Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica

Michael and I decided that for our last big venture to a new spot in Costa Rica we wanted to discover more about the Osa Peninsula.  We didn't know a ton going in, but we knew that it was a road less traveled and friends who had been there loved it.  We said our goodbyes to Montezuma and took a boat ---> mini bus ---> big bus ---> taxi ---> to a leeeeettle 12-person plane.  The 50 minute flight ended up being worth the entire journey already.

Our very own plane

Michael tried to get into the cockpit multiple times.  Good thing I could pat the pilots on the back when they had a successful takeoff. 

One of my favorite parts of our trip is our "rutterless travel".  Traveling with no concrete plan which then leaves flexibility to change anything at the drop of a hat.  This proved successful as we flew above the Osa Peninsula and started chatting up a guy named Robert.  Our new friend was going to a yoga retreat at a beautiful spot right on the beach where the accommodations were tent cabins and the food was delicious and came in huge portions.  Sign me up immediately.  We had no real plan anyway, just a vague idea of the area we wanted to visit.  Once we landed, Robert told us that he was supposed to share a cab with a couple joining the retreat but they were stuck somewhere with disgusting weather and missed their flight.  Yay!!  Thank you vortex!  We jumped in with him and drove to this mystery spot with tons of food. 

Our new digs

For the next 2 nights we crashed a yoga retreat where everyone else had probably paid 4 times as much as us and was ready to get their namaste on.  We just wanted to play in the water and eat delicious homemade meals.  Michael surfed, I chatted about chakras and everyone was happy.  

A little hut

Living in a tent

On a hike we discovered that the tide is quite tempermental.  This is a shot on the way out to our hike...

And this is coming back.  Jellyfish are fun :)

These kind of lucky things keep happening to us and I welcome all of them.  I would also welcome another portion of homemade tortilla soup from the lodge but who am I kidding?  We have been somewhere for almost 3 days so obviously it's time to move on!  Next up, we will visit the "big city" of Puerto Jimenez.  I hope the bright lights aren't too much for us.

Journey to Montezuma, Costa Rica

I can't believe its almost been 2 months and we have made it through Belize, Guatemala and Nicaragua.  We are onto our 4th country of the trip: Costa Rica!  I had been here once with my brother and we did the tried and true route, so this time I wanted to see a part of Costa Rica that hadn't been visited by so many people and maybe was a little harder to get to so the traveler footprint wasn't as massive.  The last part wasn't hard to achieve; it is ridiculously difficult to get anywhere in Costa Rica if it isnt mapped out in Lonely Planet. 
We decided to go to Montezuma, which we heard was a place travelers would venture to and then stay for months because it was so beautiful and remote.  So here we go:
A truck from the beach in Nicaragua ---> a taxi to the border ---> the first bus ---> the second bus ---> a mile walk ---> a ferry ---> a third bus and then pass out upon arrival.

A ferry view and a lotta hair

At the border we had another quintessential Central American experience.  We got out of Nicaragua with no issue, but when we came to the border to get into Costa Rica we were informed that in order to get in we had to show proof that we had a flight home.  We of course had no such thing.  We made our saddest face and tried in spanish to plead with the guy with no sense of humor but he stuck to his story: show me a plane ticket or you're not getting in.  With no internet and no Virgin America ticket counter to be found at the Costa Rican border we didn't even know where to start with our options.  Michael decided to give it one more shot with the guy, so after dancing around in line for a few minutes we walked back up to the counter ready for another pleading/crying session.  Instead the guy rolled his eyes, stamped our passports and waved us on.  What just happened?  I was ready to spend the night in our tent at the border, but I guess suddenly the law changed in the few minutes we were standing there and I wasn't about to argue it.  

Montezuma was a little bit of a let down once we got there.  The beach was beautiful yes, but we were  taken back by the American style prices of the hotels and food and the little town left us disappointed for all the travel we had endured to get there.  We still had a great time discovering the local waterfall and some street entertainment consisting of circus tricks from an all-female group.  

Some friends from the hotel 

We are going to try one more long trek to get to the Osa Peninsula down in the southern part of Costa Rica.  We have heard it's untouched and unlike anything else in the country.  That's enough to get me to take a 12 person plane to an unknown area I know nothing about!  

Monday, February 3, 2014

Maderas, Nicaragua

Our last stop in Nicaragua was kind of up in the air when we left Isle de Ometepe.  This type of travel is what I prefer, to just go with whatever plan creates itself, but it does force a good amount of on the fly choices and flexibility.  Last minute, Michael and I thought maybe we would just jump the border into Costa Rica and forget about going to San Juan Del Sur, the beach we heard most people head and therefore we wanted nothing to do with it.  We had done our share of the backpacker trail and were ready to take the road less traveled but just had no idea where to go.  
We decided last minute to take a leap and travel to a town we had heard very little about except for one dude at our last spot who said "yaaa, check out Maderas...it's coooool".  'Nuff said, here we go! 

We headed down a back breaking road in a cab that had sold almost all its parts for cash.  Literally, all that was left was a steering wheel and seats, we were surprised he hadn't sold the leather and just left us with foam to cushion the blow of the road. 

We pulled up to what I thought was one bar on a beach and the taxi driver told us we were here!  Where exactly were we?  I swear we just drove 20 minutes on a dirt road and there was a shack for a bar in the middle of nothing.  This was the town??  

A view of the town from the beach

But sometimes, first impressions can be oh-so-wrong.  One second of walking on the beach, again with our bags, and I knew we had found a secret little beach that was just the style we were looking for.  For the next 2 nights we camped, saw some amazing sunsets and made art in the sand.  We were going to charge people to look at our artwork cause why not?  People charge to take a picture of their pig on a rope down here. 

Our first night in our home 


That's the thing about the "towns" down here.  If they are a little off the beaten path they may just be 2 bars on a beach and therefore call themselves a town.  Works for me. 

Next up, we make a little visit to the Costa Rican border!

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Isle de Ometepe, Nicaragua

Remember the time I said, "we heard the Isle is kind of a pain to get to"...ahh, those were the days of just saying those words and not really experiencing the reality.  Here are all the types of transportation that took us from the beach to Ometepe:
-mini boat
-taxi (equipped with the best 90's jams and booming bass)
-mini bus (just a quick 4 hour trip!)
-ferry (me: "what time does the ferry leave?"  ferry captain: "eh...I don't know, maybe 2pm, but maybe not with the wind, so maybe 4pm but maybe a little earlier if we are ready and the boat is working, but maybe not at all")
-shuttle bus
-20 minute walk up a dark, rock path 

My horse taxi

First mini-boat

We had literally no plan once we got onto the ferry, we got as far as knowing we had to take the ferry, and then beyond that I guess we figured a plan would just create itself and take us somewhere amazing.  It's worked so far so why change it up?  While on our hike we met a Swiss couple who told us about an eco farm they stayed on called El Zopilote.   That's all we knew; no idea really where it was, how long it took to get there or if we could get a bed there.  Perfect combination.  

The ferry and ominous looking volcano 

We made our way off the ferry and just wandered around looking for a bus or a horse or a kayak to take us there.  I saw a beat up yellow bus coming toward us and happened to give it a second glance and saw "El Zopilote" written on the side.  YES!   I ran over and didn't so much ask, but more told the guy that he was going to give us a ride.  After earning our keep, by our I mean Michael did a ton of heavy lifting and I watched the bags, by loading plywood into the back of the van we threw ourselves in and sat on top of the wood for the hour ride to the hostel.  
One last push up the rocky path by headlamp to make it to reception where they told us, sadly, there was no room available.  But, if you remember such famous blog posts as the "Tent on Top of the Bed, Inside the Room" then you will see that we have the ultimate safety net of a tent.  Every smart hostel offers camping for around $3, so into the tent we went!  The hostel was kind enough to give us 2 sheets, so I became nice and familiar with the ground that eve.  It wasn't that bad actually; just rolling over every hour once a side of my body fell asleep.

Our tent hidden in the woods

Upgrading to a cabinita big enough for our hammock! 

El Zopilote is a fully sustainable farm with filtered water (filtered from used shower water), permaculture farming and my personal favorite: compost toilets.  For example: waste water gets irrigated to water the garden, that grows the food they cook and then we eat.  That same water gets filtered again to become drinkable water.  I like staying at places that offer more than just hammocks and cheap drink specials.  

We rented a scooter and toured both sides of the islands; also making it to a natural swimming pool filled with spring water.  *For my Chico babes, it was like Bidwell Park without the drunk college students.  Just drunk Nicaraguans.  I wanted a turn as driver so we took our bike onto the beach so I could go slower and who doesnt want to drive through waves?  Sadly, my driving was short lived because I got scared when playa dogs chased our scooter down the beach.  

Bidwell in Nicaragua

Up next, we may try to head over the border to Costa Rica, or we might end up at the beach again.  It hasn't been decided, but we know whatever the choice it will be just amaaazing :)

The Beach, Nicaragua

Whoa, blogging and keeping up with life in general isn't the easiest when our locations decide to take it back to 2008 when backpackers didn't come with their IPhone 5's and Ipads and there was no wifi.  But, I guess I can trade wifi for some delicious waves, sand that will never come out of my hair, and darker versions of my freckles.  

The moment we got back from conquering the volcano hike, we decided to use the last moments of energy and make the move to the beach.  We thought, eh, maybe a taxi ride and then we can fall into a hammock somewhere and nurse our blisters from the hike.  Well, the route to our next hostel didn't prove to be so dreamy.  After a 45 minute taxi ride to a mystery bar somewhere, we loaded ourselves and our bags into a tiny little boat in the pitch black.  The boat ride under the stars was magic until we were dropped on another beach and told to walk 20 minutes...that way.  So after 2 days of hiking up and down volcanos I found myself again with my massive bag on my back walking on a beach to...somewhere.  I only threw one fit and it lasted for a brief 10 seconds, so I consider the walk a huge success.

Finally, we made it to our oasis: the Surfing Turtle Lodge.  This was literally in the middle of nothing and we only found it by hearing the bass of the beach music and seeing a light in the far off distance.  Never have I ever been so happy to find a hostel or toss my bag across the room and swear to never put it on again.

Their version of a taxi

Our first home, splurging on a private room for $35

One of my favorite sunset spots of the trip.  Oh and that surf braaah in the water, he's gnarly

We had planned on only 2 days, but 4 days later we were finally ready to leave our little paradise.  Michael got in a ton of waves (if you didnt know, he's totally a surf braah now) and I brought my serious skills to the sand volleyball court; mostly so I could justify eating and laying around all day.  

Next up, we will journey to the far off land of Isle de Ometepe.  It's an island in the middle of Lake Nicaragua with, wait for it, volcanos sitting on both sides.  We hear its quite the pain to get to so im ready for these volcanos to rock my world.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Leon, Nicaragua: Hiking Giants

Our first real stop in Nicaragua will be Leon.  If you can believe, cause I couldn't, we hopped on another bus just a few hours off our Breaking Bad 18 hour busride.  Smashed in the back of a 14-person mini-van we took the 2 hour trip from Managua, Nicaragua to the second largest city, Leon.  The big reason we headed north to Leon is because Michael found a tour group that leads overnight camping/hiking trips.  I had decided a while back that I needed to throw myself into something uber physical and outside my comfort zone; because clearly roaches, food poisoning and caves haven't been enough. 

We spent a few nights in Leon just bouncing around; it's a cute colonial city with 10 churches in a 5 block radius and its own skate park.  Skate park?? WOWWW!!  I know, its not a ton to report on, but we did enjoy a beer on a roof. 

One of the churches with its historic lighting

Sunset over a skate park

Our hike started on the third day at 7:00am.  I figured we would get a backpack, throw a few light clothes in there and the heaviest item would be my toothbrush.  These guides weren't messing around though and upon arrival we had to fill a large backpack with water for 2 days, food, plate ware, sleeping bag, sleeping mat and then our clothes.  My bag was heavier than the one I came with holding 3 months of clothes.  

Here is what was accomplished in 2 days:
-1 hour drive to the first volcano
-2 hour hike up the youngest volcano in Nicaragua
-Throwing our bodies down said volcano, riding a "volcano board" which was basically a poorly made snowboard 

-I got a bee sting!!
-Hiking straight up a volcano, for 3 hours, with a 35lb bag strapped to me- much heaving happening at the top

-Setting up camp next to a massive crater that could have been a movie set from 'Aliens'

Can you find me next to the crater?

-Campfire, the most delicious s'more I have ever worked for, fall asleep at 9pm 
-Up at 5:30am for the sunrise..wowwww

-Put those shoes back on (ow, blisters!) and the bag on some sore shoulders and hike for another 4 hours down some seriously unstable and un manicured terrain 

-Finally making it to a lake for a shower/dip
-Put the bag back on and hike up another steep hill for another hour
-Take 2 buses back to Leon and crawling back into the tour office from exhaustion 

I only had two moments of being on the verge of tears, but those were outweighed with my feelings of accomplishment.  Michael was also, again, the definition of support and kept me going when all I wanted to do was throw my walking stick and pout on the side of the hiking trail.  
It was absolutely amazing and the perfect introduction to the kind of sights Nicaragua has to show off. Now, it's time for the beach.  Give me a hammock and food that hasn't been sitting in my backpack for two days.  

Finally sitting down and taking the pack off for the first time.  Heaven. 

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Breaking Bad Bus

I would like to extend some very important thank you's:
The first is to Richard Seiler (Michael's wundahful father) who allowed us to tap into his Netflix account.
The second is to the creators of Breaking Bad.
The third is to the genius who decided to grace the King Quality bus line with shotty, but workable wifi.

Our 18-hour busride was semi-manageable because of all these factors.  We splurged for the top of the line bus to take us from Guatemala City to Managua, Nicaragua and one of the perks, besides the questionable meat dish and hot dog they served, was that our buses (there were 3) came with wifi that allowed us to watch 8 episodes of Breaking Bad while cruising through Honduras and El Salvador.  Granted, every 5 minutes we had to do the dance of pausing while it buffered, shutting down the app and stroking the IPad for good luck that our saving grace show would come back on.  

Holding the IPad, praying it would stop buffering and give me Walt back.

It wasn't actually that bad.  We were confused for 90% of the ride because all announcements were made in lightning-speed spanish and we would randomly follow people off the bus and onto a new bus with no real explanation.  It made MegaBus look like they had their stuff together.  Breaking Bad may have been a questionable choice to watch while crossing the borders.  Even though I had nothing to worry about, the experience of having a narcotics officer go through my bag at the Honduras border left me with some drenched palms.  

Crossing the border from Guatemala into El Salvador.  There was a strike at the border, so we had to actually walk across the bridge into the new country.  Our bags were still in Guatemala at this point, we just hoped they would join us on the other side. 

At the beginning of the ride.  There was still happiness in our eyes.

The aftermath

I have no more pics from the ride, mostly cause I don't need to remember the inside of that bus.  Now it's time to dig into Nicaragua!  We have earned it.