After finally leaving Granada (after 10 days of relaxing, swimming and hammock swinging!) we headed to isla de ometepe, a giant island made up of 2 volcanos in lake Nicaragua. It was a pretty impressive sight heading over on the ferry. We spent 2 days over here not doing much at all. The island used to be a good spot of kayaking and swimming on the lake beaches, but about 18 months ago there was a huge flood and the lake level was raised about 3 foot, and this has never gone back down. So all the beaches are gone, and the water doesn't exactly look inviting! So we spent one night in the main town where the ferry docks, and the next night in a cute little hostel in the middle of nowhere on the otherside of the island. The roads are crazy on the island, there is only one paved road, which runs between the 2 towns, and the rest of the island is dirt tracks. So heading back for the ferry on our last day was the craziest chicken bus ride we've had so far! - 2 1/2 hours of standing with around 100 other people while bumping along dirt tracks. It was around then the chicken bus novelty wore off!!
After isla de ometepe, we headed to San Juan del sur, a beach town on the south pacific coast. We had heard some bad stuff about SJDS, like that it was mega touristy and overcrowed - which was all rubbish! It was the prettiest little town, and although it's definately the most touristy spot in Nicaragua, it's still by no means touristy! There were a few more hostels than usual, and a bunch of white people walking around with surf boards - no sun loungers on the beach, resorts or high-rises - so we liked it! We spent a couple of days here and then caught a shuttle up the coast to a place called playa maderas. This ended up being our favourite spot in Nicaragua and we spent about 5 days here. The beach was in a little cove and there was nothing there apart from a big wooden shack of a hostel, a taco stand and a cafe. There was no electricity and the hostel had only one bathroom for everyone that stayed there, so it was very rustic and a brilliant place to spend a few days. So we chilled, read books, sunbathed and played in the sea (jas hired a surf board for a bit too). We also saw some amazing sunsets - photos of which will be on facebook soon! After sunset everynight the owner of the hostel stuck on a generator for 3 hours (so until 9pm), so we could sit and drink beers and play cards in the evenings. All except for the last night, when the owner got too pissed to remember to turn the generator on, so we drank our beers in the dark! It was definately a place for early nights and early mornings! The guys who ran the place were a great bunch, and we met heaps of other really nice travellers there. After playa maderas, we headed back to SJDS for a few days before heading into costa rica.
We had heard lots of horror stories about the Nicaragua/Costa Rica border crossing (thousands of people getting processed by 3 people, with hours of waiting) so we decided to get there as soon as it opened at 6 am to try and minimise the queuing time. So jas and I, plus our friend Andy (who we'd been travelling with since ometepe) jumped in a cab at 5.20 am and headed to the border. We arrived at the border at 5.50 and there were already about 30 people clustered around the closed gates. At 6, the guards partially opened the gates and started letting people through, a few at a time. We were in the 2nd batch through, so had only around 10-15 people in front of us. It took around half an hour to get processed at this end and when we left the immigration office, we were so glad we came early because there was already a huge queue and more people were arriving from all directions. Nicaragua and Costa Rica hate each other, so instead of the usual couple of metres separating the two immigration offices, this crossing has an entire km of no-mans land in between the two countries. You could take a bus, but the 3 of us wanted to walk and check it out. It was crazy. There were no signs whatsoever, so we had to keep asking people "donde esta costa rica???" which made us feel pretty stupid!! There were masses of trucks parked up with their drivers sleeping underneath them in hammocks, homeless looking people passed out by the side of the roads and even a few little house shacks. On the other side, we got stamped pretty quickly and headed out to find a bus. The whole process took a hour, so again, so glad we arrived early!
We were heading to La Fortuna, a little town in the highlands of costa rica and we weren't sure if it would be possible to do do it in a day, but we decided to give it a go. We were really lucky and all of our bus connections worked out - so 7 or 8 hours and 3 local buses later, we arrived. It was a cute little town and we ended up staying at this great backpackers called Gringo Petes. We had planned on visiting the volcano and finding some hot springs, but unfortunately the volcano was covered by cloud, so there was no point in that, and the costa rica prices were far too crazy for us to be able to afford to got to the hot springs! We had known that Costa Rica was going to be expensive and touristy, but it was still a bit of a shock after a month in Nicaragua. It was full of Americas, about 2-3 times the price of Nicaragua, Guatemala and Honduras, and not only did the locals speak English - the spoke it with American accents! So we just stayed 2 days, mostly just at gringo petes because he had a good common lounge, outdoor area and most importantly - a decent kitchen (we can't afford to eat in costa rica)! After here we caught a bus-boat-bus to monteverde, a town on the other side of the volcano. It was a pretty nice boat journey, but we didn't like monteverde at all. Again, we couldn't afford to do anything here, and we stayed in a crap hostel with the rudest owners (sloth backpackers - don't go there!), so at 6am the next morning we jumped on a bus back to the coast. By 3pm we were at Montezuma, a cute little beach town on the pacific coast. We found a brilliant little hostel called hotel Lucy and decided to stay for a few days. The hotel was right on the water, so we could hear the waves from our room, plus it had a big veranda to sit on and hammocks, and a great kitchen (we still can't afford to eat in costa rica!). We spent most our time here either walking along the beach, hanging out at the swimming holes (which involved some pretty crazy climbing to get to!) or chatting to other backpackers over beer outside the hostel. We were leaving on my birthday, so the night before we bought some fish off this guy in town - a local fisherman who caught his fish in the morning, then spent the afternoons driving around with his catch in a giant esky on the back of ute, selling it to local restaurants and passersby. We went in with Andy, and bought a kilo of fresh tuna - which was far too much even for 3 of us! So we cut it into 4 steaks so Andy could have it again the next night. It was de-licious!
We got up early on my birthday because we had to catch a 6am bus (which actually turned out to be 6.30, but oh well!), it was a really nice morning and we watched the sunset and saw little squirrels running around the trees and power lines. So then we did another bus-boat-bus trip number and ended up in San Jose early afternoon. The city wasn't nearly as bad as we had been told - I think maybe the people who say it's scary haven't been to tegus in Honduras or Guatemala city! We were splashing out and staying in a flash hostel here - it was all new, had a swimming pool and a roof top bar and restaurant. It was a little too cold to go in the pool, so we just lay in the loungers next to it! The best bit about the hostel was the showers, which had hot water!! In the evening we bought a bottle of red wine and sat drinking it and playing cards, then headed up to the roof top bar for a tasty dinner that we couldn't afford - pretty good birthday!
The next morning we walked to the caribe bus station to catch a bus to Puerto Veijo - on the south caribean coast. Unfortuantely all the seats were sold out, so we had to stand....for 4 1/2 hours! (although I was lucky and about 3 hours in a nica German guy let me have his seat for about 40 minutes - jas was very jealous!). When we got to Puerto Veijo we found a hostel to stay in and ended up in a cute little treehouse type cabin. We only stayed one night here though, because then we discovered "rocking j's" - the craziest hostel setup ever, so we moved in there. Rocking j's is a total party hostel and is set up for cheapo backpackers that don't care about luxury. He has a few rooms, even a treehouse room with a retractable roof(!), but his main business is camping and hammocks. It's hard to explain, but he has 2 levels - the floor level is where campers can set up their own tents and is quite spacious. The second level is filled with 58 of his tents - all with mattresses, sheets and pillows. Downstairs again, he has two giant open shed type things, which each have around 100 hammocks set up. Every tent and hammock also has it's own locker so your stuff is safe, plus he has a big grass courtyard, a kitchen, lots of tables, and of course, more hammocks to chill in - plus he's right on the beach, has nightly bonfires and a bar/restaurant out the front. An amazing set up and the guy must be raking it in! We went for a tent and stayed 2 nights.
After puerto veijo, we headed over the border to panama. This border rivaled the Nicaraguan one for craziness as the
2 immigration offices here are separated by a narrow rickety old bridge which you have to walk across - and share with giant trucks and buses! From here we caught a bus and then a little boat over to the bocas del toro islands. It started absolutely pissing down on our boat over, and didn't stop once we got to the island (this area has huge amounts of rainfall all year round, so it's luck of the draw if you have sun or rain). When we got there, we had to run around in the rain looking for a room and were gutted that all the hostels we had been thinking of staying in were booked out! So we ended up in a horrible place called hotel las brisas. It was very run down and at night had cockroaches everywhere! I had to go to the loo armed - wearing my flip flops and carrying one of jas' to squish them with - I hate cockroaches! The next morning we checked out and moved into a cute little hostel run by a german couple. All they had left was a triple room, with 3 single beds, which was more than we could afford, but it was all that we could find, so we went for it. Luckily, a couple of hours later the woman knocked on our door and said a room had become free upstairs if we wanted that - jackpot! It was a beautiful room with a little balcony with a table and chairs - and on valentines days! So we bought a bottle of wine and some ridiculously cheap steak and ate it on our balcony.
We are still staying here now, the rain has gone, and we went on a boat trip around the other islands yesterday. We plan on checking out some beaches today and tomorrow, then it's off to Panama City - shopping for me, the canal for Jas!