Hello My Chickadees,
A long time and no blog I hear you cry. Well this is set to be a bumper edition, so take the phone off the hook, put the mobile on silent and put the television on for Grandma for the next 15 minutes or so.
When we last left our hero and heroine they were making their way to San Jose complete with Dione Warick CD. San Jose is characteristic of many other Central American capitals but with a little more order. That is to say it hasn`t been town planned by a 12 year old completing his School Geography project. Take Guatemala City for example; church sits next to tyre shop which sits next to cafe which sits next to school, which sits next to flower shop, which sits next to strip club and so on and so forth. San Jose is a good stroll around, but like most of these countries the interesting places all lie some way from the capital.
San Jose coincided with the end of any pre-booked accomodation, so armed with the Lonely Planet we have been seeking out our own digs. This has become an exercise in cost cutting and we have had to adjust to the standard of accomodation fairly quickly. Sorry let me rephrase that; I have had to adjust to the standard of accomodation rather quickly. Being a country girl Kirsty anything more than a wooden barn and a bed of hay is deemed luxury by her. The first hostel room we stayed in was numbered room 2 1/2. Needless to say my expections were not high and were realised when we entered between the walls of rooms 2 and 3 and the bed was in near vertical position. Actually, I am doing the hostels a diservice. We are really enjoying the experience of being around so many other people travelling up and down the continent and you meet some really nice and interesting people with stories to tell. The facilities are all pretty sound and the free panacake breakfast always helps to sweeten the deal. It`s a little like the experience of Freshers Weeks all over again except substitute the questions `Where are you from and what course are you studying?` for `Where are you from and where are you travelling to?`.
As strictly as the accomodation budget has been adhered to then so has the food budget. So far, for every pound sterling we are saving a day the equivalent in pounds weight is flying off our frames. I am beginning to resemble a twiglet in slightly baggy clothes, but as ever the wife is maintaining the mean standard of beauty for the both of us. To be fair, it is not only a strict diet that is overseeing my transformation into the illegitimate son of Mahatma Ghandi; the Central American menu consists of Beans and Rice, Rice and Beans and....oh Beans and Rice. The whole plate. although hearty, is beginning to wear thin. A conservative estimate would say I am eating about 1/3 to a half of what I would at home and Kirsty about half. This is offset by the number of hours spent sitting idly on a bus and the lack of exercise either of us are getting. That said to put it all into perspective, our daily budget is still way in excess of what some families here live on in a week. So mustn´t grumble!
So from San Jose we headed to the costal town of Puerto Viejo, famed for its monster waves that produce outstanding surfing. Sadly the surf has been flat for 2 months and Grandma would have had no probem looking like a pro on these mini waves. The town is the site of my minor epiphany. One morning Kirsty and I got up, walked down to the beach, bought a freshly picked Pineapple that the vendor then cut up for us, took the fruit and went and sat on the end of a pier looking out to sea eating our breakfast. Neither of us want to work again unless the job involves this morning ritual.
We left Puerto Viejo early one monring and headed for Panama, our final destination on the Central American Leg of the trip. This is the first border crossing we have neogitated completely alone and I have to confess to being somewhat apprehensive about the potential complications. None the less, we managed to skillfully acquire another stamp for the collection, before we were unceremoniously made to walk over a bridge that is made of rotting bits of wood into Panama. With this hurdle successfully cleared we set off for an island just off the coast, called Bocas Del Toro. To get there you need to take a high speed motor boat through a beautiful lush, green canal. All we needed was my white linen suit, Crocket, Tubbs and a couple of Colombian drug dealers and we had all the makings of an episode of Miami Vice. Bocas is a cool little island with lots of pretty beaches and some cool places to hang out looking out onto the sea. Continuing the hostel theme, we stayed at the legendary Mondu Taitu Hostel, complete with bar attached. Beer during happy hour costs a paltry 0.50 cents and the creatively decorated hostel includes a board with the pictures of all the visitiors that have consumed 100 beers during their stay - mostly Irish and completed over and obviously incredibly hazy 5 days. Not wanting to demonstrate the fact that my wife has a greater tolerance to alcohol than I do or wanting to suffer the ignomy of having my picture above the title `Ravi - 205 Days and counting`, I chose to decline this particular physcial challenge. One more quick thing to tell you about in Bocas, seeking respite from the onslaught of beans and rice, we treated ourselves to an Indian meal (though clearly not a patch on Mum or Grandma`s food). On ordering a plate of chick peas, rice and dhal (all we could afford) we graciously tucked into our meal, only to realise we had just eaten the equivalent of a plate of rice and beans.
Since leaving Bocas we have been residing in the mountain town of Boquete for the last week or so and will be here until Saturday. The last week has probably been the busiest of our time away. We have enroled in a language school so have been studying Spanish from 8am - 12pm each day before trotting off into town to volunteer at a local school but more about that later. Our accomodation for these two weeks has been with a local family, David and Melva Cubilla, grandparents who used to live in Panama City or as we have remamed them Papa-Ma and Nana-Ma. The week began with Papa-ma home alone and, like most men, he hadn`t used the kitchen since his mid 20s and that by all accounts was an accident. Food was somewhat basic and, although the promise of Nana-ma returning in a few days was enough to leep us going, the bombshell that he had taught her how to cook was daunting. On the verge of chucking the whole `homestay`experience Nana-ma arrived home in a blaze motherly sweetness and has proceeded to treat us like her own, smothering us with tasty treats at every avaialble opportunity. There is a slight problem with their eating habits. There are two meals a day: Breakfast for us at about 7.30am and the evening meal at...5pm. This poses a problem in the sense that by the time 8pm comes aound I am just about ready to gnaw my own arm off (or what`s left of it). To bide the time we have taken to going down and watching TV with Papa and Nana-Ma. We are now big fans of Latin America Idol, and you`ll be pleased to hear that the final this week looks set to be a corker. The final four competition was fierce - although I have to be honest here...not a looker amongst them. Though I was rather moved by one of the starlets rendition of Frank Sinatra`s `My Way`in Spanish. I was a little concerned the other night when Papa-ma was out and Nana-ma invited us into their bedroom to show us the size of their bed. Having fallen for this trick in a previous life I thought the whole evening could end awkwardly, but I needn´t have worried, her intentions were strictly honourable.
Right last bit of this bumper edition. I said that we have been volunteering at a local school. I say school but neither of us can really work out what it is and what the teachers actually do. On arriving there fresh faced last Monday afternoon we were promptly led to a class room where we were left, alone, with about 30 seven year olds. Unfortunately, 12 years of private education, 3 years of Durham University, a teaching qualification and working in the Independant sector had left me suprisingly underprepared for this eventuality. I can assure you a strongly worded letter is on its way. Furthermore, they don`t speak a word of English, so having barely come to terms with teaching a lesson in my own language, the prospect of teaching one in another is a whole other kettle of fish. Fortunately, Kirsty came into her element here, and 3 hours of singing `Ìf Your`re happy and you know it` and `Head, Shoulders, knees and toes` complete with actions was just the trick.
The kids are lovely and very sweet. They don`t moan, cry and generally just get on with things, but there is a lack of purpose about the place, in the sense that they seem to be biding their time here rather than building any foundations. I suppose the real success here is allowing these kids to be kids and not to be working on the street. The whole experience is quite humbling and realising that you have won the lottery by being born in the country you have been and being born into the families we have been has become very apparent to us on this trip.
This week we are stepping up the walking in preparation for the Inca Trail because like my attempts to grow hair, our attempts to follow any semblance of a fitness regime have been patchy at best. So in true Sylvester Stallone/Rocky style we will be chopping wood, chasing chickens, climbing mountains and badly ennunciating.
BTW for those of you like me that have realised that Skype is not a painful disease we now have an account and would love to talk to you sometime. Our User Name is Ravikk79 so feel free to add us and send us your user name.
Well done in completing this marathon, but remember, I have burnt half my daily calorie intake just writing it.
Until next time!