So long Nicaragua

Trip Start Aug 23, 2006
Trip End Apr 15, 2007

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Where I stayed
Casa el Oro Hostel

Flag of Costa Rica  ,
Monday, October 23, 2006

Another day, another bus. We arrived in Granada a bit down from wasting a day at the tacky tourist markets in Masaya, which our guidebook had hyped beyond all reason. We ended up feeling a bit the same for Granada. Beautiful and well preserved, more than anything it was a clean and freshly painted Leon, minus the energy and character that made Leon so engaging. As with so many other places in Central America, there was plenty available to keep you busy, so long as you're willing to cough up gobs of cash to do it. As usual we chose the cheapskate route and hopped two buses to Laguna de Apoyo, a local crater lake, for some snorkeling and relaxing in the sun. It turns out that snorkeling in a crystal clear mountain lake isn't much different than snorkeling in your bathtub. The clarity of the water allows you to see whatever is littering the bottom, in this case a tractor tire and soda bottles, and brings home just how much more life saltwater harbors. We did see some cool tropical birds and spider monkeys on the walk in, so the day wasn't a complete bust. And despite my near total lack of Spanish, I managed to accidentally have long conversations with two locals about the upcoming Nicaraguan presidential election, where I determined that they were both Eduardo supporters, felt no love for Daniel Ortega (remember him?) or Americans. Luckily I sensed their anti-American mood (when someone asks if you're a gringo, that's a clue) and claimed Canadian citizenship...

We busted out of Granada after two nights and headed for San Juan del Sur on the Pacific coast. Nicaragua's primary surfer destination, it's a small town on a beautiful crescent shaped bay where we crashed for three days. I did some fishing with little success, and we went on a tour to La Flor, a local marine reserve, to observe adult Olive Ridley turtles laying eggs and hatchlings making their sprint to the sea. The tour was run by the owners of the Casa el Oro hostel, and it was incredibly poorly done. There were only five in the group, but thanks to the near total lack of leadership by the tour guide, we managed to break so many basic rules of wildlife observation and plain old common sense that Karen and I ended up telling people what to do. Karen spent 6 weeks volunteering for a turtle conservation group in Greece a few years ago, and so was the ONLY expert on the beach. First the guide had us walking near the surf rather than above the high tide line, which resulted in several hatchlings nearly suffering death by sandal as they made for the surf. Then one of the locals who works for the reserve actually encouraged us to pick up an adult to see how much it weighs and embarrassingly, the other American guy on the tour did. Worse, our tour guide suggested that he tip the worker for allowing it, thus encouraging the bad behavior. Last, when it started to rain, the guide led the rest of the group in a near sprint for shelter, again along the surf line, again not paying any attention to where they were stepping. What the hell did we bring rain gear for anyway?

Having had enough of Nicaragua by this point, we grabbed the next chicken bus out of town, heading for Costa Rica. Things went smoothly enough until we hit the border. We once again attempted to save a few bucks by bypassing Nicaraguan immigration (hey, it worked in Honduras), but were turned back for lack of an exit stamp. So it was back to immigration, where we paid our exit tax and got our passports stamped, or so we thought. It turns out they stamped mine, but not Karen's. Once again they tried to turn us back at the border, but Karen had had enough, and walked on through. The Costa Rican police didn't seem to care that Karen was missing a stamp and let us pass, only to be turned back when we went to Costa Rican immigration for our entry stamps. I'm not exactly sure why they cared at all about a missing exit stamp for another country, but they weren't cutting us any slack and Karen was forced back to Nicaraguan immigration for a third time. You can imagine how pleased she was by this. Actually, you probably can't. Anyone who has ever bathed a cat might get close though. Anyway, it all worked out eventually and we boarded bus number three of the day for the ride to Liberia, Costa Rica.

Liberia was just a stopover where we overnighted and decided between heading west to the Pacific or east to the mountains and cloud forests. The mountains won out and the next day we caught a bus to Tilaran, a low key and amazingly pleasant farming town set on a hilltop and arranged around a town square. There wasn't anything in particular to see or do there, but our room had a hot water shower (this is a bigger deal than you can possibly know) and cable tv, giving us one of our most relaxing, couch potato nights in a very long time.

The next day it was back on the bus for a nearly three hour ride along rocky, potholed dirt roads to Santa Elena. Despite the chiropractic ride, we really enjoyed it thanks to the amazing scenery. As beautiful a pastoral setting as you'll find anywhere, the highland cattle and dairy country of Costa Rica is stunning. Reminiscent of Scotland or the South Island of New Zealand if you were to swap the sheep for cattle and add the occasional banana and coffee plantation, we knew we'd found the right place to be after the frustration and disappointment of Nicaragua.

We've only been in Santa Elena for a day, but we've completely fallen for the place. We've got a great place to stay with endless hot water, a fully equipped kitchen, and views that come and go with the constantly changing mists. Yesterday we hiked 20 kilometers to, from and around the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, spending four hours exploring, spotting numerous orchids, birds, bugs and monkeys, and standing on the Continental Divide. It's an incredible place, a complete riot of plant life so that there seems to not be a square inch that isn't home to some kind of plant, fungus or moss. Thanks to the constant moisture, plants don't even need dirt, they just grow on each other. Tree trunks and branches host dozens of species of moss, ferns and orchids which need only the constant mists to provide nourishment. On the way out we stopped off at the Hummingbird Gallery, where at least a dozen species competed for space at the feeders, and as a bonus, two foxes came around looking for a handout.

Today we swung by the Frog Pond, a local eco-zoo devoted to Costa Rica's native amphibeans. Obviously. It was a lot more fun than we expected, who knew frogs were so cool? Anyway, that's about it for here. Tomorrow we're off for seven hours of busing to go about 50 miles. That ought to be fun...

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