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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

NICARAGUA - PHOTOS

This is all it took to close the road into Nicaragua for over 3 hours

The gorgeous beach - Playa Madera

Our new German friends

Volcan Ometepe in Laguna Nicaragua

The street markets in Granada

Local transport - in Granada - not just for tourists - locals use them too

Finally more traffic in Granada - GR2 is happily parked nera the centre of town

More of Granada

One of the many luxury homes- all on there very own island

Yum....Vigeron. A Granada special (actually I'm not too keen on yucca)

The gorgeous blue crater lake - laguna de Apoya

See all those noxios gases - that's why we couldn't visit Volcan Mayasa - see the road up to the top! Would have been great

Sunset over Laguna de Xiloa

Volcan Momotombo & the smaller Volcan Momotombito

Arriving in Leon

Sunday morning service in Leons gorgeous Cathedral

Yet another gorgoeous cathedral in Leon

My lunch - another local specalty - Nacatamales - totally glutton free Claire

Views from our camp spot right beside the road in the mountains

Local streetscape

Not so distant memories

Just love the saddles they have here - especially all the dangly bits

Making cigars - must be quality control as well

Not sure if his one will be up to scratch

Paddling up the lovely Somoto canyon

NICARAGUA - A COUNTRY OF VOLCANOES


We finally get through border (a snip at only an hr & a half) and find a massive queue of trucks, so we follow the buses onto the wrong side of the road, only to discover the queue is actually 2 lanes wide. On investigation we discover a protest (shades of Bolivia) – a group of ladies have closed the road with branches & bikes. They are waving sticks & yelling. We haven’t a clue what it is about, but we wait for 3 hours. Thank goodness we have air con in the cab as it is hot, hot, hot. Finally the police resolve the problem, but then there is the congestion problem. Traffic is banked up right across the road in both directions. Welcome to Nicaragua!

After sitting in the heat for so long, we decide to head straight to the beach. We turn off the main road & head to San Juan de Sur- a quaint town with brightly coloured buildings & a lovely curve of beach with lots of restaurants & boats. After finding an ATM we head along the dirt road to find “our beach”. We end up at Playa Madera, a surfies paradise, & camp under the trees. The water is magic A campsite for $5 including Wifi, restaurant & best of all for John- people to chat to in English.

It is nearly midday before we head off to Rivas & then the port town of San Jorge. We are hoping to catch the ferry to the volcanic island of Ometepe on the huge Lago Nicaragua. There is a queue but we can’t get on -it is full & we don’t have a reservation, so instead we chat to a  German couple, travelling in their huge motorhome, (who also couldn’t get on) for the next few hours, swapping notes etc etc. They head off to our beach & we head towards Granada. We finally stop for the night at Finca Miravale, where they do zip line tours. Free parking, with 2 guards at night. Just up the road at the Nat Pk they wanted to charge us $12.

The next day is spent exploring gorgeous Granada. We drive right to the centre with no problems as there are very few cars. There are more bikes, horses & pedestrians. We explore the frantically busy Mercado area & the stunning old cathedrals before heading to the lake front. Here we get a “lancha”/boat to have a nosy around a few of the 365 islands on the edge of the lake. Most are home to the rich & famous. We round out our visit to Granada with a meal of Virgoron – the local specialty of mashed yucca/tangy cabbage & crunchy pork rinds & a drink, all for $2 each.

Then we are off to Laguna de Apoyo to camp for the night. It is a stunning blue tepid lake in a volcanic crater. The steep caldera sides don’t make finding a flat spot easy, but we find a lovely campground right on the water’s edge. A warm swim morning & night, & we take the opportunity to wash our sheets & hang them out to dry. Oh the bliss of clean sheets! Reluctantly we pack up & leave to visit the very active Volcan Masaya. Apparently you can drive right to the top (sure beats walking!) – But sadly it is closed indefinitely – there are too many noxious gases. So we continue our exploration of the area following the scenic route to Managua. It is the capital city, but feels like a big country town. They have closed off the main road for a parade & it is tempting to stay, but as we know it can be difficult finding a spot to camp in the dark, so we head on to Laguna de Xiloa (another crater lake, although it doesn’t look so clean for swimming) & camp in a secure spot right beside the water. We even get to enjoy a glorious sunset. Almost forgot – we got nicked by the police today- the grumpy police officer wanted our paperwork & muttered about an infraction – he wouldn’t give back our temp vehicle licence, so we simply drove away (He didn’t appear to notice it was a copy!)

The next day is like driving through volcano alley. Here’s one, oh & there’s one. Past Momotomo & Momotombito. – They do make good photos. Yet another crabby cop stops us & wants our papers. Again we give him a copy, which he wants to keep for no reason, except maybe a bribe. John pulls it back off him & we leave. Anyway, on to the city of Leon. It is Sunday & we visit a few of the many churches during the morning service. It is a very hot walk around town stopping to look through the old prison. An awful lot of nastiness happened in this town. Then on past yet more smoking volcanoes & up into the cooler hills. It had been in the high 30’s in Leon so it will be nice to have a cool night. We are now in the hilly coffee growing area of Jinotega & it is once again hard to find somewhere to camp. In the end we simply pull off on the side of the road beside a small shop. It is a quiet night with very little passing traffic.

The next day brings some gorgeous driving through mountains. The road is great- not at the terrible rutted road that our guide book said. But eventually we wind back down to the tobacco lands of Esteli. We manage to get onto a cigar factory tour, which is great fun at only $5 each. We couldn’t believe how much work was involved in making just 1 cigar, Fernando would be impressed.

Then we head out of town to the Somoto Canyon, where we plan to camp for the night. Yay! The gates are open & we drive in & head right across the river to what we think is a great spot. It would have been our “buggiest” night ever. Millions of the blasted little things slipped through our fly screen & it is way too hot to close any windows. The next morning sees us heading up river to explore the canyon. A young “guide” catches up to us & offers to ferry us in his “lancha” to where you use tubes. The water is low, but we still manage to paddle through the gorgeous canyon & float, albeit slowly, back down.

Time to head to the border. It only takes 30 minutes to exit Nicaragua.

Hola Honduras!!

 

 

Thursday, April 25, 2013

COSTA RICA PHOTOS

The lovely Park National Manuel Ballena

We met this guy in the National Park  - is he having a bad hair day!

The gorgeous beach at Park National Manuel Antonio

He's soooooooooo cute!!

The old style villages beside the palm plantations - they are being slowly replaced by new houses

Playa Hermosa - miles of black sand & surf

Crocs in the river

The crater at Volcan Irazu

So many lovely rivers on the Caribbean side

Just past our camp spot we found this waterfall & couldn't resist a picture

The crater at Volcan Poas - how we saw it

How the crater at Volcan Poas looked on the brochere!!

We had a little visitor at the National Park Volcan Poas - & no we didn't feed him

The town of Fortuna with Volcan Arenal towering in the distance

Volcan Arenal from our camp spot

Our camp spot virtually in the river

The tiled church at Canas

A toucan at Las Pumas animal shelter

Finally a PUMA

And a JAGUAR

Llanos de Cortes waterfall

COST A LOT IN COSTA RICA


We had started crossing the border at 3pm, so it was 5pm Panama time (4pm Costa Rica time) when we have finished. Not a lot of time left to look for a campspot. A quick flick through our paperwork & we see that friends stayed at a coffee finca up in the hills.  Now that sounds like a good idea, it would be lovely to have a nice cool night. So we head north to San Vito & find the gorgeous Finca Cantaros just on dusk. We baulk a little at the $21 price tag, but it is getting late. We have our own spot in an amazing botanical garden with our own BBQ area, hot shower & wifi. We stay well into the next day before continuing our drive through the mountains. The road is narrow & winding, but there is a new sealed surface. Finally we reach the Interamerican highway (merely a bumpy road) & head to Palmar Norte, where we turn off onto the coastal route. The owner of the Finca has recommended this route – it has recently been resealed. We had wondered where all the trucks had gone. We find them here – obviously they find this a better route too. We have also found the rain.

We find a campspot near the beach at the entry to Park National Manuel Ballena. The next morning the sky is blue, so we head to the beach ($6 each) & watch the tourists head out on boats to watch the dolphins. There is snorkeling at low tide on the whales tail – where waves meet, so we putter around, waiting for the tide to go down. Not any coral, but lots of pretty coloured fish.

Finally we continue along the coast, passing many huge palm plantations & lots of lovely beaches including the surfie destination of Dominical. Our destination is Park National Manuel Antonio (hyped as Central America’s top destination) we camp right on Playa Espadilla just before a torrential downpour. With so much water the frog’s croke madly all night. They are much louder than the waves crashing on the beach. The next morning we head to the park at 7am ($10 each) – it is Saturday & we want to beat the crowds. It pays off with most of the walks to ourselves & a lovely swim on a near empty stunning beach. We had practically given up on seeing monkeys, when we spy 3 little capuchins. They are so gorgeous we watch as they swing in the branches & eat fruit. Another beach & another swim before we head back to GR2. Our parking area is now full of cars & the lady attendant tries to charge us twice what we were quoted last night. She didn’t succeed!

Back at Quepo we stop for lunch at a “Soda” restaurant for a set meal – beans/rice/meat/banana/taco& a glass of freshly squeezed pineapple & orange juice. Phew! We won’t need much dinner tonight. And so along the coast we continue. More palms, more palm oil processing plants, more long stretches of surf & then more stormy rain. As we turn to head inland we cross a huge river & stop to look at the massive crocodiles below. These guys would give our crocs a run for their money.

Our final destination for today is the city of San Jose the capital of Costa Rica. We have found GPS points for a trailer park in a blog – so we plan to head there. On our way into the city we spy a Radio Shack & stop for a computer lead. Then I am tempted by the modern supermarket. By the time we have filled up with a very expensive trolley full of groceries, it is getting late. Our GPS points take us to a brand new supermarket – the park has long gone. Oh no…in the city at night. Think! The airport! Bummer. There is an underground carpark. I try begging at a large, nearly empty carpark, but no go. So we start heading out of town, until I spy a hotel. We drive in. The guard asks “Do you have a reservation?” My reply “Si, si!” (Forgive me) and we are in & head into the carpark surrounded by trees. Normally we would ask permission & offer to pay, but we don’t want to be told “no”, so we risk it. We even pick up Wifi.  Needless to say we leave before 7am.

So much for visiting San Jose – we do a drive by & head on up to the mountains through some gorgeous cultivated countryside to Volcan Irazu at 3450 metres. We want to be there early before the clouds roll in. We head up with dozens of lycra clad cyclists on their Sunday ride. By the time we walk to the crater (again $10 each) we have a bare 10 minutes before cloud rolls in. We head back down through cloud, the bikes flying past us now.

Instead of returning to San Jose, we head across the mountains towards the Caribbean, following the old windy route to Turrialba & Puerto Veijo de Sarapiqui. By now the cloud has turned to rain. Guess that’s why it is so lush & tropical & there are lots of lovely rivers. Finally we turn & head back into the mountains – camping beside a river.

We head off early the next morning to catch the next volcanic crater at Volcan Poas (again $10 each). This time we miss it by 10 minutes. We wait, but no, the thick mist just thickens. At least there is an info centre showing a video of it. Again as we head back down the mist turns into rain. At the bottom it stops. On through more flatlands to Cuidad Quesada & the very touristy town of Fortuna in the shadow of the active Volcan Arenal. We camp right in a river bed with the volcano towering behind us. There is no lava flow tonight!

The next morning we wind our way around the lake & return to the hot dry plains of the Interamerican highway. Our next destination is Llanos de Cortes, stopping on the way at a few towns & Las Pumas animal shelter. We finally get up close & personal with a puma, jaguar & ocelot, albeit safely behind fences.

Llanos de Cortes is a gorgeous waterfall with a lovely sandy beach for swimming. Very popular with tourists, as it is only just off the main road. We camp there the night in a huge carpark, all to ourselves & the next morning go down for a swim with only the howler monkeys for company. We decide to give the last volcano a miss & head on to the border. Just before the border we use our last few Colones (the local currency) on some diesel. Our first fuel purchase in this expensive country. It is Central America with Australian price tags. As usual, the border is a chaotic place with massive queues of trucks. But it only takes an hour & a half…….hola Nicaragua!

 

 

 

Thursday, April 18, 2013

PROWLING THROUGH PANAMA - PHOTOS

The old town, with glimpses of the new - Panama city

Our rooftop pool deck at our hotel - not too bad on a hot hot day

Love the highrise here

One of those Red Devils - don't know how the driver manages to see out the window!

The locks opening at Miraflores

We made it to church on Sunday evening - service was lovely - we didn't understand a word

They still use their oxen - here in the canefield

John with a paper mache mask - way too fragile to buy & bring home

One of those gorgeous churches

We love camping right beside the beach

The dry peninsula - note the "growing" fenceposts

Our camp spot at the campground at Las Lajas

Going over the mountains to the Carribean - native huts

After all, this is the banana coast

At the port, being directed to the ferry

Locals fishing beside the mangroves

The quaint old town of Bocas del Toro

Right on the beach - we stayed all day - Magic

These guys are eating pineapple - fun to snorkel with them

More Bocas scenery

Yet more Bocas scenery

Exploring the island - driving right along the waterfront

Back on the mainland- camping in a riverbed

The banana plantation - container loads go to Europe

It is a very slick operation

The little posers! That showed off for ages. Adorable

Up the hill we saw a few howler monkeys - much harder to spot than the friendly Capuchin monkeys