HI all. Didn´t realise it had been quite so long since last blog but guess time flies when you´re having fun!! Plus considerable amounts of dodgy internet connections get a bit wearing after a while! Following on from the fantastic Copan Ruians we headed across Honduras to the Carribean coast to spend a couple of blissful days soaking up the sunshine on Roatan island. With a hotel in a fantastic location right on the beach, pool overlooking the sea it was a fantastic place to recharge the batteries, although was not especially restful due to the plethora of activites offered. Snorkelling with dolphins (playing catch with them and sea gras was especially entertaining!) was absolutely fascinating, as was having the opportunity to get a couple of introductory dives in amidst the surrounding reef. Sadly due to the need to go out and partake in the local cocktails while watching the sun set over the sea there was insufficient time to get PADI qualified but it will certainly be done in the hopefully not too distant future!
Moving on from Roatan we had the delight of a 4.00 start for a mammoth 15 hour trip down to the frenetic Tegucigalpa, the
Honduran capital. Not the most pleasant of places, possibly due in part to everyone being rather exhausted upon arrival, or perhaps the unmarked 6m potholes in the middle of the (unlit) pavement, it was quite pleasant to be on our way the next day to Nicaragua. One of the poorest countries in Central America, evident with the copious amount of shanty towns made from tarpaulin and little else in the centre of its capital Managua, Nicaragua remains a beautiful country wih incredibly friendly and helpful locals. It is, however, a testament of a banana republic nation that has been sucked dry of many resources by the wonderful ol' US of A with precious little compensation. Political/ethical issues aside it oozes character and has some of the best (and cheapest - 2 pounds for a 2 litre bottle!!) rum in the world, Flora de Cana. Granada is a delightful city, similar in feel and look to Antigua, once you have gotten used to the daily 3 hour power cuts! After a highly interesting chicken bus ride where our bags got well and truly drenched in a tropical rainstorm we got an equally interesting ferry (top is just flat - no rails
so any tilting could lead to a quick swim, and the bottom has a guy pumping water out of the engine room by hand!!) out to Omotepe island, situated in the middle of lake Nicaragua. One dirt road out to our hotel later, we got a couple of days to kick back in a hammock, swim in a freshwater natural pool (very nice indeed) and some the really clever ones (ie me) decided to climb a volcano at 5am having had one hour's sleep following a rather heavy night on said rum. Aside from the sweating out pure alcohol for the first 3 hours of the climb (sea level to 1200m), insult was added to injury when we had to turn back as we got caught in another fantastic bout of tropical rain in the cloud forest on the volcano!! It did actually take nearly a week to dry out my hiking boots following this and everything in the rucksack was starting to smell pretty fruity as my trousers had developed mildew in the damp conditions. Words can't express how much laundries become prized commodities when travelling!
Costa Rica was next on our hit list, and after the prevalent
poverty of the neighbouring Nicaragua it was like travelling to a different world (the arduous border crossing and numerous customs checks reflect the difference between the two countries), wooden shacks suddenly becoming highly Americanised chalets and antiquated pickups giving way to new BMWs. That said the first day in San Jose 3 of our group were pickpocketed. Not a nice city, although it does have some fantastic eateries (the restaurant across from the hotel was spectacularly good at steak and mojitos), a bit of sun and a lot of rain. From there we started the next leg of the tour, heading off to La Fortuna for a nice bit of (grade 4-5) white water rafting on the Toro river where most of us went in at least once and surprisingly only a couple of injuries were sustained! Rather bruised and weary, we carried on for pizza while overlooking Volcano Arenal spewing forth chewy chunks of red hot rock from a nice safe distance before heading on down to unwind and soothe the aching muscles and sunburn in the hot springs at Baldi (hottest pool is 67 degrees - surprisingly noone was in that!). The next day saw us going canyoneering
- walking down a river and rappelling down the waterfalls along the way, the highest of which is a 50m drop and is definitely not for the faint of heart! A short boat ride across lake Arenal the following day preceeded some very interesting road conditions (muddy, hilly, slippery....in a minibus) to get to Monteverde National Park. Here we partook in wildlife spotting (including a night time tour of the renarium to see all the local funky frogs), canopy tours on suspended bridges and some of the best ziplining to be found in Central America, the tallest of which is 123m high and 760m long, whizzing above the treetops into a very eerie cloudy void!
Having thoroughly had our fill of being perpetually wet and cold inside the cloud forest we were very enthused about moving on to the beach based national park at Manuel Antonio and remembering that there is something called sun after all! The trip there however was extremely interesting, some of the main roads having been closed due to landslides, flood damage and all the usual shenanigans, but we were surprisingly able to reach our destination and weren´t stranded in Monteverde as had been expected!
The Man An hotel was gorgeous, minutes from probably one of the most justifiably photographed beaches in Costa. Unsurprisingly a tourist trap, especially with North Americans, food prices in particular were a rather rude shock but were justified by the calibre of the meals, which included a restaurant inside a B52 bomber and a sushi bar on the beach. The following day we had a guided tour around the park to see both howler and white faced (capuchin) monkeys, sloths, toucans, iguanas, Jesus lizards (they walk on water) and some of the 500+ species of butterflies endemic to Costa Rica. The afternoon was taken up with surf lessons - basically getting stood up on a board and being told not to fall off. Fun but think I´ll stick to one with a sail! Then it was back to San Jose to say goodbye to more of the group and welcome the last batch of travellers.
Off to the Caribbean/Atlantic coast we travelled on down to Puerto Limon, a massive banana export dock, from which we took a 4 hour boat journey into Tortuguero national park to stay in lodges on a spit of land between the river and the
ocean. In keeping with the rest of the tour, our guide Willis was quite a character with incredible eyesight who gave us a tour along the river taking in crocodiles, caiman, turtles, poisonous tree frogs, lizards and many different birds. Having chilled in hammocks for a few hours we motored down the river SAS-style in the dark to observe green turtles laying their eggs in the beach. The next day we were priviledged enough to witness some of the babies hatching and making the first frenetic dash towards the ocean, which was absolutely amazing to behold. Further down the coast we travelled to Cahuita National Park, with yet more lovely beach, where we took a trip inland to go and swim under a waterfall, travel over a very rickety rope bridge (fun yet mildly unnerving!), meet the local Talamanca tribe who live without electricity in wooden huts (yet still have Nike trainers?!?) and meet a local medicine man to tell us about the properties of various plants. Then it was a very sad day as we returned to San Jose for the end of the trip, saying goodbye to some very good friends, the end of an era and the
start of round 2....
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