Technology – is it a friend or foe?

Having found myself in a situation where I have been phone-less for almost a month (it’s a long story, getting things fixed in Mexico can be an experience), I’ve come to feel that I have actually enjoyed the break from being constantly connected wherever I go.

I actually had to plan, remember, and make sure that I am where I say I will be, when I said I’d be there.

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Fun playing football with children at Comuna 13

Colours of Colombia : exploring Medellín and Guatapé

On arriving in Medellin, I was excited. I had heard so many good things about this place, and I really wanted to see for myself. Turns out, they’re not wrong – Medellin is a vibrant, bright and happening city which is much more modern than I had imagined. The people are happy and will go out of their way to help you out (or point you in the direction of the best local food) and there is plenty to see and do.

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That time they tried to kidnap me in Bolivia – by ambulance

After safely making my way down Death Road without incident, I managed to require medical assistance for a different reason. Having battled illness for around a week I figured it was time to get myself to a doctor. With a raging fever and a headache, I asked the front desk at the hostel where I could go to be seen by a doctor at a clinic, but expressed that it was not serious enough an ailment to require the Emergency department at the hospital. Was there a doctor nearby that I could see?

Being told to wait, he called a clinic and I was asked to explain my illness over the phone to determine the next step. A short conversation later, and I was told to wait in my room as a doctor would be able to see me there in around 20 minutes. Enquiring as to the cost of this visit, I was told in vague terms that it was not expensive and so went against my gut instinct and agreed.

Almost two hours later a knock on the door announced the arrival of the doctor, and I dragged myself out of bed. I don’t even think it was two minutes into the conversation when the doctor began to explain that he wanted to check me out properly at his clinic. Even though I had given the exact same explanation over the phone in the first instance.  “We can take you there, follow me” he said, against my protest, but somehow as my guard was down (being sick and all) and I allowed him to shepherd me into a patient transport van/kind of ambulance thing to be taken “a short distance” to the clinic. It will be fine, he said, and for some reason I wanted to trust the guy in the white coat.

Ten minutes down the road and I started to panic. I’d definitely read stories of travellers being placed into ambulances in South America and then asked for an exhorbitant amount of money. Was this one of those situations? I was certainly not in an incapacitated condition, and perfectly able to look after myself. This was no emergency that’s for sure.

Half hour after we left my hostel, dodging through the traffic and sometimes driving on the wrong side of the road (!), we arrive at a shiny white private looking clinic, with seemingly not a soul inside other than the doctor and the administration lady. The doctor took me into a room and began his consultation, to my animated protest as I again asked about the cost of treatment. “Oh I don’t know, the admin lady does that,” he said and again tried to commence treatment, which I refused once more. Defiant, I demanded the price and this time got the result I was after – he soon returned with an exhorbitant amount scribbled on a piece of paper that I was absolutely not prepared to pay.

That is where things got interesting, and an argument ensued, where I expressed my displeasure in the way in which I had been treated and not been informed when asking about the costs as well as where I was going to be taken. “Well it was your decision to come here,” he rebutted. I stood up and walked straight out the front door, however to my surprise no further attempt was made to stop me nor make me pay for the “service” I had recieved.

Having no idea where I was other than a blue dot on Google Maps saying I was somewhere in the South of the city of La Paz, and even less idea how to get back to the hostel, I see a hospital across the road and figure I can get a taxi from there easily enough…

Wrong.

Many taxis pass and I hail each and every one of them with no success. I realise quickly that I am the only extranjero (foreigner) around and I suspect the taxi drivers are unwilling to drive the long distance to take me back to el centro where I belong.

Slightly distressed, I snap myself back to reality and suddenly have a plan. Looking up I see a metro cable car station not too far away and I figure that I can hopefully get myself a little but closer to where I need to be. Stopping at the university on the way to use the free wifi tell my friends I was still alive (as I was meant to meet them very soon), I manage to find my way easily enough, and soon am high in the sky above La Paz. Why not make the best of a bad situation and do a little sightseeing on the way? Hugely disappointing, the mirador wasn’t spectacular, and an hour later I manage to finally take a taxi from the cable car station closest to town (though he royally ripped me off on the fare, I didn’t care – I wasn’t playing the game anymore as the only thing I wanted was to get back to my bed).

Lesson learned – trust your gut instinct in these kinds of situations and never let your guard down especially when you are sick!

Making the world´s greatest u-turn

Every now and then when you are on the road, you have to make a decision that will change the shape of your experiences going forward – and it can feel quite daunting! Both options had equal merit, and spending all my time deliberating over the decision was making me turn into some sort of a nervous wreck.
Would I go to Canada as I had planned, to work in a hostel in the mountains and spend my time mountain biking and hiking? Or would I do a u-turn from where I was in Miami, Florida, and head back down to experience more latin culture in South America?
Crazy as it sounds, but exciting and liberating at the same time, I had a friend of mine toss a coin on my behalf – that way I couldn’t cheat and go back on my word.
“Heads for Canada amd tails for South America,” I said confidently as the outcome lay waiting on the table.
“Well you are going to South America then, aren’t you.”
The first emotion I felt on hearing those words was relief. Relief that I no longer had to think about what  the consequences of the outcome were. There is was, done deal, and all there was to do now was to start putting plans into action. It was awesome!
So here I am sitting in Lima Peru, about to embark on the next leg of my journey – South America.
That wasn’t so hard, after all…. Canada can wait!

Embracing the weather!

Dancing in the rain and other adventures in Panama

Panama. A place where it rains. A lot! So what can one do but embrace it? Dancing in the warm rain is kinda fun!!

What can you do but get amongst it!

What can you do but get amongst it!

Making my way south from Costa Rica, the first port of call was Bocas del Toro, a gorgeous archepelago in the north, which responds exactly to the vision of “tropical carribean island” in my mind… Rainforest which melts into beautiful white beaches, and crystal clear waters.

Lily at Playa Drago

Lily at Playa Drago

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A highlight was lunch at Playa Estrella (starfish beach) when our fresh crayfish was literally pulled out of the water in front of us!

Fresh seafood for lunch

Fresh seafood for lunch

Playa Estrella - starfish beach

Playa Estrella – starfish beach

We had a great crew at the hostel Heike – and after spending a couple of days there together, mostly chilling out and cooking shared dinners, a few of us decided to check into an airBnB to have our own little space!

Tacos... of course!

Family dinner night – tacos… of course!

After spending the day out snorkelling and visiting Playa Zapatilla, the crew came back for yet another family dinner night – of course we made tacos 🙂

Beautiful Playa Zapatilla

Beautiful Playa Zapatilla

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The Heike crew

The Heike crew

Packing up our backpacks, we took a water taxi across to Isla Bastimentos where we planned to stay the night at the Eco tent lodge right on the beach – but unfortunately for us they were full 🙁 Red frog beach was lovely though, and we spent the day there before returning to Heike.

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Taking the Overnight bus to Panama was an experience – they aren’t kidding when they tell you to dress warm – the ambient air temperature was a bone chilling 17C. Hard to fall asleep when you can’t feel your face, so I arrived in Panama city tired and weary at 7am after a 12 hour journey.

Luna's Castle

Luna’s Castle

The Luna’s castle hostel is a converted old mansion in the centre of Casco Viejo, a very pretty historical centre in Panama City. They have an awesome area upstairs where you can hang out in a hammock and watch the (daily) lightning and thunderstorm outside. Downstairs in the Relic bar, happy hour beers will set you back 50c, or an outrageous $1 for house spirits. Needless to say we took advantage.

We also starred in a video for the hostel – which involved a (slightly staged) pancake fight!

The camera crew!

The camera crew!

Panama is a really modern city and it was a great feeling to be back in a place where you could get anything you wanted (though, that also makes everything more expensive!) While it was raining outside we took the opportunity to see a movie – Xmen – which was awesome!

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Cruising around town on a bicycle

Watching a ship come through the Miraflores lock - Panama Canal

Watching a ship come through the Miraflores lock – Panama Canal

A tough decision lay ahead of me – whether to make the five day sail across to Colombia via the beautiful San Blas islands, or fly which is the much cheaper option, although that way you miss out on seeing the gorgeous untouched islands. I made the tough decision to fly, all things considered it gave me three weeks in Colombia rather than only two – but I bet I’ll be jealous of everyone else’s amazing photos!

Time for a road trip!

Playas y vive la Pura Vida en Costa Rica!

Although I only spent two weeks in Costa Rica, I know this is a place I will come back to again, as it is just spectacular! The locals are cheery and it is definitely true that they use the phrase ‘Pura Vida’ for everything- hello, thankyou, don’t worry, have a nice day…
Colourful Costa Rican money

Colourful Costa Rican money

 A little more expensive than it’s Central American cousins,  though transport is cheap, safe and comfortable and it is easy to find your way around by public bus. Taking the TICA bus from Managua, we sailed smoothly across the border into Costa Rica and landed in Liberia, the second biggest city in Costa Rica.  Liberia is nothing that special, and served as a transit stop for us, however we did take a trip down to the Llano de Cortes waterfall just south of town.
Llano de Cortes

Llano de Cortes

Having heard that Tamarindo was quite a tourist town, I decided to head further down the Nicoya Peninsula to Samara, where I spent quite a few days lazing by the beach!  Afternoons were spent jamming on the hostel terrace with a Tico named Enrique, who worked the town by night for tips.  Needless to say hearing the old rock and roll tunes sung in Spanish was quite the experience – Rolling Stones, anyone?
Jamming with Enrique

Jamming with Enrique

By night, the place comes alive however don’t expect any activity before around 11pm.  Many nights were spent playing pool in the Media Luna and at Las Olas.  I took up an invitation to attend ‘Bohemian night’ which involves meeting at a bar at midnight, to join the locals after they finish work – then jamming together and dancing under the stars on the beach until around 5am.  The sky was clear and the night was warm!
Playa Samara at sunset

Playa Samara at sunset

By chance I met a few ladies who were studying at the local Spanish school and they invited me to join them on a road trip down to Corcovado National Park in the south of the country.  I was entrusted with the map and given the all important job of DJ, while Tammy made the full day drive down to Puerto Jimenez.
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They trusted me with the map?

Picnic lunch at Playa Jaco

Picnic lunch at Playa Jaco

We spent the night close to the national park in the small town of Puerto Jimenez, on the Oso Peninsula in the deep south of the country. The hike itself was a beautiful 15km journey through rainforest right next to the beach – and we saw why it is one of the most biodiverse regions in the world! I was so impressed by our time there that I have made a separate post here – check it out.
Making our way back up the coast, we stopped in the surf town of Dominical and the second I walked into the Cool Vibes hostel, I knew that I wanted to stay a little longer than one night.  The others understood and were a tiny bit jealous, as they were on a schedule to return back to Samara.
The town being small has a very laid back vibe, great waves and friendly people.  For the first time on my trip I managed to have a surf, although trying to back it up the next day was difficult, particularly after completing an exercise session on the beach with a German who was a personal trainer.  Sore abs, anyone?  So I did what anyone would do in my situation and had a massage down on the beach.
I’d met a friendly crew at the hostel and we decided to head up to a house on the hill just out of town, to have a few quiet beers in air-conditioned comfort.  Two cars paraded up slowly in convoy, the Jimny struggling to carry four large men up a steep slope but refusing to give in, and soon an American, two Germans, four Canadians, and me the token Aussie arrived at our destination.  Needless to say the language of drinking games was universal, although at times some of the rules got lost in translation!
While I wanted to stay longer in this awesome little town, I felt like it was time to move on, heading towards Panama.  To break up the journey, I decided to stop for one night in San Jose and then in the Carribean coastal town of Puerto Viejo.
Treating myself to a private room at Kaya's place

Treating myself to a private room at Kaya’s place

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Inside Kaya’s place, the hostel where I stayed, was also the local microbrewery.  Dangerous!  Quickly being convinced to pull up a pew at the bar, I made friends with the brewer and a lovely couple from San Diego and tried many of the special experiments that were on offer behind the bar – sours may be an acquired taste!
After a quick pint or two I set off for an afternoon walk along the beach. Locals were playing football on the most waterlogged pitch I have ever seen, and fisherman had taking over an old barge which lies sunk just off the coast.
Locals relaxing around the foreshore

Locals relaxing around the foreshore

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Not wanting to miss seeing a sloth, I hired a bike and headed out of town in the morning, stopping by a bakery for breakfast and checking out Playa Cocles.  The Jaguar Rescue Centre was around 7km out of town and only do tours twice daily, which was on my must do list.
Playa Cocles

Playa Cocles

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Jaguar Rescue Centre

Entirely run by volunteers, the centre relies on donations as it does not receive any funding from the government.  Sadly, the animals in need often are rescued from animal poachers and are often not in very good condition when they arrive. Although there were no jaguars to be seen, the animals in residence included an Ocelot and a Margay (big cats), Sloths, baby monkeys, birds and snakes.
Isnt this sloth one of the cutest creatures you have ever seen?

Isnt this sloth one of the cutest creatures you have ever seen?

Ocelot

Ocelot

We were treated to seeing some signature Costa Rican red eyed tree frogs, including a mating pair which the centre founder was extremely excited about – apparently it is a rare thing to see.
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Cruising back to town, it was time to leave magical Costa Rica and board a public bus for Sixaola – the most laid back border crossing I have seen so far!  Passport stamped and an hour lost, and we were headed for Bocas del Toro.
Crossing the border into Panama

Crossing the border into Panama

 

Being amazed by the amazing and biodiverse Corcovado NP, in southern Costa Rica

The Corcovado National Park is one of the most biodiverse regions in the world and boasts the only remaining old growth wet forest on the Pacific coast of Central America, and contains some 2.5% of the biodiversity of the planet.  It is accessed only by foot from one of three entry points.
So when I was offered the chance to go, I absolutely knew I had to see it!
It was a full day drive down from Samara to the Oso Peninsula, where we would stop at Puerto Jimanez for easy access to the National Park.  Frustratingly we were faced with our first taste of Costa Rican bureaucracy – we were unable to book our tour for the following day as everything needed to be prearranged. Not wanting to give up, we spent the following morning trying to find a guide that would take us anyway, a pursuit that proved both frustrating and futile.
In order to enter the national park, you require a guide as well as to pay your admission fee.  Should be simple enough right?  Three visits to the park office, two conversations with the hotel staff, one visit to the bank and a few hours later and we had the requisite piece of paper and we were locked and loaded for the following day.
Sunrise on the way to Corvovado NP

Sunrise on the way to Corvovado NP

Our guide Santos met us just before 5am and we stopped at the bakery for some breakfast before setting off.  Tammy was quickly told not to try taking her coffee for the road, advice worth taking due to the bumpy gravel road!  The trip involved three river crossings and it took around two hours to arrive at the parking area, From there it was an hour’s walk to the entry of the National Park, across land which we are told was owned by a couple Canadians – and a new equine friend!
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We would be hiking a total of 15km although the path followed the beach and it was an easy flat route.
Santos leading the way

Santos leading the way

To my disappointment we would not be venturing into the primary forest – as this would involve an overnight hike.  The secondary forest has been disturbed by mining activity and banana plantations prior to being declared as a National Park.
Santos had a well trained eye – spotting many birds and animals on our way about the park including a Quetzal, crested owl, green spotted frog (so poisonous it will kill you in minutes, or so we were told), colourful crabs, white-faced, spider and howler monkeys, anteaters, as well as blue and scarlet macaws.
Reaching our turn around point, we were treated to a swim in a fresh water spring which was amazing in the heat!
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So many crabs!

So many crabs!

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It was a fantastic experience and I left wishing that I had been able to spend more time in this beautiful corner of the world 🙂

Salty hair and sandy toes – living the beach life in Nicaragua

After spending enough time travelling out of a backpack in the relentless Nicaraguan summer heat, your hair begins to feel like straw and the “sniff test” starts to give you early stage depression. Enjoying the beach life, but not the sand in my underwear, I look back on the three weeks I have spent in this arid land and recall that for the most part of it, I sweltered. And while I also managed to enjoy it, I am also now sporting some pretty special tan lines!
Nicaragua is certainly a place that young people come to party – from “getting weird” at the Treehouse hostel near Grenada, checking out a beach party in Las Peñitas, to the much hyped Sunday Funday pool crawl in San Juan del Sur.
Sunday Funday pool crawl - before things got messy!

Sunday Funday pool crawl – before things got messy!

A little messier, no photos after sunset!

A little messier, no photos after sunset!

It seems to me that the more hype surrounds a particular party, the less impressive it tended to be – I guess the higher your expectations the more likely you are to be disappointed. After paying $30US for entry and a free “shot” (read juice with a tiny amount of alcohol) at three different bars, it is clear that someone’s pocket is getting well and truly lined. The sunset was pretty awesome seen from the Naked Tiger which is on the side of a hill just outside town.
Sunset from the Naked Tiger

Sunset from the Naked Tiger

While León had not felt super safe, the feeling was amplified in Grenada – shops being locked up during the day does not necessarily give you the greatest feeling! We were quickly warned that walking around at night = getting robbed, and that one should leave their smartphone at the hostel rather than take valuables around in the street. A warning duly heeded.
Friends of ours recommended we catch the shuttle to spend a night at the Treehouse hostel. Like the name suggests, it is literally a treehouse built on the side of Volcan Mombacho just outside of Grenada. As we would later find out, the Australian who now owns it had bought it (for a steal) from a crazy Texan lad who had an unfortunate drink driving incident resulting in the death of a local man on a motorcycle (who was also drunk by the way). The case was eventually settled for the largest sum in Nicaraguan history. However by that time the treehouse had been neglected so much that it’s structural integrity was in question. Enter the Aussie who was at the end of his quest to touch the ground in over 60 countries – he went down to the lawyers office with $500 to pay the deposit – and the rest they say is history.
Hammocks at the Treehouse

Hammocks at the Treehouse

A ute pulled up, and they piled our luggage up on the rack while around 12 of us jumped in the tray for the 15 minute ride. I took a seat in the back and hoped that we would arrive in one piece. After trekking up a steep rocky hill with our packs in tow, we found our hammocks for the night – glad to be in the treehouse next to the bar and not having to make the drunken stumble down the treacherous path to the dorm below!
We partied into the night, completing the five flavour infused shot challenge (sadly none of them were any good) and then at some point in the evening it became a good idea to try asking the bartender if we could “get weird” – this involved a mystery shot and a piece of crazy attire handed out from a special collection they keep for these such occasions.
Saying goodbye to Grenada, we made the trip to San Juan del Sur in time for the infamous Sunday Funday pool crawl. San Juan itself is more of a family holiday tourist town an a surf beach, with the surf beaches located to the north and south accessed by shuttle. We chose to take the less beaten path and head north to try and catch some waves. Popoyo is a surf town with a lovely stretch of beach around 2 hours away. Having only two small mini markets, a surf shop, a handful of hotels and hostels, and a laid back atmosphere, the rural town was perfect for a weeks break from the backpacker trail (even though it wasn’t quite planned that way!)
Sunset stroll on Guanacaste

Sunset stroll on Guanacaste

While the others moved on to Ometope a few days later, I had to stay behind and rest my injured foot, spending time with new friends Kenny, Roger and Brian from Florida and the three Norwegian girls, Christina, Gro and Pernille. Days were spent moving between the water and my hammock, trying to cool down in the Nicaraguan heat. We explored the natural rock pools at the north of the beach, got excited when the vegetable truck came past, cooked family dinners, did yoga on the beach at sunset, and spent Saturday night partying at Magnific Rock whch is an amazing hotel jutting out from a cliff overlooking the surf break.
Having spent a couple of months on the Pacific side of the continent and longing for the Carribean, Alex and I decided to make the journey across to experience the Corn Islands. After reading many horror stories we decided to take the easy route and fly, rather than make the two day trek by chicken bus, panga and cargo ship (complete with sandbags to sleep on).
Just prior to boarding the aircraft, we had a brief moment where we didn’t think our hold luggage was going to make it, causing us a little bemused surprise, as of course both of us had packed our bikinis in our backpacks! Fortunately, once on the island our bags had in fact arrived.  We took the small panga (ferry) across to the smaller island, little corn, jammed five wide inside the boat with little room to move.
The eclectic little island did not disappoint – it was full of Carribean charm, and jungle melting into gorgeous white sand beaches. Climbing up the old weather station to see the sunset, you are afforded views of the whole island whilst listening to the beats of local drummers below.
Climbing up the old weather station

Climbing up the old weather station

View from the top

View from the top

Known by the locals as Islita or Isla pequeña del maiz, it is small enough to walk across the entire island in around half an hour. Impressivlely, the town water supply is filtered and can be drunk from the tap, and visitors are reminded to kindly take their plastics off the island with them – due to of the environmental sensitivity of a small ‘off the grid’ place all garbage has to be removed and this becomes somewhat of a problem.
Although the food was really good, eating out was expensive, so we chose to make our own food in the hostel kitchen most days, although anything left in the fridge was subject to inspection by the local food thief. Fresh fruit, vegetables and other supplies arrive by cargo ship each Saturday, so by the end of the week stocks run low and you have to work with what you can get. However, mangoes and starfruit were plentiful around the island, and free!
Enjoying a brownie at Cafe Desideri

Enjoying a brownie at Cafe Desideri

The Greenhouse Hostel had two extra special “guests” – a puppy named Lobo and a kitten “pinto gallo” who was so small she would just fit in my hand. By the end of the week the two seemed to have made friends, with the kitty retreating to the safety of sleeping in someone’s shoe anytime Lobo got too excited.
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Can I keep Her?

I decided to try scuba diving for the very first time, and was treated to seeing a Grey Nurse shark and a Stingray as big as me on my Discovery dive. Needless to say, I fell in love with exploring this new underwater world and completed my Open Water diver certification, even doing a night dive which was a special experience – at one point we were in complete darkness under the water looking at the bioluminescenece whch was pretty cool!
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Returning to Big Corn to a much bigger island with cars, cheaper food and even an ATM (though it was always out of money – that USD I was carrying came in handy!) Locals were busily preparing their craypots for the lobster season – stacked high in every flat cleared piece of land on the island. Unfortunately we were around three weeks early – I did manage to try the local dish ‘Rundown’ (lobster and fish in a spicy Carribean coconut sauce) which was tasty but I can only imagine how amazing it would have been with fresh lobster!
Blowing Rock

Blowing Rock

We did a two tank dive to Blowing Rock which was a rock formation seemingly in the middle of the ocean, waves slapping against the rocks at the surface. Circumnavigating the dive site in the boat it did strike me that this would be perfect shark territory, but asides from a single grey nurse shark, we didn’t see any. Swimming in and out around the rocks, we saw barracuda, angel fish, lobster, and plenty of parrotfish.
Running out of time on my visa, it’s time to move on to beautiful Costa Rica!