Saturday, April 26, 2014

Puerto Viejo de Talamanca

I could imagine a Pirates of the Caribbean ship berthed right here!
Our last travel adventure in Costa Rica, and from now on we just feel any form of travel is just going to be a breeze compared to some of the adventures we had had along the way around Costa Rica! One uneventful bus ride from Manuel Antonio to San Jose, then we decided to skip the "get ripped off" taxi ride and we instead walked all the way to the bus station where all the buses leave for the Caribbean. Thinking we have time to spare and taking a bit of a risk making the 20 minute walk across the "dangerous city" we found that actually the bus we needed to take no longer infact leaves from this station, it leaves from the San Carlo bus terminal. Thats one which is in the REALLY dangerous part of town. Luckily, we met another couple in the same predicament and shared a taxi with them. Arriving with only minutes to spare before the bus left we find out the bus is full, but we can purchase a standing seat, no discount thought. Turns out we got one seat, so Thomas spent the 4 hour bus ride standing and seated in the aisle. And eventually we made it!!!

Puerto Viejo streets by night
Puerto Viejo is a place with a true Caribbean vibe and flair. Its a very popular destination on the Caribbean coast so benefits and suffers from this tourism exposure. The small town had a colourful and rustic charm mixed with the usual littered streets and often pungent stench. The streets were lined with market stalls with vendors trying to sell you their crafts and occasionally some recreational drugs. There was quite a nightlife scene with many people we met basically coming just to party. We noticed many nights at 4 am in our 8 bed dorm, where we were still the only ones in bed, then have a room full of sleepers during the day. For the first few nights we stayed at a shanty town of a backpackers, in a private cabin, that was part of what looked like the owners constant additions. When he needed more rooms he would just add another level to his building or tack a room onto the side. The place was a bit run down and had a bit of a dirty hippie vibe, so we only stayed the two nights, later moving to a nicer backpackers on the edge of town nearer to the beach, with nicer people and facilities.

Our $24 dollar a night cabin.
This was the last place we were visiting in Costa Rica and it turned out we had a good few days left so we had plenty of time to just chill, relax and enjoy the extremely hot mornings and the unique vibes of town. We cooked good food and went for long walks along the beaches. We rented bikes one day and took them the 10km or so down the road to Punta Uva and eventually Manzanillo (the furthest southern point on the Caribbean coast), which is a popular ride for tourists. A long winding deserted strip through the jungle leading to some characteristic Caribbean beaches and as it turns out a spot with alot of local families having BBQs and picnics. We saw birds, monkeys, a sloth, spiders and some fish while swimming.

The beautiful ride to Manzanillo
We ended up becoming friends with a cool dude from Oregon, Arhen. We enjoyed his company and near death stories of skydiving and base jumping. He was very interested to hear about all my beer stories and ramblings, as he's from one of the beer capitols of America, Bent, Oregon. For a couple of days we made some nice meals together, played cards at night and exchanged stories of adventure and travel. During the day we would chill at the beach, get absolutely toasted in that crazy morning sun and body surf and swim.

Looks like the Caribbean right?
After I finally finished up my does of antibiotics, I was allowed to have some beers, and together with Arhen we went to a hotel/ pub/ brewery to check out their stuff. It actually turned out to be the owner basically selling his homebrew, which I believe he was misguided as to his style selection for the area and climate and just unfortunately hadn't made any nice beer. None-the-less I chatted to him and he offered myself and Amy jobs of helping him run the hotel and brewing for him. Was a nice offer and all, if it had been in Santa Teresa I would have jumped at it in a heart beat, not so much here. Luckily for my taste buds he did have two beers from a micro brewery from San Jose, and they were very nice. 

Our second to last night in Costa Rica, we decided to treat ourselves to a nice meal/dining experience. There was a restaurant in Puerto Viejo called 'Stashu's Con Fusion',  which according to everyone in town, and our travel book, is one of the most delicious restaurants in all of Costa Rica. We went around 6.30pm for dinner, got a lovely seat on their open air lounge deck (the entire restaurant was open air) surrounded by interesting paintings, light fixtures and eccentric furniture. A fortune teller even eventually set up somewhere behind us, and we avoided eye contact all night. We ordered Caribbean Madras Curry and a Jamaican Jerk Chicken mains. We were surprised to find out these came with salads as a first course, which was lovely, and as soon as our main meals came, the place really started to fill up. We were shocked to see the presentation of our food, a nice helping of the chicken in its various sauces, a tower of rice, a slice of watermelon, some strawberry jam drizzles, a sliver of corn on the cob, two potato cubes, a paper thin slice of carrot, and the same of beet root!!! It was all SPECTACULAR though. We were really blown away. The entire evening cost us $27. Not too shabby for one of the best meals we've ever had. A divine evening, and a great way to end our last adventure in Costa Rica. 

Took our beers for a walk across the road from the pub, not a bad spot I say.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Manuel Antonio

Manuel Antonio National Park - Well angled photos to miss the crowds
It seems like we might be repeating ourselves, but we have anther travel disaster story. Not really a disaster, but just a frustrating day ending in a nasty town that we hadn't planned to spend even a minute in, far from the peace and relaxation of where we had just left. But having just come from paradise, we weren't so bothered because we were still on cloud nine. So it literally took us all day from 11am to 8pm to take two buses and a ferry, probably the total distance of about 50km. One bus didn't show up, which meant we missed the ferry and had to take the later one which got us in too late for our third bus to Manuel Antonio. So the run-down port town of Puntenarenas was where we were staying for the night. With white sand beaches and a long boulevard with lots of what seemed to be restaurants and bars, it was strange that the place was deserted. Oh and that white sand beach was the dirtiest beach we have ever witnessed, covered in plastic waste an amount I can't even describe, with homeless people living on mattresses under shrubs and trees and just a sad sight of what unmanaged development can create/destroy. No pictures included of said town!

Manuel Antonio public beach

The fun walk back up he hill.
So we got into Manuel Antonio a day late. The big attraction here is the Manuel Antonio National Park, a pretty but small and slightly overpopulated National Park on the central Pacific Coast. There were lots of flash hotels and restaurants, but obviously the closest we got to these was on our walk to and from the beach. It was a nice spot though, the town spanned the road leading down to the park perched on the seaside hills. So we had some beautiful sunsets and vistas out to sea. Even at our 20 bed dorm, $10 a night backpackers, we still had a million dollar balcony view. Only being in town for two nights we basically were there just to check out the park, but there was also a nice public beach with some small waves leading to a gorgeous rainforest which met the sand beach. There was a bit of stuff happening around with jet skis for rent, para-sailing, beach chairs and umbrellas for rental, locals selling coconuts to drink and small crafts, but this place still held the paradise vibe though. We swam, sunbathed and sweated it out on the 45min walk to and from the beach, with the uphill return being a tough slog, better than a 50c bus fair though ay?

Nature walking.
At the park, we were slightly underwhelmed but still saw an amazing array of wildlife especially in such a small area. We were blown away with how busy the main and basically only walking trail was, maybe more like a gravel road. Along the path every 20 meters or so was another guide with a group and a telescope looking into the trees. Good thing we didn't take a tour, we easily crashed each group and saw sloths, birds, snakes and got all the good stories and headed on our merry way leaving the groups behind in the crowds. We made our way to the main beach of the park, a stunning bay with beautiful clear water, iguanas strolling around everywhere and monkeys swinging in the trees lapping at the shoreline. There was also a small loop walk around a small peninsula through some wild rainforest. We got the real tropical humid atmosphere as it was stinking hot, crazy humid and there was no breeze at all. So we saw what we came to see quite quickly, with the animals and forest. So all that was left to do was relax in the shade and keep cool with regular swims. We found a side beach where it was almost deserted to chill for the day.

Thanks for taking our photo Mr Rock.
The sunsets were so striking, and we had the most amazing view from our backpackers. I quite enjoyed the reggae vibes at the hostel too especially as they played a whole album of the Black Seeds the New Zealand reggae group as we watched the sun go down. Super chilled. This was the last we saw of the Pacific Coast as we were off to the Caribbean.

View from our Backpackers

Friday, April 11, 2014

Monetzuma & Santa Teresa

Picture perfect Montezuma
The triple waterfall, with pools at each level.

Getting back to the Pacific Coast, we were looking forward to some beautiful beaches and good waves. We got that and more, meeting a cool bunch of people from all over the world to spend our week with. Randomly meeting these guys at the waterfall on our fist day in Montezuma, the Australian quickly heard my accent. He was keen to chat as he had been hanging with a South African and they only needed a kiwi to complete their Tri-Nations. They were also traveling with a Canadian guy and a Belgian girl, making us a sort of United Nations. So the following day, all of us, minus the Aussie-who continued on to meet his sister, traveled together in the back of some Tico guy's van over to Santa Teresa and spent our time surfing, hanging in the sun and the sorts.

The colourful Montezuma
Still in Montezuma, we took a backpackers with the most idyllic location possible and for $20 a night for a private room, it didn't really matter how scody it was. It was literally right on the beach. Montezuma was a colourful place full of colourful characters, some people call it Montefuma. It was peaceful, with a gorgeous beach, clear water, a charming small town centre and distinctive "hippie" vibe. We spent a quick afternoon up at the waterfall, swimming and jumping of the rocks and rope swing. Later in the day we had a chilled evening with our new friends having some beers which included a local homebrewery/nanobrewery called Jungle Brew. Late that evening we watched some Costa Rican style busking with a midnight fire dancing show in town. It was a crowd of people gathered in the middle of the main street with groups of people playing the bongos with a couple of amazing fire dancers which were eating fire, spinning fire and just generally being badass with flames. It was quite an experience.

The beautiful Santa Teresa Beach.
Arriving in Santa Teresa, the five of us got a room to share at the chilled "Tranquilo Backpackers." This stretch of coast runs for many kilometers with small towns dotted along the one dirt road. Right by us we had a surf shop to rent boards, a grocery market and some restaurants and beach side bars and just a few seconds walk across the street were some big powerful and stonking waves. We had an amazing time here with our wee group. We would head early for a surf, then just chill at the beach all day. We bought a whole bunch of fruits of pineapple, watermelon, cantaloupe and mangos which made the most refreshing lunches during our time there. We made communal meals and had the included pancake breakfast and played cards, shared stories and hung out in hammocks in the evening. 

So many Canadians in Costa Rica, but plenty of hammocks to share with them.
The waves were off the hook, and everyone was saying how flat it was and that they are usually so much better. I can't imagine how much better it could be! So, I just spent every moment I could in the water. Between us three guys we had two boards, one longboard and one learner shortboard. I ended up really enjoying riding the longboard, doing so on big waves was something I had never done before but I loved the rides. With decent drops, fast rides and big closeouts, I was in heaven! We got Amy and Barbara (the Belgian) out for a little surf but the waves weren't so friendly for them. 

That's what I am talking about!!! (Try and spot me!)
We just enjoyed meeting these people so much and being able to share our time with them. We love the opportunity traveling gives you to meet new people from all over the world. Each peson with different stories, different opinions and outlooks of life. We may never see them again, or maybe we will, but for those few days, Justin, Daniel and Barbara were our best buds and the memories of just those few days will last a lifetime.

Life doesn't get any better!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Cloud Forests of La Fortuna and Monteverde

Amy zip-lining above the Cloud Forest
For a bit of scenery change we headed into the highlands in the central north, the Cloud Forest. Sitting only a few hundred meters altitude, nestled between the countries most active volcanos this area has moderate day time temperatures and cool nights, almost year round rain and some dense moist forests. Our first town was La Fortuna at the foot of Volcan Arenal. This very active volcano only just recently stopped spewing lava from its crater but there was still plenty to see and we were lucky to be in town during a local cowboy style festival. 

Cowboys and cowgirls
Our accommodations here were the most luxurious of our trip, backpackers catering more to a resort style setting, with landscaped grounds, pool with swim up bar, deck chairs and full tropical feel. The town of La Fortuna was a relatively nice small mountain town, heavily based on tourism. With lots of gift shops and expensive restaurants, and unfortunately nothing free to do at all. Still, we managed to see and do a bit without breaking the budget too much. We enjoyed a more authentic experience of watching the horse parade through town. Was strange though as I guess there was some sort of competition occurring but only a few of the horses and their riders were preforming or displaying the fancy prancing style riding. All the others just crowded round the multiple stages around the town who were cooking food and giving out beers. None the less, the riders had fantastic skills, I have never seen a cowboy, riding a horse, holding their baby, eating food and drinking a beer all at once, but many riders here were fantastic at it!
That night we also went to the Rodeo part of the festival. There was a surrounding fair with all the usual forms of entertainment and it was cool being part of such a large community event like this. The rodeo turned out to be a bit pricy for Costa Rican standards, that being $10 each, but in conclusion it was certainly worth it. Not that we have any other rodeo experience to compare it to, but it was fantastically entertaining. The event started with fireworks and a wall of flames which the bull riders were introduced through. The bull riders were extremely good, the bulls were bucking hard, the announcer, although speaking mostly Spanish was entertaining and we did see a bit of carnage too. Each bull rider would have a go each and some even attempted, and was successful at riding with no hands! Once the ride was over, two horse riders would come out and lasso the bull and take it away. 

Bucking hard, hanging on.
We did one excursion the following afternoon which we thought took in all the highlights of the area in one adventure. We journeyed to the other side of the volcano to a scientific observation station looking right out to the old volcanic flow field, with views to the distant Lake Arenal. We did a forest walk seeing some wildlife and walking across a swing bridge, and finishing at a beautiful waterfall swimming hole. The guide and I were the only ones to go in at first but everyone eventually followed. The water was quite cold actually, and the waterfall very powerful. The guide led us behind the waterfall where we could then dive out from behind into the pool. Very cool indeed. After that, back around the other side of the volcano, we went for a evening dip in the hot water river. Probably the coolest experience of the trip. This was a full on mountain river that was a perfect 38 degrees C heated naturally by the thermal activity of the volcano. The guide set up candles, as it was now dark and led us down a track to a pool with a small waterfall flowing into it. We were then served a cocktail and given volcanic mud facials and chilled out in the pools for an hour or two.

Next, we headed to the relatively close Monteverde, the most famous cloud forest. Getting there was fun, taking a service called, Jeep-boat-jeep, it cut out the 7 hour plus bus ride and instead we took a bus then crossed the lake on a boat and got into another bus. No jeeps anymore I guess. The lake ride was nice with good views and the second bus ride was crazy, up and over such steep hills, on unpaved roads. These drivers have their work cut out for them. We stayed at a place called Sloth backpackers, and seeing a real one was the top priority for Amy. That night we went on a guided night walk. It was a bit disappointing, but we did see a good some unique wildlife. Snakes, insects, birds, mammals and that sloth that Costa Rica is so famous for. 

A Side Stripped Palm Pit Viper.

Flying into the next platform

Continuing with the paid activities, we did a zip-line canopy tour. This was also one of the coolest activities we did our entire time in Costa Rica. It was setup in a beautiful area of cloud forest, so dense and green. We ventured above and through the forest and canopy on 18 zip lines which was just the best way to see and experience the forest. Between some stations we had small walks along the forest floor or other zips led right from one line to the next right up in the trees. The lines differed in length from 100meters to 1km on the final one which went right across a big valley and we were really zooming. As to its name, we were up in the clouds with misty clouds blowing through. Afterwards we stopped in at the humming bird gardens, where there were bird feeders attracting lots of humming birds. There must have been hundreds of these tiny, beautiful little creatures buzzing around us.

After we talked to some girls on our tour, finally finding one free activity we went for a walk to a 'climbing' climbing fig tree. Double climbing you ask? Well, it would have originally climbed another tree and then now we get to climb it! It was a strenuous 30 min walk from town and then just poked away off the road. It was a wicked thing, a strangler fig tree that would have climbed a host tree and laid a lattice around the other tree, eventually killing it and the other tree must have died and decomposed quickly, I imagine with the help of ants and termites, leaving a perfect hollow climbing tunnel for us way high up to the top of the canopy. It really was awesome.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Not quite so scary San Jose

At this point we had a think about our plans for Costa Rica, we had another volunteering opportunity lined up with a school but in the end we decided we were not sure we were going to get what we expected or desired from our time here so changed plans. We decided we would just travel and see all we wanted to see, cutting our time to a total of 6 weeks, heading back to Connecticut for Amy to be around for the birth of her first nephew and for us to work and earn back some of the money we had spent in the not so cheap Costa Rica.

We firstly used our time to fix ourselves up, getting some meds for my ear and for Amy's bites or whatever she had. Making things worse a few spots popped up on me the following night. We worried they were bed bugs, or ants because there were plenty about our room and amongst our stuff but after a bit of Dr Google research discover they were most likely a heat rash, from the hot sticky climate, our lack of proper hygiene and clothe cleaning. Taking no chances we had all our clothes washed in the following town, the most expensive laundry experience I've had but I can't complain about the 2 hour turnaround of our 9kgs of clothes perfectly pressed and folded. Still wasn't stoked to have to part with $29 for the service. 

But back to San Jose, we were surprised to not be raped, mugged or murdered while on town. We checked with our hostel owner where to not go in town, which was around to red light district which is to be avoided at all costs. Despite many bus terminals being located there, in which case you must just take a taxi, and once at the terminal its all good, with security and police presence. But to be honest we could have been in any city in the world. We walked the main street of town and the walking mall. It was all full if chain stores and American fast food joints, the streets were busy with folks in business ware, students and regular folks. most of the city was unmemorable in design and planning but we did stumble upon a few beautiful buildings of colonial Spanish design. The most fantastic and maybe one of the most beautiful buildings I can remember was the national theater. A stunning building preserved to its original character and beauty and still used for it's original purpose of concerts and performances. That afternoon we bought some food from a local supermarket including the biggest mango I have ever seen. It resembled an American football and was an absolute experience to eat. We left San Jose optimist of our travels ahead and pleasantly surprised to have not had a bad experience.