Thursday, May 7, 2009

San Jose Costa Rica

Having learned my lesson on late starts when going through borders I headed out for San Jose at 7am. Again a boat ride over to Almirante a 2 block walk over to the bus depot where I caught a bus to Changuinola for $1.60, a 1/2 hour ride. The bus from Changuinola to San Jose only runs once a day and leaves at 10am. I already had my ticket ($11.00) as I had to purchase it when I entered Panama. The bus goes the same route that I came in on, over the scary bridge. In order to clear customs we had to get off the bus and walk across, I was so hoping we would get to stay on the bus although that too is scary, not sure how that thing stays up with that weight. At least I got over before the bus came, don't think I'd have been able to go at the same time. There were no charges at customs this time on either side however my flight home was out of Costa Rica and I had to show my itinerary. If you are not flying out of the country you have to purchase a bus ticket back to Panama to get in.

The bus does not drop you off in San Jose at a bus terminal, it just pulls over on the side of the street and out you go. Having had a bad experience with meter cabs last time I was here I opted for a pirate cab this time. The guy gave me a price of $2000 Colon's to go to Tranquilo Hostel which it turned out was about 20 minutes away and that was all he charged me. Who knew from now on pirate cabs it is they are more honest than the "official metered" cabs.

Tranquilo Hostel is in a great area, right downtown so you can walk to pretty much everything. It was $10.00 a night for a bunk in a dorm room 8 bunks to a room. Included was free Internet/WIFI, coffee/tea, kitchen with fridge and pancake breakfast (with fruit) that they cook for you. They do sell beer but you can go to the market down the street and get your own and bring it in.

As I had not done any shopping on my travels I walked on down to the market to see what I could find. There are lots of souvenir shops full of the usual merchandise however I'm not really a fan of the Costa Rica key chain, etc. I did find a few things but I can't tell you what they are as they are gifts for people when I get back. Nothing overly tacky although I do enjoy giving people really bad gifts so I can watch them squirm as they pretend to like them ;-) I resisted my evil impulses this time but there is still a world of tacky gifts in Vegas so I don't think I will be able to keep from going over to the dark side, spaghetti strapped "I got laid at Coyote Ugly" 1/2 shirts for everyone!

I met some great people while in San Jose and got in some much needed drying out from alcohol, 2 beers in 4 days.. Okay they were 1 litre ones but still a significant drop in consumption. San Jose is a nice place, lots of shopping and the area I was in is very safe. The clothing stores do seem to specialize in skank wear, especially the glittery kind and they have lots of jeans that are really cheap so if shopping is your thing then this is the place to do it.

The hostel will arrange for cabs to the airport at a cost of $20.00US which I decided to do. I was going to take the bus at a cost of $1.75 however I would have had to walk 12 blocks across downtown at 4 in the morning which is never a good idea in most cities. As it turned out I made a very good decision. There was a torrential downpour the morning I was leaving and I mean it was really coming down so I was very glad not to be walking.

And so ends my Central American journey. I am still having a few issues dealing with the fact that I'm done and things don't really seem right but other travelers I've talked to warned me that it happens to all of us. Once I have adjusted a bit I will write a blog about what I have learned on my travels. It probably doesn't help that I'm in Las Vegas, just gives it more of a surreal feeling. My first night here I was like a country rube at the carnival, but that's a story for another blog entry.

On my travels I met a lot of incredible people from all over the world and from all kinds of different backgrounds, all of us with our own reasons for being on our journeys. The thing that we all have in common is that none of us fit into the "normal world" or want that lifestyle. At last I've found my own kind :-) Thanks to all of you! The places I went to were great but the people I met along the way are what made my journey truly amazing.

For the folks who have been following my blog, thanks for joining me on my travels. If you are planning a trip I hope I have been able to give you some useful info. If you have any questions or need clarification please ask if I don't know then someone I traveled with probably will. If you have been toying with the idea of running away from home and doing a big trip but have had reservations I hope I have dispelled a few myths and fears. If nothing else then I hope that I have been able to keep you entertained. As for me, I can't imagine not traveling again and I am already planning my next escape.

~ The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page. ~ Saint Augustine

Safe travels to all. Happy trails amigos.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Bocas Del Toro Panama

To get from Puerto Viejo to Bocas Del Toro I caught a bus to Sixaola, the cost was $1.75 and it was about an hour ride. Cleared Costa Rica customs and got my stamp out. After that it is a walk across a very scary bridge, again with the height issues if I couldn't have seen through the planks I would have made it across a lot faster. At Panama customs I had to go purchase a bus ticket out of the country, you are not allowed in unless you have a way out, the ticket was $11.00 and is good for 1 year for the bus from Changuinola (the closest town by the Panama border) to San Jose Costa Rica. Lots of folks I met had changed their airline itineraries on the computer before printing them out to Panama City as the place they were flying out of to avoid having to purchase the bus ticket. Sorry I didn't think of it but as I was heading back to San Jose I was going to need the ticket anyway. There is also a $5.00 US charge for US & Canadian passport holders to get into Panama. Seems our governments are not very nice to the people of Panama and charge them a lot of money to enter our countries so it is a retaliation fee.

Unfortunately we made a miscalculation on our departure time from Puerto Viejo, the last ferry to Bocas Del Toro leaves at 5pm and we did not have time to take the bus and none of us wanted to spend the night on the mainland so we had to catch a cab from the boarder to Almirante where the ferry leaves from. There is another route via Changuinola and then a ferry but they are dredging the canals so the service has been temporarily suspended. Too bad cause it sounded really cool, the canals are suppose to be beautiful. Anyway we hooked up with another guy so there was 4 of us in the cab at a cost of $8.00 each. We made the ferry with 5 minutes to spare, the cab driver called ahead and reserved us some spots so we made a beer stop along the way, good thing he made the reservation as it was a full boat. The ferry costs $4.00 and takes about 35 minutes, the ferry is a large speed boat that is covered, a pretty comfy ride and some nice scenery along the way, it is a very beautiful area, everything you would imagine the Caribbean would be.

We checked into the Hieke Hostel which is located on the main street across from the park, cost of a bunk in a dorm room was $10.00 an night and included a kitchen, cook it yourself pancake breakfast, free coffee all day and free wireless Internet. It is a nice place, rooms are clean, plenty of bathrooms, the staff is very helpful and a great vibe. Again ran into folks I had been meeting up with along the road, among them 3 French Canadian guys I ran into initially in Semuc Champey and again in San Pedro and again in San Juan Del Sur. I have no idea what their names are but I'm pretty sure they think I am stalking them and are a little afraid.

There is a lot of things to do in town, restaurants and bars everywhere and a couple of beaches 1 within walking distance that is not so good and one you need to take a bus to, cost of the bus is $2.50 US (Panama currency is US dollars) each way and the beach is okay but not up to Puerto Viejo standards. To get to the best beaches you need to take a boat and that costs $'s, anywhere from $5.00 each way up to $20.00 if you do the whole day tour that includes a visit to a few beaches, some snorkeling and a trip to Zapatillas, the cost does not include the fee to go onto Zapatillas which is an additional $5 to $10 as it is a national park. The fee is based on if the captain of the boat you are on can talk them into a discount.

We did not succeed in evading the rain, which kind of sucked but again we had a few days that the sun came out of hiding for. However not for long enough that any of us wanted to pay $20.00 for something we might be doing in the rain. As luck would have it we met some Canadian guys who have property on one of the islands along with a sail boat and a run about boat. They took a bunch of us from the hostel out for the day and we did a trip to Bastimentos Island to Red Frog Beach. There is a $3.00 charge to go to the beach as it is on private property. Bet you are noticing a trend here, as nice as the place is there are $'s attached to pretty much anything you want to do. After the beach we went back to the Canadians sail boat were we sat around, snorkeled and made pina coladas for the rest of the day.

I went out to a couple of bars one was on an island across the way at a hostel called Aqua, on Wednesdays and Saturdays they have free drinks for women folk, finally something that was free yippee, well almost you have to take a water taxi there at a cost of $1.00 each way. The other bar was just down the street Barco Hundido Bar. One of the cooler ones I have been in, part of it is on a dock and there is a swimming hole with a wrecked ship that runs under the dock. Not sure how wise that is with a bunch of drunk tourists running around, they do have a sign saying swim at your own risk things will cut you so I guess they are off the hook. Was fun watching all the fish swim around, no tourists gave it a go while I was there. I also had a few coupons for free drinks so a happy place for me.

I was now down to 3 days left on my travels and the rain was not letting up so I opted to head back to San Jose for some shopping as I had not been able to pick up anything on my travels due to the whole backpack weight space issue. It was really hard to say a final goodbye to the folks I was traveling with 1 has another 6 days and the other a month so they were off to Panama City. Happy trails amiga's, it was great sharing time with you!

So off I go to solo on the last leg of my Central American journey to San Jose.