Things that made me happy this week (3)

1) Looking down into an active volcano crater at Masaya

2) $7 breakfast buffet with reasonable poached eggs at the chocomuseo in Granada

3) Having 3 nights in the same hostel after 3 nights of moving every day. So nice to put my bags down for a while!

4) Watching Thor. Unexpectedly awesome.

5) Finding an air conditioned coffee shop at the mall in Granada. Finally!

6) Finding out that my visa is fine for 90 days even though the tourist card says 30. No more land border crossings this trip woo!!!!!!

7) The smiley man who grabbed me for the bus to Granada. Made my day.

8) Oreo McCono. Om nom nom.

9) Unexpectedly getting a private yoga class for $5 when I was the only one who showed up. I was really self conscious at first but it ended up being great. We did lots of back bends and I lifted my hand of the floor in wheel. Never done that before!!! The same thing happened the next day but this time I got into king pigeon (Google it) which is something I never dreamed I’d be able to do yay!

10) Kayaking with my fun new hostel friends on the lake in Granada. The route was beautiful, the company great and to top it off the guide capsized hilariously!

San Jose to Granada

I had big plans for Granada. I was going to dive, surf, travel the country, see the rainforest! That was before I got here, realised it’s 38 degrees most days and the surfing/diving infrastructure doesn’t really exist in most places. That’s ok though, I’ve been getting comfortable with a lot more relaxing than usual and catching up with reading, netflix and some yoga prep.

I found the journey from San Jose to Nicaragua hideous! It took 10 hours instead of the advertised 6, the bus was hot and there was a lot of time spent standing around with no idea what was happening. Worse still, the hostel kitchen which contained all my carefully prepared food for the bus was locked when my 4.30am taxi arrived so I had to abandon it!

The bus station itself was straightforward. They asked that you arrive 45 minutes before the bus so you can go up to the counter, check in, stow your baggage and pay the departure tax. The tax is $9 at the terminal but if you can make it to a bank in advance it’sĀ  $7. I also saw a terminal that hardly anyone was using at the border to pay it and the bus waits for everyone to come through so you could use that. We absolutely crawled to the border. Luckily a local seeking sandwiches got on about 4 hours in and out I bought the soggiest ham and cheese sandwich I’ve ever eaten. I didn’t care, I was starving!

When we finally arrived at the border the Costa Rican side was straightforward straightforward. Just queue, get your stamp and leave. The TicaBus staff handed out the necessary forms when we got on the bus so they were filled out and ready.

The Nicaraguan side was a different story. The bus staff took our passports and $14 for the cost of the tourist card (I’m pretty sure it should only be $10!) then bundled us off to pick up our bags. There was no obvious customs office and eventually someone worked out we were meant to put our bags on some tables in the middle of a bunch of market stalls. Eventually a single customs officer came out and started checking them. After about 30 minutes and only about 10% of the bags checked, another woman joined him, took my form and told me they didn’t need to see my bags.

On returning to the bus we were told that our bags could go on but we had to wait outside. We did so and I bought cake for lunch and ate it under moderate shade. Eventually at 2pm we were called back to the bus and an immigration office handed back our now stamped passports. They didn’t seem too concerned with checking our pictures matched.

2 hours later I finally arrived in Granada. There were taxis waiting by the bus but I asked the bus guy and the centre was only 5 minutes away so I walked the short distance to my hostel. I managed to drag myself into town to a great falafel place called Pita Pita for a quick dinner which ended up being the biggest pita I’ve ever seen. It was the size of my head! Afterwards I headed back to my hostel and hid from the heat there for the rest of the night.

A note on the Nicaraguan tourist card-it says that you must leave after 30 days and that it can’t be extended. I was so concerned (I needed 90 days) that I went to the immigration office at the Metrocentro in Managua to check. There I was told that this is just a receipt and it’s the number that’s written in your passport stamp that counts. This was indeed 90 days for me so panic over and no more land border crossings for me, wooooooo!

10 things that made me happy this week (2)

1) Ditching the Internet and chatting to the couple next to me at breakfast in my hostel. The girl worked for KLM and they were flying staff travel so I found out all about that and how it compares to British Airways.

2) Found out that my sister Mel and her family are coming home from Singapore for good. Yay!!!!!

3) Realising that the pleasant piano music I’d been listening to for an hour or so in the hostel lounge was actually being played by a live pianist with a keyboard sitting outside!

4) Good bus journey from Puerto Viejo to San Jose: the bus was comfortable, we were early despite being stuck in traffic loads, I unexpectedly had a nice aussie girl from the hostel as a travel buddy AND I got a decent taxi driver to take me to the hostel who found it no problem and didn’t try to rip me off.

5) Buying a ticket for the tour of the San Jose nationwide theatre. I love theatres and it was so nice to be doing something after a couple of (admittedly enjoyable) weeks of alternating lazing with eating out.

6) Frozen yoghurt on San Jose. Much cheaper than in Panama and they had cheese cake flavour!

7) The fairy lights at my first hostel in Granada and the old school music, the cat and the dog at my second hostel.

8) Falafel sandwich the size of my head at Pita Pita in Granada and the lovely gardens at so many coffee shops here

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9) Finding a space on the night tour to the Masaya volcano for tonight, at the first tour office I went to

10) The breeze by the lake in Granada. Its crazy hot here so it was lovely to find some shade!

10 things that have made me happy this week

I saw this idea on someone else’s blog and I liked it so I’m copying it. The idea is that every week I’ll write down 10 things that made me happy. Its so easy sometimes to get stuck in the negative and stop noticing the little things that happen to brighten up the day and I’m hoping this will help me to appreciate them more.

1) Arriving in Puerto Viejo, seeing the beautiful Costa Rican beaches and finding I had a private double room with nice private bathroom for the same price as a dorm bed.

2) Actually cooking something for the first time in two months

3) Getting my first 8 letter word on words with friends. Over 100 points, boom!

4) Having a sudden epiphany about my career on the beach. Don’t laugh but I think I could make a great internal auditor.

5) My BFF Jess inviting me to murder mystery and dinner for her birthday. One of the best things about going home will be seeing my friends again šŸ˜€

6) Ben giving me access to his Netflix and finding out that you can access way more content over here. Friends, How I Met Your Mother to name just a couple. Wow!

7) Getting a decent martini (passion fruit flavoured, I’ve long since learned my lesson on the straight ones!) for the first time in months. Even better I drank it with someone who used to work for Crossrail!

8) Pagalu hostel having Lipton yellow label tea on tap all day and the supermarket selling non-UHT milk to drink with it. Good tea for the first time in ages.

9) Laughing so much at a youtube video of cats being cats that I had to stop it because the bed was shaking.

10) Getting my yoga teacher training intro email. So exciting, and even better they are picking up in a beach town called San Juan del Sur. I thought I needed to get to Managua airport which would have been a mission so this is much better.

On to Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica

I spent another two nights in Panama on the Bocas islands but I’m going to skip over it because to be honest I didn’t enjoy it! It rained most of the time and the two night I’d booked at Bambuda Lodge on isla Solarte turned out not as great as I’d hyped them to be in my head. A combination of most of the good people apparently leaving the day before, issues with the chef and the fact that there is literally nothing to do there in the reason made for a pretty boring time. The saving grace were a Canadian guy and German girl who saved me from getting full on cabin fever!

I was relieved to get up at 6am on the last day, catch a $5 water taxi back to the mainline and hop on my shuttle to Puerto Viejo just across the border in Costa Rica.

Although it was only 3.5 hours, the border crossing from Panama felt like it took years. I thought about trying to do it on my own to save money but I’m so glad I didn’t! The shuttle cost $28 with Caribe Shuttle (you get a bit of discount if you book at Bambuda, full price is $32). To do it alone you could save about $10 but you have to take a boat, 2 buses to the Panama border then I think a taxi from the Costa Rican side. Not to mention the confusion of the whole thing and the fact that it was pouring with rain the whole time! I was feeling sorry enough for myself in the soaking that I already got.

Apart from the rain it was an uneventful journey. They dropped me at the door of the hostel, and although the border man made me redo my immigration card as it had got torn up in the rain be asked no other questions. He didn’t even want to see my exit ticket even though he asked the people in front so I think how easily you cross is mainly down to luck!
I got a warm welcome at my hostel (Cecilia’s) and was surprised to find I had a double room with private bathroom all to myself. As soon as I started walking around town I knew I would like it here and I’ve now “accidentally” spent 5 days in town. Its full of good food and the beaches are beautiful. Its been cloudy so the pictures are a bit gloomy but it’s stunning, rivalling Cape Tribulation in Oz as my favourite beach. The surf is large and as you look into the distance the spray creates a musical sheen over everything.

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The beach stretches for miles, only broken by the occasional stream meeting the sea. The closest beach has black and which I think is amazing as I’m imagining it comes from volcanoes and I LOVE everything to do with volcanoes. Further along there are white sand beaches with a smaller surf (you can’t swim far ok my part of the beach as the waves are too big).

Along the beach is a fair amount of jungle and it’s just so alive. Swarms of leaf cutter ants coat the paths, huge prehistoric looking birds swarm above, there are reports of sloths just sitting in the road and on my second day I spent an hour just watching crabs do their thing. They really are amazing. I watched as they dug their holes deeper and retreated at the slightest sign of danger, it was totally mesmerising. You can’t see him but there’s a little guy hiding in the hole here.

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Other than time doesn’t exploring the beach I’ve been doing a lot of reading and not going to lie, internet time! I just finished reading The Miniaturist. I thought it was ok-easy historic beach reading but the story was a bit unsatisfying, I was expecting some amazing twist that never came.

Food here has been excellent. A lot of people have told me it’s more expensive than Panama but I haven’t found that, and there’s definitely far more choice and better quality. My favourites have been Bread and Chocolate which has plug sockets, Twinings tea and sells huge sandwiches with a choice of salad, fried potatoes or fruit salad on the side for about $6. I also tried a brownie for $3 which was sooo rich. It was really good bit I think one could happily serve 3 people!

I also love Como en mi Casa. I’ve been back a couple of time for breakfast and their gluten free wraps (made of chick pea flour I think). I usually hate omelettes but the one I got as part of their set breakfast deal was amazing. I’m not sure what they did to it but it was awesome.

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Sandwich and salad at Bread and Chocolate

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BreakfastĀ  (with the amazing omelette) at Como en mi Casa

Hostel wise, I didn’t the first couple of nights at Cecilia’s enjoying the private room and wifi good enough to stream yoga classes from yogaglo (I’ve been trying to go to an actual class here but somehow always seem to seem to choose ones that aren’t happening!). I decided to move as the place has a tin roof and rickety construction which made for some very strange noises in the night and completely terrifying sounds in heavy rain. It sounded like the end of the world had come! A lot if people had recommended Pagalu. It doesn’t take bookings so you have to arrive early. I got there at 8.30am on my third day and managed to score one of the $12 dorm beds. Its a very quiet place but the kitchen is well equipped, the wifi is good and the bunks all have their own fans. I managed to find enough people know my first night to go for cocktails so I’m happy. One of the girls just finished a stint in London working on the PR for Crossrail. We had lots of Transport for London things to talk about!

Today I’m going to try to rouse myself from the lazy days that have taken over here and hire a bike to cycle up the cost. Hasta Luego.

The rest of Panama City and the bus to Bocas

I’d love to write some epic adventure here but to be honest mostly all we did was go to Smash Burger and hung out in malls and the hotel. We also complained our ass off about the lack of hot water and ended up getting $60 off, a bottle of champagne and free cake (totally thanks to Ben’s persistence!)

The most productive thing we did was buy my bus ticket to Bocas del Toro. After a last lunch at Smash Burger Bem headed back to the airport and I headed back to the Albrook terminal to catch my bus.

The bus was a stressful experience. There were no announcements or departure boards and it turns out the departure time on the ticket is actually the time they let you board the bus! I then accidentally ended up in seat 7 instead of my assigned seat 3 and the lady whose seat or was told me to get out of it pretty rudely! I felt just a little bit smug when I realised that my actual seat was in the front row and had more leg room.

I was hoping to ride in quiet and pine after Ben but the guy who sat next to me introduced himself by saying “hello sweetheart” then telling me about all the fun he’d just had in Columbia. Luckily he turned out to be a fairly normal (if tired and possibly still drugged up from his Columbia time) guy from California and chatting to him passed the time until he thankfully fell asleep.

The seats actually reclined about 45 degrees and with stone space to stretch my legs I got a decent few hours sleep before waking up at 5.30 just before Almirante. We arrived at the port about an hour later and due to my keeness to get on the bus my bags were stuck right at the back of the compartment. I ended up losing my Californian friend so grabbed someone else to share a taxi to the place the boats left from. He introduced himself by saying “I seem to have lost all my money except the $6 for the boat, this ride might be more expensive than you thought”. I had my doubts that he could lose exactly enough to leave him with the right amount for the boat with no explanation so I just got into a kind of tired grump. As it turned out he didn’t bring it up again somehow managed to scrape together the $1 to pay for himself.

The water taxi to Bocas was fine. It took about 30 minutes and the journey passed pleasantly enough past wooden houses built over the water. No money guy told me the outhouses were toilets that dropped down straight into the water. Not somewhere you want to fall out of the boat!

On arriving on the island it had started to pour with rain. I hopefully walked towards my hostel thinking that it must be open as the boat comes in at the same time everyday. Sadly it wasn’t and I hid underneath their porch until 7.30 when the cleaning lady came and opened up.

Luckily my hostel was nice and super friendly. I stayed at Spanish by the Sea which is also a Spanish school. They had a great kitchen, the people were friendly and their were good hammocks aplenty. It also felt very safe, I heard that robberies happen at the other hostels as they don’t watch who comes in and out so it was nice to feel secure!

I spent the day exploring the town and walked a bit further up the coast to a beach. For dinner I had a takeaway wrap from Bocas Blended. Its a small restaurant in a converted old bus that sells all sorts of wraps and smoothies. I had the Thai which was crammed full of noodles, chicken, salad and peanut sauce. It was very good!

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I think the picture above might be it but I’m not sure as my phone camera went on the blink again. If it isn’t the wrap it’s a rice and bean burrito from TacoSurf which was also very good!

And just for fun, here are the notes I made in our last days in Panama. It really was all food and hotel!

Day 1: arrived, had dinner possibly at tococontento at the multiplaza mall which was actually a very nice mall with good aircon

Day 2: may have walked to the old town to book monolo coracol for the following night, had lunch at the Argentinian place from lonely planet that was meant to have arepas but didn’t (I had a quesadilla, Ben had a pasta and pesto salad), dinner at Smash? I had another veggie burger and Ben had the chicken avocado club?
Day 2: gym broken so went to canal, canal sucked so came back and had lunch at jardin vegetarianoĀ  (ate in our rooms). Had dinner at Manolo Coracol, lots of fun

Day 3: meant to go to rainforest but didn’t. Mega hyper laze day. Had lunch at cozy by grace, shared the chicken fajita panini and a salad. I was still hungry afterwards so I had a chicken wrap from freshco next door. It was ok.Ā  Went back to the hotel and did about 10 mins on the stepper and some weights. Had dinner at Smash. This time we shared a classic chicken burger and a baja cobb salad.

Day 4: morning gym, lunch at el Greco – platter and good deep fried aubergine things with tzatziki. Football was on. We had dinner at Smash burger again? I think I had the black bean burger? I just don’t remember, so many trips to smash!!!

Day 5: Ben went home. Gym in morning, lunch at Smash burger then sad times ahead as he went home and I went to catch the bus to Almirante. Found a massive portion of chicken fried rice at the bus station which was the only good thing about today.

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We love Smash Burger and hope it will come to England.

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Heinz!

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More frozen yoghurt at the mall