the pretty packed ferry to Paquera on the Nicoya Peninsula was very pleasant, and from there we drove to the small beach town of Montezuma and checked into our house on the hill overlooking the beach.

The house we had booked ended up having three bedrooms with a huge upstairs veranda, with plenty of comfy chairs and a hammock, as well as a great kitchen and eating area downstairs. The house was similar in style to what we'd call a Queenslander back home.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Day 152 to 153 - Our head in the clouds


Day 152

The Monteverde area is known for its cloud forest and rain so we expected cooler wet conditions, instead we woke to a lovely blue sky. We jumped in the car and drove for about 20 minutes to the mirador at the end of the road, it was such a beautiful day we could see across Lake Arenal to the volcano on the other side.

Next was Selvatura Park where we signed up for two hours of zip lining. There were twelve zip lines of various lengths flying over the forest canopy. We got the hang of it pretty quickly, and were experts by the time we reached the last few ziplines. Just before the end was the Tarzan swing, where we were dropped from a platform with a brief free fall to swing on a long rope, followed by the final 1km zipline, where M tried out the "superman" harness, meaning he was able to fly along horizontally. Overall it was all excellent fun and well worth doing.

From there we drove to Monteverde to the Hummingbird  Cafe, where we could see lots of hummingbirds drinking out of hanging containers. They are incredibly small attractive birds in different colours and sizes and watching them hover was really interesting.

After lunch and more sightseeing we went on a chocolate tour where we were taken though the process and tasting of chocolate from the cocoa bean through to the finished product, all very interesting.

There was a small wholefoods shop in Monteverde where we managed to buy some Thai red curry paste and coconut milk, so we had quite a tasty dinner.

Day 153

Back to the Hummingbird Cafe for breakfast, we were surprised at how many people were there, yesterday afternoon it was empty. Many of the people had guides, not sure why they were needed, it's pretty hard to miss the hummingbirds as they are there right in front of you!

There are a few cloud forests to visit in the area but as were so close to the Monteverde Cloud Reserve we decided to visit this one. We paid our entry fee (US$20 each) and hiked for an hour up to the mirador where the view was obscured by lots of cloud. We walked back via the hanging bridge, the weather is so quickly changeable that we crossed the bridge in thick cloud, turned around to go back and it was clear! As this is the cloud forest of course the weather couldn't last and we were caught in some pretty heavy rain on our way back to the entrance.

And that's why the call it a cloud forest
From there we stopped briefly at the Quaker Cheese Factory which had a viewing window where we could watch the back breaking work of dragging the curd up to the sides of the long troughs.

The roads are up this way are generally unpaved and incredibly rutted, real bone shakers. Our hire car was a 4WD (which we got mainly for the ground clearance, knowing the roads weren't great), but the ride was made a little more uncomfortable as we were continually stuck behind other tourists who drove way too slow, they didn't seem to realise that the slower you go the worse the bumps can be!

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Day 151 - Crocs

Quepos to Monteverde

Time to move on today so we hired a car and headed for the hills. Along the way we stopped at the seaside town of Jaco before reaching the bridge over the Tarcoles river, a place we had read that we should stop at. This is one of the advantages of renting a car, if we'd been on the bus we would have have missed the amazing sight of more than thirty crocodile under the bridge basking in the sun (and probably many more under the water). One of the locals there told us that this was a slow day - there can be over a hundred at times, and this is said to be one of the most heavily populated crocodile areas in the world.

We continued on into the mountains, eventually leaving the bitumen for a pretty rough dirt road. After enduring the rough ride we finally reached the small town of Santa Elena, where we checked in to our "rustic" country cottage home for the next three nights.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Day 148 to 150 - Tico Tico


Day 148

We hopped on the bus this morning to go to Playa Espadilla, the beach just outside the entrance to Manuel Antonio National Park. The town was small but quite busy with restaurants across from the beach. The beach was quite rocky and strewn with junk and rubbish, not that appealing to us but there were plenty of people (including lots of Americans) settled on the beach and swimming in the water.

After checking out the area we hopped back onto the bus and went all the way back in to Quepos and walked down to check out the new marina. The marina was very modern but seemed to be a bit of a white elephant, it was quiet, with expensive restaurants and almost no one eating at them.

Another bus ride, this time to Cafe Milagro for coffee and cake, then to a bar across the road with great views of the ocean while we waited for the bus. The landscape is not only tropical but with plenty of jungle and very attractive.

We were expecting it to rain in the afternoon as it had yesterday. The rain finally came around 7pm, and from there it continued heavily through the night.

Day 149

The rain continued through the morning and into the afternoon - possibly the most rain either of us had ever seen. The national park was closed on Mondays, so we had planned to visit a few rental car agencies as we intended to drive from Quepos. We tried to wait out the rain but eventually picked up our umbrellas that we'd bought in David and headed into the rain and onto the bus. We visited a couple of agencies in Quepos, but neither of them could match the price we'd already found online.

Day 150

Today we awoke to sunshine, it looked like the storm from yesterday had rained itself out. Another bus ride, this time to visit Manuel Antonio National Park - along with everyone else in town it seemed. The queue for buying tickets was fairly long in the hot sun but we eventually we made it into the park.

Lots of people had paid for guides to spot animals for them but it was pretty easy to see animals without a guide since the guides all spoke loudly to their groups and everybody stopped to stare. We saw a sloth in the distance as well as a pair of coati doing the sort of things that animals do. The park can only by accessed by walking so we visited a couple of beaches. M walked to one of the high viewing points, seeing monkeys along the way, before we headed back out, seeing the same sloth that we had seen earlier but in a closer, slightly different place, that's a big move for a sloth in only a few hours. Just outside the park we saw more squirrel monkeys running along the phone lines - more than we'd seen inside the park.

On the way back we stopped off at the El Avion restaurant, which is built around the body of an old plane. Once again the views were lovely overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Costa Rica is very beautiful even if everything in the tourist areas is expensive compared to the rest of central and southern America.

Back at our airbnb we went for a swim in the pool, while a group of squirrel monkeys played overhead, running along ropes and jumping from tree to tree.

We headed out later on for a drink and dinner, just making it in time for happy hour as the sun set.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Day 147 - "Abandoned" in the rain

David (Panama) to Quepos (Costa Rica)

We arrived at the bus station in David at 8am to buy our ticket to Quepos and met Trina there, she was going all the way to San Jose. The border crossing leaving Panama was quite strange as they inspected our bags - first with a sniffer dog, then by getting us to open them up - since when do you need to have your luggage inspected when leaving the country?

We saw a couple entering Panama who were dressed in very old fashioned clothes, K later read that a group of Quakers had settled in Costa Rica in 1951 to escape conscription for to the Korean War - they obviously liked it so much they decided to stay.

After the Panama border formalities we walked across to the Costa Rican side, dragging our bags from the bus and getting them checked again, this time though we were just waved through - we also didn't need to show our "proof" of onward travel - that's the second travel document in a row that we've faked and didn't get to show!

After a lunch stop at Uvita we drove into a heavy rainstorm right at the time the bus dropped off at a petrol station on the highway outside Quepos. We said our goodbyes to Trina, its unlikely we will cross paths again on this trip.

Bye ....
We stood stranded in the pouring rain wondering how we were going to get to our accommodation (we were told to just wait for a taxi to come past) when a man in a tourist van filling up with petrol said he was heading our way and he could drop us off.

A short while later we arrived at a nice little studio apartment on the main road between Quepos and the Manuel Antonio National Park. After settling in we took the bus into Quepos to do some shopping. There was a bit more variety in the supermarkets, with a lot of imported goods from the USA available, though with USA prices too.

After dinner our great airbnb host Eugene gave us some coconut pie that he'd bought from the Quakers at the weekly farmers' market - our second Quaker encounter of the day!

Friday, July 15, 2016

Day 146 - Freezer bus

Panama City to David

A bus trip through Panama today to the city of David for an overnight stop before pushing on to Costa Rica. It was a comfortable, newish bus but for some reason the air conditioning was turned all the way up, meaning we ended up freezing - last time we get on a bus without a jacket!

We arrived into David around 5pm and in the middle of a rainstorm, the hazards of travelling during rainy season! By the time we checked into our hostel and went for a walk to the town square it was dark and the rain had settled. The town square wasn't that interesting, a bit dark, grotty and unappealing, however we did find a shop that would print the onward travel document (which M had "faked" from an old plane ticket) that we needed to enter Costa Rica.

While investigating the bus route we were taking into Costa Rica the next day we discovered that the bus to San Jose goes via Quepos, which is one of the places we had planned to visit, so we changed our accommodation plans and decided we'd give San Jose a skip.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Day 145 - Planning day

Panama City

Today was a bit rainy and we had pretty much seen what we wanted to in Panama City yesterday, so we spent most of the day doing some planning for our next country, Costa Rica. 

We ended up eating dinner at an Indian restaurant not far from our hotel, continuing our tradition of eating Indian food in unlikely countries! It was very tasty with huge portions, although the price was on the high side, especially the rice, apparently basmati rice is very expensive in Central America.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Day 144 - A man a plan a canal - Panama

Panama City

We jumped in a taxi to the old city, and on the way in we spotted Trina from our boat trip walking along the road. We stopped and picked her up, then once we reached the old centre we found a nice place for a coffee before visiting the Canal museum.

We'd read good things about the museum but for us it was a little long and dry, though still interesting. We then wandered the streets of the old city in the rain (we should probably invest in some umbrellas if we're to visit Central America in the wet season). The old town had some great old buildings, many of them still being restored, so it will look even better in a few years.

After lunch we caught an Uber to the Miraflores Locks to see the ships going through the canal. We hadn't used Uber at all before this trip, but in places like Panama City where you never know whether you're paying the "gringo tax" it gives you one less thing to be worried about, even if it is a little more expensive than the "real" rate (which you hardly ever get anyway).

At the Locks we watched from the viewing platform as they were filled and emptied so ships could move to between different water levels on their way through the canal. The reason for the different levels is that the canal makes use of mountain lakes, which are higher than sea level.

We caught the local bus back to the central bus station, then a taxi from there to our hotel - we should have used Uber there as well, since the taxi driver made an obvious attempt to overcharge us, we ended up giving him less than he asked, but we're sure it was still way too much!

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Day 143 - Immigration blues

Panama City

The plans were for us to move on at first light about 5am to head to Puerto Lindo for immigration into Panama. We were woken during the night to a storm overhead, so we quickly closed our hatch and went back to sleep.

Around daybreak we were woken by the engine being started, so we took our sea sickness pills and went back to sleep, hoping that we would miss most of the rough seas we were expecting. We woke a little later around 7am to no engine running, and a quick look showed that we hadn't moved since last night. There was a problem with the transmission so we weren't going anywhere. Poor Mike was shaking as he told us, he was worried we would all be upset with him, but we we were quite happy to be stranded for another day on the beautiful San Blas Islands!

Mike made some calls and arranged for us to be picked up by a Kuna speed boat and taken to El Porvenir, the "capital" of San Blas where we could clear customs and immigration into Panama. At El Porvenir we were told to wait on the boat while our paperwork was processed as Mike had phoned ahead and it was all arranged. After waiting about an hour Mike came to collect us from the speedboat, explaining that the person who had to give the final OK was now "unavailable" - all very strange since he'd already been told it was all fine.

Finally after a nice fish lunch we had our passports with Panama stamps. Interestingly there was no request for proof of onward travel which we had read was a requirement, so all that work M did to forge a realistic plane ticket had been wasted!

Onto the speedboat again, and after a while we reached the coast, where we travelled  a short distance up a narrow river (feeling a little like drug smugglers) to a small jetty, where a 4WD was waiting to take us to Panama City. The road through the mountains from the port at Carti (complete with police stops) was probably the worst paved road we've ever been on, very winding and steep in sections, with potholes everywhere, but we finally made it into Panama City in torrential rain.

We hadn't booked accommodation as we knew there were so many variables on the boat trip that we might not arrive on time. We were dropped off at our first choice of hotel only to find that they were booked out, we must have looked a sight after all the time on the yacht without a shower as the staff asked "have you just arrived from San Blas?"

We ended up checking into another hotel just down the road, where we were able to shower and get into some clean clothes ... bliss!  The trip to San Blas was a great experience, but five nights was probably enough for us.