The month starts with us in Nicaragua. From there we travel through Costa Rica to end the month in Panama.
Saturday – February 1 - Matagalpa
We were up puttering around, packing somewhat early and headed up the road to Comedor Buffet Heymar (the cafetin from the last couple of days) for breakfast. Our timing was off so we returned in about twenty minutes later and they were open. We are headed to Matagalpa today, but are in no particular rush to leave. The trip is not usually more than a couple of hours and we don’t want to arrive at our hotel and have the room dirty and nowhere to put our bags while they clean it. So we set a target to leave our digs at ten o’clock or when we feel we are not going to need a bathroom for quite a while. Whichever comes later.
After daily meds are taken and everything is packed we spend the time visiting with Marta, the maid, and the French guests, checking e-mail and keyboarding a narrative in Word to be added to the web site later. The French guys do not repeat the orange juice and raw egg trick today. Apparently yesterday's eggs bobbed between stomach and throat the rest of the day.
One last check around and pit stop and off we go almost exactly at ten. We walk to the corner and then up the street a bit. Most of the taxis are full or don’t like the looks of us and won’t stop so we keep walking up to the next corner where a taxi does pick us up. He wanders around looking for some friends. It sounds like he is trying to arrange for somebody else to pick a scheduled pick up of his, but that’s just my guess. Anyway, eventually he started driving slowly to the Cotran Sud bus stations and we got there while there were still seats on the ordinario bus to Matagalpa. That didn’t last long. Everybody and their chicken travels on the weekend in Nicaragua. It was cheek by cheek most of the trip.
Somebody we had seen at the Somoto Canyon showed up at the hostel yesterday. He told us of his trip on a crowded chicken bus the past week where his wallet was stolen from a zippered pocket while he was standing on the bus and being bumped around by other passengers. He didn’t have a lot of money in the wallet and no cards, but it was a nuisance nevertheless. He told us of his new strategy of where he carries things. I changed my strategy a bit as well, keeping enough for the fare in a shirt pocket so nobody sees where the wallet is and, today, letting Juanita sit on the aisle. Also we sat further back in the bus so there was less chance of having to give up a seat for manners. Not to mention I was totally without education (literal translation from Spanish for rude behaviour), put on my sunglasses, put in my ear buds and stared out the window never making eye contact with standing passengers. I am ashamed of this expedient behaviour, but not enough to not do it again. Juanita supports the concept of her sitting on the aisle, but was not too impressed with the young woman who leaned on her for much of the trip. Close to Matagalpa the traffic was stopped in both directions for about fifteen minutes and the young woman got off and never got back on so the rest of the ride was more comfortable for Juanita.
At the Matagalpa station we checked on times for express buses to Masaya (2:00 and 3:30) and went out to the taxi mess. Eventually we got in one and told him we were going to the Hotel El Castillo. Other passengers started paying the cabbie and I asked if our fare was twenty for the two of us and he said no it was thirty for each since it was so high up. I said we wanted off right there and he stopped the car in the middle of the street and the other passenger in the back seat with us got out to let us out and he grabbed our bags out of the back and dumped them in the street. He also dumped the bag of the front seat passenger in the street. It took a bit of arguing from the back seat passenger and us to convince him it was not our bag but the front seat passenger’s but we succeeded and he put it back under the hatchback and roared off.
We walked to the next corner and flagged down a cab and he charged the twenty for two fare I had suggested to the other cab. He might have been a rip-off artist and was annoyed we won’t cooperate or perhaps he was thinking we wanted to go the El Castillo de Chocolate which is a way out of town and high up. We’ll never know, but he sure dumped us fast when I wouldn’t pay the sixty Cordobas for a twenty Cordoba fare.
The hotel was expecting us and gave me the key. We had requested the same room as last time, but they gave me the key for the next room. It was bigger and had a fan so I went with the flow. Should have traded it in. Our old room was mostly shaded from the afternoon sun and this one isn’t. Can’t imagine it without the fan since the fan doesn’t quite keep up. It was almost two so we headed down the hill to the square and checked out the fritanga grill on the sidewalk across from the park. The enchiladas looked fine but who knew how long they had been stacked in the case at ambient temperature so we couldn’t overcome our suspicion and walked up the street to the guirilla stand and ate there followed by a walk to a bakery for cocoa con leche and a fruit salad in a glass.
After a rest in the room and a bit of surfing it was six and we walked half a block down the hill to El Gran Café for a couple of coffees and a shared Greek salad. Another wild Saturday night in Matagalpa.
We are booked into the hotel again tomorrow night. We will try to get our old room back tomorrow.
During our rest this afternoon we arrived at a tentative plan for the next week. Leave Matagalpa Monday morning, probably to Boaco followed by Juigalpa on Tuesday and El Rama on Wednesday, maybe going down the river on Wednesday or Thursday to Bluefields on The Caribbean coast. We want to be back to Granada by the tenth which will give us time to prepare to cross into Costa Rica on February thirteenth. There don’t seem to be any direct buses to Boaco so the plan may need adaptation depending on what we find from bus depots tomorrow.
Sunday – February 2 - Matagalpa
Up early, but in no rush to get organized. After a brief time outside on the balcony enjoying the fresh morning air and the view over the town of Matagalpa we wandered downstairs and had breakfast. Two French women and a French man came downstairs and tried to buy coffee from the cook, but she turned them down. They had not had bought breakfast with their room, I guess. I directed them to El Gran Café, half a block downhill for coffee. The man asked if they served breakfast and gave us the thumbs up when we said they served a great breakfast.
After some shuffling of stuff and some verb drills we headed downhill ourselves to have more coffee and read and keyboard. We have a relaxing schedule for today with not much more planned than a few block walk for lunch and some taxi rides to some bus terminals to figure the best way to get to Boaco tomorrow. My best bet is Muy Muy, but we don’t know how to get there. I’ll try and get as much done today on the blog as possible since we will probably be doing a town-a-day for a few days.
In the afternoon while the room was getting the afternoon sun we went for a walk to the other side of the park and up the hill next to the Pali a bit for güirílas. In The Pali parking lot we had looked at avocados briefly with the intent of buying some after we ate. While we were eating we got talkingto somebody about where the Cotran Norte was, the bus station for buses going to other towns in the department (Nicaraguan equivalent of a state) of Matagalpa. We got the cross street okay, but saw no sign of a bus terminal. I asked a hardware store owner and he said the best way to get to Boaco would be to go to Managua and then take a bus back to Boaco and that the terminal was 8 blocks uphill from the next corner. We head toward home and remember the avocado and check out the little market around the corner from our hotel. They have no avocados. While there I notice a gringo looking person and his wife eating food from the grill there in the market. We walk back to the Pali, but the vendor wants more than they cost in Canada. What’s the point? We take a pass.
Later on after going downhill to El Gran Café for supper I spend some time catching up on the blog at the table in the hotel dining area. With just one January day left in point form I was just about wrapping it up for the day when a couple showed up at the desk looking for a blanket. They were the couple from the little market. They live in New Mexico. He had been in and out between halves in the Super Bowl which he watched down the hill in a bar. We had talked a bit, but he had to get back to the Super Bowl.
Monday, February 3 – Matagalpa to Juigalpa
Today is a travel day so we are ready to head down for breakfast at seven. Near the end of our breakfast Stephen and Julie show up and we have more coffee and visit for quite a while.
When we come downstairs with our bags to check out the owner has the bus schedule he found for us for Cotran Norte. There is one bus to Muy Muy, kinda late in the day. There are, however, many buses to Rio Blanco that pass through Muy Muy. On every hour or so.
We walk about a block in the general direction of Cotran Norte and finally get a cab who drops us off. The guide books call this terminal more chaotic and less organized than Cotran Sud. They don’t lie. The crowd is scruffier and shiftier looking, as well. Most people carry their back packs as front packs with holding them with both arms where they can see them. It is around nine and the next bus to Rio Blanco is at 10:15. At this time of say there is a narrow strip of shade under the covered area. It is fully occupied along with every other available seat and sack of produce. Do we want to stand in the sun for an hour for a chicken bus? Time to recalculate. We decide to go on an express bus to Managua and play it by ear whether we go to Boaco or Juigalpa based on availability of express buses when we arrive.
We grab a cab for Cotran Sud. A week ago it seemed chaotic. Now it seems a refuge of tranquility and calm. Next express to Managua 10:15. We buy tickets and sit down to wait in the shade. When the bus pulls into the bay we get on and take our numbered seats and cram the bags into the overhead rack. The usual vendors do their gig. Then the driver walks the aisle with a stack of five gallon buckets. I joke to Juanita that he could sell them as seats. Many a true thing has been said in jest. More people get on. Some stand in the aisle. Some sit on the buckets. We leave and pick up a few more passengers on the way through Matagalpa.
The trip to Managua goes quickly. We stop at Tipitapa to drop off a lady with several armloads of flowers that have travelled on the bus roof. She heads off with a full pedicab of her flowers and other freight.
When we arrive at the Mayoreo bus terminal and get off the express bus to Juigalpa is loading. The chicken bus to Boaco is a few stalls over and nowhere near loading. I buy tickets for Juigalpa, buying mandarin oranges as we climb up the bus stairs. Once the bags are stowed in the overhead compartments I leave Juanita and with the admonishment from the driver of four minutes before departure I buy two slices of pizza and four half liter bags of water.
We enjoy the trip through the different scenery to Juigalpa and in about two and a half hours arrive there with expectations of getting off at the terminal, but people start getting on bus as we move through Juigalpa. It turns out this is not really an express bus now, but is going to Saint Thomas and San Pedro (like the words on the windshield would have told us if I had thought about it) The conductor kicks us off at the last stopin town. We walk back to a Posada I had seen, $C 450 (about $US 18) but tomorrow full. A/C, cable, hot water, clean. We go for it. After settling in we walk to the local Cotran, and find bus times to El Rama for tomorrow morning.
We took a cab to parque Central, walk around it check out two flea bag hotels to with bathroom down the hall $C 100 / $US 4 per person. Shudder. They probably rent by hour, mostly. We walk east of the park and check out a $US 50 /night hotel. The room is not as nice as our present room, although the courtyard is more grand. On our walk to the market, see a “gringo” who turns out to be a Dutchman and catch up with him buying veggies. He lives in town but says there is a hotel on the street back to park that always looks okay to him.
Eat supper at market food stand, beef okay, chicken greasy
Check out two more hotels, Eskimo and cab back to hotel
80 channels, all Spanish, only “Panico” channel with English, watch end of horror film and start of next, read reviews of Corn Island, Bluefields, etc. Discuss going back to Matagalpa, Decide to go to Bluefields and spend a night and come back to Juigalpa and then to Matagalpa by way of Boaco and Muy Muy.
Go to sleep, walk up at 4:30 a little warm and turn A/C back on and go out to table in hall and write up day’s doings.
Tuesday, February 4 - Juigalpa to Bluefields
The night porter had turned on the light in the hall while I was writing. It was appreciated. For forty years I have been telling myself I should learn touch typing, but I haven’t so a light helps. The immense laptop we left at home has a lighted keyboard but the travel one not. The “hall” I am referring to is wide and serves as the dining room in the mornings so don’t get the mental image of me sitting in a North American style hotel hallway. This hallway has rooms down one side and windowed conference rooms down the other. After I was done writing up yesterday’s doings I turned off the light and went back into our room.
It was getting to be time to think about next steps. The guy at the bus station yesterday said the express bus to El Rama leaves at 4:30 a.m. and every hour after that. I took that to mean 5:30, 6:30 and so on with the last bus leaving in early afternoon. If we really hurried we could just miss the 6:30 bus so the next debate was whether we ate breakfast and tried for the 7:30. Breakfast service starts at a nominal 7:00, but Nica style starting is not usually particularly rigorous and service is not usually especially prompt. That would likely put us on the 8:30 bus so we decided to skip breakfast. Well, until we heard some really encouraging noises of people starting to get active. I stuck my head out the door, but these were background noises, somewhere, nobody to be seen, bustling about putting out coffee pots or anything at all. Maybe it was soundtrack, certainly nobody there but the night clerk at the doorway to the street at the lobby past the courtyard. It is a “go” to go. I had already made the executive decision that the shirt laundered in the room yesterday was dry enough to wear, but the undershorts felt too strange. Into a plastic bag with them to be dried or washed again and dried later. Our bags in hand we headed out the door and dropped off the key with the clerk.
There is only one cab going by and it is full so we start the three block to the terminal. As we get about half a block away we can see the bus in the driveway of the terminal pulling into the street. The conductor is yelling “Rama, Rama, Rama!” I wave and he sees us and the bus waits for us to get closer. When a car passes by it is safe to cross over so we cross the street and the bus pulls out of the driveway and pulls to the curb next to us. The conductor takes a quick look at our bags and decides they won’t fit in the overhead rack and puts them near the driver. We take our seats and settle into enjoy the show /ride. At various times food vendors arrive and leave. For a while a pedlar with his satchel is on board. It was like a dispatch case and he was dressed in a dress shirt and dress slacks so I was expecting him to start preaching and hoping he didn’t rant. Like the guy on the bus to Somoto. After he started talking I realized he was not preaching and looked closer. The flap of his shoulder bag flipped back and he had rows of pens and nail clippers and other stuff. He demonstrated a pen with a pull-out calendar in the barrel, and a multi-color pen and a small kitchen tool that could act as a paring knife, a slicer, bottle opener and a scraper. Not a lot of takers for his gadgets, but he did a good business selling milk chocolate bars and cough candies. The bus stopped around the halfway mark, at Saint Thomas, for a while and more serious food vendors got on board while it sat there for about fifteen minutes. We bought a couple of fresh, hot güirílas with cheese and shared a bottle of Coke to wash them down. Along about the time I realized that this was the bathroom break, the bus started rolling again.
The foliage was a lot greener than on the Pacific side of the country. There was a lot more pasture land. Along the side of the road farmers had left milk cans or covered five gallon buckets at the edge of the highway. A couple of times we saw small pickup trucks with blue barrels in the back stopped while the man in the back emptied the roadside containers into a barrel.
As we neared El Rama, the soils turned red which is always the color one associates contrasting with the ever more lush foliage as we came down from the highlands into the coastal plain. Shortly before El Rama we crossed the bridge over the Esperanza River which joins the Rama River to become the big river which permits deep sea ships to deliver their loads of containers to the container port just west of El Rama.
The town of El Rama is a gritty little port town that feels transient, quick paced and grubby with most people just passing through except for the people there to exploit the passers through. Next to a market the bus backs into a stall next to another express bus from Juigalpa and we get off to be confronted with all manner of helpful people wanting to carry our bags ten feet from where we are standing to a waiting cab. The cab charges us thirty Cordobas to take us around the corner less than a block and a half to another spot where with the help of another volunteer assistant buy three large, heavy plastic bags. He helps us put our two duffels and the computer bag into the plastic bags and then carries the duffels to the office of the bus/panga terminal. I buy two tickets for the panga. The desk person marks each with the number 1 in felt pen and I take our bags over to a bench and sit with them while Juanita goes off to use the bathroom and then she sits while I go off. Our helper says he will be there to help us take our bags to the panga when the time comes. He isn’t. I feel bad since I hadn’t paid him yet and also because it would have been nice to have somebody carry the bags, but there is no sign of the helper when a panga captain comes by looking for passengers with a one on their tickets.
Just about then a couple of buses pull up and there is a crowd of people trying to get through the gate into the ticket office/ waiting area and we fight our way out and squeeze between two buses and get across and down the street and pay our five Cordoba fee to get in the panga dock area. There is a long sloped driveway or steps down to the dock. We take the steps and put our two plastic bags onto the dock next to our panga and get in and sit down and get handed a life jacket each. I spend a fair bit of time untangling the straps on mine and then realize the middle buckle doesn’t, but there is one life vest per person and that’s mine. Oh well. No biggie. It’s mostly for show and the loose middle buckle is pretty irrelevant when one considers the whole life vest is probably not rated for my weight and if I am conscious I can probably deal with the buckle issue and if not the buckle won’t matter anyway. One must be a little fatalistic when embarking in a smallish open boat with twelve or thirteen others to travel for close to two hours at speeds around thirty miles an hour.
A large plastic tarp is unfolded in the front of the boat and rap the waiting luggage is loaded and the tarp folded over it. Our bags are at the bottom. If they have water issues there will be more serious problems than damp bag contents. The panga is pulled around the corner from the lower section where the passengers board to the front side of the dock proper. A couple of boxes of gasoline powered electric generators are dragged to the edge, the tarp pulled back and the bags shuffled to make room and the front seat back is removed to allow the tarp to be wrapped over the freight and luggage. The front seat back is put back to trap the tarp and the tarp is tucked in at the sides and off we go. The ferry takes five or six hours from El Rama to Bluefields. A panga is said to take ninety minutes. We leave the dock and go past the town at trolling speed. I remark to Juanita that this may take longer than advertised, but on the edge of town the 200 HP Yamaha opens up and we are banging across the water for close to two hours. I am wearing a floppy hat the brim of which proceeds to box my ears mercilessly. I remove it. This is a short term plan. It is overcast, but I had been fooled and fried to a crisp by overcast days before in my life. I had slathered on SP 50 dockside, but only on my arms, neck, face and ears. If I try putting it on my head at this speed the passengers behind me will be wearing it. I might be safe from them while the boat is running, but sooner or later it must stop and maybe time will only serve to build anger not let it taper. Nope. Applying sunscreen in moving boat not a good idea. I try the buckles on the brim and the crown and they work so I can wear the hat with the sides up. The ears have sun screen. Should be good. The wind holds the front brim of the hat in last position. I elect for up. Looks dorky, but I can see. None of these people will see me again except Juanita except she is busy holding onto her hat so it doesn’t beat her and covering the side of her sun glasses so the wind doesn’t rip the contacts out of her eye. I am in the middle and she is on the left side of the boat. The only casualty was an earring which was whipped around and pulled free.
The riverside scenery fascinates me. It is, however, quite repetitive. I had considered taking the ferry one way to enjoy the scenery more and have time to take more pictures. Sure glad the timing didn’t make that an option. It would have been as exciting as watching paint dry. Probably took a couple of hundred pictures and will cull ninety five percent or more of those.
We arrive at Bluefields in a bay on the Caribbean coast. It is much bigger than El Rama and slightly less gritty. Not as bad as we thought it would be. We get off the panga and start walking to the street. We are pestered by helpers and, like an idiot, I succumb to the “I just want to help you and you don’t have to pay me” lies. Not that I would let somebody help and not pay the going rate. In any case we get to the street and I name Los Pepitos as our destination hotel. The helper claims it is just around the corner and the cabbie quotes thirty cords so I let the helper start carrying the two bags and we scurry after him making sure we don’t lose sight of him and our bags. We arrive and a staff person opens the gate and I pay the helper more than he earned, but he puts on a show and I buy him off with a bit more just to get rid of him without a scene and without the risk of having him dog us every time we walk the streets.
We check out the room and for twenty bucks a night and air conditioning and cable TV and the bathroom right beside it we take it. I leave our bags and dig out the passport and go out front to the gate area to pay up and sign in. I sign the register. The last person to sign the register was last year. Not sure if that is good or bad. Does nobody stay here or are all the guests too short-term to sign the register?
The gate was closed when we got here, but is now open. Apparently the area next to the gate area is a bakery area which has tables and is open for business from about three to six every day. They sell pastries and ice cream and have tables to eat them at. The person running the pastry area is the one who showed us the room and who took my money. She doesn’t have the key. It is siesta time and she doesn’t want to bother woman with the key. Juanita stays in the room while I go in search of Nicaraguan money. There were no street side moneychangers/coyotes/cambistas in Juigalpa and it had taken almost all our Cordoabs to get here. The hotels take American dollars, but the bus conductor wanted nothing to do with it. So off to the bank machine to get some Cordobas. On the way to the ATM I passed a street corner with coyotes on it. I asked about exchange rates and when I got to the bank machine I took out dollars, not Cords. The exchange rate from banks is worse than on the street.
While waiting in line to get into one of the two ATM rooms, I got talking to somebody who came here from Alaska about ten years ago. He talked about his eco tour business and gave me a card. He had no brochures but said they were in the lobby of the Hotel Atlantic across the street. After getting my money I went there and picked up a brochure. Also checked on their rates. Thirty bucks a night for what would be twenty elsewhere in Nicaragua, but seemed a lot cosier than where we are staying. If we ever come back we probably will give it a try.
The moneychangers had disappeared when I got back to the corner so I asked a young woman sitting on a lawn chair in front of a rack of CD’s about cambistas and she whipped out a wad of bills and gave me a better exchange rate than the one guy had quoted. The key ring with a room key and a gate key was available when I got back so we locked up and headed out to eat and to explore.
A lot of my narrative involves eating and meals and the search for food. As a traveller one becomes a hunter gatherer. There is no normal routine to rely on and one still needs to eat so it is a daily adventure to accomplish that.
We walked to the location of a couple of good places mentioned in the several year old Lonely Planet guide book for Nicaragua on my Kindle. Either they were not as okay as they used to be or it was just the wrong time of day. At three in the afternoon the lunch buffet steam cabinet had smallish quantities of food that hopefully looked more appetizing than at lunch time. I suggested that we walk around some more. The place across from the Moravian Church no longer existed there if the map was every correct. We walked up another street and turned corner. As we walking along a store front opened up beside us that sold fried chicken. We ordered some and some bottled iced tea and both felt a lot better. It had been a long time since the güirílas.
We walked around a bit more and found a bakery that sold us some perked coffee and some bread pudding which we ate at a table at the side of the street to the unwelcome accompaniment of a stereo a few doors down blasting out rap music in Spanish. It made the rock music that followed almost tolerable. The speakers were on the sidewalk and pointed across the street toward the police station where there were a couple of National Policemen standing. They didn’t seem to mind. Can’t see that working very well in most North American cities. The Toronto Police would probably shoot you down like a mentally ill person on a street car. Most others would at the very least shoot your dog.
The central park had lots of modern playground equipment and a brightly painted old steam powered road building piece of equipment that had been placed there in its retirement. We walked some more and bought some water, and some mandarin oranges and had a scoop of ice cream each and headed back to the room. The air conditioning had cooled the place down significantly. With eighty-five percent of the Bluefields population being native English speakers there were a lot more English channels. We flipped between them until it was time to sleep.
I phoned the hotel from yesterday in Juigalpa. They had no rooms for tomorrow night. I guess we will take our chances with one of the nicer ones near the park. Definitely not the flea bags or the tourist one, but there should be one of the others.
Wednesday, February 5 – Bluefields to Boaco
We had a good sleep without any traffic noises reaching our back corner of the yard and only a few roosters and boat whistles as it got light. The nearest safe looking restaurant doesn’t start serving breakfast until 8:30 so we head out on the street. I unlock the gate and leave Juanita with the bags while I go leave the key in the room. I use the common bathroom one last time. After we had our morning showers I ran into a young man coming out of it and he went into the room on the other side of the bathroom. I caught a glimpse of his room. He had clothes on shelves and gave the impression of a room that somebody lived in. The gate locked behind us as we pulled it back shut from the street side and we hailed down a passing cab to the panga dock where I bought bus and panga tickets while Juanita paid the five cords each for admission to the dock. The bus was the 8:30 express bus from El Rama to Mangua. I said we only wanted to go as far as Juigalpa and the girl said that we just needed to tell the driver that. She wrote number seventeen on the ticket and kept the panga half of the ticket. We proceeded to the waiting area and put our bags back into the plastic bags and tried to figure out which panga to get on. I kept saying we were on panga seventeen, but people just looked confused. Eventually we ended up next to the right one and got one and got handed our life vests and did the thing with the sunscreen and we were off. This guy was trying to get us to the other end faster than yesterday’s panga operator. There was a bus waiting and at this time of day a greater likelihood of more passengers. I was on the right side and Juanita was in the middle on this trip. There is no good place to sit. You get wind lashed pretty well no matter where you sit. Yesterday we had only seen one pangs headed up river while we were on our way down. Today I lost count of the number we passed going the other way. I guess there is more traffic in the mornings.
At the dock in El Rama there were numerous wannabe helpers waiting. I spotted the guy form yesterday and picked him out of the crowd and he asked if we wanted the same bags as yesterday and I confirmed and we stood back while he got them and then followed him up the ramp to the street and the waiting Managua bus. The conductor stowed our bags in the luggage compartment and I paid the helper and we got on the bus. I suggested sitting in a particular spot and Juanita said that the tickets had our seat numbers on them so I looked at the tickets. The top one said 17 and the bottom one said 18. No wonder nobody knew what I was talking about when I said panga number 17.
The bus was only half full so after we were seated Juanita headed around the corner to the terminal and when she got back it was my turn. On the way up the river I had thought about what I paid for the combined bus and boat tickets and realized I had probably paid for the whole way to Managua not just to Juigalpa. While waiting for Juanita to return to the bus I asked the woman across the aisle what she had paid to Managua and she said 160. The same as we paid for each of our tickets. We might as well carry on to Boaco, three-quarters of the way to Managu as go to Juigalpa only half-way to Managua and then end up with chicken buses from Juigalpa to Boaco the next day. Our accommodations were up in the air anyway. Once we were all done with our bathroom trips I went out and talked to the driver standing across the street and said we wanted to go to Boaco. He said he would drop us off at El Enpalme which was a good sign since that was the crossroads town according to my map. He said the bags were fine where they were. The 8:30 bus we were shooting for had probably left, because this bus left at 9:30, but with arriving after 8:30 and bathroom trips and buying a bottle of water and talking to the driver we didn’t have much surplus time.
There were no vendors on this bus other than when it was sitting there at El Rama and the driver picked up a few people at major towns if he had empty seats, but he didn’t stop for people on the highway when he had a head of steam up. He did stop at noon in Juigalpa across the street from a buffet and everybody got off and dodged traffic across the street to line up for the washrooms and buffet and buy lunch and take it to go or to eat at tables in the dining area. When we walked in I realized I had been in that buffet before about five years ago, but was riding in somebody’s car and would never have found it on my own. Lunch was inhaled rather than eaten but we survived. And it was back on the road to El Enpalme.
A little before El Enpalme the conductor gave us a heads up and we walked down the aisle to be near the front of the bus. When the bus stopped he got off with us and pulled our bags out of the luggage bay and left them on the sidewalk. Service just like Diversified Bus Lines – pause for maniacal laughter. We rushed across the road to the bus stop in case the waiting bus was for Boaco, but it was for El Rama and we slowed down and it away. We asked if that was were to wait for the bus for Boaco and somebody said yeas and then a cab for Boaco pulled up and quoted $C 20 each to Boaco and we joined the driver and existing passenger. The driver and passenger were discussing a cheap hotel, but when I asked the driver if he knew of a clean, cheap hotel he played dumb and so I asked him to drop us off at the Hotel Farolitos. The gate was locked. There was no bell but a hollered greeting got an echo and a sour little middle aged woman came to the gate and said they had no room or the owner was away or maybe something else, but the bottom line was we couldn’t have a room. I asked about other hotels and she said the Alma up the hill. We walked to the corner and I saw another hotel around the corner and across the street and left Juanita and the bags on the corner and walked closer. It looked pretty rough and there was no obvious way from street level to room levels on the second and third floor. I walked back to the corner and contemplated the almost vertical street to the Pepsi sign almost a block up and the words at the bottom which might say Alma Hotel. I flagged down a passing cab and he laughed and asked if we were tired and I said old, lazy and tired and gave him $C 10. He was happy and so were we. I could do the hill. But maybe not in the afternoon sun and carrying bags after a day of boats, bus and cab.
This hotel had a sour, hefty middle-aged who said they had a room for $US a night. I followed her up a long flight of stairs outside, fell in love with the view from the walkway in front of the rooms. The view going up the stairs is best not contemplated. The room was clean. The bathroom was tiny and dark and had a built in ceramic pool for bathing and flushing water. There was a tap for filling the pond for times when they had water pressure. She explained the water situation and asked if that was okay. I said we had lived like that before and went downstairs and paid for two nights. We climbed the stairs with our luggage. Juanita was less enamored with the room and its oppressive heat from being closed all day, but it cooled with the door open to the breezes for a while. I called the place in Matagalpa we have stayed at twice on this trip and inquired about Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights. They only had Sunday. We didn’t really want to travel there on a Sunday, especially for only one night so I declined. We contemplated staying elsewhere in Matagalpa, but decided the other place we had stayed there was too far from downtown. We’ll think about it.
After a while we went for a walk uphill. That is what you do in Boaco. Walk up hill or down hill. There is not much in the way of level here. We walked up to the Central Park and looked at the hotel across from it and went there and asked if they had rooms. Si! We looked at one. It was a large, bright room with a bathroom and a nice view for $20 a night. We move in on Friday for three nights. We’ll find out what happens to their running water. We might miss the pool in the bathroom, but it will be nice to have a view without a walkway between us and it and to have wi-fi in the room not just the lobby.
We looked around for coffee that was not instant and eventually found some, then we followed our slightly out of date guide book to a museum or at least as close to where it said it would be as we could get with climbing down a near cliff to check. So we asked a couple of workers in a government office right at the corner and though the group kept getting larger, nobody knew. They finally suggested that one of the doctors off the square might have it in his house now and try him. We then walked around thinking of something to eat, but again when you are looking for food at 3:30 you are totally out of synch with the world you are in. Everybody eats at noon or quite late. So the places are not open yet or haven’t git around to throwing out the dregs left by the lunch crowd.
We passed a few bars with people that seemed to drinking not eating. At a sports bar on a corner we turned back up hill and turned at the next cross street and looked into a corner store with a few tables. There were a couple of people at one table gluing strips of paper together. The man in very good, colloquial English asked what we were looking for. The menu on the way had simple fast food and soft drinks listed at quite low prices. I said I wouldn’t mind an enchilada ($C 15 on menu) and he asked if we would like nachos. Juanita’s face lit up and we ordered some. They were not on the menu. His wife got on the phone and ordered nachos. The other woman went back to the kitchen to make my enchilada. Juanita ordered a coffee. I bought a small tetra pack of chocolate milk and a Coke. Later on, while eating, I also asked for a small bottle of water. A young man came from the sports bar carrying a huge plate piled high with nachos made with triangles of deep fired tortillas, cheese, refried beans, chicken, tomato, and salsa. A meal for three. The enchilada was inedible. I set it aside and did my best to help Juanita with the nachos. I failed. We both failed. There was still enough left for a third world family after we gave up. The bill? It’s not every day you spend 50% more for supper than for a double room. We waddled up hill to square level and back down the other side of the mountain to our hotel stopping to buy a jug of water and to take pictures of a set of stairs.
Another quiet evening of watching crime dramas in English with Spanish sub-titles.
Thursday – February 6– Boaco
We survived the night. Enough of my home laundry efforts had dried with the help of the room fan blowing all night that I could use them. This emboldened me to wash my travel pants and since the day was cloudy and cool perhaps I could wear my jeans while the travel pants dried. This done and with everything in order and drying we headed out in search of breakfast. Across the road from our next hotel, is a cafe in the park. They offered cafe palo and a tipico breakfast. It was great. We sat there and filled our faces with breakfast and more coffee and an empanada each. Juanita read and I wrote. I am content. About eleven we went back to the hotel and checked e-mail and went back to the room. The maid had been by and left new sheets and cleaned the room and filled the pond. While we were sitting there she came by with a fresh towel. I asked for a second towel. Good timing. Many places in Nicaragua we stay only supply one towel if we don't ask for a second one. They don't seem to think it strange when I ask for another, but most places don't offer it.
Boaco is a town that used to be two towns on two levels. They grew together into one town on two levels over the years. After a break in the room we headed out going down the hill to look at the Russian church with a secondary purpose of hoping to find some place for lunch while stuff was fresh. We got to the back of the church, but it was further down a hill to a cross road that might go to the road across the front of the church. We went the other way and found no likely looking cross streets so we walked up a steep hill away from the church through a market stall area and across that hill laterally and down through market stall lined streets into a dip that led up again to the bottom of the stairs we had stood below last night. Up the stairs, and toward the park, we inspected an eatery or two and ended up in the Café in the park for a late lunch and more writing and reading.
“late lunch and more writing and reading” – that signifies a turning point. One should avoid eating “late” anything that involves chicken at less than hot or more than cold for hours. There were chicken enchiladas and chicken in rolled up tacos on the steam table. I ordered enchilada and Juanita ordered tacos. They came with two orders of tacos (flour tortillas rolled into tubes with shredded chicken et cetera in side and sald and mayo on top). They had been sitting in the display case long enough to be pretty crusty. Juanita ate hers. I picked at mine.
After a quiet evening we went to sleep but not for long. Juanita was up in the middle of the night throwing up and then problems at both ends. I didn’t feel that bad right away and never threw up, but not long after Juanita’s problems settled down a bit found that I didn’t want to be too far from a toilet. This was our second night in the Hotel Alma. They maid had tidied and I had snagged fresh towels when the maid went by, but she had not emptied the bathroom garbage. The room got pretty ripe in two days and the smell didn’t aid our general feeling of malaise.
February 7 – Friday – Boaco
In the morning we timed our activities carefully according to our needs. Around nine we loaded up and climbed down the stairs and walked uphill to the lobby and I turned in the key. I started to check e-mail on my iPod and Juanita reminded me that we didn’t have time for that and we walked the shortest route uphill to the hotel across from the park. I got the key and put Juanita and our stuff in the room and came back and paid and provided the check-in information. Then quickly back to the room. When things seemed like they were settled for a while I bought a ginger ale and a banana shake at the sorberteria that was part of the hotel. All Juanita wanted was a ginger ale.
Later I went across the street briefly for some scrambled eggs and a piece of dry cake so there would be something in my system. That almost took more time than the window available and I certainly didn’t look around much, but there is a good chance that at the same time at the other end of the same eating area were a couple of friends from Texas. About midday when we were lying there not feeling particularly spry and were checking e-mail Juanita opened one from the wife of this couple. It said they would be in the park at Boaca for breakfast and then taking a bus to Muy Muy. I phoned the husband’s Nica cell. They were on the bus to Muy Muy and a church service at one and would head back after two. We agreed to hook up later if it worked out. Then we dozed and lazed and did what was necessary as our systems demanded hoping we would see our friends and hoping we were up to it at the time. They ran late and when they called it was getting dark they were at the bus station. It didn’t make sense to meet up with them so we took a rain check and they took the bus to meet up with a ride back to Masaya from Tipitapa. Early to a fitful sleep for us.
February 8 – Saturday – Boaco
Mostly a quiet day. Not feeling a lot of drive. We had a nice tipico breakfast on the front veranda and afterward. I retired to a rocker in the lobby to read a mindless mystery story on my Kindle and to order and read the sequel. Juanita stayed on the veranda to people watch. She came by once to get the room key to get her camera so she wouldn’t miss pictures of guys on burros with milk cans.
In the afternoon we went for a walk and found a good place for lunch and then walked the park on the ridge with the Faro monument of 1995 (Parque Cerro, El Faro de Boaco). Looked pretty run down and the gate was chained and locked. A couple of guys in a pickup truck said it was open in the mornings. Enough adventure for one day. Back to our digs.
February 9 – Sunday – Boaco
Another day of convalescence. Reading and sitting and laying around without leaving the hotel grounds. Starting to feel better if not particularly energetic. Watched a bit of the Grammy’s Beatles program in the evening and then went to a pretty solid sleep despite the disco down the hill.
February 10 – Monday – Boaco to Granada
Slow morning. Breakfast on the veranda. Feeling normal again. Things seem to be working normal again. Did the first writing since the bug. Time to pack and get a bus to Managua and a cab between terminals and bus to Granada. Called on Friday and the Hotel Jerico is expecting us. Also on Friday a friend texted that he had dropped a pen off at Hotel Jerico that I had left on the construction site before we left Granada. Also heard on Thursday of the shutdown dates for CCRL in the spring. It will be in two waves. Our flight schedule has us out of the country for the first wave. I guess it will be wave two starting April 7th.
Well, there is not a lot to see or do in Boaco, but we found it a pleasant little town. A bit cooler and greener than the lowlands toward Managua and we certainly have enjoyed our time here. With the exception, of course, of the inordinate time intimately spent needing a toilet or the general indifference that is a side effect. Boaco is a great place to be indifferent. It is peaceful and has amenities and you can relax there. As Juanita said’ “It’s like the fifties with wi-fi.” Being kinda grounded we didn’t walk around as much as we might have, but I think we saw the sights. I found a delightfully decaying monument at the end of a street commemorating four locals winning prizes for their poetry. That, the painted stairs and the Cerro Park with its Faro all seem to be from a burst in local pride for some sort of centenary celebration in 1995. We took a few pictures, but here is a link to more.
After a relaxed breakfast on the front veranda, Juanita stayed there to sip her coffee and enjoy the passing people. I moved to a table overlooking the courtyard and utilized the wi-fi to catch up a bit on the blog which had been neglected due to digestive events. A little after ten we wandered back to the room and finished packing and then went and stood on the front steps of the hotel until a cab stopped and took us to the bus terminal for the Managua bound buses. There were a couple of seats left over the rear wheel wells and we took one, stowed our bags in the rack above us and settled in for the trip. Within minutes of the bus leaving the terminal the aisle was full of people, but by about half an hour into the trip the crowd had thinned a bit.
There are no buses from Boaco to Granada. Our options were to take the bus to its terminal in Managua and take a cab to another terminal, or to get off at a crossroads town like San Benito or Tipitapa and get onto a bus to Masaya and get a bus from there to Granada. The second option would be the cheapest and, maybe, the quickest. Maybe not the quickest. I had flashbacks to waiting in the sun for two hours in Tipitapa a couple of years ago for a bus to Masaya. Chances are we would end up standing once we changed buses and although we only carry a couple of duffels, I didn’t want to deal with them in a standing room only bus and neither of us harbor good feelings toward the Masaya terminal. We elected for the long way home and planned to take it sitting down.
On the way to the terminal in Mangua the bus stopped at a local stop where a bunch of taxis hang out. As we pulled away the light came on and I asked Juanita to remind me to transfer there in the future. Instead we stayed on the bus another ten minutes to get to its home that was probably not much closer to UCA. Getting off the bus at the Mayero terminal in Managua we were accosted by a taxista who quoted me twenty dollars for a ride to the UCA microbus terminal. I laughed and when we came out from the banos negotiated a more reasonable price for the pair of us. Then we waited while he found a couple of other passengers to share the cab with us. They each paid $C 80 so I didn’t feel too bad about the $C 150 I paid for both.
At UCA we went through a repeat of the scenario of the guy from the un-air conditioned buses trying to grab our bags. I held on tight and just ripped them out of his hand before he got away with them. The touts for the air conditioned buses laughed and we got on the air conditioned bus in the next stall and waited for the bus seats to fill. On the road to Granada they start taking on standing passengers, many of whom are only going a short way. In Granada we got off as the bus looped around the park and started its journey back to Managuas
Granada seems awfully touristy after being in the north of the country. It took a week to run into an American there. Here we saw dozens just on the walk through town to our hotel. Not sure we like all these tourists! After greeting the staff in our hotel and checking in and dumping our bags we grabbed a cab to the Nica Bus office and sat around waiting our turn to buy a bus ticket from Granada to San Jose, Costa Rico for Friday morning. Then we grabbed another cab to the La Colonia and bought mouth wash, shampoo and snacks. We looked for Febreze, but they only had Febreze brand air freshener, not clothes spray. Pity. It is a little disgusting in concept, but spraying critical areas of your clothing with Febreze extends the practical wear life immensely. We will soldier on without it.
Then a cab back to the square and a couple of chicken chests (literal translation from the Spanish) at the Tip Top Chicken and walk back to our room. Not a super demanding day, but we feel having spent a good chunk of it travelling.
February 11 – Tuesday – Granada
Breakfast at Hotel Jerico
Juanita takes the laundry to the Lavaderia.
Walked down to Euro Café
Read and drank coffee there
Back to room
Walk to parque central. Shoe shine
Walk to Cafetin Claudia for lunch.
Walk market street looking for flashlight.
Haircut and beard trim.
Walk into market, buy a dozen mandarin oranges.
Keep looking for flashlight.
Top up cell phone minutes.
Buy flashlight in Lugo Hardware store.
Juanita talking to person. Outside. From Maine. 17 years here. Hotel, rice farm, sandwich shop. Nica marida.
Walk home looking for bag shop. Must be closed or not where I remember it.
Pick up laundry from Lavaderia.
Settle in to read and then later watch TV and eat some of snacks bought yesterday.
February 12 – Wednesday – Granada
Up early. Eat breakfast.
Walk to Kathy’s Waffle House.
Trip on chain. Scrape elbow and two side of same hand. Hear snapping noise. Check iPod. It’s okay. Stop on way and pour hand sanitizer on wounds. Stings.
Walk to parque central. Sunglasses vendor. Dig my clip-ons out of pocket to show him I don’t need sunglasses and discover source of snapping noise when I fell. Buy sun glasses.
Take bus to Masaya. Get off across from “Esso” (Puma) and walk to local Tip Top Chicken and take cab to base camp. Check out staff house being built and the warehouse which is now complete with walls, doors and a new roof. Take pictures. Cab waits and then takes us to Nathan and Melody’s place. We visit there and then grab a cab to Esso corner. Buy some gum and a coke and use their washroom before we slither into a passing microbus for an intimate ride to Granada. We go back to our room for a while then walk up to the Choco Café for a shake followed by fish and chips for me and a coffee for Juanita (cheap date) at the Irish pub on the corner (Sandwich shop in their corner doorway – called “PubWay” with sign in Subway colors).
Back to room for channel and internet surfing and early bedtime when there is nothing to watch that can keep us awake.
February 13 – Thursday - Granada
Up early for breakfast.
E-mail and surfing.
Walk to Euro Café for coffee.
Back to room for blogging, some chores and a call home.
February 14 – Friday – Granada, Nicaragua to Liberia, Costa Rica
I’m starting to write this the day before. We never know what tomorrow holds, but our plan is to cross the border to Costa Rica on a Tica Bus tomorrow. The bus is scheduled to leave Granada at 7:30 a.m. We bought tickets for all the way to San Jose, but plan to get off at Liberia where we have a hotel room booked. We have never been to Costa Rica before. That and crossing the border will be a new experience. Here’s is one article on the border crossing.
Now it’s the day after, but I’ll carry on writing in mixed tenses like I speak Spanish. We had heard the bus was at 7:00 am, and our tickets said 7:30 am and to be there at forty-five minutes early. So I got up at 5:00 and started puttering and showering. Juanita wasn’t too terribly impressed, but she got with the program a bit skeptically and we were out on the street in time to see a cab go by on the cross street so we walked a block over and caught a cab with two passengers and after the cab dropped them off he dropped us off at the Tica bus office. There were people standing and suitcases all over the sidewalk. Just as we got out of the cab the office doors opened and we walked in through the doors before all the standees adjusted to the new reality and choose two seats in the waiting area. I walked up to the counter and asked the guy just sitting down if we needed to check-in and he said yes so I motioned to Juanita and before you knew it we were back in our seats while the line formed and everyone else got processed. The bus showed up around 7 and everyone checked their luggage and loaded on the bus and the bus left. After checking in I had considered making a coffee run to the Esso a block away, but that would have been a bad idea it turns out.
The bus wound around the road in the valley between the Laguna de Apoyo caldera and the Mombacho volcano. The level bus has a curtained partition in front of the front seats with a curtained door in the aisle. We were right behind the driver so only had side views. Sitting in the aisle seat I could not see down into the oncoming lane but thought I had a pretty good idea of our progress. Wrong. I had not noticed when we joined the Managua – Rivas highway so was a bit surprised to look out the window and recognize the gas station / bus stop at the corner of the road going to San Jorge and the launches to Ometepe Island. Rivas already! Certainly faster than travelling by chicken bus!
On boarding the bus in Granada the driver’s assistant handed out customs forms for leaving Nicaragua and collected the forms and our passports and the exit fees for leaving. After Rivas he handed out forms for entering Costa Rica. They all required the numbers from the passports which he had. Oh well, we’ll do that part later when we are in no-man’s land.
The assistant asked about our airplane tickets out of Costa Rica. We showed him the printout for our flight out of Panama in March. “Not good enough!” He told us that they would only accept a ticket actually out of the country or we would be restricted to a maximum of five days in the country. We have booked ten days of hotels. O f course, we could buy the tickets in no-man’s land. On Tica Bus. I let it ride and looked up the issue in our guide book. Sounds like the letter of the law. While standing around in no-man’s land for an hour while the bus load of passports gets processed off stage somewhere we explore ticket options and end up buying an open ticket from San Jose back to Managua. Wrong cities, wrong direction, but cheapest option. The ticket is non-refundable, but can be changed and added to so in the unlikely event we can use to go into Panama we can spend the additional money each to upgrade. In reality it is most likely just a $US 52 entry tax that the Costa Rican government sees none of. When we are processed by immigration the guy actually checks for an exiting bus ticket before stamping our passports with a ninety day visa. Travelling across the border by bus saves a lot of hassles, but it cuts down on the options of trying to get by with just our printout. If I had argued with the driver’s assistant and the printout had not been enough I have no doubt in my mind that the Tica Bus would have left the border area without us, leaving us to buy a new ticket to Liberia as well as a ticket from San Jose to Panama. Relax and enjoy the experience. Who knows? Perhaps we can us the ticket someday, somewhere.
The country side south of the border down Costa Rica way looks much the same as Nicaragua. Funny thing about artificial lines. Isn't it? The highway is a bit better as are the homes.
Liberia was founded as a destination for freed African-American slaves sometime in the distant past. For all that, the racial mix seems about the same as the Pacific side of Nicaragua. The bus dumps us on the side of the road at a confluence of North American fast food restaurants (McDonald’s, Burger King, Papa John’s and more). The driver actually reads the baggage tickets we give him and compares them to the ones on the bag. A $US 2 taxi takes us to our hotel. Juanita goes looking for towels. They say they will bring them in two minutes. After about half an hour of settling in we run out of displacement activities and leave in search of lunch. You can get wi-fi in our room if you hold your iPod just so. I had checked the location of the restaurants Juanita had found in her research. They were all too far so we started walking west from the park on the main road.
We went into a bakery that had been mentioned in a Lonely Planet guide. It was a little after one and the selection left on the steam table was limited. The only promising selection was breaded, fried fish. Juanita was willing, but it looked a little greasy to me and we crossed the street to a fried chicken place. Probably even greasier, but the place was busy enough and the chicken hot enough it seemed a safer bet. After lunch we walked a bit down the street to a smoothie place and had a couple of fruit smoothie that were delicious and quite refreshing. We will pretend that the no added sugar means something in light of the orange juice they used to sweeten the drinks.
I went into the bathroom at the smoothie place, but was in no mood to squat over a tiny, seatless toilet in a room with no lock on the door. Back to the hotel. Back out we go to buy water and a CR cell phone. Back to hotel to drop off the water. Back out across the square to a bank with a big rotating sign advertising an ATM. We stood in line, but when our turn came up the machine didn’t like either of our cards. L Master cards. Visa network.
I ask the prettiest woman in line (who else?) where there is another ATM and she tells me that down Santa Rosa Street just past the traffic lights. I take a wild guess that we are on Santa Rosa Street and we start walking. Since we were just going across the square I had not worn a hat and had already changed to flip-flops (when did they stop calling them thongs?) and shorts. To minimize risk of sun exposure I scurried from shady area to shady area while Juanita followed my erratic movements. The named bank machine was actually a credit union. There was just one person ahead of us so Juanita waited by the door I skulked behind a parking lot wall until the guy came out. We didn’t see any likely looking network signs so we kept walking to the bank that Juanita had originally suggested. When am I going to learn to just listen?
There was a line-up of over twenty people under the covered canopy outside the two doors. The back of the line was in direct sunlight. Juanita got into line. I walked to the bank door half a block away and the guard let me in and scanned me for weapons. The inside of the bank was meat locker cold and there were chairs to sit in until it was your turn. I asked him if there was a cajero automatic inside. Nope. Only outside. The ine is so long. It won’t take long there are two machines. I go back out into the furnace. Only one machine is working.I sit on a concrete retaining wall in the shade until Juanita is almost in the shade and then I join her. The second machine has started working. Things go quicker. The line of people getting their weekend money moves faster. Both our cards work. We get about four times as much as we would carry in Nicaragua. Prices are much higher here and this is the first time we have encountered bank machine networks we are not tied into.
On the way back to the hotel we buy a bag of grapes and an avocado from a truck on the side of the street. We sit briefly in the cathedral by the square. It is a modernistic design that could have been designed by Consilium Bulk, the company that designed the chip storage unit at the pulp mill in Meadow Lake. The inside of the cathedral is bright and airy and the pews are modernistic open designs mimicking the shape of the cathedral. They are built with wonderful rich looking hardwood. When we get back to our room I rinse some of the grapes and go sit in the courtyard and check e-mail on my iPod. Juanita opens the room door to the breezes and checks her e-mail with the laptop. I keep nodding off sitting in the rocking chair in the courtyard and eventually rouse myself and go to the room and lie down for just a minute. I wake up about four hours later and we change sides of the bed and we both sleep until the alarm goes off at five.
February 15 – Saturday – Liberia – Canas – Tilaran – La Fortuna
A little after six a.m. we walk out of our hotel and onto the street. We spy some cabs sitting on the other side of the square and go to walk over there, but a cab stops on the street we are going to cross to get to the square. We get in, confirm the tariff and he backs up a bit and turns down the street past the Hotel Liberia. There are two bus terminals in Liberia. He drops across the one with buses to Canas and points in the general direction. I ask the driver of the bus sitting there if he is going to Canas and he tells me that the bus will be in the next slot over. We sit down to wait. I check with a few people and get some similar times for the Canas bus so we are happily waiting. Somebody approaches me and asks where we are going. I tell him bus to Canas, bus to Tilaran, then bus to La Fortuna. He claims that there is just one bus a day to La Fortuna and it leaves at 10:30 and that there is no way we can get to Tilaran in time and that there are so few people going to La Fortuna. Fortunately he has a way out of our dilemma. For a mere $US 50 he will drive us to Tilaran. I decline and he leaves temporarily. The guy in front of us says that that is a pretty high price.
Our information is that the bus to La Fortuna leaves at 12:30 and that we will have plenty of time. I walk across the street to the cab line-up and get a $US 60 quote to Tilaran. I look at the map. A cab from Canas will be cheap. We’ll take our chances, but there is still a lingering doubt. The bus arrives and we line-up. The guy approaches and makes his last pitch. For only $US 40, best price possible and points to his car across the street. The guy looks nice and is dressed nicely and the car looks clean and not that old, but it is a private, unmarked car. People use the phrase “ugly as sin”, but sin is often pretty attractive or we wouldn’t be seduced into sin. The serpent, after all, was the most attractive creature of the garden or something like that. I don’t think it is a good to believe this guy and to get into an unmarked car and ride off into the unknown. We get on the bus, pay the fare to Canas and take our seats.
The highway is pretty good and is in the process of getting a lot better. There are pouring four lanes of a divided highway. A lot of the concrete is already placed and from the looks of the rebar and dowel pins between sections they are doing it right. I hope they finish before the bottom falls out. When I see big projects on the cusp of an economic crash I always am reminded of the paper machine that was started being built in Powell River just before the depression and which sat partway built for over a decade.
The driver skillfully multitasked, stopping to left off passengers or to pick up passengers collect fares and make change, while making lane changes onto and off of the highway being constructed. Close to Canas he emptied, counted and bagged each denomination of change in his cash register and wiped out the compartments all while driving at high speed on a congested highway under construction.
When we got on the bus I had told the driver that we were going to Tilaran and then to LaFortuna. When we got to Canas he turned off the highway and a block in and then stopped at the corner before turning onto a street parallel to the highway. He pointed at the bus parked at the curb half a block up the street and told us that that was the bus to Tilaran. We got off and walked half a block and got on the bus and it left. Up into the mountains, bit by bit. It stopped at one little town part way to Tilaran. That town was clean and neat and like the rest of CR, so far, more prosperous looking than Nicaragua.
After a pleasant drive through green, up and down scenery we arrived the terminal in Tilaran. It was about 9:30. I checked with several people around and everybody said that the bus to LaFortuna would leave at 12:30. Three hours to wait. A cab here could have given us an extra half hour or perhaps more to wait. For the bargain price of $US 40. That would be best case. Worst case would be stripped and dead. Medium case would have been stripped, robbed and wandering unprotected in the sub-tropical sun in our scanties. I asked about tickets and learned that we pay on the bus.
After paying an attendant we took turns using the facilities then I left Juanita and the bags and checked around for a place to eat breakfast. I found one across the street which quoted a price about what one would pay in Canada and I said sure and went to get Juanita. I plugged in the laptop and we ate breakfast and I typed for a while with a second cup of coffee at Starbucks prices and then they wanted to charge me 1,000 Colones ($US 2) for being plugged into the wall outlet with the laptop and I declined and we left to find a spot in the shade in the clean, tidy, paved bus terminal and keep keyboarding. The cover over the buses is to North American standards. It looks like it could handle a Canadian snow load. Definitely a different country than Nicaragua.
The bus pulls in at and loads and leaves in the space of a couple of minutes. We roll at 12:30 as advertised. In a few minutes’ drive we are out this tidy town and on the windy, hilly road around Lake Arenal. This road was closed for a few months in rainy season but is great shape with smooth if narrow pavement. The only evidence of it having been closed were a temporary bailey-style bridge we crossed and some roadwork where it looks like they are replacing a culvert. If palm trees grew and blossomed bushes bloomed in B.C. you’d think you were on the Sechelt Peninsula highway before it was upgraded. About 3:30 we rolled into La Fortuna and bought some bottled water and some fruit and eggs and grabbed a $US 5 cab to our digs for the next two nights. Our room at the Hotel Jardines Arenal is bright, spacious and air conditioned.
After minimal unpacking we are out in the common area and learning about tours. Factoring distances and cab fares we decide to book a volcano tour for tomorrow afternoon along with some soaking in a natural hot spring. Who knows? We might even see some colorful frogs. Tonight at sunset we saw and heard a toucan in a tree across the street. We are told that if we get up at five we might see some howler monkeys and more toucans. We don’t make plans for that. We do plan to walk to a nearby eco garden sometime after breakfast.
February 16 – Sunday – La Fortuna
Reading and writing.
Walk to Ecocenter just after 9
Decide on self-tour rather than guide, didn’t want to wait 45 minutes for tour to start,
Back to town, pick up ten other tourists and a guide, Jose. German, French (living in New York), Indian-Americans living in Seattle, Indian – Canadian from Toronto, Germans, Aussies and a woman from Belgium (living in Spain). Every time we stop, the guide gets out and wrestles the door open and then closed. The woman was the first to join us and she rides in back with us until the guide and the driver invite here to sit in front between them. I ask, “why not me?” when they invite her and we both laugh.
We wander up a wrong road to where they think a hotel is and then turn around after some people on horseback redirect them. Then we are just leaving town and the guide mentions to the driver one other couple on the list and the driver turns around back to town muttering about not being told sooner, but it isn’t long before we are headed back up the rod we came into town on yesterday. Past the turn off to the La Fortuna waterfall and past the Baldi hot springs resort and past the bridge over the hot river we will return to. In About twenty minutes we are at the Park gate and we turn off the highway onto a gravel road. The entrance to the park is just short of the dam that holds Lake Arenal. The gravel road winds higher toward the volcano. At one point we stop and everybody gets out to see some howler monkeys. A tour van coming down the hill stops and gives our van driver a large bottle of Fresca.
There is different flowers, shrubs and trees than one sees on the B.C. coast, but the density of growth and greenness is a close match. If I took off my glasses to blurrify things I wouldn’t be able to tell you if we were on a B.C. coast logging road or a on the road to a National Park in Costa Rica. Near the top of the road we stop at a gate and the guard counts the passengers and the guide pays a fee and the gate opens to the near vertical road to the Arenal Volcano Observatory Lodge. The contents of another van meets us in the parking lot of the Lodge. There is a spectacular viewing deck which offers a view of the volcano and the lake. You can’t get much closer to the volcano due to safety concerns. Letting tourists wander close enough to be killed by rocks that the volcano occasionally spits out is bad for business. No repeat business from dead tourists and tourists are like the rabbits we used to raise for food. They are all happy to see you when you show up, but they all pile into the far corner of the cage after the first casualty on butchering day. Tourists, not constrained by cages, will just keep running.
After some photo ops on the deck we head off around and down the mountain on a network of trails and suspension bridges. We see birds and flowers, medicinal foliage, mosquito repellent foliage (citronella), and at the low point of the tour climb a path and stairway network to some waterfalls before climbing back to the high point. On the side of the path the guide digs up some volcanic mud and puts in a plastic bag for later.
When we get back to the Lodge we are told to change into what we want to wear at the hot springs. A few instruction challenged people ignore this advice. A number of new people join the tour at this point. More people than seats. The people that are small enough to scrunch over insist on fastening their seat belts in place so they can’t be moved. They only fasten them loosely so as a safety device they are worse than useless. They are potentially harmful by leaving ample room to accelerate before reaching the end of the tether. They do, however, work pretty good as a lone in the sand and the guide shuffles cooperative people around in the van and move one person into the other van and then wedges himself into a crack between the back of the front seat and the back of the back facing second seat. And we’re off, back down the mountain, in the gathering darkness.
At the highway bridge across the hot river our vans join the other parked vehicles and the guide announces that we should remove everything we don’t want to get wet including our shoes and that the driver will stay with the van so everything will be safe. All but the instructionally challenged comply. Since they don’t take the time to remove their shoes or clothing they are pretty much first across the road and down the path with the guide. When they reach the point where the water would swamp their shoes they stop to remove the shoes and necessary clothing for the activities. The rest of us wait in the darkness on the path above.
The path, stairs end at a concrete slab which is the bottom of the two square culverts supported the highway bridge. There is about four to six inches of water sluicing across it to the edge of the slab and a three foot fall into a large pool full of about fifty wet, happy people. Our twenty five or so join them by walking across the stream and down a rock stairway into the pool. There are flashlights in use and a number of tea candles get lit and placed in niches in the rock cliffs. A few people explore upstream to the other side of the highway or climb the cliff on the side of the pool, but most just wallow below the falls from the slab. The guide mixes drinks of Fresca and the local, clear moonshine. We stick to straight Fresca. The guide mixes the mud from the side of the path to the waterfalls and smears it on people’s faces. Not mine. Not Juanita. We’ve earned our wrinkles. Plus I harbor the suspicion that the whole activity is more to do with the guide’s amusement than anybody’s skin condition. Some story to share with other guides over the remains of the moonshine.
Eventually we work our way back up to and across the highway to the van and dress as much as we choose and put on our shoes. The guide announces we will be stopping at a restaurant and then be dropped off at our hotels. One couple wants to get back to book tomorrow’s tour and the enthusiasm re: a restaurant stop was underwhelming from the rest of us. The subject never came up and we were all dropped at our hotels. We got home about 8:30. Bed followed closely after.
February 17 – Monday – La Fortuna to San Jose
Our hotel hosts were a married couple. Like many of us married couples they were not always precisely on the same page. They weren’t on quite the same page as the hotel’s web page. The web page said that they cooked breakfast for the guests but the guests could cook other meals. On our arrival we had asked about meals and times. We asked about cooking other meals. He said well they cooked the breakfast, but the kitchen was theirs for their use to cook their breakfast. I put the eggs we had bought in the fridge and forgot about them. Am sure they got used. Not on the same page as their web page.
The husband had said that they were up at five a.m. breakfast could be any time after that. We had showed up at seven the day before which seems to be our normal time. That worked. Today with wanting to be out waiting on the highway shortly after 7:30 we were out in the breakfast area by about quarter after six. The coffee was on and the wife was starting to put out cutlery and runners on the tables. I went over to her and said what we wanted for breakfast. She advised me quite firmly that breakfast was at “siete” (seven). Okay. Not on same page. I decided we could live with that and just have all our packing done before seven. We were about to go back to the room and work on that, when we started talking with another guest. I guess we talked long enough because by a little after six thirty the wife showed up with our breakfast and put it on the table. I thanked her even if Juanita didn’t get what I ordered for her. After breakfast we went and finished packing and turned in the keys and walked across the highway where were told the bus to Quesada would pick us up at “seven-thirty, but closer to seven-forty-five”. We were standing there and the owner of the hotel came out of the driveway and lowered the window and wished us happy travels and told us not to wait there, but further around the corner. Okay. We moved from the shade and around the corner into the sun where we would not see the bus coming. After quite a while waiting a man showed up across the highway and asked if we were waiting for the bus and he directed us to stand further along the road. We moved. He was standing where he could see further up the highway toward town. When he saw the bus coming he crossed to our side. Wrong bus. About eight fifteen the bus came. It stopped a bit further down the highway and I walked down and made sure it was going to Quesada.
There are two buses a day from La Fortuna: at 12:45 and 2:45. However there are buses every hour or so to Quesada and buses from there every hour or so to San Jose. After a couple of hours of mostly agricultural countryside we arrived at San Carlos and the driver kicked everybody off. I was somewhat concerned about it not being Quesada but a couple of passengers reassured us and a young mother with her toddler walked us around the corner of the building and pointed to the ticket office and the waiting San Jose bus. Later we checked the map and it showed both names for the town with one in brackets. I bought tickets and waited with the suitcases while Juanita headed into the ladies room. When she came out it was my turn for the men’s. When I came out she was gone. Along with the luggage. I looked around and saw her standing in line for the bus and joined her.
The road to San Jose was more mountainous and winding than the road we had just been over. It was not particularly wide, but had pavement in good shape. A couple of hours of this and we arrived at San Jose. Getting off the bus we were swarmed by taxi drivers and we kind of committed to one, and he was still there when we had made our bathroom breaks and picked up a cheese tortilla at one food place and a couple of smoothies at another.
Our digs for the night was a hostel that bills itself as a bed and breakfast. Juanita had booked it last August on line. When we arrived they said they had no record of a reservation and would we mind staying in a dorm? We fussed a bit and showed the clerk our copy of the confirmation e-mail filed on our laptop. After he came back from talking to the owner he showed us a room and we started the paperwork. The e-mail had said that they took credit cards. The clerk said that cash would be a lot better. Cash it was. Then he challenged to rate. Out with the e-mail to prove the quoted rate. All is good again. We store our stuff and put our laptop in the backpack and head out to the Gold and Currency museum. The guide book says it is closed Mondays, but we take a chance and it is open and quite interesting with displays of pre-Columbian gold and set-ups of how the pre-Columbian locals made cast and hammered gold artifacts. The money was mildly interesting for a non Costa Rican.
Then we walked to the tourist office and got a map and walked a few blocks to a park and a building across from it that had been prefabricated in Belgium and assembled in San Jose. Then back to the central avenue for some American style fast food at Taco Bell. Not quite the same flavor or texture as the States or Canada. Then we walked back home to our comfortable little room in a rickety old wooden building and watched some TV in the common room until we were having trouble staying awake and we walked down the hall to the bathroom and back tour room and crashed.
February 18 – Tuesday – San Jose
Breakfast was billed as being at seven. Along about 5:30 there were the plate noises coming from the dining area. I took it to be people cooking their own breakfasts. Nope. They set the food out for the continental breakfast and people serve themselves pineapple slices, toast and jam, juice, or sugar frosted flakes. This is still going on at seven when we show up and eat and visit with fellow travellers.
Our plan for the day is to walk up through the Spanish Park, visit the Jade Museum and walk back through the National Park to the National Museum. The Jade Museum is closed and will reopen soon when the move is complete. We stop in the National Park and do verb drills for a while before going to the National Museum. It is an old army fort that was handed over to the museum when the army was abolished in 1948 after the civil war. Some interesting displays of pre-Columbian culture and artifacts, a butterfly garden and many historical displays from colonial through modern times.
Cutting across the plaza from the National Museum we saw a sign for Wong’s Restaurant and dim sum. It was nice change from gallo pinto. Then we walked back up the Central Avenue to the Opera House and did a tour of that followed by coffee and feeding pigeons in the park before doing some more wandering and park sitting.
Then we decided to go to Walmart and walked around until we found a bus that said it was going there. It dropped us off on the side fo the freeway and we climbed the bank and walked across the overpass and there we were. We came back through a bit more conventional bus stop.
Home again after a hamburger at McDonald’s. It tasted like North America. Noting worth watching on TV. Early to bed.
February 19 – Wednesday – San Jose to San Isidro de General
Early to rise. Visit over breakfast with fellow retired Canadian. He is staying in a dorm room. A mixed dorm room. I’m glad we didn’t accept the bait and switch at check-in. I don’t think our normal sleepwear is fit for mixed company other than our own.
Walk out of hotel. There are lots of cabs going by but all have a passenger. Metered cabs don’t seem to pick up and drop off passengers. An empty cab goes by but the cabbie doesn’t notice us. I shout and he stops and pulls over and we get in and ask to go to the bus terminal for buses to San Isidro. He seems a bit confused, but I had the cross streets and he headed there and dropped us off behind it. We walked around the corner and found the ticket windows. There were two line-ups with no recognizable city names shown on either. Juanita got in one line and I got in the other. I got to my wicket first and bought two tickets to San Isidro de General. Seems we want the bus to Perez Zeledon which we later learn is the Canto of which San Isidro on the General River is the capital.
Juanita had seen our hotel just off the main road before we pulled into the bus terminal so we fought off the taxi drivers and we walked around the corner and checked into the Thunderbird Resort and Casino. The room is mid-price for Costa Rico, but a bargain by Canadian standards. Also a pretty nice room by either standard. We got settled in, washed some shirts and hung them to dry and left for a walk around town. We found a spot for lunch and walked several blocks past several alternate bus terminals until we found the one for the bus to Uvita. We bought tickets for the nine o’clock bus and walked home.
The room was hot and muggy despite the air conditioner. It was hot outside, but cooler than the room. The receptionist brought up another controller and it didn’t help. Eventually they offered us a different room. We ended up in a Jacuzzi suite that is bigger than our house near Meadow Lake. Yes. This will do.
February 20 – Thursday – San Isidro de General
Breakfast is North American, brunch style, serve yourself.
All the guests seem to be Americans and Canadians.
All the attractions in town are miles away so we settled in for a relaxing day of reading, writing and surfing. We ventured out for lunch and for smoothies at dinner time. I also contributed 4,000 Colones ($8) to a slot machine in the casino, drank my “free” Coke and came back to the room.
A quiet day. Finished reading a novel I started over a week ago and handled a few e-mails. Juanita had the first bath for two months. All the places we have been staying have had showers not bath tubs.
February 21 – Friday – San Isidro de General to Uvita
Breakfast is scheduled for 6:30.
Bus is scheduled for 9:00.
We had breakfast scheduled and a good visit with a retired school teacher from Regina. Then I grabbed a shower and finished packing. Juanita, of course, was more advanced in her packing. When time came to leave the room I paused at the door and decided we had been consistent enough that I didn’t need to do a walk-through. Later it appears my hat is no longer with us. There were no cabs on the streets near the hotel so we walked up to the corner near the highway to go around the corner to the bus terminal for the San Jose buses. Just as we got to the corner a cab was pulling off the highway and we flagged him down. As we were getting into the cab the desk clerk rushed up with Juanita’s camera. Going to start doing walkthroughs again every time we leave a hotel room.
The cab dropped us off at the Blanco bus terminal and we joined the people waiting there. Our seats were 10 and 11, across the aisle from each other. I directed Juanita to seat 11 next to the pretty young woman and I went to get into the seat next to the old guy. Oh, the sacrifices we make! This older guy had several super market shopping bags with him. His assigned seat was the window seat. He wanted me to sit in the window sat since he was going far and had to get out of his seat and off the bus quickly when it stopped by the side of the highway. Actually the bus stops in its lane since there is no shoulder to speak of in most spots. But I digress. I managed to convince him he would be better off in the other aisle seat and Juanita moved to the window seat and we could sit together for the whole trip.
The trip from San Jose to San Isidro a couple of days before went over the seriously winding and steep road over the Cerro de Muerte (Ridge of the Dead). The highway from San Isidro de General was moderately windy and a bit steep as it wound its way out of the valley and up the mountains between the interior and the coast. It is very reminiscent of the Sechelt Peninsula road of my youth. At one point we zoo past a property with a 727 fuselage converted to living quarters. Perhaps this one http://www.costaverde.com/727.htm
When we hit the tee intersection with the coastal highway the bus turned south went a few hundred meters and turned into beach village of Dominical. You could see the surf through the palm trees as we went slowly along the main street. A few people got off, a few more got on. The bus reached the end of the town, turned around and proceeded to retrace its path back to the highway. A lot more people got on. Most of them and the people we saw walking the dusty street were surfer types including many who looked like the sixties either like they had been there or like the people did who were there.
Shortly after turning back onto the highway the bus stopped at a police check stop and the police got on and walked through the bus. They gave Juanita and me a pamphlet on tactics to avoid being robbed or harmed by human predators.
We got off the bus at the side of the highway in Uvita and asked around for directions to the Tucan Hotel. It was 200 meters inland from the intersection where we were standing. We stopped at a souvenir store looking for a wide brimmed hat. Nothing suitable. Then we walked across the street and topped up out CR cell phone before walking the remaining block to the Tucan Hotel. A sign on the gate said they were so sorry but they were full until February 25. Glad we have a reservation. We rang the bell and the lock buzzed and we entered and were met by a minion. He had no record of our reservation. He found the manager. She read the printout of our confirmation e-mail and said they were full and there probably wasn’t a room in town. She checked her books and told us to leave our bags in her and her husband’s quarters and she would get on the phone and see what she could find. She offered us smoothies while we waited. There is a music festival in town. A number of performers are in the common area, interacting and practicing acrobatic and juggling type skills. The manager connects with another hotel, Las Cabanas Rana Roja (Red Frog Cabins). With our bus ticket in limbo I ask her to check if a third night is available. There may be a chance to change our “open” Tica Bus tickets and cross over the border to Panama on a Tica Bus from Uvita. She finds a hotel with a room. She says it is a much better room and she will call us a cab. We will pay them what we would have paid the Tucan and the Tucan will make up the difference. We enjoy our complementary fruit drink and decide to put the cab on hold while we walk to the “whale” a couple of blocks away. The Tica Bus ticket folder says the Uvita ticket agency is in the “Ballena” and sure enough we went past it on the bus. We walk the three blocks. The door on the side of the whale is lowered into place and padlocked. I call the number on the whale tour sign. The person will be there at one. We walk back to the Tucan. It is about 11:45 we decide not to wait until the whale opens and the manager’s minion calls us a cab.
We register at the Red Frog. It is about three kilometers from Uvita but only three blocks from the entrance to the national park gate to access Uvita beach. I arrange with the cab driver to come back at one. He says1:30 would be better, but it seems that he agrees to come back for us at 1:00. Our new room is a lot bigger than the room we had booked. It has a better air conditioner. IT has a couple of extra beds we will just use for unloading luggage. It has kitchen privileges. It has cable TV. It does not, however, seem like it would be worth more than twice per night what we were paying. The cabbie is a no show. At 1:35 we walk to town. The whale is open. The times for the Tica Bus are at 3 p.m. or 4 a.m. The 3 p.m. one would get us to our destination in Panama about 7. After dark. The 4 a.m. would involve getting up in the middle of the night and finding a ride into town. It was bad enough walking in the daylight with no luggage. Luggage and darkness. No way. Besides we would have to go to San Jose (a six hour bus ride) to change our tickets. The Tica Bus agent at the Nicaragua-Costa Rica border was not entirely accurate. Tracopa has a better schedule. We will leave Uvita Sunday as per original plan and go to Golfito. We walk a block and buy a ticket for ten a.m. on Sunday to Golfito. When we get to Golfito we will buy a ticket to the border from there. You can’t buy a ticket across the border from that close to the border. We will walk no man’s land and try to do the paperwork without benefit of a bus company. On the other side of no man’s land we will buy a bus ticket for our first destination in Panama. Another adventure. We walk back to the main intersection in town and check restaurant meal prices and then check the tourist office about cabs. Good luck! But there is a 3:30 bus to Playa Uvita. We have time to go across the street and buy groceries and a hat and get back and wait in the shade for the bus to show up. Once back to the hotel we walk to the beach and wade in the surf and talk to other tourists (http://wilddolphinjourneys.com/) then walk home before dark and Juanita cooks supper and we eat and settle in to cable TV.
The manager from the Tucan had thought the previous manager had lost our reservation. She called to exonerate him and (maybe blame us) by saying she found an e-mail from the end of November where she had told us that she had switched our reservation to a different hotel. We never seem to have received that e-mail. In any case she didn’t expect us to move to that one. I am not sure how much traveling we plan to do in Costa Rica in the future. It’s nice an all, but isn’t that different than Nicaragua and everything seems to cost twice as much whether it is rooms or meals or groceries. I guess wages are higher here. But if we do stay in Uvita again I would like to spend it at the Tucan. It has a homey feel. It is a long way from the beach but close to everything else and they do have a daily shuttle to the beach and back.
February 22 – Saturday – Uvita
We take our time getting mobile in the morning and wait for the kitchen rush to die down before Juanita makes our breakfast. Then we walk to the beach. Just outside the park entrance we rent a mask and snorkel.
Walk to the whale’s tale which is about a forty five minute walk from the park entrance. The whale’s tale is a stretch of exposed bedrock that cuts across the end of the sand spit, forming two crescent bay’s on the lee side. On a map it looks just like a whale’s tale. At low tide the surf breaks on the flukes and the area sheltered by them is said to be good for snorkeling.
Wade in. Water pretty cloudy. See three bright yellow, black striped fish who seem to enjoy swimming in my shade so once they have found me stay with me for quite a while. Then we walk on the rocks of the whale’s tale and check out tidal poles before a brief second round of snorkeling before walking back, river wading, returning the rental gear, stopping for a smoothie each and walking back to the hotel. We paused occasionally to admire the flowering shrubs and trees. One a couple of trees with orange coloured blossoms we see iguanas walking the branches munching on blossoms.
Around one Juanita cooked lunch. Then we walked up to a nearby food store and bought more eggs and bananas and some coffee filters which we failed to find yesterday and walked back and had coffee and a nap. From then on we relaxed and read and e-mailed when the hotel Wi-Fi worked. The owner showed up and I mentioned the Wi-Fi but he looked confused and nothing changed. The network shows up and every almost connects but not quite.
After supper we watched TV and kept checking the Wi-Fi. Nope. There was a brief power failure and that reset the Wi-Fi. There was e-mail confirmation of tomorrow’s lodgings. We were still in their system. We are getting nervous, I guess.
Then it was bedtime.
February 23 – Sunday – Uvita to Golfito
We are awake around 6:30 and Juanita cooks breakfast before the breakfast rush. I have shower while she is cooking, then we work together to make coffee. Our coffee filter plus recycled Cup of Soup cup with a hole in the bottom coffee makers work okay with a bit of tendency for the filter to sag over. While cleaning up I notice a homemade coffee filter made from panty hose and a piece of wire. That would probably have worked better, but it still nice to have coffee with breakfast. We take our breakfast into our air conditioned room. It is already pretty warm and quite humid even under cover.
After mostly packing I check with the guy in the office. It is not the owner, but he says he will remind the owner that we need a ride to the bus station. I finish packing and finish some blog postings for the last two days and cut and paste them into the web site and publish it. I am just finishing pasting the first one and the guy says the boss is back from picking up tour guests and wants to go now. I tell him five or ten minutes and the site finished publishing while we finish packing and do a walk around. Then the laptop is packed up and we leave.
At the terminal we grab a table outside and I go through the cafeteria line and by two coffees to keep us while we wait the hour or less until the bus arrives. I write the blog this far and then go on to other writings. There is a new Buddy Tale called Oh Gee!
A couple of buses stop and people get off and use the bathrooms and buffet line and the buses leave. A little after ten our bus arrives and everybody gets off. I give our tickets to the driver and we discuss putting our bags under the bus in the cargo space or up in the passenger area (arriba). Arriba is his decision and he locks the bus and goes on break. When he comes back we and everybody else get on. Our tickets are for seats eleven and twelve. I think they charge for the whole route of the bus so your seat is available when it gets to your stop. There may have been a roadside pick-up sitting there, but they have to move when you show up We are on the bus early and I expect maybe somebody will fuss and keep our tickets handy, but nobody shows up.
The bus leaves. It stops a lot but still the trip is quick, taking about two hours to Golfito. We don’t see our hotel on the beach as we head into town. Even if we had we had decided to ride to the end of the line and buy a tickets for the border tomorrow. Should have asked during the trip. When we got to the end the bus driver says there are no tickets. You just pay the driver. If I had asked that and asked to be dropped off at Hotel Mar y Luna (The Sea and Moon Hotel) we would have saved four dollars in cab fare, but woudn’t have seen the rest of the town. Cheap tour.
The hotel room is not ready. The last people were messy, I guess. So we have lunch on the restaurant deck overlooking the bay. Fish tacos for me and seafood rice for Juanita. We are both stuffed. There is a 23% tax on restaurant meals. With that and a tip, two meals would cost more than a room for the night. But it was wonderful and not staying in Uvita in a concrete bungalow tonight ($20/night more) subsidizes the meal.
After an hour and a half long lunch we took our stuff to our room, got the air conditioner going and washed some things and hung them to dry and read for a while to cool off. At four we emerged and a cloud cover had built up cooling things a bit. Somebody found me a life jacket and carried a kayak down to the beach and I paddled away for an hour, visiting some French Canadian guys on a charter boat and chatting with a local fisherman and his son. There were a couple of buzzards sitting on a sandbar in a river mouth, but I guess they weren’t waiting for me since they left when I showed up.
When I got back and beached the kayak and turned in the life vest we went back to the room and I rinsed the sea water out of my shirt, shoes and swim trunks and hung them to dry before showering and changing and going back to the restaurant deck to web surf, read, write and enjoy smoothies for supper.
After breakfast tomorrow we plan to step out the hotel gate and wait on the side of the road for the bus to the border with Panama. I guess we pay an exit fee from Costa Rica, an entrance fee to Panama and have to prove to Panama that we are going to leave and that we have enough money for before that.
February 24 – Monday – Golfito, Costa Rica to David, Panama
Up in the morning out on the road….Well not really. We got up. We ate breakfast and enjoyed the view over the water on the restaurant deck then we finished packing and were standing by the side of the road at eight o’clock. The bus driver said yesterday that the buses from Golfito leave there every hour on the hour starting at five a.m. Two schedules online say there will be a bus at 8:15. The desk clerk said 8:30. My bet is on the bus driver and we won. The hotel is about five minutes from the bus depot and the bus showed up at 8:05.
One and a half hours of stop and go picking up and dropping off passengers and the bus pulled into the shed in no-man’s land and everybody got off. I assumed that we were still in Costa Rica and started walking generally south. Juanita said that we were going the wrong way. She was right. The cab driver pointed out the Costa Rican building back behind us and the Panamanian one ahead of us. We had gone about half way in the wrong direction so retraced our steps and found a window that said Salida (exit) were given out forms and found a place to fill them out and got back in the very short line for the window and the person behind the window stamped our passports. I changed all our Colones for U.S. dollars at a bank wicket and we walked back past the bus shed and to the Costa Rican offices. There the person wanted to see our airplane reservations and he stamped our passports. He didn’t ask us about five hundred dollars or to see a credit card. Somebody in the hostel in Panama said that when he went through the line was long and they asked for a credit card and that wasn’t enough he had to leave the line, walk back to the Costa Rican side and get a printout from the bank machine showing he had more than five hundred dollars credit available and then come back to the end of a long line. I guess we looked like we had the money or maybe since we are scheduled out March 12th it wasn’t such a big deal. No exit tax and no entrance fee. Times have changed since the guide books were written.
We walked away from the office and it was pretty obvious where the buses were and we got on a bus and in a couple of minutes it was full enough to leave for David. The highway on the Panamanian side of the border is smooth, four-lane div ided highway all the way to David. It took about two hours with stops to pick up and drop off school kids (morning shift was over and afternoon shift hadn’t started) and other passengers.
At the bus depot in David we walked to the other side to check for buses to Boquete tomorrow. Yep. There’s a slot for them. Time to find a taxi. Three bucks gets us a ride to the hostel. The room is not quite ready so we have a glass of Coke in the bar /restaurant area and log into e-mail. After the room is ready we leave our stuff and go out front intending to walk to McDonald’s and the supermarket, but a cab was dropping somebody off and quoted us two bucks and then somebody else jumped in and we split the fare.
After lunch we walked two blocks back to the supermarket and bought eggs and other groceries for supper and breakfast. While Juanita paid for the groceries I joined the line at the drug counter and bought some cold meds for some sniffles etc. They wanted my passport so they could give me the seniors’ discount. About twenty percent. A pleasant surprise.
A cab back cost $1.50. The coins here are a mix of U.S. and Panamanian Bolivas, but the paper money is all $US. That makes it simple. There isn’t that slight pause while you do the arithmetic every time somebody quotes a price.
We wrote our name on and stowed the groceries in the communal fridge. Then Juanita set up the computer for e-mailing and I changed into swim trucks and swam in the pool and then lay in a hammock reading a book about the life and death of Pope John Paul 1. About a third of the way through and it is still a page turner. There’s nothing like a well written conspiracy theory to keep you reading.
After supper we got talking to a couple from Toronto who then went across the street to the restaurant, then to a Dutch girl and an Austrian girl. I’ll post this and go to bed. We seem to have lost an hour crossing the border and it is close to my bedtime according to the clock.
February 25 – Tuesday – David to Boquete
Up early and eventually we made breakfast (Juanita) and coffee (Paul) and then sat and visited with other travellers until it was about ten so we went and packed and left. The owner offered to call a cab which showed up in a few minutes. We got in and said we were going to the bus depot for buses to Boquete and confirmed the three dollar fare. The driver offered to drive us all the way to Boquete for twenty-five dollars and I told him I was too poor and too cheap. He dropped the price to twenty bucks and still we declined. He dropped us off at the back of the bus and we started around it and met the conductor who opened the back door and stowed our bags in the aisle. We got on board and sat near the back so we could see our bags when the back door was opened.
There are no valuables in the bags we let out of our grip, but it would be a nuisance to lose more than half our clothes. “Take half the luggage and twice the money” is trip advice that even applies to traveling with carry-on. I have been keeping a list on my iPod for what not to bring next time. I think I can cut my luggage weight by fifty percent without sacrificing any convenience or functionality. The extra weight we are carrying is not stuff I am willing to throw away, but it is stuff I don’t plan to bring on our next trip. Some it is warmer clothing that is needed on the first and last day. Next time I will just wear everything I have in layers, which will make the bag really light those two days.
Boquete is quite a bit higher than David. Everybody in David said “Oh. You are going where it is cold.” It is colder than David, but not cold by our standards. David, on the other hand, is definitely hot by our standards. Just sitting in the cool of the evening in David talking to other people the sweat drips off every part of your body, exposed or otherwise. Boquete is pleasant and still shorts weather for us. We left David a little before eleven and arrived at Boquete at a quarter to twelve after travelling most of the way on divided highway. For once we saw our hotel as we passed it and the bus pulled over to let us off. The conductor got off with us and pulled our luggage out of the back door and handed it to us.
Juanita had been worried because the hostel had not answered her e-mails, but they were expecting us. Once we checked in and went on line she discovered an e-mail from them sent last night after we had called it a day. We were too busy visiting this morning for her to have checked her e-mail.
We walked up town in search of a restaurant Juanita had read about on line, picking up a free map of Panama on the way from a real estate office trying to get people in to hear about local properties. The restaurant was cafeteria style, but reasonably priced for Panama which is about the same as Costa Rica for restaurant meals with a lower tax rate. I asked for the senior discount, but they needed to see a Panamanian card not just a passport. Oh well.
On the bus there had been a woman in indigenous dress. Juanita had wanted a picture, but that was not going to happen without overt rudeness. However, on the way to lunch and after lunch we encountered many others and got several pictures while one of posed and the other one focussed the camera on the indigenous dressed person off to one side of and slightly behind the poseur.
We walked around town and explored some local sites and then bought groceries and headed back to the room for a while. I had answered an e-mail about my usual spring shutdown job yesterday and was hoping for an answer, but the hostel Wi-Fi was acting up. Around five we went to the bakery next door and they said they were closing. I asked about their sign saying they closed at six and he said they were shutting early to clean up for Carnival on the weekend. We discussed that as we walked up a block to another bakery. We have a couple of days where we do not have confirmed room bookings in the period of Carnival. We will do something about that no later than tomorrow.
At the bakery with intend on ordering the coffee and cheesecake special I had seen on their board, Juanita pointed out it said morning special and they confirmed her observation so we had something else and I checked my e-mail while we were there. Still no answer on the job. I did other surfing and we wandered back to the room. Our room is just off the reception area. That whole area was filling up with local people who were starting to discuss things rather passionately. We passed between them a few times on our way to the kitchen to prepare and eat supper. After supper I checked my e-mail again. The hotel Wi-Fi was still not working but I had part of an e-mail re: the job. I went out and talked to the receptionist but our joint efforts didn’t get the Wi-Fi going. She apologized for the meeting. They were there to discuss the problem with the town water. When we checked in I had asked the dayshift receptionist if the water was okay to drink and she said it was fine so we didn’t buy bottled water and had drunk a fair bit of tap water already. We left in search of bottled water. Didn’t find any water, but did have some coffee in a Mexican restaurant and used their Wi-Fi to download and answer the job offer. I am scheduled to start training in the last week of March and work on April 7. Yeah! Hopefully it will be warmer in Regina by then. This week it is supposed to be -40.
February 26 – Wednesday – Boquete
We took our time getting moving this morning. After the dance of the small communal kitchen we ate breakfast and then headed for a walk to a garden mentioned on-line and in guide books. It is a multi-acre affair owned by an individual but open to the public. It was a forty minute walk through town and out into the suburbs. On the way we found a pharmacy that sold glucosamine / chondroitin capsules individually. I was running low, but didn’t want to buy any more than I would use before flying back to Canada. I have had to flush Walgreen’s house brand vitamins down the toilet at the border because they contained a vitamin that you could buy in Canada but not import as an individual. No sense tempting bureaucracy. Quirky rules are not the exclusive territory of any particular country. Kinder egg surprise toys are found in Canada and in Central America but can result in a $US 500 fine each if you attempt to bring them into the United States. Can’t have a toy inside food there. But I digress.
On our way we went into a shop that sold hand painted ceramic tiles. Many of them were in the form of multiple tile scenes. It lookedlike they would produce custom tiles as well if you wanted a set with your name and a scene.
After we were out of town and walking along toward the garden we met a person coming toward us. We asked her about the garden and she said it was a ten or fifteen minute further walk, but that it was closed. The owner had died and they had closed it, but there was a coffee shop near there. We thought about turning back, but though we needed the walk and carried on. We passed the coffee shop and shortly after that came on the entrance to the garden. It had enough Closed signs in Spanish and English that one could hardly feign ignorance that it was closed and just wander in. We looked in from the sidewalk and then walked past the garden and turned down gravel road that ran along outside the property. We got a pretty good taste of its splendor by looking in over the fences and hedges before starting to walk back to town. The coffee shop looked okay. It had posters of available torus of coffee plantations and processing which would be interesting for somebody who hasn’t taken a coffee tour. At coffee prices starting at $2 a cup and unexceptional looking pastries we decided that our coffee break could wait until we were in town.
Once back in town we followed a different street and went to the grocery store. I stayed outside with our backpack while Juanita shopped. By hanging out at some stand-up tables with the local men I discovered that the grocery store sold small paper cups of espresso for forty-five cents so I bought one and joined the guys briefly until Juanita came out. Walking through town I priced a haircut and beard trim which was about twice the price of Nicaragua and half the price of Canada. I’ll wait another week. Also we checked out prices of houses displayed in real estate office windows. They are in the range of Canadian city prices. I guess the town is a popular spot an with retired gringos.
We dropped our purchases off in our room and went around the corner to the bakery that closed last night and discovered that it is closed Wednesdays so we walked back to the same one as yesterday and got there ten minutes before noon and in time for their free coffee with a cheese cake morning special. Juanita had the coffee. I drank a frappe and we shared the cheesecake (frambueso – raspberry/cheese).
Eventually we finished surfing and reading there and went back to the room to nap and do more reading and surfing. Juanita walked back to a couple of souvenir stores while I thought about having a shower, but I finished my book instead. When Juanita got back I managed to motivate myself to have a shower. Around six Juanita did the share the kitchen shuffle and I staked out a table and then we ate. More reading and a bit of writing.
Last night we booked a hotel for one of the missing days during Carnival. Juanita also sent an e-mail to another hotel about the other open day. No answer so far. Tomorrow we plan to go to Las Lajas for two nights stay. The nine o’clock siren just went off. I’ll post this and call it a night.
February 27 – Thursday – Boquete to Las Laja
Last night the desk clerk had asked if we were going to be leaving before eight o’clock. If so she would give us our $5 key deposit back. This is the first place we have stayed that took a key deposit. I guess they are solving past problems maybe with the tenters and the set of keys they give them to get into the building. We said no since were in no hurry to get to the next stop and then have to wait until check in time. Juanita pointed out that the printout said check-in time was eleven so there was no problem but we stayed with the after eight departure plan.
We were up for a moderately early breakfast and without any heroic efforts were walking up the street toward the square a little after eight. We walked on the street that the bus would travel down, just in case, but we figured we had just missed the 8:15 bus and could sit and have a coffee or two until the 9:15v bus. We got to the bus corner and the 8:15 was still sitting there so the driver stowed our bags in the back and we got on and the bus left just about right away.
There were enough bus windows open and enough closed that we had a breezy but not windblown ride on the four lane divided highway down from the mountains to the plains. The driver had no conductor so we paid as we got off the bus in drop-off lane outside the terminal at David. After our bathroom breaks we looked for a bus to Las Lajas. We were directed to a microbus for San Felix. It would drop us off at the junction to Las Lajas and we could get a cab. The conductor grabbed our bags to go in the back and directed us into the front seat. I sat by the window and Juanita sat on the flip-down seat next to mine and on top of the motor cover. Sitting there we noticed a bus bay a few over from us with a sign that included Las Lajas on its list. I slid back our window and started to hail the conductor from that microbus but the woman behind us said that the sign said Las Lajas but the bus there right now went somewhere else. I settled back down and our conductor slid the back closed from the outside to keep the air conditioned air inside.
Shortly afterward we left. It was a different experience sitting over the right front wheel and seeing how close we strayed to the edge of the shoulder and the drop-off as the driver swerved to miss the bigger potholes. The two lane Inter American highway is under construction south of David. They are ripping up trees and building new culverts for the many streams to the coast to add another two lanes. In the meantime the existing road surface is showing its age. At places the bus driver drives on the wrong side of the road to avoid rough spots at other times he rides the shoulder. Unlike a lot of bus rides I have a pretty good view. Perhaps too good. But it’s not all bad. We see interesting things as well. There are people standing by the side of the road holding parakeets for sale. There are fish vendors in roadside booths with coolers of fish and the occasional red snapper like fish hinging there. One stand has a couple of salad fixings bags about two feet tall with a large green stalk of something and a red vegetable and other vegetables.
We stop for gas about half way to Las Lajas. The driver stalls the bus as he pulls up to the pumps and gets a bit of verbal flak from the conductor and the bystanders at the pump but he quickly restarts the motor so it can be running while the fuel tank is added to.
At the junction of the road to Las Lajas the bus stops and the conductor retrieves our bags and we share a cab with the lady who told us not to bother hailing the other bus and off we go. I tell the driver that name of the “hotel” and he doesn’t know about it but he does seem to know the term MIDA which is the other landmark given in the printout of our reservation. As we are zipping along the highway I read “Las Pepitas” on a small sign and yell out and by the time the cab is stopped we are in front of the MIDA office and we pay our buck and get out and walk back the hundred meters in the blazing sun and soul soaking humidity. The room is not quite ready because check in time is way later, but we sit on the porch and check e-mail and sign the register and pay. The owner seems bemused with the eleven o’clock on the printout. Her English is pretty good, but there are other misunderstandings while we talk that suggest the on-line form may have been filled out wrong. We asked about restaurants and she recommended an Italian one about two hundred meters back up the road toward the Inter-American highway. She phoned and checked that they were open for lunch.
The “Hospedaje La Pepita De Maranon Bed and Breakfast” has a couple of rooms that are part of the owners’ main house and a small building in the corner of the garden. We had booked the small building. It is incredibly charming. The basic structure is post and beam with a palapa thatched roof. The spaces between the posts is filled with masonry of either stone work or bottles set in mortar. The stones provide privacy in the bathroom and the bottles provide light. We put our bags in the room and walked up the highway to the restaurant. Oh! Did I mention it was hot and humid? Our cabin has a fan but no air conditioning. This is going to be interesting.
We survive the walk to the restaurant. The restaurant was very pleasant. We had choices between tables inside or out. The inside tables had a pleasant view of the valley and large screened windows to let in the bit of a breeze. Chatting to the owner/waitress about the heat she mentioned that the cabins are air conditioned. We discussed how expensive electricity is and she commented that for forty-five dollars a night that covered the cost of electricity pretty well. That’s five bucks a night less than what we are paying for just a fan. Hmm.
After a mere nineteen dollars for two plates of ravioli and two cans of soda we walked back to our cabin. It was ready. We unpacked a bit and then walked out to the road to flag down a cab. We fail. They all have passengers. We are dying in the early afternoon sun so we walk a bit to some shade. It is not very dense. We walk a bit further to another shady spot. Then a bit further to another. A cab ride from our digs to town is two bucks. By the time I flag down a cab and talk to the driver it is only a buck but he doesn’t want to turn around since he is headed to the main highway. He also quotes twelve dollars to the beach and back with him waiting for five or ten minutes while we have a look. I decline and he leaves. While we are talking to him a bus passes in the direction of the town and the beach. We just see it’s backend after it is out of hailing range. We are distressed by this.
We start walking and get to the edge of town. There are just houses with no signs of a main square or businesses other than a corner store. We keep walking. Oh! Did I mention how hot and humid it is? I think I’d pay five bucks for a smoothie in the shade somewhere. We keep walking past a large elementary school. There must be a town here somewhere. Eventually we see a bigger store and a church. Then a block later we see an information center. It is closed. We sit in the shade and sweat and think about alternatives. We start walking and we run into a person and ask about the downtown (“el centro”) he says it is just a couple more blocks and goes across the street o stand in the shade and wait for a bus. We walk further. There is largish grocery store. We need food and water for later, but don’t want to carry it to the beach so I ask when they close. “Ten o’clock”. Good we can buy something on the way back.
A van/bus is going by in the direction of the beach. I flag it down. The guy we asked for directions from is inside. I push Juanita inside and ask about the beach as I am getting in. Nope. Not going to the beach. We get out and continue walking. While were discussing the beach with the van the bigger bus came back from further in the town. Apparently buses go no further than the town. To get the additional ten kilometers the only option is taxi or private car. No buses. The van that kicked us out, having gone around the block, also comes past headed back out toward the main highway. We walk a couple more blocks. There are crowd noises coming out of a bar. I ponder the joy of a cold beer, but know it wouldn’t stop at one so take a pass on that idea. We glance in the bar. The place is empty the crowd noises recorded. Kind of like a laugh track for a comedy show. We glance in a small local café. Prices are in the two or three dollar range. Not a tourist spot.
Another block of walking takes us to the town square. An arrow points the direction to a Heladeria (ice creamery) Italiana. I guess the Italians that didn’t come to Powell River or Trail came here. The place is closed but the sign says they open at two. We can wait four minutes. No smoothies, but it is air conditioned and has cold cans of iced green tea. We have one each and the fat guy has a three flavoured bowl of gelato. The prices are North American levels, and I think we might be the only customers but some high school kids stop by and some other locals. We take our time and decide on a plan. We finish and go back out and walk to the grocery store and buy some supplies and then flag down a cab for a ride back to our hotel. I arrange for him to pick us up at eleven tomorrow and take us to the beach for six bucks.
Back at the room we read that we can get a discount for a beach resort through the bed and breakfast. The plan evolves. Then we settle in for a sweatathon. Juanita sits outside chasing the shade around our cabin and reads. I have a nap on the bed with the fan blowing in me. There is a brief power failure and I wake up but then the fan starts and I doze off again. The bed and breakfast is named after the fruit which produces cashew nuts. There is a fleshy fruit a little smaller than an apple. The pod with the cashew in it sticks off the bottom of the fruit. A couple had fallen in front of the door to the cabin and the owner had just kicked them away. From this we assumed they were worthless and in breaks from reading Juanita fed them to the horse on the other side of the fence. Later I saw the owner picking them from the tree and asked what they were. Apparently the roasting of the nut is quite involved and you can make juice or jam from the fruit.
After dark it starts to cool off and we both have showers and then sit with the fan sweeping across as we read. We go to bed on top of the sheet with the fan blowing on us. Somewhere in the middle of the night it cools enough to get under a sheet. But just barely.
February 28 – Friday – Las Lajas & Playa Las Lajas
Once it was dark and we shut the lights out when we went to bed we raised the blind on the screened window. The fan sucked in some cooler air during the night and we both slept well. As the dawn occurred we dropped the blind until after we were dressed. Stepping out of the cabin into the cooler morning was delightful. A little before seven I padded past the pineapple plants on the edge of the gravel patch and went over to the porch on the main house and sat at the table. After a while the owner came out and we chatted about the hat and the unusual humidity and about the cabin structure. I contend that if they were to repeat the building they should add a second screened window for cross ventilation or add a screen to the sliding glass door. She said that the palapa high pitched roof is supposed to cool the cabin, but that they had had problems with finding somebody that could do a quality job and so there was plastic under it that restricted air flow and that they had had to add the ceiling fabric to catch bits falling off the roof. Apparently these roofs are not supposed to moult if they are built right. They have problems with the roof on the main house and needed to replace it but have missed the window of this winter’s dry season. Dry season starts in December and you need to be ready to act then. Their plan is to replace the main house roof at the end of this year. I shared pictures before and after of the palapa roofs in Aldama that burnt this winter in a matter of minutes with the fire being spread from building to building by the wind.
I asked about when breakfast was and she said “now, if you want it” and I went and got Juanita. Breakfast was toast and a choice of jams. We sampled juice from the cashew fruit and decided on a blended banana drink instead. Definitely an acquired taste. I can understand why you don’t see cashew juice in the supermarket. The jam made from cashew fruit was better although liked it more than Juanita did. Coffee and sliced fruit rounded out the meal. Today was bananas and pineapple with promises of papaya tomorrow.
We asked about the discount at the Las Lajas Resort and she phoned them and arranged for us to show up. I stayed on the porch and keyboarded for a while, but the sun was on my legs and the screen was hard to see so I retired to the cabin and set up a table and c hair in front of the fan and keyboarded until it was time to pack our bag and get ready for the eleven o’clock cab. The Wi-Fi connection in the cabin comes and goes so about ten thirty I went back to the porch and cut and pasted some of the keyboarded into our blog and picked up e-mail messages. We have a confirmed extension of our stay in Santa Fe so there are no more gaps in our booked accommodations during Carnival.
Just before eleven we went out front and stood in the shade and watched traffic. We turned down one cab, and continued to wait for our eleven o’clock cab to show up. At five past we started looking for other options. A San Felix bus/van came by and we flagged it down and got in. It was pretty empty but soon filled with school kids. We rode it into town, got out and paid our buck sixty and stood in the shade until we flagged down a cab with two women passengers in it. The cabbie quoted us five bucks to the beach so we got in and rode around town until the two women got off at their destinations and I got in the front for more leg room and off we went to Las Lajas Beach Resort. The office was locked so we went down to the bar where the staff was eating lunch and then walked back to the office with the receptionist to pay our fifteen bucks for two day passes (normally ten each without discount) which come with towels, Wi-Fi, use of the pool and the right to order and pay for a nine dollar hamburger or some of the less budget items on their lunch menu. Nice facility. I think we will enjoy our afternoon on the beach and beside the pool. Probably will stick to eating the snacks we brought with us and will dine at one or several of the booths we saw being set up for Carnival along the main drag back in town.
We sat at a table in the restaurant area, ate a can of peanuts and read and keyboarded for quite a while. We then left our towels and the bag with the laptop in a secure office and went for a walk on the beach. The guide book says it is ten miles long. I’ll take its word for it. It seemed to stretch forever in both directions. The guide book also said there was cheap restaurant with fish mains for around $4 at the end of the road. I took that to mean the end of the gravel road running parallel to the beach and we turned right and walked for about ten minutes with two people way in the distance and no sign of anything but palm trees and vegetation on the landside of the beach. Juanita said that maybe the guide book meant the end of the paved road. I pulled out my iPod and reread the guide. We turned around and walked back past the resort and found the named restaurant with its empty ranks of palapas and faded peeling paint. From the beach side it looked abandoned but as we approached we realized that there was some sign of life, but not much.
Standing at the order counter looking in there was no sign of food. The drinks cooler was empty. The guy behind the counter said that they were open. The menu was on the wall. It mentioned fish ($8), chicken with fries and a daily special ($4). The chicken was crossed out. They had no daily special. We opted out and walked back up the beach accompanied by the restaurant dog who got bored with us checking out the crab burrows and sat down a little out of the surf. On the way back we discussed that it was two o’clock and that we weren’t that hungry so maybe we would share a hamburger, but decided to order a couple of iced coffees and were happy with that choice. Our original table was in a prime spot and had been grabbed when we left for the beach so we sat in a new spot that was actually better with the sun having moved. It has a good a view, but more shade and a better breeze.
Eventually we moved closer to the pool and I changed and took a dip and then sat and read unto almost dry and changed back. Along about then we realized we were being eaten by the ants whose path we seemed to be on. I walked to the office and ordered a cab and we sat back at our original table while we waited the expected forty minutes. When the cab showed up on schedule at five thirty we removed our wrist bands, dropped the towels off at the office and got in.
On our way to the resort as the highway ended we looked for a sign for tomorrow night’s hotel. We saw the general area and a cluster of buildings but nothing definitive. On the way back we asked the cabbie and he pointed out the “white building”. As we entered Las Lajas the driver tried to drop us off at the first booth that had food but it was across the street from a tent with a stereo with organ damaging levels of what passes for music. We had him drop us at the far end of the booths. Many of the booths were obviously wrapping it us for the day and we walked back and checked out the others. The food was in cases illuminated by curly bulbs which would do nothing to keep temperatures above bacteria promoting levels so we had a couple of smoothies which we finished on our walk back to the grocery store. After buying stuff to eat tonight and tomorrow we walked across the street and waited for a taxi to flag done as it was getting dark. There were no cabs for a while but they two tried to stop for us at the same time.
It had rained in town and at the bed and breakfast and it was cooler than the night before. We still slept with the fan on us, starting out on top of the sheet. Slept when we could, that is, over the noise of the barking dogs, the fireworks which lasted until around 1 a.m. and the party a few properties down. Tomorrow is a new month. We plan to move to a hotel a block off yesterday’s beach. Checkout time is noon. On the way back from the beach we arranged for a cab at noon. We’ll see. It’s 0 for 2 so far for prescheduled cabs showing up when promised.