This is the story of my 6 months of studying in Arizona in 2010 and subsequent travels in Mexico, Costa Rica, and Nicaragua. Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Colonial Granada (10th July)

We decided that a few hours would be enough to check out Granada in daylight, so after breakfast the 2nd morning in the hostel (again well cooked by Lotte with the remaining 7 eggs - one broke...), we trotted out in the sun.

I dont remember if I mentioned it, but Granada is a typical colonial city with corresponding collossal houses and impressive churces. Ive seen similar in Mexico (e.g. Mérida) and elsewhere, and I must say that the Nicaraguan touch of non-maintanance adds an interesting touch. Regardless, its colorful.

Lotte, Granada, and the Mombacho volcano
Our first and pretty much only planned destination was an old church, restorred into a museum. The 50 cordoba entrance fee included a private guided tour in English-ish, which was very informative. At least the parts we understood. There was a bit about the building itself, about indigenous traditions, some pieces of pottery, and a large collection of old carved stones. From the latter room there was also an amazing view of the volcano. Further, there was a large room, which apparently hosted the first Nicaraguan university, a beautiful courtyard, a room with a minature model of the city and many pictures from the railway station that used to cross the area, and finally a little room with modern/traditional art in pretty colors.
It hit us that all these pieces were not exactly well protected from the humid air or theft, but... In a country like Nicaragua, I would on the other hand be surprised to see such things considered.
Street in Granada - just better in black/white. :)

After the church/museum we strolled around a bit in the profound heat, to find (what... postcards? A cafe? Post office? Im not sure...) but we didnt. We did however cross the colorful central square, and then went to an ice cream shop, to have an absolutely life-saving couple of icecreams.

Done with Granada, we grabbed our backpacks and checked out - and found our way back to the first bus station. Here we had to wait for more than half an hour in the heat and trash and alcohol breath from a "helpful" and very annoying local, who decided that we would never be able to find the right bus without him. In reality, there were room for two busses, one space was occupied by a bus with another destination, the other was empty. Not that hard, old man, but well, thanks, kinda... Anyway, in the meantime we observed also the trash-everywhere-mentality which apparently roams in Nicaragua. People just throw stuff out the windows of busses or right onto the street, completely disregarding any environmental considerations. There just are no trashcans. And noone to remove the trash from the streets either, apparently - its really not that nice. So I tried to look up on the pretty palm trees and blue skye instead.

The bus came to take us to Rivas, back south, so we could take a ferry to the Ometepe Island. I'll tell you the entire Ometepe adventure in the next blogpost. :)

Masaya, Masaya, Masaya!

Monday July 9th 2012

Lotte and I agree that breakfast should be the first activity of the morning, but in a hostel where its not included, we had to go and buy stuff. We went out to find butter, but came back with 15 eggs and a bit of salty cheese, bought in a very authentic Nicaraguan shop - in Spanish-ish. With the bread leftover from lunch the day before, it was a great meal.

Afterwards we went to find a bus to the city Masaya, with the Lonely Planet guidebook giving us an idea of where to go. And with the bus people yelling out very clearly the destinations of the busses (hence the blog post title), its really no problem to find. Each bus, all of which are painted old school buses from USA, has 2-3 employees: a driver, and 1-2 who takes care of luggage and fares. The luggage handling is a sight in itself, and the way they climb on the outside of the bus when its driving is scary, but impressive.
Vigoron, but served in a more simple kitchen. 

After being lost in the market for a little while, we took a taxi to the artisan market. It was a bit more expensive than the Mercado Municipal that we came from, but also had nicer stuff. We bought some wooden bowls and spoons, which were very nice, before sitting down for lunch. We had the local stuff - vigoron: cassava root (potato-like, but better!) with a bit of pork and cabbage and two kinds of banana. And the whole thing served on a banana leaf!

Afterwards we took another 40 cordoba taxi (10 DKK, 1,5 euro) to a viewpoint by an old fortress on a hill. It was a GREAT view of the surrounding volcanos. We walked around the area, and also had a tour of the basement, which used to hold prisoners. Lotte has some better pictures, which I'll show you some other time...

It started raining, so we grabbed a cap back to the Mercado Municipal. After again being a little lost (though Id still claim I knew the general direction...), we caught a bus back to Granada. If it was on purpose or by mistake Im not sure, but the busétecket guy cheated us for 100 cordoba (ca. 25 DKK or 3 euros ) a reminder to always be aware of your money.

Back in Granada I was exhausted and took a little nap. At some point Lotte woke me up and dragged me to dinner somewhere in town, where suddenly the power went off. The staff didn't seem to be too concerned, and accordingly, the light came back a few minutes later. In our hostel dorm room Lotte spent a little time practicing her pole dancing on a metal bar in the room - elegant entertainment, and great that we have the large room to ourselves still... ;) (I'll grant Lotte's wish and not publish the pictures... yet...)

Monday, July 9, 2012

From Tica to Nica

(Pictures to come, when I find a computer which doesn't give me shocks when I try to connect the camera...! Note that a day is missing - Saturday, which I can't wait to tell you about! I just really need pictures to tell that story!! :) )

It really is no problem to catch the 6 AM bus when still jetlagged. Lotte and I woke up early this morning (again, one might add), and took the bus down from Montevede in the oldest bus on the most dreadful dirt road road, but with the most beautiful view I have ever seen. Green hills as long as we could see, sometimes with the Gulf of Nicoya in the horizon. 2 hours later we arrived at the Transcentral American Highway, from were we could catch our next bus.

The old bus leaving in a black cloud.
We thought we had to go to Liberia to change busses to go the Nicaraguan border (oh, I didn't mention, we were heading to Granada in Nicaragua...), but the bus actually took us all the way to Peñas Blancas at the border. There were no more seats in the bus, but we set up camp in the square meter meant for a wheel chair. Sitting at the floor for 3 hours was not the most comfortable, but could have been worse.

I never crossed a border like this before... We were stamped out from Costa Rica, leaving the Ticas behind, and sent into no-mans-land, which in this case meant a large patch of mud. 1 km of it to be exact. Then a lot of bureaucracy with documents and stamps and dollars, and then we were released on the Nicaraguan side, catching a bus to Rivas 12.30, a bit north. From here we could get on a bus to Granada. Both buses were old, American school buses, just painted in happy colors, and filled with friendly people!

In the latter bus our backpacks were on the roof, which I have tried before when travelling in Mexico. I wasn't too worried, but I must admit... When there was a pot hole and the bus jumped, a bag feel down from the roof, Lotte was right in saying : "We couldn't have written the script better ourselves..." Luckily, our bags were indeed still there when we arrived in Granada.

In the bus I struck up conversation with two local guys with very good English, who told me about the country and a lot of other things on the 2 hour bus ride. We are meeting the guys, Omar and Marvin, for dinner and a tour of the city - and yes, of course we will take care, and not let them lead us into trouble!!

 The dinner was nice / always good to have someone local help you with ordering the right stuff, at the right price, and explaining what it was! In this case it was fried platan (kind of a banana) with cabbage and chicken. After dinner we went back to the hotel to sleep in the heat - its over 30 degrees here in the days, and very very humid! We will see how it goes for our trip to Managua tomorrow! :)

So yeah, a lot of new experiences over here - I love it, of course! :)

Sunday, July 8, 2012

PURA VIDA - Action in Santa Elena

Saturday 7th July was one of the most eventful days I have ever had! It started out, of course, with breakfast cooked by Freddy a little before 6 AM (yes, we are still jetlagged), and then, 7.30, we were picked up. We were going on a canopy tour, which frankly, I had very little clue what was.

Zip lining... Any clue? Well. They put you into a harness, and take you into the forest. Then they hook you onto a metal wire, hundred of meters long and teach you how to break with your gloved hand on the wire, and then you are off  - from one tree to the other, gliding on the wire with quite a lot of km/hour!

So, 10 zip lines later, and already with a big smile on my face after looking at the rain forest from above, they changed the harness to superman-style. Meaning: No hands on the wire, and instead of sitting in the harness, we were hanging back-up under the lines - so it felt just like flying. INCREDIBLE! I have two videos of this, but you will have to wait to see them till I find a more stable internet connection.

Next activity started from a tower, some 20 meters above the ground. Somehow I was first in line, and was taken on the bridge to be connected to a wire on the end. I took  my time to take pictures despite the height, and also had the one below taken by one of the guides. Next step: Straight into the air. Free fall. Oh my God... I never tried something like that before!! aAnd it was SO MUCH FUN! I screamed my lungs out, but really really wanna try it again, `cause I somehow feel like I spent too much time looking at the amazing view instead of enjoying the terror...!! :) So maybe I can convince Lotte to go for another jump later on the trip... :)

Back in town, we bought some bred and cheese and a funny avocado for lunch, which we enjoyed partly with Freddy's company back at the hostel. And at 1 PM we were off to the second activity of the day - a tour of a coffee plantation. Again we were picked up and taken outside town, to a kind of show room plantation where we learned about coffee and chocolate production while a thunder and rainstorm accompanied our guide. We got to taste both beans and finished products, plus - the bonus - a 15 m ride in a cow-drawn carriage.

Our evening ended with a visit to a frog pond just around the corner from the hostel, which turned out to be a pitch black hall with frogs in terrariums. I was exhausted from the day, so didn't pay too much attention, but do enjoy the pic below of one of the most colorful species. Back at the hotel we went to bed at 8.30 PM, absolutely exhausted.

Exploring the cloud forest

On our first whole day in Costa Rica, we decided to check our the cloud forest reserve in Monterverde. We woke up before 6 due to our jetlag, but went downstairs to meet Freddy, who cooked our breakfast - fresh fruit and pancakes with bananas and coconut syrup. 

The bus left for the forest 7.30, a 6 km ride up the mountain. We decided to hire a guide who could introduce us to the wonders of the cloud forest, and while he was quite entertaining, he wasn't really worth the money. We hiked around for a few hours, first with him and a family from California, then on our own for a while. The most incredible point on the trip was a suspension bridge, 100 m long, from where we could explore the canopy (treetops). Not for the faint-hearted...! 

Leaving the area after lunch (our first meeting with the traditional gallo pinto, i.e. rice and beans, in Costa Rica), we visited a small humming bird feeder station. Here the tiny humming birds were flying close around us in large numbers; I have never seen them so plentiful and close up before! With Lotte's super-camera we got some incredible pictures - check it out (click on the pics for enlargement): 

On the way back to Santa Elena, which is the town close to Monteverde, we decided to take a small detour for a certain viewpoint, which Freddy suggested. On the way down we were picked up by a nice guy, who didn't speak any English, but offered to take us down "to the waterfall", as far as I understood. We knew we shouldn't go so far, as it was a very long hike back, but instead asked him to stop at the viewpoint when we passed it. And wow, what a view! We could see the waterfall, but much more amazing was the view of the Gulf of Nicoya in the horizon.

Heading back up the mountain was more than strenuous - the incline was STEEP! We tried to hitch a hike with one of the friendly locals, who are always waiving and smiling when they pass, but they couldn't stop because of the incline. A short stop at an art gallery/mini-orchid gartnery (mostly for catching our breath in the thin air) turned out to be a nice experience and meeting with a local artist/nature tour guide, and then we made it up to the top of the detour road.

We had planned a stop in La Lecheria (a dairy factory) on the way down from Monteverde, but missed it at first. Having to walk back 400 m uphill wasn't popular with any of us, but in the end SOOO worth it. Lotte got the best milkshake ever and the two scoops of ice cream that I got together with a peak of the cheese making behind a window was well worth the extra effort.

And then the taxi-guy who picked us up on the detour found us again, and drove us back to Santa Elena - again for free, just giving us his card so we could call him if we needed a ride again. Back at the hostel we crashed, exhausted and jetlagged, and woke up after a couple of hours of sleep, realising that we should really get some proper dinner. With Freddy's always competent suggestion, we went to a local eatery for a nice meal - and then back to bed!

Vamonos a Monteverde

We arrived in San José after our business class experience at 11.45 local time July 5th. A small airport, where we quite quickly got through the passport check lines, to get our passports stamped. And the fun started - I noticed that the date in my stamp said "5 JUN", which even with my lacking Spanish skills was quite clearly wrong. So I asked the stamp guy, who for the next few minutes could only say "que mal, que mal" ("how bad"), while he and his supervisor were realising that the entire pile of entrance forms that he made that day, AND the stamps in people's passports, were wrong. Muy mal indeed. So now I have an extra Costa Rica entrance stamp in my passport...

Out of the airport, after a short luggage-missing incidence, which was quickly cleared, we decided to take a taxi to the center. We needed to catch a bus to our first destination, Monteverde, which also stopped in the airport, but we were warned that it could be full. So as we had time to spare, we took a taxi to the center, and then caught the bus from there - and indeed, it was full. We were very happy to NOT be one of those people standing all the 5 hours on a dark, bumpy ride up the mountains! 

The bus ride was fun, though. Lotte and I spent a lot of time practising Spanish, probably to the entertainment and later annoyance for the people around us. At least after a while, everyone would have caught that Lotte has a big sister ("Tengo una hermana grande"). We also started talking a bit with the others, sharing our travel plans and tips. And then at last, we reached Monteverde. 

Lotte with my Spanish dictionary
Monteverde is an area popular for its cloudforest, meaning that the humid air from the see precipitates over the mountains, creating clouds that come rolling over the hillsides and treetops continuously. It changes all the time - one moment you can see the top of the mountain, the next it is too foggy to even see 20 meters ahead. 

These two pics are taken just a few minutes apart.

We checked into our accommodation, Cabinas Eddy, where an amazing host, Freddy, awaited us. He gave us a lot of tips on what and when to do the various things the area has to offer, and made us feel at home instantly. It was late (around 8 PM), we were tired and heavily jetlagged, ate the bagels we had brough from Atlanta, and went straight to bed - completely exhausted.

Saturday, July 7, 2012


Lotte and me
Lotte and I decided to go to Costa Rica. Why? I can't tell, really - besides a desire for adventure, the exotic taste of the name, the fact that its warmer than Peru this time of year, and a manageable prize of the flights. Then again... Who needs more reasons? :)

3rd of July we took off in the evening, to spend the night in Amsterdam. Luckily, I have many friends in that area, and finding a place to stay proved to be no big challenge. Mahsa and Salmaan hosted us, and I cannot imagine better hosts. As always we were treated with food, drinks, insightful talks, comfortable beds, extraordinary breakfast and even a candy stash for the air plane! Great foundation for holiday for sure.

We left in the morning a bit past 7, intending to fly at 11 AM. Didn't happen - we could see already when we arrived that we would be 1,5 hours late. Our layover in Atlanta was supposed to be 3 hours, so when we were airborne 4 hours later, it was already pretty clear that we were in for a night in Georgia. The flight itself was ok; obviously, I', not the best at sitting still for so long...

It was around 7 PM when we arrived to Atlanta, and then we needed to pass the delightful American security... It was ok though - the problem arose when we needed to figure out what our continued itinerary would look like. There was a HUUUUGE line at the Delta desk, with people waiting for over an hour. They did have some machines though, like the regular check in-thingies, and here I found out that we were booked at a flight to San José the next morning. It printed me some meal vouchers, but nothing for a hotel, which I knew we were entitled to as well. Not being keen on the line, I caught a Delta-person who wasn't behind a counter, just to ask why the machine couldn't print it all. She took me to the counter, managed the hotel, gave me instructions and overnight kits, and boarding passes. "I put you in the front of the plane", she said, and with no clear preference for which end of the plane I was in, I nodded, took the papers, and left for the hotel shuttles with Lotte.

Fireworks in Atlanta, 4th July 2012
And then we realised... We are in the US, and it is the evening of 4th of July. American independence day, so suddenly the talk we had heard about fireworks made sense. Could we sit that one over...? Noooo not really. :) So instead of going straight to the hotel, we took the train ("MARTA") to downtown. We got there just in time, catching a grandiose firework in the crowd of thousands of people, before walking back to the train, reaching the airport around 11 PM.

The hotel was basic, but those two queen beds were the sweetest I had seen for a while - the time difference setting our internal clock to around 6AM. We were hungry though, and ordered some wings from a local grill. And fell asleep before it got to us, 1h later, so we just took a few bites before going back to sleep. Waking up at 6, we quickly packed and were shuttled back to the airport while the sun was rising. We took our vouchers to TGI Fridays, where we had FANTASTIC breakfast... everything we needed, which for Lotte was eggs and bacon, and for me a bagel and yoghurt with granola and fruit. Uhm...

And then we realised what it meant that the Delta-woman booked us in the front of the plane. Business class... I have to say that being met with a mimosa (orange juice with champagne) wasn't at all bad, and the same goes for the size of the seats, amount of snacks, and everything else... It might sound overrated, but it was really a great experience to travel like that! :D I hope I can get used to monkey class on the way home...!

And then, you have to see this one picture from our flight into San José. Our first view of Costa Rica... Quite nice, huh? :) Tomorrow I will tell you about the rest of our 60 hour trip to our first Costa Rican destination, Monteverde, and our trips around the area! Hasta luego!