Well, after our amazing and educational 5-day trek to La Ciudad Perdida (the Lost City), we decided it was time to do some intense relaxing. We didn't know where we were going to go next, but a quick look at my notebook (where I keep all my notes about places to stay from other travelers we meet along the way) gave us some ideas.
A friend named Shawn who we met in Ecuador in January had recommended a hostel called Rancho Relaxo, located just outside Tayrona National Park, an area that sounded amazing. We couldn't remember why he recommended it, but I had drawn two big stars beside the note so it must have been something good.
It started out as a very high fever. I thought I was going to freeze to death but the thermometer said I was nearly 104°F. In the middle of the night on day two of the fever we went to the hospital. There were two nurses telling jokes to each other in the corner who were visibly annoyed that we showed up. They woke up the pharmacist who took some blood, told us that I didn’t have dengue and sent us home. No investigation into what it would have been. Just told us to go away. Later we found out that you can’t test positive for Dengue until after 6 days of fever.
The next day I went to a different pharmacist down the street from our hostel and asked for antibiotics because I thought maybe I had an infection or something. They gave them to me without question or explanation of any side effects or anything. I later found out that you can get as much of anything you want from any pharmacy here – for example a guy from our Spanish classes bought 20 or more vicodin, valium, oxycotin and some other mystery drugs that are apparently stronger than all of those. He bought them all at once and took most of them in one day. Apparently this is one reason that a lot of people come to Montañita.
The doctor recommended that I return for monitoring in a few days, however when we did return, no one there could find any record of me ever being there so after A LOT of persuasion we got them to run some new tests that we took with us and emailed to our health insurance providers in Canada. Luckily google gave us the heads up on my symptoms and nothing suggested the dangerous type of dengue (the one where you haemorrhage and your insides turn to mush) so I just had to wait it out.
After 12 days of fever between 101-104°F I finally awoke without a fever. For the next three days I had random full body hive flare-ups which google alerted us was normal for the recovery stage of Dengue. It took another few days before I was able to eat a full meal again and about two weeks before the nausea finally left (now).
Unfortunately my opinion of Montañita is not too good, likely in part based on the fact that I felt like crap the whole time we were there. However I did manage to attend 20 hours of Spanish lessons at Montañita Spanish School, which were very good, and we did a couple of smaller day excursions as well. I just had to get out of the hostel we were staying in.
We are really missing family and friends at home right now. It is pretty awesome to be spending the holidays in a surfing town though! We are volunteering at a small hotel in Santa Catalina, basically doing a lot of customer service stuff now, and also worked on some plumbing and water tank cleaning when we first got here. The hotel is located on the top of a very steep and long hill so we are getting in some amazing accidental exercise going up and down all day.
There is one other volunteer here with us, Karlien who has been in the area for several weeks before us. She is very helpful in showing us around, is fun to hang out and work with, and lets us use her surf board. The board is much smaller than we have been used to - it is called a "funboard" or a "mini-malibu", which is something like a step down from a long board but wider and a bit bigger than a classic board. We tried a classic board a few days ago and it was very difficult, though we did both manage to stand up briefly once or twice. Karlien's board is a bit easier, but still a challenge compared to the long board. For me, I think I would like to work on paddling harder to catch the waves. Andrew seems to be catching more than me (on account of his manly muscles) so I think I'll go out tomorrow all day and see what I can learn.
The chef that works here is also very nice. He has been here for almost two years and still loves it. The four of us have a great time hanging out. I am very happy to be spending the holidays with some cool people, even though I miss home, just a little tiny bit (but it is -38 in Whitehorse and icing over in Ontario so not THAT much, lol).
We also spent a day diving in the Coiba Islands, a Island national park off coast from here. Many people call them the Galapagos of Panama, and I can certainly see why! The first dive was pretty good, we saw a ton of fish, but we didn't see anything new. Diving in the Pacific is much different than the Caribean. There aren't as many corals, but the fish are really incredible! On the second dive we saw so much more! Right when we got down to the bottom we saw a few white tip reef sharks, and then a 4-foot turtle swim by, it actually swam within probably 4-5 feet of me as I just float there, breathing and taking in the spectacle! It felt very magical. Next we saw hundreds and hundreds of jackfish, some barracuda, a devil ray, I saw a dolphin in the distance (not clearly, and heard it singing), the frog fish was insane! You have to google this thing because it is just the weirdest looking fish! And so colourful. We also saw SEA HORSES!!! They were incredible - about 6-in long, hooked onto small fan corals coloured almost the same as them. That for me was so cool! And of course we saw a bazillion other fish and moray eels etc. Amazing.
Our last dive beat all our previous and probably many future dives for most memorable of all! We thought there MIGHT be a chance to see a whale shark before we arrived at our dive site, but were trying not to get our hopes up. I jumped in when the boat stopped, before I had put on my gear, and the guys on the boat threw me my BCD so I could put it on in the water. I had my goggles on and thought I would just peek into the water to see if there was a whale shark around - not actually expecting anything. And then BAM! Whale shark in the face! Literally feet away and it came right up to surface so one of its fins was out of the water! Everyone was in the water within seconds, I had my reg in my mouth but no gear on and I swam closer dragging my BCD. It was pure magic! The dive was unbelievable - we saw the whale shark (not sure if it was the same one or not) a few times deeper down where we actually watched right in front of us as it came upward with its mouth open, feeding on crill, and then turn over and wag its tail at us!!! We watched three times and used up all but the reserve oxygen in all of our tanks just trying to see it again and again. Incredible! However I was very nervous for a few of the other divers, one of whom was quite out of shape and nervous as he had already ran out of air on the first dive and had to be calmed down, and two of whom asked me if I could stick around them to share air if they ran out. I had the same amount as them, and we were 55ft deep! eeks!
I should also mention that the Coiba Islands that we stopped at (two of them) were absolutely beautiful!
Well we hope that the holidays are going well at home and everyone is keeping warm through all of these ice and freezing storms! Sending warmth!
The last couple weeks with my parents have been a blast, trying to make the most of their time in Costa Rica. While we had a great time showing them around and going on a variety of day adventures, their visit also came with some new challenges for Chelsea and I – namely finding the best cheap red wine for my mom and an appropriate substitute for my dad’s usual “blue drinks” (VEX electric lemonade vodka coolers). Their visit also meant a nice change for us – a couple weeks of eating better food, staying in fancy-schmancy rental properties (with hot showers, hooray!), and the experience of Costa Rican driving with our rental car.
The first week we stayed at a condo in Playas Del Coco, about an hours’ drive south of Tamarindo. The guy who drove us into town introduced the place as “a drinking town with a fishing problem” and we quickly saw why. The main part of town was a stretch of road packed with restaurants and bars, each with large signs boasting their “happy hour” deals. One bar on the far end of the beach had a “wall of fame”, showcasing their current record-holders for the most beers drank in a single day – one of whom we were told was a ninety pound Canadian chica who slammed back 30 or more beers and still managed to head out to go dancing afterward. Way to represent! The main beach at Coco was packed with fishermen and their rigs, as well as local kids playing football (soccer) and random dogs running amuck.
We spent a few days relaxing at Playa del Coco and a couple of the neighboring beaches, at each new location sampling their Pina Colada in Chelsea’s extensive search for the very best. My dad and I also managed to pack in a morning of ocean fishing, which was a nice treat. Our boat was followed by a couple pods of spotted dolphins, and we managed to catch (although we did very little of the actual fishing part) a beautiful mahi-mahi, which took us a few meals to eat our share of. We also spent an afternoon relaxing and surfing at Playa Grande (thanks Christie & Sebsters for the recommendation!) which was by far the highlight of the week for us. The waves were perfect for learning and we all (except for the mimsy) had some success catching some gnarly surf (but limited success in picking up on the surfer lingo).
Although Playas del Coco was not exactly the nicest beach or town we’ve seen so far, it was great to spend the week relaxing, eating, drinking, playing cards and catching up with the parents.
The next week we spent at an awesome rental house in Neuvo Arenal, which was recommended to us by April’s parents (thanks Janice & Gord!). The house was gorgeous, complete with two king-size beds, an extra bedroom, four washrooms, a swimming pool, beautiful garden & terrace, and fully-stocked kitchen (with a blender for mastering our Pina Colada skills). We did a lot of driving around to check out the sights, which were incredible. We spent an afternoon hiking around Arenal Volcano, during which my mom impressed us all with her rock-hopping skills. We awoke every morning to howling monkeys (which to us sound more like pissed-off dinosaurs than monkeys), though we didn’t see any until our drive back to the airport on the final day.
The two weeks flew right by, and we were sad to see my parents off. We also can’t believe it’s already December – it will be tough for us to be away from our families over Christmas.
Some of the highlights of the last couple weeks:
- exploring random dirt roads in our rental golf cart
- feeding the mocking-jays at Playa Ocotal
- Scuba diving at Playas del Coco and experiencing the intense chill of the thermoclines
- catching mad curls at Playa Grande in Tamarindo
- fishing for mahi-mahi at Playas del Coco
- searching for the best pina colada, and finally achieving perfection for ourselves
- hiking through the jungle around Arenal Volcano
- relaxing in the hot springs river near La Fortuna
- driving along a random gravel road and spotting spider monkeys
- playing lots of card games and learning a new game together (All Fours)
- horseback riding around the hills near Nuevo Arenal
Thanks again, Mimsy & Pimsy, for coming to see us! Hope to see you in Africa next year! =)
Mandrew & Chelsea
Week 1 - Playas Del Coco
Week 2 - NuevO Arenal
Hola amigos! Buenos nachos? (mmm nachos...)
Just wanted to post a few photos from this past week and say hi! We've been hanging out at Camino del Gigante, a gringo hostel on a surf beach in Nicaragua. We meant to be here for just a couple of days but it looks like it has already been a week! And I think we might leave tomorrow if we can get our shiz together.
Our last few days on Ometepe were pretty cool! We rented a scooter and spent a day checking out the Island on the brick roads (man that must have been a ton of work!). And for our last 2 days we painted a wall mural in one of the bedrooms in exchange for a few nights free at the hostel. We spent 11 hours total on the wall and I think it turned out quite well! The bottom of it looks a little weird, but we ran out of white paint so we had to do something down there. And our paint brushes were not the easiest to use, but we made do and had a blast! Andrew took a bunch of pictures so we could make a time-lapse video (coming shortly!) so it was like a double-whammy art project.
When we decided to leave Ometepe, our friend Devon, who we met there, recommended Playa Gigante for our next stop. It is near Rivas and is a quiet little town with amazing beaches and surfing! We arrived by taxi (there are no busses to get here) which stopped in the middle of the town of Gigante. There are two restaurants (very expensive compared to Ometepe!) and one little corner store. When we got out of the taxi we saw a sign on a little building beside us that said hostel, so we went over and booked a room since we thought there was only one hostel in town. The price was good ($15/night) and the room was nice (our own private room with bathroom). But there was no hang out area, no table or chairs to use, no internet. All this was ok, since we were mostly going surfing, but it made making food a challenge, and was a bit uncomfortable to hang out at. Since it is so expensive here and we have all kinds of free time, we thought it would be nice to cook some of our own meals on our camping stove. So behind our hostel we found a round cable spool to use as a table, and some broken chairs to sit on, and we set up our kitchen in an abandoned shack behind our room. It was absolutely hilarious, but slightly uncomfortable. Andrew said he is glad I'm not a "Princess", referring to my willingness to eat badly cooked rice and beans off of a cable spool in an abandoned shack. But I'm pretty sure if that wasn't ok with it, that wouldn't make me a "Princess", so much as "a rational person"! Haha, it was all good though, I didn't mind one bit.
After a couple of days we realized that there were no other people staying at our "hostel", and yet there were other backpackers in the area that we saw while surfing and wandering around town. After talking to a few people (who hadn't even heard of the place we were staying at!) and when we decided to find some internet, we discovered Camino del Gigante, a gringo hostel at the end of the beach, where all the backpackers and locals hang out. There's a bar, free internet, surfboards, slack lines, free coffee, hammocks, music all the time, comfy tables and chairs, directly on the beach, great food and more! We immediately went back and packed up all of our things from the first hostel, and moved over to Camino's. I admit, I feel a little bad about leaving the shack behind like that, but Camino's has been such a game changer! All of a sudden everything is easier and more enjoyable! And we got the exact same price as the other hostel. We still chill with the locals, and go surfing and exploring, and now we have a sweet-ass bar to chill out at when we get back, fresh coffee in the morning and other people to watch and hang with. A bunch of people that are staying here right now have been here for several months because every time they try to leave they just don't. And I can totally see why! Like I said earlier, we meant to leave a few times now but we keep putting it off for "just one more day"!
Surfing has been great! At first, I was a little weary about it since I haven't done any surfing since Australia (2006) and I wasn't any good back then, so I knew it would be a steep and painful learning curve, again. The first day was a little difficult for me, getting used to wading through the crashing waves that pull you backward 3 steps every time you take 1 forward, and getting tumbled around in the waves when you fall off the board, sometimes face-planting into the sand if it gets too shallow. Andrew didn't show it, but I think he might have felt the same way, given a few comments he made after we showered off that day. The second day was much better! Aside from the bruises and board rash, the waves were less intimidating, and we both actually caught a few decent (by our standard) waves, stood up, and carved a little! Since then it has been something to look forward to. We might even go again today since it is potentially our "last day" here, or we might rent a kayack and check out one of the other bays since we haven't done that yet! Damn, as I write this I am saddened by the idea of leaving :p
Our next stop will be Leon, Nicaragua. It is north of here and we will have to take a few busses I think, and maybe a taxi to get there, but it shouldn't be more than a few hours total. It is a fairly large city with some history and culture for us to learn about. Also there is another volcano there that we can apparently board down!!! There are some good nature hikes and outdoorsy things to do nearby, and the hostel we picked out looks really fun. We hope the internet there is good because Harrison's first birthday is on Sunday and we would love to facetime with him!!! Aparently he walked a few steps the other day! And I thought he said "hello" to me a few days ago, and then I realized it was just Kim being a ventriloquist which is easy to do over facetime :)
We miss the little guy!!! And Everyone else at home! Any time any of you wants to come down, let us know!!! We will find the best spot to hang, just get a place ticket, we will do the rest! :D
Last batch of Isla de Ometepe photos
Playa Gigante photos