Friday, January 4, 2008

Nicaragua to Costa Rica (19 Dec 2007 to 3 January 2008)

Well, it’s been awhile since I’ve written so lots of random thoughts floating around my head…

Nicaragua was a good experience, the colonial town of Granada was beautiful, with its large yellow and red chapel dominating the skyline…all two blocks of the Historic Center. Wasn’t in the mood for photographing so I whiled away a few days on the lake, reading, chatting, daydreaming…

I journeyed on to Isla de Ometepe, so I took a bus towards Rivas, then jumped off to get on the ferry to Isla de Ometepe. This beautiful island has two active volcanoes on it, and is in the middle of Lago de Nicaragua, an enormous lake that appears as an ocean almost, because it is so huge and there always seem to be waves on it due to the wind. I had jumped into a taxi with a Swiss girl, Carole, and we went together to the boat. We both didn’t have much of a plan and we decided to stick together once we got on the island. A bumpy long ride over to Hacienda Merida where it was full of English speaking travelers, but a nice tranquil spot on the lake.

The next day we caught a bus over to Santa Cruz and walked to Balgue; a long, hot walk, but friendly people and nice views. We left really early the next morning with 2 Australians from Melbourne to go over to San Juan del Sur. This beach town was exactly what I needed, Carole and I wandered around from restaurant to café and did a whole lot of nothing on the beach.

On the 23rd of December we decided to go to San Jose, Costa Rica rather than waiting for the 24th because we had heard rumors of nightmarish accounts of crowded border crossings and buses full of robbers…well, I hope I never have to see what it’s like on the 24th.

We got a bus from San Juan del Sur to Rivas at 5.45am, waited about an hour to hop on the TicaBus at 8am, and all was smooth until the border. At Sapoa, the border town, we first had to get off the bus for 20 minutes (which turned out to be about 30) and wait – for no apparent reason (I’m sure there’s a good reason, but I’m still mystified as to what it was). Then we got back on, drove about 200m, got off, and got in a truly unmoving line to get our passports stamped. The first 30 minutes in this line we literally didn’t move a step. Then a few steps. It was hot, humid, lots of mosquitos, hundreds of people, a spattering of moneychangers, food vendors, and a good dosage of a feeling of chaos. After 2 hours, we finally were done with the stamps…so we went over to the bus to get our bags examined. This meant waiting until every single person got their passports stamped, then a mad free-for-all to get our bags, then we lined them up on benches so the customs inspector could come make sure we were good to go. Another half hour, and the inspector came over, didn’t even look at our stuff, and we got back on the bus. On the Costa Rican side, there was so much traffic we ended up finally getting to San Jose around 6pm. It was cold in San Jose, I had my fleece on but was still shivering.

Carole’s father lives in San Jose (in Escazu), and they were kind enough to invite me to stay with them, and for Christmas dinner the next night. So the 23rd we went to an Argentinean place, Wow, so great, and had an early night. On the 24th we went to run errands and had a marvelous dinner of raclette and grilled meats. The last time I had a proper raclette was in 2005 with Lucile in Macon in France, and I was thrilled.

On the 25th, we went to get my sister at the airport, and we went directly to Jaco. It was a bit of a strange situation, mildly humorous, because our contact in Jaco didn’t have cell phone reception so we couldn’t get in touch with him, so we ended up having to get a hotel, no big deal, and then we realized that it was not that close to Manuel Antonio, that it was probably crowded beyond our liking, hot, and overall not as appealing as we had thought at first. So the next morning we went to the beach that was burning hot by 8am, found out there wasn’t a bus to Manuel Antonio for at least another 2 ours, and called it quits. So retraced our steps to San Jose, then on to La Fortuna, where we had arranged to stay with a couple of CSers.

In La Fortuna, when we FINALLY arrived (traffic accidents mean pulling over on the side of the road for about 2 hours, literally), we met D’Angelo and Mike, an American gay couple that’s been living in Costa Rica for about 2 years. We went to Chelas Bar and had the giant meat platter, Cacique with Melocoton, and after way too many cocktails we went home.

The next morning we debated what to do, and very fortunately, over breakfast, I managed to strike up conversation with two American sisters who had a rent a car, and we were interested in doing similar things that day so we were able to join them. We went to the Hanging Bridges, walking over the canopy, then to a reserve of Arenal, and after these walks we were ridiculously exhausted.

The next day, we went on a tour to Cano Negro Wildlife Reserve, up near the Nicaraguan border. It was pouring rain, and about 10 minutes into the boat ride, it…broke. So we were sitting in pouring rain, the boat heading backwards because of the current, and there was no functioning motor. And yes, mosquitos. Then finally a replacement boat came, and that broke too. But let’s not focus on that; let’s remember that we saw lots of howler monkeys, white-faced capuchins, a green basilisk, lots of cormorants and anhingas, a ton of herons and egrets, so all in all it was a great day.

At night, we went to the Ecotermales hot springs and soaked in really hot water; it made me nostalgic for Japan, definitely. Afterwards, we went with the boys to El Establo where there was horrible Reggaeton complete with scantily clad dancers, both men and women, and their friends came along, an American girl and her Colombian boyfriend.

The following morning, the 4 of us went to the La Fortuna Waterfalls, which I was surprised by how much I liked. We made lunch, and headed back to San Jose, to go to Carole’s house. Had dinner, and off to bed because we were going early to Tortuguero.

Tortuguero is referred to as the mini-Amazon of Central America, and with good reason. Our 3 day trip was filled with wildlife sightings; toucans, howler monkeys, spider monkeys, a SWIMMING SLOTH, parrots, ibis, spoonbills, storks, herons, basilisks, lizards, caimans, an otter, hummingbirds, kingfishers, and probably lots more that I’m forgetting.

We got back to San Jose late on the 1st, and the past few days have been running errands (Brasilian embassy) and relaxing with the lovely family in Barva, thanks to Susana van Schie, a half Dutch, half Costa Rican girl who has been an absolute pleasure to be with.

So the random thoughts and musings…

Well, first, I should probably address Brasil. I started panicking as I was leaving Honduras, about what the hell I’m doing after Costa Rica. Costa Rica was the only fixed point in my life since I had my sister coming here; after that, the plan was either to go overland through Panama, Colombia, an Brasil to arrive in Argentina, or just to fly. I was having a hard time accepting that I might just stop traveling now; I felt like I had to ease out of it. Also, I had envisioned previously that in the first months of 2008 I’d make one of the following two dreams come true; Carnaval in Brasil, or a visit to Antarctica. Well, financially Antarctica would be a big mistake right now, and I felt like if I did the overland trip I wouldn’t make it to Brasil in time…so…well, why not just go to Brasil? It made sense. Except…the one way flights from Costa Rica were priced at 800USD. ONE WAY. Hmm. So I put a post in a CS group, and a kind young man from Hong Kong informed me of a great site called exito travel, that had fares for the same flights for 453USD. So I jumped on that fare, obviously.

However, I had been struggling with when to buy my flight for. The issue being that I need a visa to go to Brasil, and the embassy was having irregular hours due to the holidays, and of course I was coming and going from San Jose. On top of that, I had to make a deposit of the money for the visa in the bank before the visa could be issued, and of course, the banks had irregular hours too. It seems like everyone wants to be on holiday here…but that’s understandable. Anyway, I knew that my visa might take 2 days, and I wasn’t sure if it might take more. The point is, I was debating, then chose to risk it and bought my ticket for the 4th of January anyway.

The reason I’m describing this in so much detail is because I realized how ridiculous my dilemma was when I was speaking to the Colombian guy I met in La Fortuna. As a Colombian, it’s a lot harder to get visas to different places, and this guy had applied for a tourist visa to Costa Rica but had it denied. So, he came through Panama, illegally, and has overstayed. I, thankfully, will probably never know what it’s like to be in fear of being deported, fined, or simply being in a country where the situation is so bad that I want to leave so much that I would risk a lot of bad things to make that happen. So when I compare my petty musings of how early I can fly to Brasil, more or less in a matter of days, I just have to laugh at myself.

So this meeting with the Colombian guy, and a lot of other things lately have been making me think about Colombia and making me feel drawn there. I know, I’m so close to it right now, and I had even thought that I was going there; I had written to Colombian people I know telling them I was headed there. Then, for some unknown reason I felt/feel that now isn’t the time. However, I am sure that there will be Colombia in my future.

Then, more about Brasil…I feel like it’s a whole nother world, its own universe within itself, with an astounding variety of people, music, culture, landscapes, animals – I had always told myself that I wouldn’t go until I could spend a large chunk of time there. And, well, now, I don’t really know what my plans are (yes, I still have Argentina planned, though I am admittedly scared to get there with the prospect of finding housing, work, etc etc). so why not just head to Brasil? I am also thrilled to be in a country with a different language, in the past when I’ve had intensive time with Brasilians or Portuguese speakers I’ve managed to pick it up pretty quickly, so hopefully that will remain the case this time around. And Sao Paulo has the largest Japanese population outside of Japan, so it will be oh-so-wonderful to immerse myself in the 3 million strong community with Japanese supermarkets and all those wonderful things I miss about Japan. Who knows how things will work out there?

Anyway, those are my musings.

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