Bocas to Granada
Trip Start Sep 13, 2004
25Trip End Apr 30, 2005
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Let's start at the start. After a few days of sidewalk shopping and franchise food in Panama City we made a B-line for the archipelego of Bocas del Toro on the north Carribean coast. Famous for it's surf, sand and reefs, Bocas is a must see for the Panamanian (I love that word) tourist. Spoiled with the relatively untouched splendor of the San Blas islands only a week before, we found Bocas to be just okay... shameless, we know. We don't surf, you have to hire a boat to get to any decent beaches and the water visibility was poor due to recent heavy rains. That said, it seems wrong to speak so indifferently about a place with miles of white sand fringed by coconut palms and turquoise water but these are strange times.
Putting Panama in the rear-view mirror, we made the trek a few kilometers north into Costa Rica and the town of Puerto Veijo. Highlights in this great Carribean town included lodging with hitherto unheard of luxury (a small cabana with our own bathroom, kitchen and patio) and eating a little home cooked food. We also had a blast renting bikes (one speeder's, with basket and bell, circa-1975) and biking up to a jungle trail that lead a series of waterfalls, then riding back down to town, shirts in the baskets in the warm tropical rain. Cool.
Pushing off from Puerto Veijo we headed to San Jose for a night before separating for a week or so to explore Costa Rica solo. (It had become abundantly clear that if we didn't spend some time apart soon, one of us was going to wind up in the crater of one of Central America's many active volcanoes.) We each spent a little time on the Pacific coast (I to Montezuma, Julie to Playa Hermosa) and also did a stint in Monteverde, a town in the central highlands, noted for its cloud forest. (The term for rainforest at higher altitudes, cloud forest is reminiscent of the temperate rain forests of the Pacific Northwest except warmer, wetter and denser.) While walking trails provide an effective means of experiencing this unique ecosystem, it's more fun to see the green blur that is the forest canopy from 200 meters up whilst attached to a wire
As a backpacker it is easy to criticize Costa Rica. The country is in a unique situation of having almost no discernable culture of its own. Actual Costa Ricans are a rare siting among the throngs of Eddie Bauer equipped, fanny pack toting North Americans on 3 week vacations. Spanish is a second language and one is never far from a source of postcards and awful sea turtle embossed T-shirts. The prices are also reminiscent of home (probably the real source of backpacker grumbling about the country and much of the reason why we only spent a couple of weeks there). That said it's not difficult to see why it is so popular among the middle-aged masses. Costa Rica offers an incredible variety of landscapes. Jungle, cloud forest, active volcanoes and beaches on two coastlines are all within less than a day's drive of one another. It also boasts a developed tourist infrastructure, safe streets and drinkable tap water not present anywhere else in the region. But we aren't in Latin America to eat burgers and rent jet skis
Next stop Nicaragua. A country famous for Vocanoes, fresh water sharks and Reagan's infamous "Iran-Contra Affair" (of which the Nicaraguan people undoubably got the short end of the stick). Our first destination was the coastal town of San Juan del Sur where we spent a couple of days on what is widely regarded as one of Central America's finest beaches. Surfing was the thing to do here but we lacked both the expertise and requisite board. (A surprising number of travelers here encumber themselves with their surfboards, unthinkably difficult to get on a crowded local bus.) The wind was also up meaning that to walk on the beach at midday was to submit onesself to a virtual sand blasting. All was forgiven with some beautiful sunsets though. (Not to mention the discovery that Nicaraguan beer is superior to Costa Rican in both flavour and value.)
After leaving San Juan and rides in a pickup truck, two taxis, a boat and two buses we reached our destination on Isla Ometepe, the largest of the islands on Lake Nicaragua. Ometepe was formed by two vocanoes and the result is its distinctive figure-eight shape. Our first two nights were spent in an old farmhouse-turned-hostel with a great view of the lake and one of the volcanoes. We had planned to hike the smaller of the two volcanoes up to the summit and a crater lake but had to turn back an hour in due to bad weather higher up
We are now staying in the former colonial town of Granda, where I sit in the oppressive heat watching a gecko clamber up the wall over the computer monitor. The town had some nice colonial architecture including a few old churches but we must confess that at this point we're pretty much finished with Spanish colonial architecture... it is now officially just another old church, we can't even be bothered to snap a photo.
Tomorrow it's off to Leon where we'll likely spend a day or two en route to Honduras and the legendary Bay Islands. See you there!
Julie and Pete
PS: Good news! We've replaced our camera and we have uploaded some of the photos from this part of our trip. Enjoy!