Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Las Lajas to El Valle

Boca Brava, where we last wrote to you, is an island surrounded by several other small islands. A day or so after our last blog entry I got the bright idea of swimming to a nearby island for excercise. Turns out the current is very strong and I had to swim back to Boca Brava as I was being pushed towards the mainland. Anyways, we did the same routine in reverse to get back to the Panamerican and continued to a practically uninhabited beach town, Las Lajas. We spent a few days at a hotel called El Refugio, just us and about 500 geckos, including the one who got spit out of the air conditioning when we turned it on! The beach is very broad as you can see in the photo above. It was basically empty, we only saw a few other people there despite there being parking spots for hundreds for cars, all empty. Anyways, it is a very nice beach, seems like it's probably a popular day trip destination for locals on the weekend.
This morning we left Las Lajas for another jaunt down the Panamerican to El Valle. We have checked in and are eating dinner at a diner owned by a Canadian couple. The owners have a pet monkey who likes been and vodka! Tomorrow we are going to a reptile/amphibian sanctuary, and will probably check out a few other places around town. We will keep you posted!

Friday, March 23, 2012

Boca Brava

Greetings from Boca Brava. We arrived yesterday after taking two buses, a pickup truck and a boat. We are on a small secluded island in the Gulf of Chiriqui on the Pacific side of Panamá. Since we last spoke, Sarah and I have had quite the adventure. We got in touch with Randy who operates the Mañana Madera farm and hotel. We had some very, very delicious coffee from his farm. Apparently last year they set a record and sold a pound of Boquete coffee for $164!! he also gave us a tour of the grounds and showed us the guest house that he rents out to travellers. You can see a link to his website in our new "Hall of Fame". We also went to the garden that had been closed a few days before. The garden was unique with its fake cows and many koi ponds. After all that activity we needed to wind down a bit and come to our island. We have rented two hammocks at the hotel on Boca Brava, and so far the howler monkees haven't come too close. The racoon, however, decided to go rifling through a nearby trashcan in the middle of the night until I hissed him away. We went to the little beach this morning, Sarah had a good time chasing some crabs around. Anyways, it's probably about time to wander to the eating hammock so we can order some lobster for dinner!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Check out the Hall of Fame!

Hello Friends!

I´ve just published our Hall of Fame! Here we´re going to put up those places and people who have really WOWed us on our trip, so much so that we hope you´ll go visit them one day. Check them out and keep on reading!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Sarah, a Spider Monkey, and the Local Jungle Man

As you can see, we had a run in with Tarzan and a spider monkey that likes to borrow Ritz crackers from unsuspecting tourists. But first, a quick catch up since our last riveting post. Our first full day here in Boquete we decided to take a quick walking tour of the town, which is very easy to get around by foot. We also walked about a mile out of town to what is supposedly a very nice garden up in the hills. Unfortunately it was closed as the owners were at a fair in a nearby city for the weekend, we will probably head back in the next few days. On the way back from the garden we stopped at a coffee farm and had some delicious coffee at their on-premises cafe. There are several hiking trails near boquete and the following day we took a cab up to the trailhead for three of the trails. We had originally thought about hiking the Quetzal trail (despite it being technically closed) but when we arrived there was a man explaining that the Quetzal trail is pretty hard to hike as it is washed out in many places and less experienced hikers may have trouble following the trail. We decided to hike a different area, called the Pipeline trail which leads up to a waterfall. This was a very nice hike, and since it was always sort of misty but not quite raining you really feel as if you are in the clouds. The next day we relaxed after our long hike, and celebrated St. patrick's day with some green concoctions, and some of the other travellers tried to teach us how to play cricket. Luckily there were no nearby windows as it slowly turned into baseball.
Yesterday we took a tour of a small canyon and some nearby hot springs. The canyon appears to have been cut by a narrow river and goes quite deep, you could cliff dive into it. There were also some rather inquisitive (as in, they like to bite swimmers) fish in the water. The hot springs were on a local's farm and were very natural. You could still see the air bubbles coming up from wherever the water was being heated underground. The farmer had made little rock walls around the springs to turn them into little pools and it was very peaceful on his farm. Then his monkey arrived! This particular monkey is known for taking food and drinks and we were told not to take any beers to the hot springs as the monkey has drank them and gotten sick in the past! There was also a jungle man living nearby (with a possibly french accent) who came to say hello. The picture above shows Sarah on her way out trying to keep the monkey from eating her crackers. I think the jungle man just liked being in pictures. Anyways, we will probably head back to the garden in a day or so, then possibly head to the beach before going to Panama City. We will keep you posted!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Costa Rica by the Numbers and Our Last Few Days There

Hello again loyal fans of We are safely ensconced in our room at Hotel Mamallena in Boquete, Panamá, time for a quick update. Since we last spoke we went to Dominical. We stayed at the Dominical Info & Hostel for $10/night per person, which seemed affordable enough for the location, however after waking up the next morning with cockroaches in the bed, we determined we weren't going to stay. Dominical is a pretty rocky beach, nice waves for surfing, but not much else. It's a very small town, and it's primarily small hotels and surf shacks. After our 'incident' our first morning we decided we definitely weren't going to stay in that hostel again. We walked around the town but couldn't find anything we liked without completely breaking the bank so we decided to skip town. We caught the next bus to Uvita, another beach town, although slightly more developed. We stayed at the Tucan hotel, which is kind enough to arrange transportation to the beach for guests, about a 2 mile drive, but we are on our own for getting home. This beach is really wide and flat, great for surfing and hanging out on the sand. The first day we somehow managed to get lost and ended up at a restaurant in the opposite direction of town. Lucky for us there was a couple there already who had just called for a taxi to take them to our hotel, they had apparently gotten off at the wrong bus stop. We shared a cab, and kept close watch on the road so that we would know how to walk back the next time. The next day we went to a local waterfall just a short walk up the road. It's actually on the property of a bar and the owner charges 500 colones entry, just under a dollar. The waterfalls are very nice, there were some people who had camped there, and it was nice to be in the shade, in the water, and watch the lizards run around. We also met a few Costa Rican girls who explained to us that they were thinking of moving to Mexico or Guatemala because it was too expensive to live in Costa Rica. The last day we went back to the beach, and managed to find our way home properly.
This morning we caught the bus from Uvita to Ciudad Neily, then on to Paso Canoas on the border with Panamá. Due to the extremely good signage we managed to walk right into Panamá without any passport stamping, fees, bribes, etc. We figured it would be best to go back and get officially stamped out of Costa Rica, so we asked a man with a gun where to go. He pointed us to an unmarked white building, and when we arrived we saw that it said "inmigración" in small letters. We got stamped out of Costa Rica, and it looks like they forgot to charge us the $26 per person exit fee. They are nice enough to have a bank branch right there, so we exchanged our colones into dollars at a fairly reasonable exchange rate. We proceeded back to Panamá and asked where to go, and when we got to the window we were asked for our plane tickets out of Panamá. Apparently they are worried about people not leaving, so they ask to see your forward travel if you are a foreigner and not arriving by car. Anticipating this I had written down some random info about flights from Panama City to Colombia, with flight numbers, seat assignments, etc., however they wanted to see an actual ticket or a printout of confirmation. Eventually I gave up, and we walked back into Costa Rica (again) and bought a return ticket to Costa Rica that we will never use. We then walked back into Panamá (for the third time) showed them our new tikets, and they stamped us through. Two buses later and we are in our hostel in Boquete after eating a very nice meal of chicken, fries, and salad.

Costa Rica by the numbers. Before I begin, I should mention this country is by far the most expensive we have visited up to this point. Prices are much higher, services rendered are often of lower quality and quantities are reduced. What would be a $1 meal in a shabby restaurant in Guatemala could easily cost $5 in Costa Rica. Food in the supermarket is expensive, transportation is expensive, and even cheap beer is double the standard prices for Central America. That said, we entered the country with $68 and left with $199. We took out $1176 from the bank account. This gives a total spend of $1045 across 20 days, about $52.25/day. This is lower than some places, but keep in mind, we had free lodging for a week, and didn't pay much for our meals there either. We also didn't "do" as much, as far as activities and sightseeing, but rather spent a lot of time on the beach because most activities were too expensive. In retrospect, there is a lot of natural beauty in Costa Rica, but it seems like that can all be had in other countries nearby for a much lower cost. Additionally, Costa Rica seems to be more dangerous than countries like Nicaragua, so it's hard to say why there are so many tourists there. Anyways, we are tired after our long day of travel, check the facebook page in a day or two for more pictures.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Manuel Antonio, Quepos, and Awesome Pizza!!!

Today we took a day trip to a local national park, Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio. It is a short ride away from Quepos, which we arrived in yesterday. There is a beach inside the park, and while we were at the park this lizard made sure nobody touched our towel. The park is a little more tourist-ified than some of the more pristine places we've seen on our travels (power lines going across it) but it is still a very well kept area. We saw numerous types of monkeys, deer, various birds and lizards, mapaches, sloths, skinks, fish, and many other animals. Entrance to the park is ten dollars per person, a bit steep on our budget, and then there's the usual group of pleasantly agressive tour guides charging between twenty and fifty dollars on top of the entrance for their services. We decided to do it self-guided which turned out to be a good decision. It seems that the guides will point something out and then everybody crowds around them, so it's easy to overhear and look where they're looking if you don't see something right away. That said, we had no trouble finding tons of wildlife, even some the guides missed. Additionally, the beach in the park is really nice, and has warm water, although it seemed a little murky.
To catch you up a bit, since we last blogged, we spent some more time in San Jose. We went to the a musuem which showcased a lot of pre-Colombian gold as well as all the currency that has been used in Costa Rica. Many of the coffee plantations used to pay their workers with what basically look like poker chips and could only be used at the plantation's general store. It also went throuh the history of the various currencies and the meanings of some of the symbols used. We also took a day trip to Orosí which is a small town in a very lush valley. We originally went to go to some hot springs, which turned out to be rather cold and basically just an expensive public pool, then we had to practically turn San Jose inside out to find the right bus stop to get home.
Today, after a long day of hiking through the national park and working up quite an appetite, we went out in search of an affordable dinner. We first went to a bar/restaurant down the street from our hotel, looked like they had a good deal on something of a sampler platter for two. However, upon walking in, we realized that there were a half dozen prostitutes hanging out, and we were probably in the wrong place. We continued wandering around and found a pizza place situated behind/northwest of the bus station called Miguelito's, which had some interesting items on the menu. We went with the tex mex pizza and I was pleasantly surprised to find that they make it in a style I enjoy with the toppings under the cheese so the cheese gets nice and crispy. It was delicious!! Turns out Miguelito is actually an ex-pat named Todd, but Miguelito goes over easier with the local crowd. Anyway, delicious pizza, more affordable than the other pizza joint in town, and good service too. Unfortunately we didn't have our camera with us, so here's a picture of a monkey eating, I imagine we looked something like this tonight with our pizza. Tomorrow we are off to Dominical to relax for a few days before heading to Panamá, we will catch up with you later!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Pura Vida!

Hello, Readers! We´ve been in Costa Rica for a little over a week now and we apologize for the slow-going on the blog posts. We spent a week in Playa Tamarindo, and ended up having a lot of fun despite the outrageous expenses. We stayed in a Hostel called ¨La Botella de Leche¨, meaning the bottle of milk, that had a fun cow themed paint all over, a nice pool, and a decent kitchen. The first two nights we stayed in a private room which cost an unbelievable $38 a night - remember, we are trying to keep it at or below $50 a day! But then, we had to move rooms since someone with a reservation came in, so we moved to a dorm which was only $12 a bed, or $24 for the two of us, which helped.

The beach at Tamarindo was a lot like San Juan de Sur - cold water and very windy. We had one good day on the sand but spent a few days keeping cool in the pool at the hostel. One day, we took a shuttle with other hostelers to Playa Conchal, which was beautiful, and another playa which was good for the surfers. At Conchal, we swam and snorkled, and did some more Yoga on the beach! There were a surprising number of Canadians at our hostels and had some good times trying the local firewater, Cacique, with them. There was Karaoke night at a local bar, where you got a free shot every time you sang! You know I took advantage of that!! We ate exclusively at the hostel, preparing our own food in the kitchen, which consisted mainly of Gallo Pinto, a local rice and bean dish I learned to make in Nicaragua, and Salchichon, a chicken sausage, and veggies.

On Thursday, the local bar was having another excellent promotion. It was Mohawk night. Anyone who shaved a Mohawk at the bar got 5 free beers. It didn´t take much to convince me that this was an EXCELLENT idea! We went to Sharky´s with some friends, a couple on vacation from Canada, and the other guy and I got a free haircut and some beers. Because I was the first girl to get her Mohawk done at the bar, they rewarded me with 10 free beers! Of course, we all shared, so we had 15 beers between us. All in all, I think it´s a good deal: free beers and free haircuts. I am still getting used to my new ´do, but I am loving it and getting lots of compliments from some people, and all out stares from others. We will upload pictures to facebook as soon as we get somewhere with wifi!

After our week in Tamarindo, we headed inland to San Jose. We are now staying with the parents of my mom´s neighbor just outside the capital. The Raphael´s have been so generous taking us into their home and we´re having a lovely time. It´s the first hot shower we´ve had since El Salvador and the home-cooked meals are wonderful! We also had a nice afternoon picnic with the neighbors who gave us excellent recomendations for our continued travels in Costa Rica (such as, stay in Quepos, not Manuel Antonio, since they are only 7 km apart but MA is very touristy and expensive). We went Salsa dancing with our surrogate parents on Saturday night and on Sunday explored the city a little while they went to church. This morning, we woke up to rain and heavy winds, so are taking an easy day. Tomorrow we may go explore some little cities nearby and on Wednesday hope to hit up some hot springs an hour south of here.

I´d like to end with a little poem I wrote while taking my first hot shower in 35 days (but who´s counting?):

Haiku to Hot Water

Oh, Hot Water, yes!
Yes yes yes yes yes yes yes!
Hot water, oh yes!