Thursday, June 28, 2012

Pura Vida en Costa Rica

Costa Rica: Pura Vida
Life in Costa Rica is much different than life in the other Central American countries. It is much more developed and Americanized. I knew it was going to be different, but I still found myself gawking at the nice houses, expensive American cars and over all development of the country.

Our first stop was La Fortuna. It is a town located next to Arenal Volcano, which is normally an active volcano, but it has been dormant for the last 10 months.
Volcan Arenal
So in the words of most Americans "Go big or go home", we decided to take that approach on our adventures in La Fortuna. Our day was going to consist of a waterfall/crater lagoon hike in the morning, a swim in a watering hole, eat lunch, hike the lava beds at the base of the volcano, go swimming in hot springs and complete the night with dinner and a delicious rum drink... I wasn't joking with the "Go big or go home"!!

Let the day of madness begin. First up, waterfall hike. 

Hanging bridge

Headed up to the crater lake. Volcano Arenal in the background. 

Hanging from a vine. I felt very Tarzan inspired being in the rainforest.

Wow, look at that volcano!! ;)

Our day of fun was great. We were exhausted, but the next day, Kristin and I were headed to Tortugero. The most popular beach in the Western hemisphere, for sea turtles to lay their eggs. We were both so excited but getting there was a bit of a hike....

3 buses, a taxi and a boat ride later, we were officially in Tortugero!!!
On the boat to Tortugero. 

 It was a bit of an interesting day, but we made it. After sleeping the night away, we were up bright an early for our canoe ride through the canals to check out the rainforest.
Our 6 a.m, canoe ride. We saw three species of monkeys: spider, white faced and howlers. We also saw crocodiles, 5 different species of heron, iguanas, butterflies, lizards and Cayman toucans. According to our tour guide, we were lucky ladies to see all those different animals.
A little lizard we saw.

Our canoe ride was great. But let's be honest, Kristin and I were most excited to potentially see sea turtles laying their eggs. Fingers crossed we were going to see some :)
Sunset before checking out the sea turtles.

So that night we got on our "darkest outfits"...
Yes, I am wearing a shirt with a skull drinking... No judging. It is the darkest shirt I own down here. 
We headed out for an adventure of a lifetime. We weren't sure what to expect. We had heard that we could potentially see turtles, but since it wasn't peak season it was a crap shoot whether we would see some. So we left with fingers crossed.
We had the same tour guide, the one who said we were lucky girls. She kept insisting we were lucky girls and she hoped we had the same luck as the morning. 
It was pitch black as we walked along the beach, stars shining above, and waves crashing around us. It was picturesque. It started to rain, which only added to the mysterious moment of walking on the beach in the pitch black, searching for these amazing creatures following their natural instinct. 
All of a sudden, our guide tells us there is a turtle coming out of the ocean. Now let's be honest, it was dark, I mean very dark. At first, you think your eyes are playing tricks on you. Is it a huge log?  Or is that really a sea turtle. But as your eyes start to adjust you realize these gigantic dark figures are indeed sea turtles, slowly making their way up the beach. However, as we stood their, a group behind us came up quickly to observe her. But these large animals are incredibly sensitive to the vibrations on the beach. She became spooked and went back into the water. She sensed danger, which alerted a nearby turtle, who also turned back. 

At this point, I wasn't thinking we were very lucky. 2 turtles.... 0 eggs layed. 

But we continued on and found a hawksbill turtle who was in the middle of camouflaging her eggs under sand. She then made her way back to the ocean. This was neat to see but I was dying to see a turtle lay her eggs. 
But luck was on our side. We found a green sea turtle, who was in the middle of laying her eggs. I got to watch her eggs drop into the hole she had dug. She layed 114 eggs, which is pretty average for a green sea turtle. 

There was a conservation group there, which ended up tagging her and measuring her (she was close to 4.5 feet!!!!) to track her life and her potential babies. 

I couldn't believe, I was so fortunate to watch her lay her eggs. An unbelievably moving moment to be sitting on a beach, bright stars above, the sound of waves crashing in the background and an endangered species laying her eggs. 

It was phenomenal to watch. There aren't very many words to describe how amazing it was. 

I am not sure how I am going to top that one!!! Kristin and I walked away just awestruck by the beauty we just captured. I would love to share pictures but no pictures are allowed, so hopefully my description paints the beauty that I saw.

Two happy sea turtles watchers :)

We left Tortugero happy campers. But our last stop in Costa Rica was Cahuita. 
Boat ride of gringos!!

I will be perfectly honest, all we did in Cahuita was lay on the beach. It was nice to relax for a day!

Standing in Cahuita National Park. Beautiful beach in the background.

Adios Costa Rica!! It was great, you were expensive, but beautiful. Panama here we come!!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Pacha Mama

Nicaragua part II: Pacha Mama

Next stop on our jont through Central America: Isla de Ometepe. It is a beautiful island formed by two volcanoes in the middle of Lake Nicaragua
The beauty is unfathomable in person! 

So there are those moments when you come up with a brilliant idea, it starts out well and then takes a turn towards the unknown and your standing there scratching your head wondering how you got there. Well, not that any of you should be surprised, but our mountain biking excursion was precisely that.
Who is ready to mountain biking?!

We were headed towards a little village called PorVenir. We started out on a paved road, easy as pie, right? Everyone loves a leisure bike ride. But let's be perfectly honest, that road ended sooner than expected. Our bike ride went from leisure to pure mountain biking in a quick 5 minutes.

Volcano Concepcion

Kristin and I enjoying the view of the volcano.

We continued to bike on this ridiculously rocky and windy road. We were all dripping sweat and breathing heavenly, until I hear "Where the hell are we? We need to check a map." Unfortunately the map was of no use to us. But a local, kindly told us we had biked 4km too far..... WHOOPS!!! 

Now let me clear this up, it is no ones fault, but I will admit Kristin and I were in front, we passed the sign without even glancing up. However, Jenna noticed the sign, but couldn't fathom how anyone could miss the green and yellow billboard. So she figured it must not be the right place to turn off for PorVenir. 

So we turn around in hopes to find the town. As we are biking along, I see a rock painted white with a symbol on it and I was convinced it was the turn off for PorVenir (Jenna once again failed to mention that she had seen the green and yellow billboard for PorVenir and that this white rock was probably NOT the turn off).  So we lock our bikes up and head up this path towards what we think is PorVenir. As we get to the top of this quite steep climb, we are greeted by a group of barking dogs and a nice Nicaraguan man trying to calm them down.

We weren't quite sure what we had stumbled upon.... 

But it turns out, it was a little Tantra community. I am no yoga junkie, but it seemed to be the mecca for those yoga/hippie junkies. Mellow vibe, minimal clothing, beautiful view and a "we are one" family vibe. It was pretty cool. They offered us delicious volcano water (sounded very mysterious, it was just fresh water from the volcano) and let us look around. But not before I had to wash our glasses with volcano ash because it is better for the environment. ;) Gotta love tree huggers.

Kristin and I "glistening" from our bike ride/hike to Tantra heaven.

We even got into the mood. Yoga on a volcano, check yes.

One of the Tantra Yoga rooms.

Seriously amazing!

Tantraville was great, but we were ready to chill out on the beach. So we said good-bye to our Tantra friends and gutted through the last part of our bike ride! Lucky for us it was downhill.

View from the beach, Volcano Maderas.

Kristin and I on the ferry headed back to the mainland. :(

We couldn't be too sad, next we were headed to San Juan del Sur. A cute beach town, located on the Pacific coast of Nicaragua. This would be our final stop in Nicaragua.
The view of San Juan del Sur! Tough life I lead.

San Juan has a huge statue of Jesus on top of one of the cliffs.

Jesus has a pretty awesome view ;) So I thought I would check it out.....
He has an amazing view. I am a very lucky girl. 


Mi mejor amiga Kristin and I. 

Kristin, myself, Colleen and Jenna enjoying the view from the Jesus statue.

Next up: More Beach time!!!
Yep those are my janky toes, but they have a pretty good view. 

No beach trip is complete without a handstand in the water. 

We are drinking Tona, a delicious Nicaraguan beer. 

The next day we said our good-byes to Nicaragua....

Costa Rica here we come!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Nicaragua: Bring the instinct and the sunscreen.

I believe Albert Einstein once said, "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." I do not dare differ with these words. But I would like to say insanity is also putting yourself on a bus for 13 hours from San Salvador to Managua, Nicaragua. 

Kristin and I at 4:30 a.m about to leave for Nicaragua. Obviously, Kristin's eyes are wide awake. 

Luckily, 2 border crossings, a couple of questions about a bag of tampons and 13 hours of a Dramamine induced coma later, we managed to survive the bus trip. Unfortunately, we got into Managua later than expected so we had to stay the night. But we got to explore the mall, eat some yummy pizza and do a little shopping. Life was good.
Next day off to Grenada.

Welcome to our new room. You had to climb the stairs of death (no easy feat with a 50 pound backpack on) and squeeze into a small linen closet with a bed a.k.a our room. 
The climb to our lofted closet, I mean room.

First order of business: Iced coffees :)

Next up explore: A church in Grenada

Another beautiful church.
I am enjoying this pottery museum way too much. 

Wow, that's how they make chocolate?? Secretly, this is my second time at a chocolate museum in Central America, but who is counting?
A breathtaking view of the city of Grenada

The girls and I adventured to the lake where we discovered cannons, but if you look closely there are millions of gnats flying in front of the camera. We were in a swarm of them.... all for a stupid picture with a cannon. 

Day 2: Proper hygiene might be in order. But I might have lost it along the way.

I was trying to be a kind roommate and not cut my toenails in the room (instead I chose to cut them over the edge of our "balcony" where they dropped into the walkway of our fellow hostile friends).  I know what you are thinking, eeeewwwwwww seriously Kate?!? But let me explain I was merely adding to the decor of this janky hostile. 

But let's be honest my nasty toenails were about to be the least of our problems.

Kristin, Jenna, Colleen, Yenna and I get this brilliant idea to go to Masaya, a town about 20 minutes from Grenada and check out their art market. We hopped onto a chicken bus and headed out. I immediately notice this guy being real sketchy. He kept looking at me and the other girls. There was just something that wasn't right about him. We get into the bus stop at Masaya and it is an absolute free for all. When I think of a Central American market this is exactly the thing I think of. Vendors EVERYWHERE selling: clothes, shoes, candy, food, live chickens and roosters, you think of it and it was probably being sold there. It was absolute chaos.

So of course we are all in awe that we have lived in Central America for almost a year and not experienced a market like this. And this is when the sketchy man seizes his opportunity. 

As we are getting off the bus he bumps me, I turn around a give him the evil eye and he immediately apologizes. This was his way of trying to get me to take my hand off my bag, but he picked the wrong girl. Next he bumps Jenna and here is where the madness begins. Just after he bumps Jenna, he starts jumping over seats to get off the bus and then it dawns on Jenna that he has just pick pocketed her. She glances down and realizes her wallet is gone....

Jenna actually considered chasing after this man, but in the madness of a wallet being taken, there is no rationalizing with some people. So as we get off the bus, in a bit of a whirlwind, we realize that almost this entire market has stopped to stare at the 5 gringas who just got robbed. 
The madness is very deceiving from the picture.

GREAT! On top of being white girls and sticking out, now everyone was staring at us. So I wrangled us up and we headed for the market. But once again that funny little thing called instinct kicked in. I looked at the girls and we all just said let's get out of here.

So we chose to head to the most tranquil place we could think of, Laguna de Apoyo. It is a lake in a crater of a volcano. 
Lago de Apoyo. Not a sole in sight. It was an excellent way to relax and forget about the earlier events.

The company was great too!

Enjoying a nice afternoon beer at the lake. 

After a leisure day at the lake, we headed back to the a taxi and avoided the market of robbery!!

Dinner with a beautiful group of friends: Dom, Yenna, Colleen, Kristin, myself and Jenna. 
Next, we were off to dance...
I got the pleasure of dancing with this fine gentleman. Kristin was dancing with his boyfriend (if you get my drift). I will say it was very obvious he was not into girls. But at least I could practice my salsa dancing.

I am a lucky girl.

Loving each moment. I get to see the world and share it with some amazing friends.  

Nicaragua part II.....

Coming soon