Sea to Snow

Denver International Airport – Denver, Colorado      4:51pm local time

Well, it is officially over. I am writing from Denver which means I’m back in snow land (there’s currently a blizzard happening outside with barely any visibility) and officially on my way back home. Even now I can’t believe that just 48 hours ago I was swimming in turquoise waters on white sand beaches and snorkelling with the starfish and just 12 hours ago I was still in a tropical climate where shorts and t-shirts were daily wear and +32º was the normal daytime temperature. But alas, we can reminisce together while I get everyone caught up on my final 5 days.

From Bocas del Toro my plan was to catch an overnight bus to Panama City and then proceed straight to Guna Yala a.k.a. Kuna Yala (previously known as the San Blas Islands) – complicated, I know. All of our travels worked out as planned and even though it was a long journey, thanks to comfortable buses, some naps along the way, and multiple changes of travel modalities, it didn’t seem too long before we arrived in the tropical island paradise located in the Caribbean Gulf of San Blas, Panama. A 4×4 vehicle is necessary to reach the boat port and then it’s just a wet boat ride to paradise.

The islands are all small and local laws prohibit foreigners from owning land in the territory. Though accommodations are not luxurious by any standards, the outside scenery is why anyone comes to the San Blas Islands. Crystal clear turquoise waters, palm trees, white sand beaches, and hot sunny skies are abundant across the islands and days are spent soaking up the rays, taking dips in the temperate sea waters, and playing with the starfish (responsibly).

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After two nights on the islands, I returned to Panama City for my final two nights abroad. Panama City is much more cosmopolitan than any other city in Central America and I wish I had actually have more time to explore but I had decided that I was going to spend my final day visiting the Panama Canal. Though it wasn’t something I thought I would find particularly interesting, I likened the idea of not going to see the canal similar to that of going to Rome and not seeing the Coliseum…possible but unacceptable. Also, the canal had a drastic effect on Winnipeg’s own growth and economy when it was built (http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/opinion/analysis/the-panama-canal-and-the-decline-of-winnipeg-272262601.html) so I felt a bit of a personal connection to it. Needless to say, watching the mechanics and process of ships passing through was actually a lot more interesting than I thought it would be and I’m glad I checked it out.

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A ship passing through the Panama Canal. This ship had to pay $120 000 to pass through the canal and all payments must be made in cash.

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Panama City skyline

Last night I reunited with my Israeli friend who I had met in Bocas del Toro and travelled to San Blas with. We had a beautiful dinner, shared a bottle of wine, and good conversation and then said our goodbyes and with that, my journey came to a close. Travelling alone has been interesting. I did not learn anything monumental about myself (the way the blogs make you believe you will) and I actually rarely actually felt alone. That being said, I actually was looking forward to going home more so than I have on other trips however, that didn’t lessen the sinking feeling in my stomach as I approached the Tocumen Airport in Panama City this morning to begin my journey home. So, with that being said, here is a list of things I am looking forward to seeing/doing when I get home as well as a list of the things I will miss most about life on the road (and yes, I realize some of them contradict themselves).

Things I am looking forward to at home:

  • Seeing my family and friends
  • All of my animals (especially GC!)
  • 2-ply toilet paper
  • Drying off with a normal towel (not microfibre)
  • My bed
  • No longer having to handwash underwear
  • Warm showers
  • Not living out of a backpack
  • Painting my fingernails
  • Doing my hair & makeup properly

Things I will miss about travelling:

  • Hot & sunny weather
  • The simplification of living with minimal things/stuff
  • Beautiful beaches
  • Meeting new people and hearing their stories
  • Experiencing something new everyday
  • Cheap beers!!
  • Not doing my hair & makeup
  • The boats – all the boats.
  • The accents
  • Sunsets over the water

And with that, another journey is wrapped and over, as is this blog until either Kelsey or I embark on another adventure. Thanks to those of you who kept up with me along the way. Can’t wait to see you all!

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Final night dinner at Tantola

Crossing Borders

Hostel Heiki – Bocas Town, Panama     12:36pm local time

The journey across the country from Montezuma to Puerto Viejo was a long one that involved three buses and a ferry. I left Montezuma at 6am and finally arrived at my hostel in Puerto Viejo by 8pm. The hostel was out of dorm beds by the time I arrived but, luckily, they have a cute little tent community. I was able to snatch up the last tent and spent the next three nights in there.

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Tents at Rocking J’s in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica

I had avoided coming to this side of the country a little longer than I had planned because the weather was gloomy and rainy. Sure enough, my entire first 36 hours in Puerto Viejo the rain poured out of the sky in mass, seemingly impossible amounts. I kept thinking that surely, the sky had to run out of rain soon. Eventually the rain did stop and the next day was nice enough to at least wander out of the hostel. I rented a bike (a comfortable one with a wide seat AND a basket!) and had a nice day of riding around the town, checking out the beaches, and browsing the local shops.

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Suzy the sloth

After three nights in Puerto Viejo it was time to cross my final border into Panama. The border crossing was fairly straight forward but crossing the ‘infamous’ old/rotten railroad bridge definitely adds character to the experience.

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Walking into Panama

Bocas Town is bright and colourful and the Afro/Caribbean influence is definitely noticeable on this coast. Bocas celebrates Carnaval and I arrived on the last day of it. This meant I got to experience a little bit of what Carnaval looks like here but also that all the hostels are more expensive/busy and that the one and only ATM in town ran out of money and caused a bit of panic among travellers. I ended up spending one night in the worst hostel that I’ve ever been to. There were bedbugs and panty liners in the showers and it provided an overall puke-worthy experience. Thank God the next morning I was able to switch to another hostel that I had read about online and have spent a much more comfortable two nights here.

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Not even half of the people waiting in line for the ATM to be filled after two days of being empty

I also got in a couple scuba dives while I was here. Though the dive sites weren’t the best I’ve been to I was glad I took the opportunity to get underwater while I could. The rest of my time has been spent on some of the surrounding beaches. Bocas is a neat little town but a bus or water taxi is necessary to access most of the beaches and I’m eager to get to a place where the beach is just outside the doorstep. I’m leaving here tonight on an overnight bus to Panama City and then going straight to the San Blas Islands. They are beautiful but slightly pricey to get to so I’m hoping they are worth it and that I end my trip on a high note. I can’t believe I only have 5 nights left!

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Diving equipment set up and ready to go

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Mama and Baby sloth

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Starfish Beach, Isla Colon, Bocas del Toro

Lazy Daze in Montezuma

Rocking J’s Hostel – Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, Costa Rica     11:06 am local time

I left Manuel Antonio last Saturday to finally head to Montezuma. I knew I would have to spend one night in Jaco on the way, as only one boat leaves Jaco to cross the bay to Montezuma and I could not make it in time to catch the boat on the same day. Luckily I met an American girl on the bus on the way to Jaco because, upon arriving in Jaco, it was nearly impossible to find a place and we were at least able to handle the situation together.  I had heard that Jaco was a “party town” but didn’t realize that this means that people flock there on the weekends. The hostels fill up, prices are jacked up, and dance music pulses through the air until the wee hours of the morning. We shared a shitty $60 hotel room and bounced out of there the next morning.

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Sunset over Jaco Beach

Montezuma is located at the most southern tip of the Nicoya Peninsula of Costa Rica and apparently has a population of only roughly 500 people. Upon arrival I immediately felt good vibes and a laid back aura and it’s definitely been my favourite place on my trip thus far. Pretty beaches are easily accessible, local waterfalls provide freshwater swimming holes which are a nice alternative to the salt-water of the ocean, a variety of wildlife roam around the town, and the climbing/hiking available was just enough to satisfy my inner monkey.

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Playa Montezuma

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My time in Montezuma consisted mainly of waterfalls, beaches, hammocks, and drinking. It was a lovely little place, I stayed at a great hostel with other cool people, and I was sad to leave when I did.

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Yesterday I made the long journey across the country from the Pacific coast to the Caribbean coast. It’s been raining non-stop here since I arrived yesterday night but I’m remaining optimistic that the weather will improve…I don’t want to lose my tan before I get home!

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9am reggaeton/dancehall blaring + middle-aged women dance circle = 9am boat beers for us!

Back at the Beach!

Hostel Vista Serena – Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica      6:05pm local time

From Monteverde, I was planning on heading to Montezuma. Unfortunately some wrong information caused us to miss a bus and there had to be some adjustments made to my plans. So instead I headed to Manuel Antonio and will circle back to Montezuma after this.

I was excited to leave Monteverde and get back to a beach and a warmer climate but because we left Monteverde very early on a breezy/chilly morning, my attire did not transition well to Manuel Antonio which is incredibly hot & humid! I came as close to possible to being roasted to death on the bus (which was a measly 39° C) and felt an immediate sense of excitement and comfort as the coastline came into view. When we got off the bus directly infront of a beautiful beach I knew this was a place I wanted to be.

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Sunset view from my hostel in Manuel Antonio

Yesterday I spent the day at Manuel Antonio Park, the smallest of Costa Rica’s national parks. There’s several trails to walk, wildlife to be spotted, and beaches to be enjoyed. Since I had the opportunity to see a lot of animals in Monteverde, I forgo the option of hiring a guide and decided to wander about the park myself. I trecked the trails in the sweltering heat for about 3 hours spotting spiders, lizards, snakes, monkeys, and a giant rodent-like animal that looked like roided rat without a tail and then decided to take the rest of the day to relax on one of the beautiful beaches in the park.

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Manuel Antonio National Park

I also got my laundry done for the first time since leaving home. I purposely stopped hand washing underwear to force myself to get laundry done because some of my shirts were getting a little stinky and fabric spray can only do so much.

The rest of my time here has been spent laying on other beaches, eating, drinking, and playing cards. I packed up and checked out today but have now decided to spend one more night here. Tomorrow I’m back on the road though to make my way to my next destination.

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Pura Vida!

Cool Monteverde

Well I have officially crossed a border and am now in Costa Rica. My last couple days spent in San Juan del Sur were spent lazy-ing around at the beach and in hammocks, drinking, and I even got a little dancing in :/

Luckily for me, there was another guy at my hostel heading in the same direction as me so we were able to navigate the Costa Rican border crossing together. I had heard some bad things about the crossing – that it was a little hectic, poorly marked, and could take hours to cross but it turned out to not be so bad after all. The entire process of getting stamped out of Nicaragua and into Costa Rica took about an hour and a half. Unfortunately though, we were not able to make it all the way to Monteverde in one day and ended up having to spend one night in a small city called Tilaran. We ran into another Winnipegger who was in the same predicament as us so the three of us shared a room for the night and then finished our bus journey together the following day.

Monteverde is a small town high up above sea level. It is lush with green foliage and It is chilly in Monteverde, particularly at night when the sun goes down.

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The view from our hostel in Monteverde

We arrived on Superbowl Sunday so we found the local sports bar, had a couple beers, and watched the game with probably every other North American in town that evening. I also got my first taste of chiliguaro – a common drink/shot here that is essentially hot sauce mixed with Cacique which is a strong, vodka-like alcohol distilled with sugar cane and it wasn’t actually that bad! The following day I splurged to do a zipline tour which included 5 “regular” ziplines, 2 “Superman” ziplines, a rappel,a walk across 3 suspension bridges, and a Tarzan swing. The Tarzan swing was by far my favourite activity, as you free fall off a platform before swinging back again (I just wish the fall had been a little longer!).

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Ziplining in the cloud forests of Costa Rica

I also did a night walk through the forest to try to spot some local wildlife and we were able to see:

  • Two-toed sloths
  • A Green Viper
  • A Toucan, and various other birds
  • A tarantula
  • Some frogs
  • A kingkajou
  • An olingo

Though we did question the authenticity of the tour and how they were able to just “find” all these creatures in a small area, it was still neat to be able to see all the creatures in real life.

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A sloth just casually climbing through a tree near our hostel – I wish I had had my actual camera and not just my phone

I had originally thought I might spend three nights in Monteverde but I felt like I had done all I was going to do there and wanted to get back to a beach and warmer climate so yesterday I packed up with plans to head to Montezuma. Unfortunately there were some travel snafoos and now I’m in Manuel Antonio instead but I’m not complaining; the first impression was a good one and I’m looking forward to laying on the beach today and possibly exploring the national park tomorrow.