Because of the food poisoning I spent the most of my time in Monteverde in bed doing nothing but watching movies and feeling sorry for myself. I did however have one full day feeling well, so I got to do the thing I came for in the first place; bungee jumping!
I booked a day tour through Extremo Monteverde and got 4 km of ziplining and a bungee jump for 100 USD.
Ziplining through the jungle was a fun experience; we went in a large group and you went straight from one zipline to another. They were all connected in a large circle so that the last line stopped back at the restaurant.
During the ziplining I met a group of European girls studying Spanish in Costa Rica. They were all doing the bungee, and being the only guy jumping I had a great time laughing at them screaming all the way down.
With it’s 143 meters the bungee jump in Monteverde is the highest in Central America. You enter a horizontal lift and jump over a beautiful valley. The jump itself was a great adrenalin kick, although it didn’t even come close to skydiving.
During dinner I met Louise, one of the girls I met at both Lost and Found and Walaba in Punta Uva; I knew she was going to Monteverde, but it is still curious how I keep meeting the same people again and again.
After dinner I spoke with the hostel manager about finding an easy route to San Carlos Nicaragua rather than backtracking 5 hours to San Jose. I ended up booking a jeep-boat-jeep transport for the next morning – taking me to La Fortuna instead of San Jose.
At breakfast I started talking to a woman from the US. She and a group of 5 others were also doing the transport, planning to stay in La Fortuna before heading to Nicaragua. During the trip to La Fortuna I learned that the group was a melting pot of independent travellers and groups who met each other travelling and teamed up. Virginia from the US met Selina from Germany while volunteering at a turtle conservation project and decided to leave early to travel together. Zac and Carly, a couple from Miami, knew Sean and Dan from back home and decided to travel Costa Rica together for a short while. Only Virginia and Selina had a substantial amount of time left, whereas the others would have to go back to Miami three days later to work and graduate Med school.
I decided to change my initial plans and stay with the group in La Fortuna rather than continuing to Nicaragua immediately.
We arrived in La Fortuna around noon and got two private rooms at Backpacker Hostel La Fortuna, each room sleeping 4 persons each. It was nice to have a really clean and nice room for a change, and it was a small victory to haggle the price down from 19 to 10 dollars pp.
The first day we spent walking around the city; getting lunch, doing laundry and just acquainting ourselves with the area. We were all to tired to go out a night, so we just went for dinner and crashed early.
We got up early the next day to go to one of the volcanoes nearby. We had booked a shuttle to 7:30, but it proved to be to early and we ended up postponing it an hour. The shuttle took us to a Arenal National Park, a beautiful place with some nice hiking trails. We went to a small but scenic waterfall first, crossed a hanging bridge and took the longer of the two trails; passing through beautiful lowland with grazing cattle and horses – surrounded by mountains and forest.
After a couple of kilometers we arrived at the foot of the volcano and started the ascent. The sign said 1540 meters, but with a slope so steep that it was more climbing than walking, it seemed pretty far.
With time the crater of the extinct volcano accumulated so much rainwater that it created a lake with its own ecosystem; containing small fish, frogs and geckos. After swimming in the crater and relaxing our battered bodies, we started the long hike down.
After the hike back we relaxed in the restaurant at the Observatory Lodge and enjoyed the simply stunning view of the lake and the Volcán Arenal.
Today, Virginia, Selina and I got up at 4:45 am, took the bus to Quesada and changed to a bus going to Los Chiles. While waiting for the boat we had a weird experience; a pickup truck carrying a coffin in the back stopped at the boat terminal. The coffin was covered in fur and looked like it had been the end of half a dozen Golden Retrievers. My theory is that it contained the body of the local pimp or a Columbian drug lord, the truth we will never know.
Sailing down the river we saw monkeys and birds along the shore, it was a welcome change from sitting in the hot busses all day!
After waiting an hour in immigration in San Carlos, we only had 30 minutes to get food and find the bus. It proved to be one of the old school buses that we love so much….
After 30 minutes of bumpy driving we stopped in a small city to pick up people (and a small squealing pig in a plastic bag that they placed on the roof, bizarre.) During the 5 hour drive to Granada we experienced deafening Michael Jackson Thriller Reggaeton remixes and a huge “controlled” wildfire in the distance. After 16 hours of travelling we arrived in Granada. Exhausted and hungry we got to the hostel, only to find it fully occupied. We found another hostel, got some food and crashed, hard.
Today we started the morning by moving to El Momento Hostal, a beautiful hostel with hammocks and soft beds – just what I needed. During breakfast the girls talked about how much they hated caged animals, so before we left I took the liberty of opening the squirrel cage in the restaurant. Luckily my ninja skills proved sufficient and no one noticed anything before I had fled the scene. Now I just hope they are smart enough to escape before it’s too late.
Today marks the end of my fifth week in Central America and I still feel like I just arrived. Travelling solo is fantastic; I meet tons of new people every day and can do exactly what I feel like – no plans, no expectations. Even though it is a fantastic adventure, there are however things I come to miss. What I miss about Denmark so far is the following; friends and family, food that doesn’t contain rice and beans, not having to lock my things in a locker when I leave, hot water showers and DSB (believe it or not).
49 days left – 1000 things to do.
So, Lost and Found.
After a 2-hour bus ride through the mountains I got of at the Lost and Found sign in the middle of nowhere.
With my backpack and two full bags of groceries, the 15-minute hike to the lodge felt slightly longer, not helped by the “encouraging” signs on the way; “halfway there – good job”, “take a rest and enjoy the view”, “last big climb before the top” etc.
But when I finally got there, the view was breathtaking.
When I arrived at the hostel I met Elwood, Sarah and Cameron; Elwood and Sarah I knew from Mamallenas hostel in Panama City, and I met Cameron in Bocas del Toro. I spent the first night just chilling and having a couple of beers at the bar.
The next day I spent with Ben, Anna, Adamo, Mike and Tyler. We spent they day hiking to the Mirador at the top of the mountain, the Bearded Tree and the river. The hike took around 4-5 hours and left us with just enough energy to prepare dinner and go to the bar.
The next day I was dead tired from the night before and chose not to hike. Instead I just chilled in the hammock with a book all day. I shot this photo while I was having my morning coffee. There are tons of hummingbirds coming everyday to drink the nectar at the hostel.
The next day, me and 10 other people from the hostel went to a small town to shop some groceries and jump in the canyon nearby.
The bus turned out to be full, but we got picked up by two friendly truck drivers that had space for us in the cabins.
We spent the day just relaxing and swimming in the canyon while watching the reckless local kids make crazy jumps and nearly kill themselves.
We spent the evening in the bar; playing kings cup, foosball and Jenga.
I really enjoyed my time at Lost and Found; great people and spectacular surroundings.
Although Lost and Found is a great place to be, I wouldn’t want to spend more than 3-4 days there, as it would be too tedious.
I left the next day with 4 Canadian girls going to Bocas del Toro. After they got of in Almirante I took a cab to the border and crossed on foot. In the east, the Panamanian-Costa Rican boarder defined by a natural frontier; a large river with checkpoints and bridges connecting the two countries.
After going through immigration, I took a bus to Puerto Viejo and hitchhiked the last ten kilometers to Punta Uva, a small coastal town with less tourists than Puerto Viejo. I checked into Walaba Hostel; a nice little hostel only 50 meters from the beach. At the hostel I met three girls from Lost and Found, as well as a Danish girl travelling by herself.
The next day I spent on the beach with the girls and reading at the hostel. In the evening we met Tommy and Emma who just checked in, and we spent most of the night watching movies and chilling at the hostel.
Next morning we decided to go to the Jaguar Rescue Center; a small sanctuary dedicated to treating and releasing animals back into the wild.
It was not before then that I really started talking to Tommy and realised that he was Danish and living in Copenhagen.
The Jaguar Rescue Center was an amazing experience; during the 90 minute tour we were told stories of the fates of the individual animals in the center and experience some of the animals up close.
Playing with the baby monkeys was definitely the highlight of the tour.
We also encountered a very domesticated deer; it literally just came to us and started liking the salt of our legs.
Normally I strife to avoid guided tours and the like, but this center was truly a great experience that I would recommend to anyone.
After some nice relaxing days in Punta Uva, I continued my journey Thursday morning; taking the first bus to San José with Tommy. Tommy was going to the airport to pick up a friend from Denmark, and I bought a ticket to the next bus to Monteverde. I wanted to explore the area and get some food before taking the bus, but I only got 5 meters from the terminal before I got approached by a guy telling me that it was far to dangerous for a gringo with backpacks to walk alone in these parts of the city.
The man warning me told me that he had been robbed of all his belongings 3 weeks ago and asked if I could help him out with a meal. He showed me a diner close to the terminal and told me his story while we waited for the food. Apparently he came to Central America to DJ and live in Costa Rica, but shortly after he arrived he got jumped by some locals and lost everything. At the moment he was living off the street, waiting for a new credit card from the states to arrive. It was interesting to see how Raffi still managed to have a positive attitude and look on the bright side of life; although you could feel that he had a crisis of faith when it came to trusting others. After the short lunch he thanked me, we exchanged contact information and I hurried to catch the bus.
After a few hours in the bus, it became clear to me that the universe thanked my for my good deed by giving me food poisoning, reverse karma.
I met Caleb on the bus, a young guy from Colorado doing a 4-month study abroad program in Costa Rica. He asked me about my plans in Monteverde, and I told him that my sole motivation for going there was the 143 meter bungee jump. Apparently we had similar plans and we decided to do it together the following day.
Unfortunately my food poisoning proved to be way worse than expected, and while Caleb is out bungee jumping I am in the room unable to move, depleted of all energy. Hopefully I’ll be better tomorrow; zip lining and bungee jump awaits.
In this post I will not go into great details about everything I’ve done since last time I posted as this is a blog and not a novel. I will stick to the cliff notes and the photographs worth mentioning.
Picking up from were I left off; El Valle de Antón.
We only spent a single full day in El Valle. We used most of the day to hike to El Chorro Macho, apparently the largest waterfall in the area. On the way there we deviated from the original trail in search of a less travelled and more beautiful way to the waterfall. It turned out that the path actually took us to the top of the mountain and suddenly ended. Although it took us a couple of kilometers of course, the view from above made it well worth it.
After taking in the view and hydrating, we started descending to get back on track and reach El Chorro Macho.
At first the waterfall was quite disappointing; small and not flowing strong since it hadn’t rained for a while, but we quickly decided that the rules about swimming were to strict and not to be followed. Swimming and climbing the waterfall definitely made it worth the hike.
The rest of the day was spent in the hot springs and back at the cabin.
The next day we decided to leave El Valle and seek greener pastures in Santa Catalina.
We left around 10 am and expected to arrive at our destination after 4-5 hours.It turned out that Panamanian perception of time are quite different from the European norms and in the end the trip took us nearly 10 hours.
As Santa Catalina is a small surfing town 3 hours from civilization, we experienced that we were pretty much secluded from the rest of the world.
The town itself had plenty of restaurants and hostels, but no ATM and only a limited supply of food and groceries; making it the far most expensive place so far ( since you had to eat every meal at restaurants.)
We spent the beginning of our first day switching hostel from Santa Catalina Surfpoint to Surfside Inn, a much cleaner and more backpacker friendly hostel (with kitchen).
The rest of the day passed with surfing, chilling and walking to town to shop the few groceries they had.
We decided that something had to happen, and we booked a snorkelling trip for the following day.
The snorkelling trip took us to Coiba, a UNESCO World Heritage Site to which I had great expectations. According to Tripadvisor, many people had spottet stingrays, dolphins and even whale sharks. Unfortunately the snorkelling trip proved to be a bit of a disappointment; with only 3 meters of visibility and very poor tour guides we only saw fish of different kinds and no live coral. We did see dolphins and sea turtles from the boat but nothing at the snorkelling sites.
Besides the fish, the girls were close to becoming the lunch of Coiba’s mascot, a big salt water crocodile. Apparently they missed the warning signs by the beach and were resting in the water when suddenly a local starts yelling at them and they see the big creature approaching only few meters away. It turned out to be a peaceful one, as it was fed daily by the park rangers. (Although it probably wouldn’t have refrained it from a taste of gringo).
One thing I enjoyed and hadn’t expected didn’t happen in the water, but on the beach. When you walked, the whole beach became alive and moved. It turned out that the beach was littered with Paguridae, small seashells inhabited by hermit crabs.
After the trip it turned out that the tour agency didn’t have a working credit card terminal as they had claimed they would, which left us in a situation were we were unable to pay for the trip due to lack of cash. Fortunately the owner of the shop was going to Panama City via Santiago; so we seized the opportunity, packed our backs and got a lift to Santiago were we could find an ATM and stay the night. The trip by car took under 2 hours, whereas it would have taken us over 4 by bus.
In some ways I was happy to have experienced Santa Catalina, but I was still quite relieved to get back to civilization and people; I think we simply arrived at a bad time with not many backpackers around to make it a better experience. It really made me realize that it is the people and not the place that creates the experience.
The next day we said goodbye to Nicole who had to catch a flight home from Panama City. Astrid and I decided to try our luck in Bocas del Torro, an archipelago on the Caribbean cost. The bus trip was quite a pain since I suffered from food poisoning and felt like I would throw up every second. The first bus I was wearing shorts, t-shirts and flip flops and the air condition soon turned the bus into a motorized freezer. Before the second bus I therefore switched to jeans, jacket and closed shoes, only to find that the bus didn’t really use the air condition. Awesome.
We arrived in Almirante just in time to catch the last boat to Isla Colón and checked in at Hostel Heike around 7 pm.
After dinner we met a group of American girls and two Italian guys and went with them to a bar close by. Most of the bars are located on the water and have holes in the terrace, creating natural pools ideal for swimming and making the nightlife a lot more fun.
I have been in on Isla Colón since friday and mainly spent the days chilling, reading books, watching movies, going to the beach and having fun at night.
The hostel is great; as always there are always people around for a good talk, someone who wants to go out for a beer, or a group to join in a trip to the beach.
One event that really stood out was the Earth Day at Aqua Lounge. I went there with two Swedish girls to help collect trash at the beach in return for drinks and food.
As we walked the beach, local kids from ages 4-10 came asking for gloves and wanted to help. Later they joined us at the bar and played in the pools the most of the afternoon. Later at night I teamed up with one of the Swedes for a beer pong tournament, and the rest of the day and night we just swam and chilled in different bars.
So far my trip has been nothing but pure bliss; fun, swimming, great people and new culture. I will leave Bocas tomorrow and to to Lost and Found, a cloud retreat in the rainforest. I have a feeling that the internet haven’t found it’s way to the Panamanian rainforest yet, and I don’t expect to post anything before I return to civilization; only god knows when?
So, for the past week I have been volunteering at a beautiful villa in Colón. I have been doing fun and strenuous work, met many new people and have had a great time. But after a week I figured that it was time to move on and seek greener pastures. As I have planed nothing for the rest of the trip I decided to go to Panama City and see what happened. The Austrian couple; Thomas and Susi had told me of Santa Catalina, a laid back surfing village by the Pacific. Besides that, I had also been reading all sorts of great things about El Valle de Antón; a small city located in a lush environment in the crater of a giant extinct volcano.
I left the house early and arrived at Luna’s Castle in Panama City at around 3 pm. After checking in I went to my dorm and met my bunk bed partner Matt, a twenty something year old guy from the east coast of Canada. Shortly after two girls entered the dorm and said their hello’s. They were going out for lunch and Matt and I joined them; hostels are simply the best place to meet new people.
On the way to lunch I stumbled into Nisim – he hadn’t been able to go to Columbia yet, but stayed at hostel waiting for an open spot on a boat to Cartagena.
During lunch I learned that the girls were Astrid and Nicole; of Swiss origin but living and working respectively in Canada and London. They had both taken two weeks off work to travel around Panama. We spent most of the afternoon walking Ave Centrale, eating ice cream and people watching in a nice small plaza.
On the way back to the hostel we went past a kid with an Iguana on his head. I just took it for a toy and took no further notice until Astrid suddenly said “Wow, that’s a real Iguana”. I ran back, had to take that photograph.
The police in Panama City are more like a small army.Later we decided that rum would make the night a whole lot better. We got Flor de Caña and Coke at a small street shop, put it in the freezer and went to eat at the Coca Cola Café. After transforming the hostels table tennis into a beer pong arena and substituting beer with rum, the rest of the night was kind of a blur.
View from the hostel balcony at night.
The day before I had convinced the girls that they should go to Santa Catalina instead of Bocas del Toro. So at the moment I am lying in a hammock in El Valle de Antón, listening to music with the girls and drinking red wine. The valley is nothing short of spectacular and the cabin we have checked into is luxury compared to the hostel. We live at a family owned property; they have a monkey, a tucano and a talking parrot – heaven! Tomorrow we are going hiking to explore the area, bathe in the waterfalls, soak in the hot springs and visit the orchid garden, maybe roast some marshmallows at night. After that Santa Catalina and surfing awaits!
We met José at a restaurant in El Valle, a really happy 4-year old who played at the restaurant while his mother worked.
All the best
So, as you might have noticed I’m in Panama by now. After a few days in Panama Ciy, I am now volunteering with Carlos Leonardo, a Couchsurfer living in an amazing villa by the Caribbean Sea. I have been here since Saturday night and done quite a lot of different work; everything from cutting and replanting, trimming and axing to feeding and training the dogs. The list goes on.
Right now there’s a Austrian couple and a Lithuanian guy living here besides Carlos and me.
Anyway, I checked Letsbewild to get inspiration for this weeks challenge and found the theme very interesting. I took a walk down the beach and shot these ones!
The shells very approximately half an inch tall and my lens doesn’t have macro, so I think it did fairly well!
I’ll be back soon with more stories and photographs from my Central American Adventure!
So, why the weird heading?
In most ways my trip here was problem free – except for one. When I got to the gate at my first stopover in Charles de Gaulle, I was called to the counter and informed that I wouldn’t be allowed to board the plane, since I had no ESTA Visa. I tried to explain that I was just transiting in the US and that my final destination was Panama City. Apparently that made no difference, and with 10 minutes to takeoff, I felt pretty frantic. Luckily I brought my laptop, and through a WIFI hotspot I was able to apply for the ESTA at the gate. Thankfully the confirmation didn’t take 24-hours, as it might, but arrived 2 minutes before departure. Needless to say, it took a while before I regained my composure and was able to relax.
At the last leg of my journey, from Atlanta to Panama City, I were seated next to an American woman and her mother. They both looked hispanic, and apparently the mother grew up in Panama City close to the Canal. I started talking to the younger and spent most of the trip telling her about Denmark and absorbing as much information about my destination as I possible could. Her name was Kirsten because her father had a thing for Scandinavia. At first he had wanted to name her Sigfried – she was pretty happy he chose not to.
When we arrived at Panama City I was offered me a ride to the city. Kirsten and her mother dropped my off at the hostel doorstep and I saved a 30$ taxi.
When I tried to check in, it turned out that I accidentally booked my bed from the 4th, and that they were fully booked. I found a fairly cheap hotel that only set me back 35$, still thrice the price of the hostel dorm though.
The following day I dragged my jet lagged self back to the hostel and started talking with people over pancakes. I spend the most of the day going to the Miraflores Lock with a girl from Holland, and watched the great Panamax vessels come through the locks.
Nothing so far has been a great surprise, except for the booking error. But the real surprise revealed itself when we got back from the locks and someone suddenly said “Hej Anton” in Danish. It turned out to be a colleague of mine from Denmark and his girlfriend Amanda. I spent the rest of the day with them; asking questions and hearing about their trip through Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama. They had been on their way for a little over two months and were finishing off Panama in three weeks time before returning to Denmark. At night we went out to eat, as it was their last day in Panama City before the San Blas islands. Jakob turned 25 the day after, so it was cause for wine and celebration.
On the way to the restaurant we were stopped on the street by a Danish girl named Charlotte who worked as an international trainee in Panama for the Danish company BoConcept. It was a bit absurd and it really baffled me how small the world seemed to be that day. She asked us if we wanted to meet her later for some live music and drinks in Casco Viejo. Which lead me to…
…The Cocaine Dealing Cap Driver
The title of this part speaks for itself, but still requires some sort of explanation.
After dinner we took a cap to Casco Viejo. We got in a really pimped taxi with fender skirts and neon lights. The taxi driver half deafened us with extremely loud reggaeton and asked if we wanted “marijuana and cocaine”. We politely refused, but soon he found his sunglass case and showed us the contents. It was filled with 3 large bags of white powder. I’m guessing cocaine, but who knows? He wasn’t especially unpleasant, I mainly think he liked scaring the gringos.
A guy at the hostel told me that the term “gringo” is derived from the words “green go” because the U.S. Cavalry units wore green stripped trouser when campaigning in the Southwest. The term gringo originally means “green, go home”.
After an interesting cap ride we eventually got of in Casco Viejo. It turned out that Casco Viejo is a really fancy place to go out and that a bottle of wine would set us back at least 50$, while the price to enter most bars was 30$ pp. (Note that an average police officer in Panama gets a salary of around 800$ a month). Another curious thing about Casco Viejo was the substantial amount of police in the area, they seemed to outnumber the number of civilians.
In the end we decided that the 1$ beer at the hostel was preferable to the 3-digit wine bottles and the army of police officers.
Today I’ve mostly chilled at the hostel; eaten pancakes and relaxed. Then I got to talking to Elwood (check out his website here), a chill backpacker from the US. We decided to go to the fish market by the docks and shop some fish for lunch. It was a 40 minute walk in really intense heat, but the cerviche we got there was fantastic and made it well worth the effort.
After lunch I went to the Parque Natural Metropolitano de Panamá, which is a beautiful tropical park close to the city. I went with Andrew, an attorney from South Africa who has taken a year of travelling the world, and Shahmeer (he has a really cool blog, a 20-year old American who decided to go from Seattle to Panama City by bike, a good 8000 mile stretch. He has just finished after about 8 months on the road, very impressive. We went for a good walk in the park and climbed an abandoned crane to get a better view.
Now were back at the hostel, waiting for Elwood to make us Crème brûlée, it’s good to have a chef as a friend!
All in all I have had some good days in Panama City thus far. The city itself is nothing to speak of, but the people here are wonderful.
The Hostal Mamallena is perfect; cheap, good pancakes and very nice people.
Tomorrow I’ll head for the Caribbean to stay with a couchsurfer for a few days and just relax.
I’ll let the road decide!
The other day I was biking home from work and spotted two swans fairly close to shore. The lightning seemed perfect, but proved to be way to bright to shoot f/1.4, even with max shutter speed of 1/4000. So unfortunately I was unable achieve the beautiful bokeh that the Minolta 50mm is able to render.
Only 5 days to Central America now. Things will get a lot more colorful then!
Last week I thought spring had come, it was 12 degrees celcius and the sun was shining, the ice was melting and the birds singing.
But the weather in Denmark is treacherous, and now it is snowing, freezing and the lakes are closing again. Tomorrow we’ll have a blizzard, lucky us.
I was lucky yesterday and the sun was out. So I decided to try and get a photo for Letsbewild’s Weekly Challenge themed: Spring.
Today I was taking a walk, and spotted this Grey Heron by the lake.
I tried to get close to it, but it kept fleeing evertime i got close enough. Needless to say it is pretty hard to get an in-flight picture with a manual 50mm. lens.
I don’t have the full EFIX data, as it was taken with a legacy lens. But what I do know is this: ISO: 400, speed: 3200/1. Camera: Sony NEX-6. Lens: Minolta MD 50mm. f/1.4.