Thursday, April 28, 2005

Waiting for the ferry in Puerto Barrios, Guatamala

The morning ferry to Punta Gorda, Belize, pulled away as I walked up to the pier inPuerto Barrios. The next one is at 2pm, so I will probably stay in Punta Gorda tonight.

At least it gives me time for a little lunch and to check email while I wait and recover from the morning series of buses from Omoa, the first of which was packed and lurched along on a bumpy dirt road for two hours to the border while I stood at the back next to my pack and the sacks of beans and several bags of chickens on their way to market.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Underwater in Utila

Have spent 4 days in Utila with beautiful sunny skies and clear turqouise water. I have finished the class for my open water scuba certificate which was fun although marred somewhat by problems equalizing my ears and a really painful sinus problem on the last day which forced me to end a dive early. Hope to get some underwater photos up here at some point.

Utila is to diving what Santa Theresa is to surfing. The crowd is slightly different but there is the same contingent of semi-permanent visitors trying to make ends meet so they can stay indefinitely while they get in as much dive time as they can.

There is really only one main road through town, so you tend to bump into the same people from day to day which makes the town seem very friendly. Overall a very mellow place with some beautiful thatched-roof bars over the water to have a drink at in the evening with a sea breeze.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

16 hours on the bus

I had been warned by several people about not walking around alone at night near the Tica bus station in Managua and since I was on my own and my bus to Honduras required checking in at 4am, I didnt see how I could avoid walking on my own at night. The alternative was to stay at the Tica bus station itself which provides very basic accommodations but in the end my private room with fan wasn't too bad (although in retrospect I think one of the hostels right next door would have been fine).

The bus rolled out at 5am and took us up to the border with Honduras, then through Tegucigalpa and on to San Pedro Sula where we hopped on another bus to La Ceiba arriving, exhausted at 9pm. Our group of travellers (all heading to the Bay Islands) headed out through the sketchy streets of La Ceiba from our decidedly skanky hostel (Hotel Amsterdam) for dinner and stumbled over a gem of a place called Le Rustique. Owned by a charming frenchman (Mathias) who presides graciously over his guests and prepares much of the food. The setting is perfect: perched on a rooftop with a view over the rest of the city with a good breeze and the food is fantastic.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Stranded on the road to Masaya

I tried to find the sailing ferry boat from Ometepe to Granada but after repeated denials of its existence by locals and faced with an oven-like hike of 3km down to the dock at Altagracia just to see if they were wrong, I decided to cut my losses and take the same ferry I came on back to San Jorge and Rivas for the bus to Granada.

Granada was rather spectacular after seeing nothing but mud huts and crummy concrete block houses in most of Nicaragua. Many of the old colonial buildings have been taken care of pretty well, and the Oasis hostel where I stayed was gorgeous.

In the morning I did a little walking tour of the cathedral and the main plaza and sat down for a haircut at one of the many salons off the plaza. I thought I had asked for just 'un poco' taken off, but before I knew what was happening she had taken a good inch off in one swipe with here sheep shearers and in about 3 minutes the job was complete. At least this haircut is cooler in this heat. Immediately afterwards there was a huge bang behind me and flames and smoke erupted from next to the seat on the other side of the room as one of the electric cables shorted out. I paid my $1.25 and left to pack.

I was heading to Managua next to catch the bus to Honduras but I wanted to stop on the way to see the Volcan Masaya with its famous steep crater. I got dropped off by the expreso bus on the highway and just as I crossed the road into the national park a taxi honked at me and turned off the highway. We negotiated a price for the 3km ride up to the crater and were happily on our way for a while when the taxi shuddered and then stopped. We had run out of fuel. My taxi driver apologised profusely and managed to get his taxi pointed downhill again and then after assuring me that the crater was 'muy cerca' rolled back down the hill leaving me to hike up the rest of the way with my full backpack on surrounded my a desolate field of lava rock in the midday sun.

It wasn't too obvious how much further it was going to be, but fortunately after about half an hour I crested a hill to find an impressive crater and several groups of tourists who I might be able to get a ride down with (in the end a nice german tourist let me share her taxi down).

Back on the main highway I played a game for a while where I tried to figure out the destionation of the expreso buses and then flag one down before it whizzed past (which was pretty hard). Eventually another taxi came along and I think I got a pretty good deal for the trip all the way to the bus station in Managua.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Ometepe island

So far, Nicaragua has been wonderful. The dire warnings from Costa Ricans appear to be unwarranted from what have seen. I spent the first three days in Ometepe, an island with two volcanoes sitting in the largest fresh water lake in the world.

This is the view of the pretty one, but it's a steep slog up in sweltering heat to the 5000 foot summit with no cover from the sun. The other one is slightly smaller because it blew its top off a long time ago, but it is also covered in jungle which makes the hike much more bearable (although clambering up the side of a volcano in thick muddy jungle is no walk in the park).

The island is very relaxed, friendly and cheap. I spent $40 in three days on the island. I would have liked to have stayed longer, but today I rode a yellow chicken bus (literally with a chicken in the seat in front of me at one point) up to Granada. Granada is a busy stopping-point on the backpacker trail but it's a noticeably different crowd I am rubbing shoulders with now.

I'll spend a day or two here exploring and then I'll be off to Managua (where the students and bus drivers are rioting in the streets currently because of gasoline price increases) to bus up to Honduras and the Caribbean.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Bye-bye Costa Rica, Hola Nicaragua

Last night in Costa Rica, and will be up before 6am tomorrow to catch the Tica Bus to Rivas, Nicaragua and then the ferry from San Jorge to Ometepe island for a few days to climb one of the volcanoes.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Costa Rica´s answer to Crocodile Dundee

In Orosi for a week taking Spanish classes. It´s nice to be a little off the beaten track again and in a small enough town that people dont lock themselves in behind fortress-like gates and people say ´hola´ on the street.

Met a fabulous local character called Nano who has a farm perched on the side of a steep mountain who gave us a tour of his property. We brought him a few beers and we ended up playing cards and eating popcorn (made on his wood burning stove) by candlelight in his rustic cabin with the rain pounding outside while he regaled us with stories and showed us photos.

Nano hiked back down with us on the slippery road in the dark (with a lantern made from bamboo and a candle) and recruited a handful of other travellers for a hike the next day to a 100m waterfall.

The waterfall was impressive, but the highlight of the trip was the 1.5 hour hike up the river to reach it, clambering over boulders and jumping from rock to rock, occasionally veering into the jungle where we slithered around in the mud and vines trying not to think about what a perfect habitat this was for one of Costa Rica´s 900 varieties of snake.

Nano led our rag-tag group, wielding his machete, setting up his rope for some of the really slippery bits, and being larger than life in general. We swam in the rock pools and leaped from nearby boulders. It was nice to spend the day somewhere that few people get to each year.

After a restless night at my homestay family (mosquitoes, no fan, bumpy old matress), I joined a group on a shuttle tour of some local sights, starting with a trip up the Irazú volcano where the clouds magically parted for us as we reached the crater and we were able to gaze down into the surreal green lake below.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Butterflies and scorpions

After La Fortuna we drove around Lake Arenal to Monteverde. I was suprised the road didnt rattle our little Isuzu to bits - we were quite exhausted after 2 hours of juddering over rubble.

We stopped along the way at a biological preserve and saw some of Costa Rica's beautiful butterflies and some very scary looking snakes.

The next night in Monteverde I had another close encounter with Costa Rican wildlife in our bathroom: a little scorpion had been sharing our room with us for 24 hours.

In Monteverde we had a guided tour of the cloud forest where we learned about monkeys and orchids and were lucky enough to see a pair of Quetzals. Of course, we also had to try the zipline canopy tour where you fly along a series of cables through the forest tree tops. I tried unsucessfully to video one of these rides 3 times and then managed this one on the last run (about a 2MB download, Windows Movie format).

Monday, April 04, 2005

Melodrama on the road

We had a small problem when it came time to leave Santa Theresa - my moneybelt with my passport and most of my cash was in the lockbox and the hotel, but the owners had both been unexpectedly called away that day, and nobody else had a key. If we had been leaving the country that day, this would have been a serious issue, but as it was Dave and I were planning on just travelling 20Km down the road to Montezuma for one more night on the coast before heading inland. So we worked out an arrangement whereby someone from the hotel would ride over the next morning with my moneybelt before we left for our puddle-jumper from Tambor back to San Jose.

In Montezuma, we trundled down the road to look at the waterfall, ho-hum...

At 11:30 I called to confirm that someone had already left to bring over the moneybelt and was told we should expect her at noon. 12:15 rolled by, and then at 12:30 I called again but nobody knew where she was or why she hadn't already arrived. Then the taxi driver showed up and started grumbling about how we needed to pay him extra for waiting around. Finally at 1pm, my moneybelt arrived - she had fallen off her motorbike and had then hitched a ride with a friend who had passed her on the road.

After this excitement, it turned out that we had plenty of time for the plane, as the flight had been slightly delayed by an emergency landing earlier that day at the main San Jose airport which had closed the airport for a little while.

Back in San Jose, we picked up our little Isuzu 4x4 rental easily enough and nipped up the highway to San Ramon where we stayed at the bizarrely luxurious Hotel Pasado where we enjoyed our first hot shower in over a week and had all our laundry done for $5. It was very pleasant to be cool enough again (because of the altitude) to wear long trousers and to have clean clothes.

A couple of hours up the road the next day (over a few dodgy looking bridges) we rolled into La Fortuna, which was mobbed by tourists. The Arenal volcano itself was shrouded in cloud, although still suitably barren looking. Signs periodically reminded us that we travelled everywhere at our own risk (previous eruptions had wiped out whole towns in this area).

We visited a butterfly park in the morning and looked in vain for the tiny venemous frogs that apparently were there. We did get a look at the Fer de Lance snake they had in cage although it didnt really live up to its reputation curled up motionless at the base of a big leaf.

To complete our day, we treated ourselves to the delightful Tabacon Springs ( which was worth every penny as a splurge although there was a frightful amount of wobbling white flesh on display which came as a bit of a shock after the bronzed, svelte perfection of the surfers in Santa Theresa.