5 Weeks 5 countries, no problems - part 2 (Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama!)


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Published: March 6th 2008
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As soon as we woke up in Managua we thought we should try and get a change of perspective on Nicaragua, so jumped on a bus for Granada, which is yet another Spanish colonial town. It is a lovely beautiful old town on the shores of Lago de Nicaragua (the largest lake in Central America). We spent a few days wondering around and looking at the sites, and once we had seen all the sites we decided we needed to have a little more fun since all Lara's mountain biking injuries had healed. So we did a canopy tour, which is basically a course of giant flying foxes through the tree tops. It was good fun, and a nice way to get the adrenaline pumping again.

From Grenada we headed to the Pacific beach side town of San Juan del Sur which is apparently one of the great beaches on the Pacific Coast side of Central America. The problem with being an Australian in these circumstances is having a really high expectation of what your average beach should look like and we were a little disappointed. We had wanted to spend a few days just lying on the beach and
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Goats are needed on the main street of every town!
not much more but the beach was dark sand that looked really dirty and the wind made it almost impossible to spend much time lying around. Apparently there are some great surfing beaches not too far from San Juan but we were feeling a little jaded and never got that far.

We thought maybe a new country would get us out of our travel rut so we took a bus from Managua to San Jose, Costa Rica. It turned out to be one of the longest and worst bus rides we have had, the air conditioning didn't work and the windows didn't open so we had hot air blowing on us for 13 hours. We also had our worst border crossing to date - it took Nicaraguan Immigration over 2 hours to put exit stamps in our passports and then we had a further 2 hour wait while entering Costa Rica. It was approximately 3 hours longer than any other border crossing so far!! We arrived in San Jose after 8pm which is never a particularly good idea, especially if the whole population of heavy metal fans has arrived in San Jose for the 'Iron Maiden' concert. Thankfully we
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Church Guadelupe
had a really lovely taxi driver who we spent a good half hour with while looking for a room. We eventually found a half-decent hotel with a spa in the corner of our room - I'm sure it hadn't been used for at least 20 years. The other advantage was that it was half a block from the bus terminal we needed the following day.

We got up early and got on another bus which at least had open windows and headed to the Puerto Limon on the Caribbean Coast from where we could make the 3 hour boat ride to Tortuguero, a little town in the middle of the Tortuguero National Park. Unfortunately we missed the morning boat by about half an hour and had a 4 hour wait ahead of us until the 3pm boat was due to depart. We were sitting quietly wondering what we were going to do for the next 4 hours when a little girl started laughing at us. She proceeded to laugh at us and eventually brought her chair over (her Mum was selling cold coconuts nearby) and started chattering away in Spanish. We ended up playing with 5yr old Melanie and her brother Juan Carlos for the next 4 hours; we played a game similar to snap which neither of us really understood, saw their school books, played with the camera and anything else they could find in our bags and whistled with shoots of grass which they really loved! They played patiently with us for the whole day and never got bored or frustrated with us when we didn't understand their slang Spanish. It was a really great way to spend a day!

Eventually 3pm came around but our boat wasn't quite ready - they had no petrol and someone had to take a taxi to the petrol station. It turned out that our Captain had beached a boat earlier in the day and the new boat came petrol-less. One we eventually got under way it was a beautiful boat ride through canals teeming with birdlife and caimans sometimes venturing to the sea, that is until it got dark. Considering that the Captain had already beached our boat during our trip we were not too thrilled about the idea of continuing in the dark but he was at least using a spotlight for the most part. After awhile he
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Canopy Tour
decided it was better without the spotlight and we continued by starlight (there was no moon) at full speed. It was completely terrifying - we were convinced we would at the very least hit a log and at the worst hit someone doing the same thing in the other direction. Somehow we arrived safely....we later learnt that shortly after our arrival the Captain was fired because of his continued beaching and negligent sailing.

Tortuguero turned out to be a lovely little town with a very laid back vibe. We got up early the following morning for a canoe trip through the national park which turned out to be really great. We had a really knowledgeable guide and the park is completely teeming with all kinds of wildlife. We saw howler, capuchin and spider monkeys, a sloth, caimans, herons, egrets, toucans, river turtles, iguanas and Jesus Christ lizzards (among other animals). It was great to get the chance to see so much wildlife and a good way to get some exercise! In the afternoon we did a nature walk equipped with gumboots and we saw more howler and spider monkeys feeding just above us as well as plenty of leaf
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Canopy Tour
cutter ants and plenty of lizzards. We were thrilled, as on our last self-guided nature walk in Honduras we didn't see a thing, not even an insect!

The following day we made the three hour journey back to Puerto Limon during the day and spotted more wildlife on the trip - including sloths, monkeys, herons and a long green water snake. From there we grabbed a mini bus heading to Puerto Viejo, a small town on the Caribbean Coast with a reggae / hippy vibe. We found a rustic shack right on the beach and enjoyed the sounds of waves crashing while falling asleep. We spent our first day just lying on the beach reading and swimming. The second day we headed to a nearby botanical garden to do some frog spotting. Costa Rica has a large number of dart frogs which come in a variety of brilliant colours; we saw numerous bright red frogs and a fluorescent green frog with black spots. The gardens were pretty with a great variety of trees from around the world but the frogs were what we were really there for!

The next day we hired some bikes to ride the 13
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Canopy Tour
km to Manzanillo, a town further along the coast where you can hire snorkeling gear. The ride was also supposed to be really lovely. About 6kms into the ride, the chain on Al´s extremely dodgey bike broke and we decided to rent another one at a bike rental place not too far from where we were. We continued the ride and made it the rest of the way with no further incidents - except Al imitating the sound Lara´s bike made everytime the wheel went around; something similar to a dying goose.

In Manzanillo we rented some snorkel gear and headed out to the reef just off the beach. It was definitely not the greatest snorkeling, the visibility was really poor and the current was so strong that we spent most of the time trying not to drown or crash into the reef. To add to that we have both developed a bit of a fear of barracudas thanks to a South African friend who mentioned he had seen a barracuda bite someones finger off - and there was a mighty big barracuda swimming around out there! That said we saw some schools of sturgeon, a stingray and a
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The town and beach
puffer fish but it was not quite the relaxing bit of snorkeling we expected and it took us ages to make it back to shore due to the current.

The ride back was pleasant and we watched a whole family of howler monkeys feeding just 5 metres from us - there were 4 or 5 little babies swinging around while their parents fed, and there was some howling going on too. We went back to where we had left Al´s broken bike and the lovely man in the second bike store had fixed the chain for us so we didn´t have to walk the 6 kms back into town.

We then returned to San Jose from where we will depart on a 16hr bus ride to Panama City.

UPDATED**********After a 16 hour bus ride we arrived in Panama completely exhausted, found a hotel and slept. We only had a few days in Panama and divided them between the Panama Canal and the Old City. We did a partial tranist of the canal and it was amazing. It was great to see such a significant historical place and admire the ingenuity of man! Apart from the fact that
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The first time we saw the sun set over the pacific since LA, more than 4 months ago.
we were 2 of very few people under 70 on the boat, we had a great time. We traversed 2 of the locks - the Pedro Miguel Locks and the Miraflores Locks and then sailed into the bay for a look at Panama City from the water. It is a huge and very modern city with more sky scrapers than many much larger cities (Sydney for example).

The following day we spent wandering around the beautiful old town. It is Spanish Colonial, some of it is decaying gracefully while more and more of the buildings are being renovated. We walked around, looking at the Panama Canal Museum, the Presidential Palace and of course many beautiful churches before packing up all out stuff and getting ready to head off on the American part of the journey.


Additional photos below
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San Juan del Sur

the bus back to Managua BEFORE it filled up!
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San Jose, Costa Rica

every hotel needs a spa bath next to the TV!
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Tortuguero, Costa Rica

Our boat, which the captain managed to beach twice in 3 hours!
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Tortuguero

Random fly thing....
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Tortuguero

Melanie - Our friend for the afternoon
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Tortuguero

Juan Carlos
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Tortuguero

Anhinga
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Tortuguero

Blue Heron
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Tortuguero

Blue Heron
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Tortuguero

Snow Egret
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Tortuguero

boat billed heron


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