Saturday, June 30, 2012

Back to Liberia, CR, May 19

Writing is about all I can do right now because it allows me to be horizontal while I do it. My nose is so stuffed.

I decided to come back by regular bus rather than Nica or Tica bus. Both have really early morning departures, so I decided to take the local bus, sacrificing comfort for sleep. I don't know if that was such a good idea. I wasn't thinking and took the wrong way to the bus stop, so I wasted time and energy walking around in the heat for about half an hour to 45 minutes. The problem is that streets aren't always labelled, so I didn't always know where I was or where to turn to fix myself. I finally made it, only to learn that the next bus didn't leave for more than an hour. At least it was already there, so I could sit somewhere. The bus was cramped again; many were other travellers but all were staying in Nicaragua after Rivas. So I crossed alone.

It never occurred to me there wouldn't already be buses that I needed to take to get from there to Liberia at the border. I waited, and finally a lady from TransNica approached me, seeming to have appeared out of nowhere, to find out if I was going to San José. Liberia is on the way, so I was able to get a ticket. I was really happy she showed up, though, because I otherwise had no idea how I was going to get back to Liberia! The lady said the bus left at 3:30pm, but it didn't arrive until 3:45pm. Then it took a while for the people already on the bus to get off and have their bags and passports checked. It was an eternity as I just wanted to sleep.

Finally, the bus left around 4:15. I was so happy. The TransNica is more expensive; it's a luxury A/C bus, but it was only $12, and for the comfort of the trip back to Liberia, it was worth it. I even had a seat to myself. Of course, the one part I didn't think about is that I had only cleared Nica departure customs but not CR entry customs. so just after I shut my eyes, we were instructed to get off again and take our luggage out from storage for inspection. It took so long just standing there, I almost wanted to cry. We finally left around 4:45, meaning I spent over 2 hours at the border area. I think I prefer the India/Pakistan border. It takes only about 45 minutes flat, though most of my wait here was for my bus I guess, and maybe I'd be waiting a while in India or Pakistan if I had to wait for a bus, too. The photo here is of the sunset just after I crossed back into CR.

Anyway, I'm glad to be going home just to take care of my cold. I was expecting the bus would go to the bus terminal, and I was going to have one last battle of negotiating a taxi as I was in no mood to walk, but the bus was on the Pan-American and let people (in this case, just me) off at the gas station on that highway just 2 blocks from my hotel. It was great! I felt so thankful and knew I'd be back in the comfort of what seems like a luxury hotel after all the hostels I was in. Having a hot shower was refreshing, and I hope I'll sleep well tonight.

One thing I should mention is the fact that, as much as I always make fun and say I'm on a local chicken run bus, I've never actually seen any chickens--until today. In fact, there were two. I wish I could have got a photo, but it was too packed when this guy came on the bus with 2 live chickens, their heads peeking out of the two holes in a sac. It was awesome!

Thus ends my trip to Central America. I know I'll need to return here, especially to Nicaragua because I really loved it there and want to see more of the country.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Granada, May 18

Sadly, I came down with a cold last night.  I thought it might have been just from all the dust and exhaust I breathed in yesterday.  Now I don't know.  There was a sick guy sitting in the seat in front of me almost all the way to Granada, so I think I caught his germs.  I'm kind of annoyed, but what can you do?  So I figure now is as good a time as any to write about a few things, observations and stuff.

Overall, I love Nicaragua.  It's cheaper and less touristy.  The people are super friendly.  Not that Costa Ricans are unfriendly, but I found more people engage me in conversation here.  Of course most of them have been men anyway!  I find that in Costa Rica, I'm very unremarkable as well.  There are many people with my colouring, skin and eyes both.  I find Nicas are much darker in general, so I'm more exotic here, it seems, especially when they learn I'm Canadian.

There are a number of cooperatives around in both countries.  Costa Rica has widespread recycling available, which is unique in developing countries.  You don't see that in Nicaragua, but it's great about all the co-ops.  I went to the Choco Museo yesterday that represents a local chocolate co-op.  Most of their products are exported to Ritter Sport in Germany, which I thought was really cool.  I went back today only to buy tasty souvenirs.  I wish I would have had a chance to do their day trip to their co-op.  I think I'll go back to the museum for lunch since they have a restaurant.  I tasted a sample of their cocoa husk tea, which tastes like hot chocolate.  So delicious!

It was a very good idea for lunch to head to Choco Museo.  I had gazpacho with iced chocolate tea (pictured) and sat by their courtyard.  I figure the combo of vitamin C and anti-oxidants should do me some good, though it's not an ideal flavour combo.  Their gazpacho was a little grainy and a bit too oily, but it wasn't bad.  They served it with fried, salted plantain chips rather than croutons, which I thought was a nice local spin.  Afterward, I found a pharmacy to get some antihistamines.  The great thing about getting sick here is that I know what the drugs are called.  I didn't have to know the name in Bahasa Indonesia or Cantonese.

The only downside is that, despite my room being comfortable enough, there is constant construction going on, so it's noisy.  The owners told me they're building 3 more rooms and expect to build a 4th room upstairs in the next couple of years.  Maybe next time, I'll have more money to stay somewhere nicer, though these owners are nice people.  Just that I'd like a nicer room with more amenities.  I'm so spoiled by my fancy hotels I stay at for work!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Catarina & San Juan de Oriente, Nicaragua May 17

I think it's Nicaragua where I've seen the widest array of goods and foods for sale on the street or in the buses, even more than India.  Since the time I arrived, either I or Marty (the American that finally left today, yay!) have been offered various sorts of foods from meals to snacks to desserts, fresh beverages or pop, jewellery, hair accessories, among others.  But my favourites have been weed, cocaine, and power drills.  I think the latter is the most surprising to me because I could see being asked if I wanted to buy all the other stuff, but power drills?  Do people really buy those off the streets?  And why are they being offered to tourists?  Have any tourists actually bought one?  How do you transport that home?  I just thought it was hilarious.

Anyway, what a great day this was.  I was able to avoid Marty in the morning.  He did, unfortunately, go to my garden oasis for breakfast, but I saw where he was sitting, which was thankfully far from the front, so I sat at the front pretending not to see him.  I brought my journal with me so was in the midst of writing when he finally passed by to leave.  Thankfully, I looked busy enough; he asked me to update him about the rest of my trip just before walking out and then I felt so free the rest of the day.

I started out at the main market.  It was crowded and hot, and all that is for sale there is food, produce, and hordes of random stuff.  The good part about it is that the route I took allowed me to happen across the bus station I needed to get to for the bus to San Juan de Oriente and Catarina.  I was so hot by then, my skin was glistening with sweat.  I love that people come on the buses so much selling things, so I had a delicious fresco de cacao, which is essentially horchata with cocoa.  That was really refreshing as it was ice cold.  I was happy mine came with a straw, as I had only seen them without, and as they're served in baggies, people usually bite off a hole in the corner and squeeze the beverage out.  I just felt that was dangerous for me as I'd probably bite too big a hole or more than one and have a messy accident.  Things like this have happened to me in other travels!

The bus finally pulled away, another old yellow bus, providing much needed air circulation.  I saw some great signs along the way, one that was on a truck transporting cattle that read "Somos Toros" (We are bulls); another sign was "For Sale: Bryan McGlynn's Quinta." Such a typical Spanish name! haha My only concern on this journey was not knowing where to get off.  The stops are not marked at all.  As it is, I did miss the stop, so I walked about 2km back in the height of the day's sun to San Juan de Oriente, home of the best ceramics artisans in the country, to check out some pottery.  It's indeed beautifully detailed work.  And sadly difficult to transport pieces home.  Hence, my photos of them have to suffice.  I have another photo in my Nicaragua photo album that I posted, but I thought I would share just a couple of photos from my trip since I'm directly referring to these things.

From there, I asked one of the shop owners how to get to El Mirador at Catarina because the signage was really confusing, so I wasn't really sure where to go.  The place was yet another couple of kilometres away, so I took a 3-wheeled scooter taxi--which I didn't know were used outside Asia--to the lookout point.  I'd read that admission is $1, but somehow arriving in that taxi, they didn't charge me anything.  I don't know why.  In any case, the scene from there is stunning.  You look down into a lake-filled crater and can see across to Granada and el Lago de Nicaragua, with Mombacho volcano to the right.  On a pathway down the side of the steep hill you're looking down from, there was a group of guys playing some sort of game with a tennis ball.  I was thinking that was crazy since the path is lined with fence due to the steep drop on its side, and yet the guys would go down and get the ball if it went over the edge.  It was crazy!

I didn't linger long, which was just as well as my luck would have it again, buses of school children arrived, so that would have spoiled the serenity and stillness of the moment.  I hopped another 3-wheeled taxi, and he took me to the nearest bus stop.  As soon as I returned to Granada, I decided to get some food as I hadn't time to eat lunch.  I first found a lady on the sidewalk selling mangoes with vinegar and salt, so I bought some of that because a friend had recommended it, and it was actually not that bad!  Still I wanted some more substantial food so kept walking.

Thinking my adventures were over, I stepped into the Euro Cafe for a bite to eat as they have fresh food of sandwiches and salads.  They also have free wifi, so I was going to check my email and Facebook, but a guy in the store, who happens to run shuttles and tours, at first advertised them to me but then sat at my table and proceeded to flirt with me.  I wasn't attracted to him anyway, but even if I had been, his admission of women being his one weakness (like that's unique to him and not an issue with lots of men! haha), his having slept with umpteen women, and the fact that 2 of the foreigners he slept with bore his children, was really not appealing.  He asked me out tonight, and I graciously declined.  I don't need that kind of trouble or drama!  I decided instead to just chill the rest of the evening, and that's what I'm doing now :o)

Friday, June 15, 2012

Las Isletas, Nicaragua, May 16

What an excellent day so far.  I saw Catedral la Merced this morning and also booked a tour of Las Isletas for the afternoon.  The tour guide thought I was Tica, which is a great compliment!  Everyone is so impressed with my Spanish, too, which is also a big compliment.  This is a really cool place.  I'd love to bring all my family here.  We'd have a lot of fun.  I loved Las Isletas, formed by lava from Mombacho.  It is supposed to be best seen in the evening for the beautiful sunsets, but I booked early to avoid running into Marty later and having him want to join.  Anyway, the tour guide said that some biologists believe that the islands formed by simply emerging out of the water in Lago Nicaragua (Lake Nicaragua).  You can tell by the type of rock that the rocks were definitely formed out of lava, even if they might have been covered by water for a while.  There were so many kinds of birds; someone with a really good camera would have a field day.  I would have loved to see a shark, one of only 2 kinds in the world that can live in both fresh and saltwater, but there aren't many now, so I wasn't surprised.  According to the guide, the government allowed the Chinese to fish them in the 70s, and the "chinos locos" (crazy Chinese, in the guide's words) practically wiped them out.  anyway, it's a really pretty trip with lots of vegetation and water flora, a very relaxing way to spend the afternoon and learn a little about the history of the islands, the people who live there, a mixture of fisher families and wealthy elites with their getaway islands with natural moats.  One of the funniest things was seeing that some of the islands are for sale, so you see signs that actually say "Island for Sale".  You don't see that everyday!  With any luck, I'll have the rest of the day to myself, too. I ate some funky stuff yesterday, trying a raspado, which is supposed to be like a snow cone with condensed milk, though mine didn't come with one, and it was weird.  Too sweet and contained at least one bug.  My digestive system is complaining now. I hope to have maybe a smoothie for supper and perhaps a snack.  Marty's wanting to go to these tourist restaurants makes me eat when I'm not hungry.  I don't want food tonight, even if I run into him I'll just be firm.


Unfortunately, I could not escape Marty around supper time.  I was in my room watching TV, and he knocked on my door.  I told him I wasn't hungry and that I just wanted to find a smoothie or licuado somewhere.  I wasn't ready to go then either, so he waited even though I told him he didn't have to.  Great.  Unfortunately, the place I wanted to go to had closed for the evening already.  So we ended up at the Irish pub since we knew they do have good smoothies.  Somehow he wasn't hungry anymore either.  I tried to get him to stop somewhere he wanted to eat, and I'd just go on my way, but no luck.  I don't know why I felt so bored with him, just no connection.  It was a strain to converse.  I ended the night as soon as I could, and when we returned to the hostel, he gave me his email address.  I have no intention to stay in touch.  I think I might have even lost the card already.  At least he's leaving Granada tomorrow.

Nicaragua Photos

Ladies and gentlemen, the moment you've all been waiting for, my photos from Nicaragua! Again, click on the album to see the large photos and not just the thumbnails.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Granada, Nicaragua, May 15

The place where I ended up staying was not in the Lonely Planet, so I took a chance at Casa Blandon.  The rooms here are reasonable, $15 for a private room and bath.  It's cramped and dimly lit, but it has a decent shower with lukewarm water, and my room is sufficiently cool and clean.  That water felt refreshing after the long journey, and they had another private room available, so Marty took one, too.  It's kind of nice not eating alone, and Marty and I do have some things in common, but I don't really feel a connection with him--but I digress and will continue about him later.  In any case, we went out to eat after where I tried some local food, their style of carne asada (a style of smoked, BBQ meat I loved in Mexico), which was really tasty, and a drink containing ginger and a local fruit called coyolito.  I don't know what it is, but I loved it.

I ate breakfast at the Garden Cafe, where thankfully they have free wifi, so I checked email and let everyone know I was safe by posting on Facebook.  I took my time, writing every detail in my journal.    It was nice to spend time alone, too, in a comfortable environment where I could be alone with my thoughts.

This is the courtyard at the Garden Cafe, which I came to call my Oasis
The place I'm lodging is actually the home of a family, and they've outfitted some spare rooms as guest rooms.  Many of the hostels I've been in have been poorly lit, so I'm getting used to that, though I still don't like it.  But even with the fan, I was cool and comfortable during the night.  I make sure to shower right before going to bed, which was my practice in Mexico, so the fan would cool me down more with damp skin, and I slept okay.

I ended up running into Marty.  He has been really kind and helping me, even giving me the $1 bill I needed at the border so I wouldn't have to change my $5 bill, but he seems to want to do everything together, and I'd just like to roam on my own, or at least I had wanted to do for one day, today, if nothing else.  But he caught me when he was seated at one of the restaurants on our touristy street as I was going back to the hostel.  I joined him, thinking it was just for a quick smoothie, and that was it.  But he joined me at the museums I wanted to see, and I think he might have been bored because I stopped to read stuff that was all in Spanish.  At the second museum, Mi Museo, the collection was way better and had a free tour guide and brochure, whereas the first museum didn't even have a brochure to follow.  But again, the tour was all in Spanish, so I hung out with the guide, and Marty didn't stay for me to translate.  Interesting tidbits about Mi Museo is that it's a private collection, owned by a Danish guy that moved to Nicaragua, and also that much of the research on the artefacts he collected is being conducted by a prof and PhD students at the University of Calgary.  Go Alberta!  Then Marty wanted to eat together, but I wasn't hungry.  I had eaten a large breakfast so I could skip lunch or just get a snack and coffee somewhere.  I don't know what to do.  I can't even ditch him because we're next door at the hostel.  I'm hoping we'll end up booking separate tours tomorrow to just do something different.

Later I was successfully able to shake Marty for a bit but couldn't avoid seeing him eventually in the evening.  We ended up talking to a chap who had twice tried to offer cocaine to Marty, actually a nice fellow, so that made it sadder that he was dealing drugs.  He was really helpful, telling us not to go to the lake after dark because it's too dangerous, filled with guys with guns and knives.  I asked him where I could find fresco de cacao, a local beverage that a Nica friend suggested I try, so he told me where to find it in Granada's central park, and it was an informative conversation generally.  Finally some lady called him away to dispose of a live frog, so we went to find a tour for tomorrow, but the places were all closed.  So I'll spend tomorrow here I think, and book for Thursday.  Thankfully, Marty does want to do a different tour than I do, so I'll have some time away from him.  I'm so thankful for that.  We went to this little restaurant for supper he wanted to see for the music.  He was as outraged with the prices as I was, but I enjoyed the music more than he did because much of it was salsa, but he wanted to go in the middle of the second set.  It was just as well as our hostel owners were on their way to bed, so we caught them in time to be let in, but I really dislike the pressure of not doing what I want.  It will all disappear soon enough!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Trip to Granada, Nicaragua, May 14

This entry will be long, so be prepared.  As per the Lonely Planet advice, I took a taxi from Arenal to El Tanque to wait for the Tica bus, which is supposed to pass by a random corner, as it was.  I mean, it's the same corner all the time, but nothing about it suggests it's a bus stop, so thankfully everyone around knows where it is, so the taxi dropped me off there.  I was afraid no taxi was coming at all.  I stood outside the hostel around 6:18am and waited for my pre-arranged taxi that was supposed to arrive at 6:20.  No one appeared.  Thankfully, just after 6:30, a taxi pulled up to drop off one of the hostel's staff, so I hopped in an was on my way.  I was nervous because there's no set time for the bus to arrive; it comes sometime between 6:45am and 7:15am, so you want to get there in time just in case it arrives on the earlier side.  The taxi got me there at 6:45 on the dot.  And then I sat there for half an hour.  Still, better to wait than miss a bus that only comes once a day.  Better yet, while I was waiting, a hummingbird came right up to me and hovered in front of my face for a few seconds before flying off again.  It was the best encounter with a hummingbird I've ever had in my life!

The fact that I blend in as a local is very helpful.  Ticos seem naturally friendly and will start a conversation with anyone, so in my case they just start speaking in Spanish, and I learn a lot.  Like the fact that the frightening-looking bus that came round the corner was my bus, though it did not have Peñas Blancas written as one of its destinations.  This was no Tica bus, which is a luxury bus.  I don't know if I would have wanted to get on if the locals hadn't informed me that was the right bus.  He even seemed to know the bus driver as, when he found out I was waiting for that bus, he called the driver (it seemed), he informed me the bus was almost there.  A least the price was about 1/3 what the Tica bus cost, though it wasn't nearly as comfortable not having much leg room.

According to Google maps, it's only about a 2.5 to 3 hour drive to the border. According to my hostel staff, catching that bus would get me to the border by noon.  This meant there would be lots of stops, or maybe long but less frequent ones.  This meant there would be lots of stops, or maybe long but less frequent ones.  I would have hoped for the latter, but I know better than that.  While the lengthy drive takes you through a lot of farms and rural areas and is pretty, it really is the milk run.  People get on a off in the middle of nowhere.  I realised sometime later you can even ring the ding to let the driver know you want to get off at the next stop, some of which actually have benches and a covered shelter, but some of which look like they're just a random spot by a tree!

The ride was bearable when I have my seat to myself; buses is parts of the world where people are short never seem to have good leg room for the vertically unchallenged, so I could at least sit on a diagonal.  Unfortunately, I could not sustain this position when the bus started filling up, and eventually I had to sit straight with purse and backpack on my lap.  Did I mention the bus had no A/C?  This was acceptable when it was cloudy, but the sun came out during a stretch of road that was unpaved and very rocky, and we probably oscillated between 20-30km/h, which was not fast enough to generate any wind through the open windows. It took about an hour to get through that part.  The one good thing about open windows is being able to smell the outdoors, from the farm fresh manure on cattle farms (I love how it's the same smell back home) to orange blossoms on young trees in the fields of groves we drove past.  You can't get that enclosed in an A/C bus.

We finally reached the border.  At that point, I connected with an American traveller who had got connected with an American traveller who had got on in El Tanque as well.  You never know if he's done this before, so thought it would help to touch base.  It was his first time, too, but since it seems easier to talk to people in Spanish, we stuck by each other, and I helped us both to navigate.  There are a million touts trying to steer you this way and that, so after getting through them, we got to the CR immigration departure desk.  Then we had our 1km walk to the Nicaraguan side.  It's not unlike crossing to Pakistan from India, only that there are so many semis parked around here, you can't really see much, and I found it difficult to figure out where I needed to go.

We finally made it through and then had to find the shuttles to Rivas, where thre is apparently a big bus terminal with buses to many places.  Trying to find that shuttle was challenging.  Turns out it is behind a fence, hidden by semis.  People kept giving us directions, but we couldn't figure it out and finally one guy tried to con us by saying the only way to get there was by taxi.  At that point, I was sweaty and tired and out of patience for touts and cons, so I asked him why everyone else knows about the shuttles and is giving us directions, yet he's the only guy that seems to know they're wrong.  I told him no, thank, but we'll figure it out, which we did.

On the other side of the fence, a guy directed us onto the shuttle, which was also somewhat full--and very noisy. These guys kept yelling out stuff to the driver, the fare collector.  They were acting like hooligans.  Much different from the CR buses.  In any case, eventually we arrived at Rivas.  The guy that had helped put my luggage in the luggage rack above took it down and let me off at a gas station, not at the bus terminal.  I barely had time to tell him I was with someone (the American and I were going to the same place), and suddenly I was standing on the sidewalk dumbfounded and probably looked bewildered.  Thankfully Marty (the American) made them let him off, and we tried to figure out what to do.  An elderly man just sitting there on a motorbike asked us what we needed, and he told us there were two places we could catch the bus.  here were bicycle rickshaws on the sidewalk, and as the stops were not far, but far enough we didn't want to walk, we paid the $3 to be driven there.

The first stop looked like one of those middle-of-nowhere stops I had passed on my journey from Costa Rica, though it was full of people waiting for buses, but t also meant nowhere to sit while we waiting for a bus that would be showing up at an undetermined time.  So we opted for the terminal, where an old yellow bus to Granada was already waiting to depart at 3:30.  While we waiting, all manner of things to be sold were offered to us: pop, fried chicken with tortillas and their form of pico de gallo--made with cabbage, more like a sour coleslaw--or various fried snacks, pastries, fresh chocolate milk, water, jewellery, candies, and gum.  I don't think I've seen even that variety on a bus in India!  And talk about your milk run buses, it was filled with luggage and boxes and bags and bins of avocado, plantains, and I don't know what all else was concealed within all the containers.  I bought a juice punch because I was parched, and it really hit the spot. We'd been herded so much by this point that we hadn't any chance to stop for food or drink.  What a welcome sight to see drinks being brought to me instead of waiting until I arrived in Granada--where I still hadn't secured any lodging.

Being on a bus meant for children was just as uncomfortable as the last bus, and again, I was fine while I could stretch out, but eventually someone wanted my extra seat.  At least it was a little girl, so she didn't take up too much space.  And though the bus did indeed stop here and there, it wasn't too bad, and the driver really flew down the highway, generating lots of air to keep us cool.

Nicaragua's landscape was surprisingly drier, it seemed, that Costa Rica's.   There were a lot more brown, grassy areas and not as many vines or lush greenery.  I was also surprised to see huge wind turbines on either side of the road.

At one point, the little girl next to me started talking to me.  She saw my juice bottle and asked how much I paid for it.  I told her 10 colones, though I had noticed as she was turning the empty bottle that the price listed said 7 colones, and that made her giggle.  Then she wanted to know where I was from, asking me about my key chain with a beetle in it that was a gift from a friend from Malaysia, and which she could see through the mesh pocket of my backpack.  I asked her if she lived in Granada, which she confirmed she did and said she liked Granada when I proved with that question.  She was very sweet and smiley, having greased up her hands on fried chicken and getting it all over the baggies from which she sucked out pico de gallow and the cacao drink.  I wondered why she wasn't in school, but I thought it imprudent to ask.  I also would have loved a photo of her to share with my readers, but I know in Central America this is often not allowed because human trafficking it so prevalent, and kidnappers will take photos of kids in advance.  So I didn't ask.  But let me say that she sported braids of black hair on each side of her head, and had bright, dark eyes with a countenance of delight on her face, that look that only children seem to have, and her wide smile revealed a mouth missing some baby teeth and some new adult teeth growing in.  she was probably about 7.  When we arrived in Granada, she let me know as I told her it my first time to Nicaragua.  The bus station was really just a large gas station.  Marty and I made our way through the crowded market with narrow streets and finally found a place to lodge.  But perhaps more on that later as this entry is already sufficiently long.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Arenal, May 13, 2012

The restaurant at the hospital is not cheap.  I think the least I could have spent on breakfast here was about $7-$8, so I went for a walk in the cool of the morning and found another bakery with the most scrumptious croissants filled with dulce de leche and cinnamon rolls made with some sort of flaky pastry.  I couldn't resist and had one of each, though part of my motivation is that I'm thinking to skip lunch and just have one of my fruit bars.  Anyway, those along with a cup of coffee were only $3, which is quite the saving!  It was a beautiful morning as the worship singing of a nearby church could be heard, and people were singing quite well.  In front of me was a school with huge, old trees, one of which attracted a hummingbird, likely for its read berries or flowers that were on it.  I've seen how 4 hummingbirds this week alone, more, I think, than in my entire life!  Eventually it started raining, so I'd walk for a bit, then take cover and then walk again when the rain died down.   The clouds her always move very fast here; it's weird.  I'm hoping the rain stays away during my horse riding venture this afternoon.

The afternoon turned out to be wonderful.  How can one describe it?  Lush greenery, so humid you can see condensation on the miss.  Here and there, a tropical flower bursts out in flaming red or orange amidst the greenery.  There were fascinating types of fungi, and on the way home, I saw black birds with exquisite, lipstick red back.  I could have ridden for quite a while longer.

Wow, even for a trail ride, the afternoon really was great.  The guide didn't speak much English, so we gabbed a lot, and I learned that he pretty much comes from a horse family, that he "was riding while still in his mother's womb."  There was another couple on the trip, Sheeal and Shelly, from Chicago, and they happened to be from Indian backgrounds, too.  I was thinking, what are the chances that the only other Indians in this town are on the same excursion as I am?  I thought it was a funny coincidence.

The only bad part is that when we got to the waterfall, we actually had to wade through a pool of water to see it.  I was afraid to go over the rocks with wet feet, so I took my chances with my camera in hand and ended up slipping on a rock under water and that was the end of my camera.  That little dip killed it.  I got it wet once before, and it was fine once it dried, so I was hoping that would work again, but regardless, I couldn't use it the rest of the ride.  There weren't many more pictures I could have taken after that since it started raining on our way back to the horses (we had to descend several steep stairs to get to the waterfall--and that cool water in the pool was at least refreshing!), such that by the time we got back to them, it was pouring, and our saddles were wet.  The staircase trip was about 15 minutes down and slightly longer back up as both Shelley and I struggled to do all the steps back up as it's just so hot and humid.  At least the rain dropped the temperature a lot, so that made it really comfortable for the rest of the trip, though the guide was cold!

Now I'm just relaxing in the beautiful cool of the evening.  The ride home, in any case, took us through a lot of bush, and though we had helmets, it wasn't the same as having a brim on a hat, and I really missed my cowboy hat since we went through a lot of bush, which can whip you in the face as much as bush country here at home, only that it's tropical bush.  Actually that kind of freaked me out because I kept thinking, what if there are poisonous insects on those that are going to bite me! In any case, it was a lot like riding through the country at home only with tropical vegetation.  We even went through a couple of streams.  The guide says there's usually wildlife like deer and toucans, but we didn't see much, including the mountain we were supposed to see, due to the rain.  Can't win `em all!  It was beautiful.

Tomorrow I'm off to Nicaragua.  I'm a little nervous about the border crossing and just getting there because I don't have anything booked and can't really book in advance anyway. So we'll see how that goes.

Oh, I should mention that after the ride, you stop in a little butterfly and frog sanctuary.  We weren't able to see too much, just 2 kinds of butterflies and one type of frog.  The one butterfly was really cool, brown on the underside and blue on the top side of the wings.  I couldn't get a photo of the blue part--just like birds, the butterflies seem to know you want pictures of them and would simply taunt you by flashing the blue too quickly to get a shot.  And birds usually just fly away.  The other butterflies were similar to monarchs but smaller.  I used to see them with the migrating monarchs in Monterrey during butterfly as they would fly south for the winter.  As for the frog, Sheeal and Shelley said a guide had told them they are all poisonous dart frogs.  Not sure if that's the actual name, but it's cool nonetheless.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Costa Rica photos 2012

Here is my first album of photos!  There are some missing from my trek on horseback as we saw a frog and butterfly sanctuary after, but somehow I uploaded those to my Nicaragua album by accident, and I'm not so adept with Picasa to know how to fix it and get them in the right album, so you'll have to wait for those ones.  And I'll label them accordingly in the Nica album so you know :o)  As always, make sure to click on the album itself so that you can see the enlarged photos, not just the thumbnails.  This album alone took me about 3 hours to work on including editing and posting time, just so you know why it's hard for me to post these right away because I do need a good chunk of time to do a decent job.  Thanks for your patience!

Costa Rica 2012

Friday, June 1, 2012

Arenal/La Fortuna, Costa Rica, May 12

My journey to Arenal was exciting for me, not only because I was comfortable in a small shuttle bus travelling through more beautiful rainforest and farmland, but also because at the rest stop, one of the local restaurant owners asked me if I'm Tica (the local term for people from Costa Rica).  I love being mistaken for a local because it means that my accent is neutral enough and that my complexion is close enough to the locals that they can't tell me apart.  It was so awesome and totally made my day.  Due to a communication error, I ended up leaving a lot earlier than I expected, so I didn't get time for breakfast.  That restaurant didn't have many good options for to-go food, but I did find coconut cajeta.  I didn't know they have cajeta in any country outside of Mexico.  For those of you that are unfamiliar, cajeta is a caramel substance made with goat's milk.  It's super yummy, and you can make all sorts of candies out of it.  I justified the purchase because at least there was coconut it in, and sadly it was actually the best option as we only had 15 minutes to stop, so I wasn't able to really get much else.  I also had a granola bar in my bag, so I did eat that, but I was still hungry by the time we reached the stop.

Anyway, the trip took about 5.5 hours.  Many of the roads were narrow, windy, and bumpy, however.  It's not for the faint of stomach, in my opinion.  Lots of pastureland along the way, as I mentioned.  Many of the farmhouses were large, beautiful, modern-looking structures; some were even for sale.  How tempting, in a way.

La Fortuna is the town near the Arenal volcano.  It appears to be a nice little town, not appearing nearly as sketchy as Quepos.  The guy at the hostel here says it's really safe to walk around.  I'm happy about that.  I feel a little freer here already for that reason.  I'm planning to rest and then figure out what my best options are for tomorrow.

I checked out a bakery and a grocery store in the afternoon and then came back to rest.  It's really humid here, and even as slowly as I'm moving, the effort is too much!  I just get so sweaty, I want to shower every couple of hours.

I went to a place called Nene's Restaurant for supper because it looked like only locals were there.  The meal was ok, and only the grilled chicken was outstanding--savoury and juicy.