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.
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!