Report Card #1

So  now we’re home in the states for a week so we’ll take this opportunity to take stock of how we’ve done so far and what it is we need to change.  Overall, it looks like our preparation has paid off.  We’ve rarely been without something we’ve needed and have never been completely unprepared.  Since leaving the US we have not met another backpacker with smaller packs than we have (we do have the added benefit of being able to share a few things) but we have met many with things we wish we did have.

Our supplies have treated us well but we are swapping a few things out that don’t seem to be standing up to the wear and tear we put them through or just aren’t quite perfect enough for our uses.  Mostly this has to do with our  wardrobe…we’ve put several reviews up this week and several more are coming.  Once we’re done with all our trips to REI and repacking our bags we’ll update our gear page and link to the reviews we’ve written.

As for budget, which is what we are most concerned with on a daily basis, we’re spending less than we budgeted but a bit more than  we had hoped to spend.  All in all though we’re not in such a bad position.  Reminder, these numbers are updated each time we finish a country on the $$$ tab.

CountryDaysFoodLodgingActivityTransMisc*Daily Avg
Mex & C. Amr.111$17.76$10.33$23.31$20.50$7.35$79.25
Costa Rica10$18.88$15.28$12.60$11.60$6.25$64.61

MEXICO:  Our first country so we weren’t so savey yet.  Having said that, we didn’t so do badly.  We did some expensive activities, several of which we would not pay so much for now.  Overnight buses and couchsurfing helped to keep lodging low but those same buses made for some high transportation costs.

GUATEMALA: This is a very cheap country.  We could have lived there very inexpensively, especially given how long we spent there.  Spanish school is the sole reason for this being as expensive as it was.   Additionally, living with a host family proved to be far more expensive than had we lived alone.

BELIZE:  Only went here to visit some family and had a wonderful time staying at their fancy (free lodging) house.  Getting there and back from Honduras, by boat, proved to be a very expensive endeavor.

HONDURAS:  Another cheap country, but we spoiled the budget here by getting PADI certified.  How dare us!  Add to that the expense of transportation to some isolated villages in La Moskitia and the island of Utilia and this country looks more expensive than it really  was.

NICARAGUA:  Not really any cheaper than Guatemala and Honduras, but as we didn’t have any major adventures here we were more on target with our spending.  That being said, this spending still represents a few small splurges.

COSTA RICA:  Really proved to be too expensive for us to do many of the things we had hoped to do…so we visited some monkey infested beaches (mostly free) instead and continued onto Panama earlier than we intended.

PANAMA:  Home to our most expensive hotel room, two overnight (low lodging costs, high transportation costs) bus rides, and finally some awesome whitewater…oh, and a canal!

Central America Summary

Central America has been wonderful, but after almost 4 months (including Mexico) we’re itching to move on. By the time you read this we’ll be in the USA for a mini break. Yay!:) The timing and finances worked out so that we’d be able to take a week or so in the States before heading to South America. Fortunately for us it coincided with the 4th of July (my favorite holiday) and the wedding of our friends Aaron and Alexis. Sometimes the stars just align like that!

Anyway, we’re really looking forward to South America. (Really we just need to verify if the toilets do indeed swirl the other direction!).  We’ve met so many incredible people, other travelers, expats and locals each of whom has helped us adapt to life on the road. We’re pro card players at this point and play a mean game of 500. :)

We’re definitely looking forward to another continent and exploring new regions, hopefully with some different food (if I eat rice and beans one more time, arg!).  Our first stop will be Colombia and we plan to move south and east across the continent.  Send us tips if you have them!

So, drum roll please…. here’s our Central America wrap up:

# of chicken bus rides: too many to count

# of times we went through San Pedro Sula, Honduras: 5

# of natural disasters: 1

# of coup d’etats narrowly escaped:1

Most number of bug bites at one time on one appendage,: La Moskitia, Danny’s foot, approximately 50

Nights spent on overnight bus: 2

Most expensive hotel room: $30 Panama City, Panama

Least expensive hotel room: $7 San Pedro Sula, Honduras

Biggest surprise: The size and scope of Panama City

Favorite Country: Honduras

Volcanoes Hiked: 5

Monkeys encountered: tons! yay! :)

Hot springs enjoyed: 3

Items Lost: 2 more baseball hats, Jillian’s bathing suit (in Honduras), one yellow spork

Best Meal: Chicken, Rice and Beans on Ometepe, Nicaragua

Favorite Snack: Chicky’s!!!!

Tica Bus- Central America

We have taken two trips with Ticabus, we will not be taking anymore.

On the first trip, from Honduras to Nicaragua, the ayudante (helper) collected $11 from each passenger for border fees. We were told the fees were $8 to Nicaragua and an additional $3 to exit Honduras. We had already exited Honduras on our own and had never paid to exit so we decided to handle the border ourselves; we paid $7 to Nicaragua and nothing to Honduras. The ayudante pocketed $4 from each passenger and then had the nerve to yell at us for taking too long…we took only two minutes but needed to wait until the officials finished processing all of the bus’s passports.

On the second trip, from Panama to Costa Rica, we left the terminal at 11pm expecting to wake up at the border when it opened. We arrived there two hours early. Why leave at 11pm only to wake everyone up at 5am to wait for two hours? Additionally, as this was an overnight bus we were shocked to find no toilet paper or water in the bathroom. The water problem was particularly surprising as when we woke up at the border we found that all our things (on the overhead shelf and by our feet) had been soaked by water from the A/C. We have taken many overnight buses and all have had a fully functioning bathroom with no flooding inside the bus.

In Central America, there are often no other direct buses between capital cities. When there is competition however, we strongly recommend using it.  Say no to Tica Bus!

More Monkeys

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I can’t remember the last time we had seen each other, probably the summer after our high school graduation. When a friend from high school messaged me on facebook a few weeks ago I didn’t really know what to think. She invited us to come stay with her and her boyfriend in Costa Rica, which lets be honest is not a hard invitation to accept.

We got to her place in a rain storm after 9 hours of buses.  Thankfully they looked past how smelly, wet and tired we were and let us stay. :)  Spending the next two days lounging around her apartment, making the best of a stormy beach day and watching movies (in english!) we caught up on the last few years and even found time to buy me a replacement bathing suit. Turns out Costa Rican bathing suits are cut similarly to those in Brazil. You get the picture.

Just as we were relaxing in the comforts of a real apartment we got the exciting yet somewhat bittersweet news, we could whitewater kayak in Panama – if we got there in two days.  Dying to get in some whitewater we quickly altered our travel plans and set off early the next morning for Manuel Antonio, our last “must do” in Costa Rica.

We’ve been to a lot of beaches on this trip, both on the Pacific and the Caribbean but none that had monkeys on them. If you’ve been reading this blog you know that I want to see monkeys almost everywhere we go, so when we entered Manuel Antonio National Park my eyes immediately drifted upwards. From what everyone said about this place I expected it to be a zoo of tropical Costa Rican creatures.

Unfortunately there were no monkeys waiting for us to enter the park, which was shall we say perturbing. Plodding ahead towards the beach I kept my eyes peeled for shaking trees. “Seriously.” Danny said. “Haven’t you seen enough monkeys already.” The best response to a question like that is always silence so I ignored him and continued to scan the tree tops. Within meters of the beach we finally spotted them- an entire clan of capuchin monkeys. (Not sure if monkeys travel in clans, but it sounds good so lets go with it!) Clamoring through the trees playing with each other and eating leaves the monkeys seemed unphased by the crowd of humans near by, virtually ignoring us. Enthralled by them I continued to watch them play along the branches until Danny eventually pulled me on to the beach and the monkeys moved on. Not for long though. From the water we spotted the clan’s return and within seconds a “cheeky fellow” had grabbed another beach goers grocery bag and was making off with it into the trees. This is what I had waited to see- the famous thieving monkeys of Manuel Antonio. Wave after wave, like an aerial assault this monkey tried to grab things from beach goers, grocery bags, fruit, even clothing. Ever vigilant, I fastened our bags together with carabiners creating what I called a “monkey proof” design. Unfortunately it was never tested, apparently thieving monkeys do not want cookies covered in chocolate. Their loss.

For the $10 entrance fee into Manuel Antonio we saw: capuchin monkeys, a cayman (like a crocodile), tucans, a huge bird eating snake, coatis and agouti.  Pretty good if you ask me. In my intense focus on seeing monkeys we somehow missed the sloth that everyone else saw, but really sloths aren’t as cool as monkeys so thats ok!

Hola Costa Rica

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With Nicaragua behind us we practically sprinted into Costa Rica…full of excitement for all the eco-adventures that awaited us. We’d planned to take multi-day whitewater kayak trips and spend the better part of a week learning to wind and kitesurf. We allocated just over two weeks for the fun of Costa Rica, hoping against hope that we’d have enough time to do it all.

Our first target upon arrival were the cloud forests of Monteverde in Santa Elena to take a canopy tour. While the name “Canopy Tour” might conjure images of a breezy nature walk through a forest, this could not be further from the truth. A canopy tour is actually a series of zip lines (metal cables strung through the forest that when harnessed in send you flying through to the other end of the line), some of which are as long as 700 meters and cross high above a ravine.  This is a thrill ride to the first degree and something we had to do before allowing ourselves the more simple pleasures of Monteverde such as a guided night hike (to see the wild animals of the night…including bats and tarantulas) and a hike through the world renowned Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve.

While in Monteverde we got a bad taste in our mouth. This country has changed since I was here last. In our opinion it has been overrun by tourism. In many parts of the country, little seems to be left of native culture. Expensive restaurants have replaced family run sodas. It seems the largest difference between the people of Costa Rica and Miami is that here people actually speak English. Don’t get me wrong, the landscape is incredible and the biodiversity unmatched, but through promoting tourism at the expense of all other pursuits I believe the government here has thrown away some of the country’s magic. Indeed, much of the pura vida culture I’d experienced 6 years ago has been replaced with condos, timeshares, and greedy tour guides. We arrived excited at the opportunities that awaited us but now that we are here many of those opportunities seem to have lost their luster. Costa Rica is by far a on the beaten track tourist destination, a great place for a relaxing vacation, but not a good place for independent adventure seeking travelers, especially those on a budget.

Arenal VolcanoHaving said all that, we realized we needed to readjust our plans. Rather than paying for expensive ($17 pp just to walk through a park, unguided, for a few hours) tours and visits we moved on from Monteverde with the a few new friends we’d made and headed over dirt roads and big lakes to the city of La Fortuna, home of the mighty Volcan Arenal. Regular readers of this blog are well aware that we’ve had our share of volcano encounters and as powerful as Arenal is we’ve already seen volcanos, hiked their peaks, and felt the heat of their lava. While in Xela we also enjoyed hot springs and were a bit dismayed when we discovered the $60 pp option here in Fortuna; a little bit of looking paid off and before long we found the “local” watering hole for 1/10th (that’s $6) of the price. We relaxed, played cards, soaked in the spas, swam in the pools, ate food that was bad for us, and drank a few beers while we were at it too.

We left La Fortuna much much happier than when we arrived. It seems we will be unable to kayak any rivers here in Costa Rica…mostly because we’ve yet to find an outfitter that has any kayaks for a reasonable price. Surf lessons-be it regular, wind, or kite-all cost here as much as they do in the USA so that is also out of the cards. We have a few more tricks up our sleeves to get the most we can out of Costa Rica and then we’ll be heading to Panama to get that whitewater kayaking in and maybe see some sort of “big ditch” (I hear they call it a canal.)