Thursday, 30 March 2017

Tortuguero to Puerto Viejo de Talamanca – Days 192 to 196

With Roberto our guide
As predicted it was a really hard four nights, three days. The first morning started off cloudy and turned to rain, but we had coffee and breakfast on the veranda and all was well. It cleared so we set off for a walk along the turtle spotting path, set back from the beach but with many numbered walkways to the beach. We walked very slowly and quietly looking out for whatever we might see. Many lizards to begin with, then a white faced capuchin monkey, then many more, fabulous. They were not bothered by us in the slightest and were a joy to watch. We also saw two spider monkeys, so a good tally.

Slave labour for ants! They carry these huge (for them) leaf cuttings all day and night in huge long lines, often falling over with it, picking themselves up and carrying on.
A long line of ants with their leaves and the track they have worn
Back to Los Amigos Jungle Hostal, which is obviously new, and cared for by a lovely Spanish speaking lady, her tiny daughter and Coco the new puppy, who I swear grew in the time we were there. I asked her to book our canoe trip for the following morning. This is the 'must do' trip, expecting to be collected at 05.45 the following morning we thought no more until we sat down with crisps and beer and Roberto turned up. He tried a gentle hard sell of a $50 package, $20 for the canoe trip, plus the $15 park entrance, and another walk for $15 instead of $20. We dithered, but that was fine, he also agreed to take us on the trip, buy our park entrance, and we could come down to his office after and pay by credit card, with no surcharge.

And here they are heading into one of the entrances to their nest
On Turtle Beach. No turtles unfortunately at this time of year
So having been woken by the large group occupying all the other rooms, coming home, we were then woken by them all getting ready for the early morning start. Oh well off we went. Roberto introduced us to a French couple while he went off to find the rest of the group, he seemed to find too many so palmed us off to another boat of  four leaving himself still with a group of eight.

Found this in our room on the morning of our canoe trip. A Katydid 
The other four were sitting in the boat and the guide vanished. We didn't know whether to get in front or back, one each it turned out. He eventually reappeared with their park tickets, we'd only been hanging around 50 minutes by then watching all the other canoes paddle off but hey! We weren't overly impressed by the guide, but he did begin by finding us some herons. 

Looking across the lagoon while waiting for our guide
He then appeared to just go to where other boats were stopped, there is some logic in that, and we actually did very well, so a howler monkey, a father and son spider monkey pair, a sloth in a tree, close enough to see it was a sloth, a couple of caiman, birds butterflies and basilisks and we returned with aching bottoms after nearly three hours on very hard seats and home for breakfast and more spider monkey viewing with cornflakes, you just don't get that back in Birmingham!

Apparently this fruit is called a Pachira. The locals used to eat it, but no longer as they have much better tasting fruit now. Monkeys eat it now
Jackie in front as we silently cruise through the jungle
Off to the office to pay Roberto, who asked what we were doing in half an hour? Did we want to come on his day walk, two clients, we didn't have to pay, just don't say anything! Rude not to, so we dashed off for long trousers and closed in shoes, back to the park the find him with the French couple from the morning. We ended up back on the path we had walked the previous day, but he managed to find Brian the snake I hadn't, and would never have spotted, quite venomous apparently, but didn't manage  monkeys for the French couple who hadn't seen any from the canoe either. I was disappointed for them, and not overly impressed for us, but it was free, until two raccoons came chasing down a tree. Finally back to the hostal and the hammocks, about time too.

A tiger heron (I think)
The other trip we'd signed up for was the after dark walk, though in retrospect I think this is a bit of a con, there are no turtles at the moment, so how can we extract more money from the tourists? In a foursome, with a young couple, one Belgian, one French, met and live in London we set off with torches looking for the green, red eyed frog. Our guide was not enthusiastic and obviously had a horrible cold which I now seem to be suffering from, and could we see a frog? Eventually we saw a brown frog, after about two hours of blundering about in the dark "a spider, a cricket, a sleeping lizard, a blob high in a tree apparently a sloth......" Not really impressed, until finally, on our way back, an anteater climbing a tree, who knew? Now he was cute.

A spider monkey playing in the trees
The rest of the time we just spent relaxing, I'm getting quite used to a hammock, particularly when the young daughter of Isobel came past and swung me every now and then. She was a cutie, chatting away in Spanish not minding that we had no idea what she was talking about! We finally made it into our pool, one of the few on the island. Fortunately we were in and out before the 20+ American teenagers descended with much noise, not sure where they came from, perhaps the sister hotel, fortunately they didn't stay too long, and it was on our last afternoon.

A very comfortable Sloth sitting in a tree watching us in our boat
The standard food there, and where we are now, is heavily Caribbean influenced, rice and beans, which along with salad and a protein item, is called Casado. I checked with one lady, and yes, this does mean married, so slightly confused!

We left, sadly, having enjoyed watching monkeys while eating breakfast, on the expensive option, rather than retrace most of our journey in, we opted for the three hour boat trip to Moin, followed by in theory a taxi to the bus station and a bus. 
The popular name for this is a snake bird, because that's what it looks like
Taxis however were quoting silly money to the bus station, so with a bit of negotiation we took a shared taxi, with a couple we'd been chatting with on the dock and arrived very promptly. The boat ride was great though, our captain broke all records and still managed to spot caiman and sloths which he turned round for us to see. Slightly worried when he stopped for a pee break at 11.30 and proceeded to have a beer, but we all arrived safe and sound.

Here's one out of water
This Caiman got really fed up with us flaoting near him and swam off
Sadly the hostal Rio isn't quite the same. We arrived to some complicated story, which we didn't believe but meant we weren't in our en suite with kitchenette, but in a tiny box with shared bathroom. We didn't have anyone to share with, but you still had to go outside! Fortunately it wasn't raining. It is also our first time of only having a cold shower, which fortunately isn't too bad, though is colder than the sea! He also offered to discount us, though only down to the standard price for the small box, until I pointed this out! Today we are in our proper room.

Have a look at this Youtube video we did, it's only just over a minute long:
After two nights in Tortuguero they changed our bed and scooped Teddy up in the linen by mistake. Jackie went down to ask if they had seen her 'pequeno oso' (small bear). He was wrapped up in the linen waiting to go into the washing machine so he was saved!
With the French couple and guide Roberto on our free (but don't tell anyone) walk
The small but apparently highly venemos 'eyelash' snake (you can just see it's eyelashes, hence the name - obviously!)
We were quite amused by these posters. There are Jaguars here, about 200 they estimate. We didn't see one, but one couple we spoke to said they did, but it moved too quickly so didn't get a photo
Take note! It appears ladies have to do a dance on one leg and men a kind of a Highland fling!
Our night time walk. This was a really big caterpillar
2 hours later we found this frog
And this insect, which was actually quite big - see the tip of Jackies shoe on the right
But then this ant eater appeared and climbed the tree in front of us to pose for a photo
Suddenly our young guide came alive, he was so excited as he'd not seen one in the wild before. He called everyone over and became very animated
Oh yes, and crabs, lots of crabs, usually scurrying off down their holes, but this one posed
School games. There were three lines of pupils with a full bucket at the front of each, an empty bucket at the back and each team had a sponge. The soaked sponge was passed to the person behind over their head, so plenty of water everywhere. Just the thing on a burning hot day! Good fun to watch too
Roberto seeing us off the island. His uncle was our boat driver
And he certainly knew how to drive. We passed every other boat in sight, banking steeply into the bends, the water almost coming over the sides. But he still had an expert eye open for wildlife and would suddenly stop and turn round to point something out
This was our route by boat to Moin and then shared taxi to Puerto Viejo de Talamanca 161km in all
You may not believe this but there is a turtle just diving into the river. He was sitting on top of the big log, but he hopped off into the water just as I took the photo, but I just caught him before he disappeared!
At our halfway rest
That's a crocodile being splashed up and down from our wake after he screeched to a halt. How he saw it at the speed he drove I don't know
This was after the water had settled down and he went back to floating. I don't know about you but I would never have seen it. 'No swimming there then' someone remarked. I replied that you can swim, but probably not for long!
Another screeching halt to see this sloth hanging about in a tree
This is a vulture (don't know the exact name). I had taken a crap photo of one from a distance when on our morning canoe ride in Tortuguero and when we arrived in Puerto Viejo they were everywhere!
Here's a psycho cat in amongst a flock of vultures twice its size. Surprisingly the vultures were scared of it

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Tortuguero, Costa Rica – Days 188 to 191

Enjoying a fresh juice in San Pedro, Lake Atitlan
So three one night stands are now over, thank goodness. The first doesn't really count as it was back to Panajachel and our luggage, so it felt quite comfortable, our beer was chilling in the fridge ready for our rooftop drinkies, so just to get a packet of crisps then!

Our Canadian friend was being cooked for by some fellow guests who were also plying her with wine, so we had a very entertaining conversation. In the process discovering she had dollars but no quetzals and we had far too many quetzals left. 
Euro Hostel inside the gated area at Guatemala City Airport
Storing away this piece of information till the following morning after dinner, breakfast and planning lunch we offered a currency exchange. This was fine till B counted the dollars in his wallet and found 280 not 180, had she given him too much or was the 100 not in his case as he thought but in his wallet? I left him very grumpily unpacking while I dashed off to get lunch. She had given him $100 too much, so really glad he checked!

And they had parrots that would say 'Hola' beautifully!
Our shuttle arrived, fortunately, as we'd booked it with the man in San Pedro we booked sunrise with, well he threw in the price of the launch across the lake making him by far the best deal, sadly going via Antigua, they all did, until we stopped at a fuel station and palmed off the only girl going to Antigua onto another bus behind us so we could go straight to Guatemala City. Much better!

View from the aircraft as we flew over Antigua and could see Volcan Fuego erupting below us
The cathederal in the main Plaza at Alajuela, Costa Rica
The hotel there was as expected, on a secure gated community, man with big truncheon on the door, but what we wanted. A shop round the corner sold a beer and an onion to go with the last tin of tuna we were left by Roxanne and Darrel (thanks guys) and we got a good nights sleep. Till the morning when we put a random assortment of clothes in our hand luggage "just in case". We don't normally do this, though perhaps we should, but B had got me really wound up about this flight! I watched our cases being loaded onto the plane so at that point we could relax. 

Inside the Cathederal
Huge queue at immigration in Costa Rica mostly comprising US teenagers, hope we don't see them again! Luggage, ATM, taxi, hostel. Great. Until B went to open his case, to find the padlock missing. On opening it up it was obvious that the whole case had been gone through. We have everything in drybags, for the obvious reason, and to keep things segregated and compressed. These had all also been opened and carrier bags that were in them, left out and tied up. So far he hasn't found anything missing, so our suspicion is that something about the bag of leads and GPS upset somebody watching the X-Rays so they thought they'd have a look! Shame they didn't have one of the special keys to allow them to open and replace the lock rather than chopping it off and throwing it in the bin, but as we'd both assumed the worst, that that is all that is missing is a huge relief!

The dome of the cathederal. From the outside it looks like corrugated iron
Another slightly strange hostel, but very friendly people. We thought we were going to miss out on breakfast, but due to a planned power outage, they were starting early  at 06.30 so we were in luck? Our host had suggested that to get to the bus station in San Jose for our 09.00 bus we would be much better off taking a taxi, rather than a bus and then a taxi between bus stations, so after a sharp intake of breath at the quote of $30 we agreed, and left with his mate at 07.00, despite work on the bridge we got to the bus station at 07.50, but much better early than late, bearing in mind that to get to Tortuguero involves two buses and a boat, so missing the bus would have been a real problem. 
Loading the luggage onto the boat at the dock
The two buses and a boat, with a journey time of just over five hours cost less for the two of us than the 45 minute taxi ride, but that's so often the way. It all went remarkably smoothly and we didn't even have to walk the 500m between bus stations as they have worked out many tourists do this journey so he stopped there first. We arrived at the dock and there was my name on a board, I was expecting this when we got off the boat, but very nice to see it then too. An hours boat ride along canals through the jungle, seeing two crocodiles on the way brought us to our destination, a tiny village with fresh water canals on one side, the Caribbean on the other and jungle all around.

Heres an empty boat, like the one we were on
It's hot and sticky, though does seem to be cooling for evening, the jungle noises are amazing and we don't seem to be plagued by mosquitos. It's going to be a hard 4 nights 3 days!




Reflections on Guatemala:

Felt safer and more comfortable than I expected, but we did only go to the tourist hotspots.

Wasn't as cheap as we expected.

Got a bit fed up of people trying to take advantage, the lovely lady with the tiny kittens who wanted 15Q for a juice, until the raised eyebrow when it went to 10Q and the man in the shop who wanted 15Q for a packet of crisps we'd paid 4Q for on the other side of the lake who also got the raised eyebrow and dropped to 5Q.

The fantastic textiles and beadwork in the southern part of the country.

Loved the cooler temperatures.

And heading off down the river in the rain
And in no time we saw a crocodile

It really was!!

 A short video of the river trip
And then there was another crocodile

This was our route down the river out to the Caribbean Sea
And this was the road journey from Alajuela, through the Capital, San Jose and out to La Pavona, where we left the bus and followed the river route above
And here it is a bit further out just to give it some clarity
Finally arriving at out destination after a really nice little adventure
The balcony of our hotel room for 4 nights, surrounded by jungle on an island with no cars
With a little swimming pool that we've yet to try out (it was raining when I took this photo)
And just outside is a team of very industrious ants chopping up leaves and carrying them into a hole in the ground - constantly, all day and evening. How big is the hole under ground?