Monday, May 28, 2012

Manuel Antonio Beach, Costa Rica, May 11

Just having a lazy day today. I went to the beach in the morning - well, closer to midday - after securing my room in my next destination.  I'm happy they're even able to book my shuttle for me right to their location so I won't have to worry about that because booking online with Gray Lines, you have to know where you want to get on and off.  That doesn't make sense when you don't know the place you're going to and wouldn't know how to get around or where you'd be going.

The beach was great; the water is so warm, but the only thing I didn't like about it was that it was too sandy, but otherwise was fine to play in.  I wasn't able to get a lounging chair on the beach; turns out that random people on the beach rent them out, which is pretty ridiculous, so I pulled out my towel and found a shady spot farther back from the shore near the treeline.  The one problem with that, though, is that I ended up being way too close for comfort to far too many iguanas.  Well, really there was only one that scared me the most.  He appeared around 5 feet away from me at first and was in search of food as he was looking around in some holes for food but didn't seem to find whatever he was looking for.  He would inch closer from time to time, and I started to get a bit nervous.  Iguanas are not slow-moving creatures, and looking at their scaly, spiky tails is spooky, knowing you could get whipped with it, and I bet that would really hurt.  Eventually he went around me, and it soon became evident that he was not afraid of people as one of the touts renting out chairs dragged a couple of them right past the lizard, maybe no more than an inch or two away, and he just stood there and waited until the chairs passed.  Then he started making his way toward me again, and I was not amused.  Finally he decided to go around me again when he spotted a hibiscus flower that someone had thrown down with the hopes of attracting him to take a good photo, and then he decided it was a good time to go back up a tree.  I was happy about that, too.  As for hibiscus flowers, apparently this is one of the iguana's favourite foods.

I came back, showered, stopped at the bakery and heladería (ice cream shop) for a smoothie and came back to the hotel to eat and write.  I discovered they do have wifi here, but the signal is poor, and it only seemed to be available in the central dining area, not in the rooms themselves.  I guess it's better than nothing.  The next place I know for sure has it, so I'll be able to stay connected to the world a little better.  For the safety, if nothing else, it's better I not disconnect completely.

My only other plan is to get my hair washed at a salon.  They only have cold water at the hostel, so I don't want to stand in the cold water for that length of time.

I had wanted to go to this salsa place tonight, but I don't want to go alone.  Maybe I'll yet find someone to go with from the hostel.

Around mid-afternoon, I was writing and texting in the dining room and got to talking to a couple from Montreal, to guy originally from France.  We chatted the whole evening away, and they were kind enough to let me join them for supper at the soda (small, outdoor food venues in Costa Rica) they'd been eating at since they arrived in Quepos, called Soda Tiquico.  The food was great and 1/3 of the price of the tourist restaurants.  Too bad I couldn't spent more time with them as they seemed like a really nice couple, but I was already going to leave the next day.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Manuel Antonio National Park, May 10

Quepos is about 7km from Manuel Antonio, the town and national park.  My hostel was about 2 blocks away from the bus station where I needed to catch one of the shuttle buses that go between the two locations every half hour.  For about 50 cents each way, you can easily get to the beach or national park.

I travelled there with an American traveller from Atlanta I met at my hostel, Tom.  As soon as we got off the bus, we were approached by a tour guide, but neither of us wanted to pay the $30 or so for his services, so we went into the park on our own.  The tourist entrance fee is $10, and as I learned from one of the staff at my future hostel, the proceeds from all the parks goes into one big pool where it's split up and portioned out as required to all the parks in the country.  It's a guarantee that some parks don't get more revenue than others that might need it just as much.  I thought that was a neat system.

We started walking through the trail, and it wasn't hard to spot when there was something interesting to see because all the other groups of people that did hire guides would all be gathered round to see whatever it was! As a result, we saw a small stick bug, several lizards, and three-toed sloths.  How exciting to see a real sloth in the wild!  One of the guides was kind enough to let me take a photo through his telescope.  It was awesome.  I learned about sloths that they move so slowly that algae grow on their fur, and it actually helps to camouflage them.  Also, their slowness means that various types of insects end up living in their fur, eggs are laid, hatch and go through their larval and pupal stages.  As cute as they are, I don't think I'd ever want to hug one (and also the fact that it's a wild animal).  I also learned they only poop once a week; Tom said he'd hate to be below the tree when that happens! hehe  The reason using a telescope to see them is a good idea is that they like to live at the top of the highest trees in the canopy, so we could definitely see them with our eyes and through our cameras, but of course, the detail isn't nearly as good as with the telescope.  The jungle is a noisy place to be; all kinds of animals I can't identify are making their various sounds, and there are bird calls and insect noises and who knows what else.  It sounds nice by day, but it would probably freak me out at night!

Tom and I parted ways when we ended up at one of the beaches in the park.  He wanted to go swimming, and I wanted to just lie on the beach and read.  It was around this area that I saw several iguanas, white-faced monkeys, and hermit crabs.  Don't worry; I will be posting pictures of all these creatures!  I read for a while and then decided it was time to go back to the hostel, mainly because I knew it was going to rain in the afternoon--I hadn't remembered it would be the start of hurricane season, so I had enough rain, though it wasn't too bad.  Anyway, I got back just in time as about 15 minutes later, the rain started pouring.  After it was over, I wanted to go get some food as I hadn't eaten lunch yet and happened upon a cafe that served locally grown and roasted coffee.  Unfortunately, they didn't have much in the way of sandwiches or even pastries, so I had an ice cream parfait, of all things!  When I got back to the hostel, I ran into Tom again, and we made plans for supper, but through miscommunication, we didn't end up meeting up, so I ate at this seafood restaurant alone where I had a great seafood chowder and shrimp ceviche.

I did stop at a grocery store during the day.  I like to check out grocery stores to see what's available and kinds of products people use and buy.  I was surprised to find sambal sauce, satay sauce, and all kinds of other Asian ingredients.  At least I know if I was forced to live there, I'd survive! hehe

There is currently a small lizard in my room as I write.  Better that than a nasty spider, cockroach, or some sort of rodent.  But still, the sound of the thing still freaks me out--just as it did in Bali.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Quepos, Costa Rica, May 9

And the rain and the thunder take over again.  I'm lucky I haven't been caught outside yet.  It does cool the air, though, and that's really pleasant.  That's what made it comfortable to go for a walk and find some lunch this afternoon.  I landed at a place called Dos Locos.  Most of the food there was actually Mexican and not cheap, by my standards.  The cheapest thing on the menu was the traditional Tico meal, called "casado." It's a mix of steak or chicken with rice, beans, and veggies.  It was really tasty and only about 3800 colones, which is about the equivalent of about $4.

After that I walked down to the ocean.  It's quite close.  I thought I'd be able to sit on the beack, but it's all rocks and trees, if it's not docks, from what I can see.  I had been planning to read, but there wasn't a comfortable spot to be found.  I did find a broken cement bench, so I sat there for a bit but got paranoid that bugs were lurking or that birds would fly into the trees above and poop on me (personal experience with such events makes me paranoid now!).  However, the ocean was still soothing, vast, and seemingly endless.  And so does the rain seem now.

Quepos must be quite small.  I watched people go by as I was eating lunch.  Many people seemed to know each other, greeting as they passed by.  Life seems pretty laid back here, overall.  There is also an expat community, and some of them were gathered at the restaurant, which I realised later when reviewing my Lonely Planet again that it is indeed a popular hangout for the local expat population.  They gave me the same impression as some of the expats in Bangkok, like they were here because they don't want to grow up.  I don't know if I should be disturbed or applaud them.

The one downside of this hostel is that there are no TVs in the roomds.  I hadn't thought of that, and since I'm alone and planning on spending evenings in where I'm safe, unless I meet some other travellers, this is not very good.  I guess it's good that I've got some writing I can do, and this does take up some time.  Still, I'm relishing not having any responsibility or plan.

One of the things I like about the developed tourism industry in CR is the fact that they have a great transportation system if you are able to pay for it.  You can get shuttle buses that take you from one city to the next, picking you up right from where you're staying and dropping you off at your next accommodations.  Everywhere I stayed, people made the reservations for me for those buses as well, so I didn't have to pay for calls at my hotel or hostel.  I arrived at my hostel in Quepos through this method.  The journey wasn't too bad, starting in a small van with about 4 other passengers, and then we stopped at a place called Limonal for a bathroom break and a snack, where I had to switch to a really large van that had other passengers going to Quepos or nearby Manuel Antonio.  The pit stop ended up being more exciting than I thought because there were several macaws in a couple of the mango trees behind the restaurants.

The landscape really surprised me--aside from the tropical vegetation and hills, I didn't expect there to be so much pastureland with cattle, horses, and bull statues.  The other thing I noticed is that every little town even has their one Chinese restaurant.  I thought it was hysterical.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Liberia, Costa Rica, May 8

With this different format for me of blog writing where I'm copying from my travel journal, I'll leave a title and then include the date, either in the title or the beginning of the body of the entry itself.  I plan to try to do one per day.  Here's the May 8 entry:

Having missed all the buses for today to Quepos, I stayed in Liberia for the day. I figured it would be ok to orient myself anyway.

It's great walking around unnoticed like a local.  I draw no attention, and guys here do not appear to be the whistling or cat-calling types.  I like fitting in.  There isn't much to do here, so I just checked out the local grocery store, and I walked down to a women's co-op restaurant for supper and passed by several shops and stores that were playing salsa, merengue, and reggaeton, not just any old elevator music.  That's a good country!

My breakfast at the hotel consisted of fresh fruit, eggs, and fried plantains, which I've discovered I really love, those and fried bananas.  For supper, I had fish and fries and an horchata for a beverage.  I didn't realise they have horchata outside of Mexico, but it doesn't upset me because I love it.  For those of you that aren't familiar with it, it's a sweet, rice-based drink with cinnamon and sometimes vanilla--depending on who makes it.

One thing that surprised me that I noticed while walking around is that they use the word "melocotón" for peach here.  That's the same word they use in Spain.  I assumed it would be durazno as in Mexico.  That's what makes learning Spanish tough for some people, though, because food names, specifically, can differ a lot between some countries, and it can be hard to keep track.  From what I can tell, most native speakers are familiar enough with regional differences and can usually understand you if you use a different word, so that's a big help.

In some ways, it does kind of bite having to take the trip alone,  but at least my time is my own.  No one will say anything if I stay an extra day here or leave somewhere else a day early.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Travelling--but this time, it's all for fun!

What happens when I have free time and some spare cash?  I go travelling!  It's the best way to spend both.  The experiences are incomparable, and what I learn is more valuable to me than anything else I can buy with money.

I'm travelling solo to new countries where I don't know anyone for the first time in my life.  I just bought my ticket to Costa Rica, picked up a Lonely Planet guide, and decided to wing it, booking only my first and last nights in the country and allowing myself to be blown by the wind the rest of the time.

Some people think it's brave, and I guess it is in some ways.  I probably wouldn't have done something like this about 10 years ago, but now that I've lived in Mexico and travelled all over the place, I feel pretty calm and confident about the whole thing.  You might be wondering why I'm doing this.  You might be thinking I just finished reading Eat, Pray, Love.  I haven't ever read that book and don't intend to.  I'm not trying to find myself.  I am not lost.  I'm not trying to find anyone else, nor is anyone trying to find me.  And that's what I like about it.  This trip is just a moment to relax, to have no responsibilities, and to do it in a tropical climate.  I'm really just at the beginning of my trip, but I envision days of reading on the beach, people watching from coffee shops while I drink locally produced and roasted coffee, learning about new cultures and seeing places I've never experienced.

I haven't even taken my laptop with me.  Why do I want to be slowed down in security lines and put myself at increased risk to be robbed while on the road?  I have my phone, and when I find a wifi connection, that's usually when I check email and Facebook, though in this case, my hostel doesn't have wifi, so I'm using their computer room to do a quick blog update.  Those of you that read my blog already know that I don't normally post pictures until I get home, and this time is no exception, especially as I haven't even got the possibility without my laptop with me.  Those of you that are new to my blog, please be patient and don't send me requests for photos ;o)  I do like to post the odd photo from time to time on Facebook when I do have wifi, photos I take on my phone for teasers for you.

I will try to update my blog from time to time while I'm away for these couple of weeks, but it's more likely that that brunt of them will be posted when I get home.  I brought a travel journal with me so I could keep track of everything and not forget details I want to write about. Happy reading!