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Thought for the day

14 Sep

Do you ever get the feeling that people are staring  at you if you are sat in a cafe alone? Travelling alone can be daunting, especially when you spend time in a community where being alone automatically means that you are lonely. For some, travelling alone would not even enter their minds. Questions such as, ‘Who will  I talk to?’ or ‘What if it looks like I have no friends?’ would stop them at the first hurdle (booking the tickets). Even though it is  scary, and daunting, I firmly believe that it is better to go  somewhere alone than miss out altogether.

An interesting point came up recently when I was talking to someone  about travelling alone. They said that they  felt like they got more out of the experience when they shared it with someone else. No there is no doubting that this isn’t true. There’s nothing in the world like being able to turn to close  friends and say, ‘Remember when we saw the monkeys in the national park?’ or ‘Remember when so and so got so  drunk that she kissed a Panamanian just for the hell of it?’ (those are two things I will not be forgetting!). However, when I was cycling around today I passed this sign, ‘Mejor sola que mal acompanada’ (Better alone than in bad company) and I completely agree.

Today was one of those perfect days.  I arrived at Puerto Viejo, a place  which I had been told was kinda Caribbean (it is on the Caribbean coast) and kind of American. Friends had stayed at a hostel called  Rocking J’s – the kind of place where there are 40 hammocks in one room in the place of beds (only $3 a night!). I thought I was lucky getting a bed until I went into the mousehole sized dorm-it looked like  someone had died in my bed. Brown sheets are never going to look good in a hostel. Anyway, I checked in, rented a bicycle and set off  down the coast. It  is 13km down an almost completely flat, newly paved road to Manzanillo, a small fishing beach. The destination itself is not the main reason for cycling this route. The whole journey takes you through a beautiful rainforest, with streams running under bridges and animal sounds everywhere. I was cycling on one of those  bikes that you see in the film Now and Then, the ones they have in the summer before their lives are turned upside down, with the big handlebars and a basket but no brakes. It was gorgeously sunny, and quiet, and the views were stunning. While I was cycling I was thinking about my trip and that is when I came across the sign. I think it was outside a yoga centre, but that doesn’t make it any less valid!

So back to the sign: Mejor sola que mal acompanada. Every time you check into a hostel you have a choice; to talk to the random people hanging around and hope that they will be your kind of people, and you theirs, or you can leave the desperation at the door and rent a bicycle and go and do your own thing (I guess the bicycle is just an example of making your own path rather than relying on others for entertainment). Wow, feeling quite  profound.

One other important thing – by choosing not to just hang out with whoever happens to be in the scuzzy communal area of the hostel I am not choosing  to be lonely, just alone. And I’m not rejecting company when I get home – I CANNOT WAIT to talk to everyone who actually matters, who I have shared ground and friendships with.

On that note I will be heading back to the hostel on my bicycle to get a beer and chat to my roommates. I mean, there’s no point in being anti-social all day is there?!

Let’s save the turtles

13 Sep

This week is a bit of a strange one. On Saturday I had 5 days left in Costa Rica, and 5 days left of my trip. I had been almostt everywhere I wanted to go, and seen so many animals, and beautiful beaches. So I decided to do something a bit different. In Nicaragua I met a Canadian girl who had been volunteering with an organisation called ASTOP, Asociacion salvemos las tortugas de Parismina, which is based in Parismina, a village built on a sand bar on the caribbean coast. I didn’t know anything about turtles, or why they were so important that they needed an organisation to save them, but I decided to head to Parismina anyway, I mean travelling somewhere new is always an adventure.

It took almost a whole day to get here. Three buses and a boat. When I arrived I realised just how small a village can be – in Parismina there are three roads, and around 450 people.  I wandered around asking for the turtle lady… she is well known in the village, having lived here for 30 years (orginally from America). Once I arrived at her house she explained everything involved in volunteering, and organised for her son Josh to give me a talk about the project, the turtles and the situation in Costa Rica. I went out that evening to patrol the beach with the other volunteers and we soon saw a green turtle which had just laid her eggs on the beach and was returning to the sea. The turtles in this area are often killed for their meat and eggs and so the volunteers ensure that there are no poachers on the beach and protect the eggs. If the turtles are killed the numbers of jellyfish in the water increases, as this is their main food, and the numbers of fish is thrown out of balance. Changes in the climate are also affecting the numbers of turtles, so the least we can do is try and protect the ones we can from poachers. If you’re lucky you also get to see the baby turtles hatching and heading down to the beach. So far  haven’t, so fingers crossed for tonight!

Other than the volunteer work of 4 hours a day there isn’t alot to do here…so I’ll be heading to busier Puerto Viejo for one last dip in the sea before I head home on Thursday.

The volcano that didn´t erupt and the hot springs

11 Sep

After spending a fantastic day at the Manuel Antonio National Park we set off the next morning for the town of La Fortuna, splashing out on a tourist bus that would take us directly there in 5 hours, rather than the arduous 10 that it would take normally. It was definitely worth it. We arrived in La Fortuna at midday and found a hostel called Cabinas Las Palmas.

La Fortuna is the ultimate tourist town. When the volcano Arenal erupted in 1968 the nearby villages were destroyed and La Fortuna become the hub for the thousands of visitors to the volcano every year. Hence the accomodation is cheap and there is a tour company on every corner. No wait, every other shop offers tours to the volcano, or to the hot springs.

We didn´t have any intentions of going to the pricey fancy American hot springs having found a video on youtube directing us to the free natural hot springs just out of town, but when we arrived at Cabinas Las Palmas we were plied with leaflets by the owner. He claimed to run his own company, thereby avoiding commission….blah blah blah. We didn´t really believe him, but Rich bartered him down to a decent amount for a ´tour´ that included a ride to the volcano, walk up the volcano, hot springs entry (the fancy fake ones) and dinner. So tour it was. The reason ´tour´ is in inverted commas is that it wasn´t a typical tour.

We were picked up at the hostel and joined three French guys and two Spanish girls. We arrived at the foot of the volcano and noticed that it had started raining…very heavily. I had no raincoat so wore a fleece and claimed I would be fine. I mean the trees offer protection right?! As we started climbing I was following the guide and almost running at points. I asked why we were going so fast – he explained that we needed to get to the top quickly before the storm set in. He was right. The rain was lashing down when we finally reached the viewpoint. You can´t go all the way to the top as it is an active volcano and could erupt at any time. That´s what we were there to see.

We huddled under the tent at the viewpoint for what seemed like hours, just watching the volcano and getting eaten alive by some massive bugs. The guide then revealed that he isn´t actually a guide, rather his mum is the owner of the company and he is sent out whent he weather is so bad that other guides on´t want to go, and when the whole group speaks Spanish. As you can imagine he was full of useful knowledge!

The volcano didn´t erupt so we made our way back down, very cold and wet at this point. When we reached the foot of the volcano we picked up a ranger from the ranger station who had aching wisdom teeth and so was heading into town to find a dentist. God knows what he had been treated with up to that point as he was spouting some incredibly vociferous opinions about the state of Costa Rica, the president, the nature reserves. You name it. He was actually very useful at one point when we stopped to have a quick rum (everyone, including the driver joined in) and he found some bright green frogs which were really cool. They were the ones that you always see on photos/guidebooks of Costa Rica with the blue bellies and red eyes.

When we finally set off again the fuse to the headlights blew and we thought we were never going to get to the Baldi Springs to warm up. Luckily it was quickly fixed and before I knew it we were eating a crazily fast dinner in order to have time to go down all of the slides in the springs before they closed at 10pm. Despite the rush it was fantastic, especially as I haven´t had a hot shower/bath for a while so the pools could not have felt better!

By the time we got back to the hostel we were both shattered but still made plans to go on a hike the next day to another volcano. In the end I woke up exhausted and instead the day turned into one of reading magazines and drinking beer at the hostel while playing cards!

Today Rich has gone home and I´m on my way to Parismina to do some volunteering for a few days. Hopefully I´ll have the chance to update this when I get there. If not, I promise to post photos of turtles when I get back.

Caminata to the Cascadas & the best monkeys in the world

8 Sep

So last time I updated the blog I was about to go for a walk to a waterfall. The hostel where we were staying had given us a leaflet when we checked in listing some of the things we could do in the area while the nearby national park was closed (every Monday). Their ideas were great, but their back up info wasn´t so brilliant. When we asked the receptionist to elaborate on the two lines of instructions of how to get to the Casacada del Salto, he said, ´I´ve never been so I couldnt be sure how to get there…` So, following these instructions: Take the bus towards the national park, get off at Amigos del Rio and follow the river, we set off.

Clearly we got lost as soon as we got off the bus, and walked about 30 minutes out of the way up a huge hill before anyone could give us any directions that made sense. Eventually a taxi driver pointed us back the way we came and we found the trail. As soon as we started walking alongside the river we picked up two friends, a golden labrador and other random dog. They alternated between leading the way down the river and following us. The trail had all but disappeared thanks to the rainstorms of the past few months and we had to scramble through a lot of fallen branches and cross the river a few times. We eventually arrived at the top of a beautiful waterfall that fell into a large pool.

The only problem was that we couldn´t see any way down! Luckily Rich being a bit more adventurous than me could see a way of climbing down. We reached the bottom and got in the water, shortly followed by the dogs who had been following us the whole way. I was too chicken to climb out and jump from the top of the waterfall but I took some good pictures.

The walk back led us through the forest and back to the village. On the way we passed various `ecolodges´ which looked fantastic – completely hidden away in the rainforest. After the long walk the only thing to replace all of the expended energy was to go out and eat. We found a restaurant called Tropical Sushi, which was as far from Costa Rican rice and beans as you can imagine and made the BEST sushi. Yum, birthday dinner (a few days late!)

The following day we set off early to go to the Manuel Antonio National Park. This park is on the west coast of Costa Rica and is pretty touristy – in the hugh season you have to get there early enough to be one of the first 800 in. Luckily its low season so the trails weren´t very busy and thebeaches were almost empty. There are lots of different walks, and you are guaranteed to see capuchin monkeys. In fact when you sit down on the beach you have to look after your stuff to make sure they don´t steal your bags or food! There are loads of other animals, and even though you can hire a guide we figured that we would see a lot just walking around. We made it to the furthest beach, Playa las Gemelas, and a cove called Puerto Escondido. It was idyllic, so beautiful and really peaceful. Soon enough other people started to arrive so we went for another walk and ended up on the beach with the monkeys, which was great but quite sad. I mean it is lovely seeing them up so close, but they only come so close for food, and it is really bad to feed them as it makes them sick.

At the end of the day we left the park and crossed a river to get back to the main road. In the Lonely Planet they warn you about boatmen who claim that there are crocodiles in the river and the water is super high so that you takethe boat instead. The boats were really cute so I decided to get in one, whereas Rich insisted on walking across the river. Let´s just say he got quite wet, even if it didn´t come up to his throat.

On the way back to the hostel we stopped in a restaurant called El Avion which was made of a real plane perched on the hillside. I didn´t have any idea how tired I was until I sat down and nearly fell asleep, almost missing the fantastic view down to the sea. If walking around a national park, swimming and sunbathing makes me tired god knows how I´ll manage a 40 hour week again soon!

This morning we travelled to La Fortuna, home of Volcano Arenal – let´s hope we get to see it erupt.

San Jose to the Osa Peninsular & on to Quepos

6 Sep

Wow, so much has happened in the last week. I travelled to Costa Rica, stayed a few nights in San Jose (pretty ugly) and picked Rich up from the airport. I had this crazy idea that we could go to Costa Rica and avoid the beach towns which tend to be chock full of Americans. I had heard from people I had met travelling that Costa Rica was super expensive, and very American. Now, don’t get me wrong I have no issue with Americans, but I prefer to travel to places that are multicultural, rather than built up KFC-a-fied towns.

So I took some advice from a German couple I met in Panama and made plans to travel to Parque Nacional Corcovado, which is on the Osa Peninsular, basically as far away from civilization as you can get. There are no roads leading to the coast, instead you have to take a boat through miles of mangroves to the Pacific ocean, and then sail down the coast, which is almost totally uninhabited, to a place called Drake Bay. Apparently named after Drake’s landing 200+ years ago. Once you reach the Bay you have to get off the boat, into the water, then walk onto the beach with all of your bags, and head up the hill. We were staying at Cabinas Manolo – probably the nicest place I have stayed since I arrived in central America. The standard seems to have increased slightly now that Rich is here for a holiday! Manolo and his family were really welcoming, and cooked great food. They even made me a birthday cake on my birthday!

When you go to Drake Bay you are really only there togo to the National Park. The village is tiny, and it rains ALOT. The National Park however, is fantastic. We went with a guide called Javier who would say things like, ‘Can you smell that? That is Tapir pee.’ Hmm… Can’t say I have ever smelled that before, or that I really know what a Tapir is. We saw so many animals – spider monkeys, squirrel monkeys, anteaters, and birds. Javier had a telescope and would take photos through the telescope, so I have a brilliant picture of a toucan that I would never have been able to take otherwise. We also saw sloths, just known as ‘lazys’ (perezosos) in Spanish. They kind of look like squashed dogs hidden in trees. The whole day was brilliant, even the hour long boat ride there and back… on the way back the boat stopped suddenly and Javier pointed to the whales which were just playing in front of the boat. They were HUGE and incredibly close. After a 4am start I think I was asleep by 8pm…not so much partying to be done after spending a whole day in the rainforest!

The second day was my birthday, hich I hadn’t been looking forward to. I mean, nobody likes getting older! But it was so busy that I definitely didn’t think about it too much. We took a trip to an island off the coast called Isla del Cano, and spent the day snorkelling. We were in really deep water, and I am not that keen on water where I can’t see the bottom, but seeing sharks, rays, huge shoals of fish, and nemo really made up for the slight fear and jelly fish sting. It was fantastic. We even had some interesting company in the shape of an ancient American couple who looked like they had just met – All over each other doesn’t even cut it – and a nice German family who were full of good advice about places to visit in Costa Rica.

In the morning it was time to move on. Luckily, there were three Spanish guys staying at our cabins who were travelling towards our next destination, and once we reached the port of Sierpe and were back on dry land they gave us a lift half of the way. My god it was comfortable compared to the public buses, even if the conversations vered back and forth from crime and punishment in Spain to other random things like the Cirque de Soleil and the acoustics of the Royal Albert Hall. They dropped us off in Dominical and promised to sent photos of my birthday cake by email.

In Dominical we stopped for breakfast, ate lots of chillies and tried to figure out when the next bus would be arriving, Not as easy as you would imagine. We asked about 6 different people, and got 4 different times. Eventually we just went to the bus stop and waited, and sure enough the bus arrived at a completely different time to what we expected. We arrived in Quepos, our stop for the next few days, and found the hostel. We decided to stay at the Wide Mouth Frog Backpackers, completely enticed by the freebies – swimming pool, internet, DVDs and Board Games (rocking…) – both of which are brilliant when there are as many rain storms as there are here. Last night it rained without stopping for about 8 hours, flooding the roads. This morning all of the water had disappeared and there was bright sunshine.

Anyway, today we’re off to some waterfalls and for a hike, so I should get off the internet and go and find my shoes.

Hasta luego