Panama: 3/19 – 3/25

Uvita >>> (Panama) David >>> Bocas del Toro >>> Santa Catalina

5 hour Panama Border Crossing!
+ Checked out of Flutterby. Said our goodbyes to Laura and caught a taxi to the bus station.
+ After the very confusing bus station with multiple rude staff members, we FINALLY boarded the bus to David and took the very last seats. Because we bought the ticket directly through the conductor and not the office, when Corey gave him money and asked for change, the guy simply said it was his propina (tip) and kept it all. Not wanting to get kicked off the bus, there was little we could do so we just boarded.
+ After an uneventful ride, we got off the bus and began the process to cross the border. We ended up being at the border for just about 5 hours! It would have probably been much longer if the bus driver had not kept taking groups of 2-3 of us up ahead and skipping a bunch of people!
+ After the border, our bus continued on for a quick 45 min to David.
+ The international fair of David was happening this weekend. Tonight was the grand finale- a horse parade! Citizens from David and the surrounding area parade through the streets on horseback! Apparently there are hundreds of horses!
+Our taxi driver was driving us through the remainders of this parade. There were people on horseback everywhere! And many of them were obviously drunk! Others were riding up to beer stands and buying a few brews without even getting off their horse! We were bummed we had missed the actual parade because even this was such a site to see!
+ We made small talk with our taxi driver and learned that even he owns two horses. And he thought it was preposterous that we asked what their names were. “They have no names.” (followed by a weird look)
+ Arrived and checked in to the dorm at Bambu Hostel. Our dorm had AC. It was glorious!
+ Spontaneously ate dinner with 3 other travelers from Stuttgart! Talked about what we learned about Germany from Laura and Marius (i.e. fressneit). Also talked about lego movie theme song. Hagen thinks all Americans always say how “everything is awesome” ! Lololol
+ Corey had fried fish and Patacones (squished plantain patties) for less that $4! Liz was adventurous and tried some octopus stew! It was delicious!

Rest and Planning Day in David
+ Checked out of dorm, moved into private room with AC and very small TV from the 90’s.
+ Spent early part of day checking email, talking to family/friends
+ Walked 15 minutes to town and ate lunch at Dairy Queen.
+ Stopped into the Super 99 grocery store and picked up some drinks and ramen for dinner that night.
+ Walked back to hostel and spent the rest of the day researching Panama and Colombia.

Rest and Planning Day in David
+ Corey woke up and watched a movie while Liz played on her phone.
+ We then spent most of the day planning our next moves and deciding which places we were and were not going to.
+ Booked accommodation for our upcoming places and researched flights to Colombia.
+ Watched Zoolander 2 and relaxed by the pool.
+ Ate dinner at the seafood restaurant across the street again. We both got the fish special and  an appetizer of fish ceviche. They were both delicious and big portions for very cheap prices.
+ Spent the rest of the evening soaking up our last night of AC and watching our tiny TV.

Arrived in Bocas Del Toro
+ Woke up and checked out of our room, but had already missed the free breakfast.
+ Caught a taxi to the bus station and then the first shuttle bus headed towards Bocas Del Toro. On the 4 hour shuttle ride, we passed many interesting landscapes and little villages. Some little kid on the bus got sick and threw up in the van, but luckily it wasn’t near us.
+ During the ride, we watched Trumbo and then Corey watched Beasts of No Nation. Liz skipped that one so she didn’t get more car sick and end up like the little kid from earlier.
+ When we arrived to the town of Almirante, we got off the bus only to find that our bags on top were never covered and the rain through the mountains got them soaking wet.
+ No time to linger however as we were quickly ushered into the first taxi and driven to one of the boat docks. After 10 minutes we loaded up, strapped on our life jackets, said a prayer we weren’t going to need them, then started our 25 min journey over to the main island called Bocas Town.
+ Checked in to South Beach Hostel and then headed for an early dinner since we had skipped lunch.
+  Ate dinner and had a few drinks at happy hour. Then walked around town and talked to a few tour operators about tours or at least locations to snorkel tomorrow.
+ Ended the night at Bocas Brewery sampling their beers and playing ladderball.
+Corey tried to teach Liz how to do the Runningman. It was not a successful lesson. 🙂
+ Caught a taxi back to our hostel and did some more planning since Semana Santa is SO busy here in Panama.

Snorkeling at Blue Coconut with over-water hammocks
+ After leaving the hostel, we took a water taxi to Blue Coconut- a waterfront bar/restaurant of off Bastimentos. This bar had free snorkel gear and hammocks hanging in the water. It was a very cool place!
+ The snorkeling was good. Half coral/sponge and half sea grass bed near the mangroves. We saw tons of fish and sponges, free swimming jellyfish, lots of brittle stars, a skate, and a yellow sea horse!
+ Spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing in the hammocks over the water and watching the owner’s dogs fetch sticks from the water over and over.
+ Ate street food for dinner and watched House of Cards before bed.

3/24 (Our 3 year anniversary! 😊)
Snorkeling at Hospital Point- cove all to ourselves
+ We moved to a new dorm (same hostel) yesterday that may be the smallest dorm we’ve ever seen! 4 beds, no windows, but it has AC!
+ Because there were no windows we slept soundly in our little AC box and woke up with no idea what time of day it was.
+ Turned in laundry, and then hired a water taxi out to snorkel Hospital Point.
+ Hospital Point was not the most amazing snorkeling we had ever done but it was still a nice cove with grassy cliffs we had almost completely to ourselves. It was definitely a nice place to spend the afternoon.
+ After we got back to the hostel and showered, we set off to find dinner. The power went off for the whole island shortly after we left the hostel. We ended up having a hodge podge dinner of street food, Liz’s leftover chicken sandwich, and ice cream with chocolate cake!
+ Back at the hostel, we checked out and packed up to leave on our long travel day tomorrow. We are traveling from the Caribbean coast to the Pacific coast!

Traveled 13 hours! From Carribean Coast to Pacific Coast of Panama
+ Woke up very early. Grabbed our clothes that had been hanging to dry only to find they had been soaked by rain overnight.
+ Left Bocas del Toro on the 630am boat. Little did we know this would be one of our longest travel days yet.
+ Almost 13 hours later we finally arrived in Santa Catalina. We took a total of 7 different vehicles to get here.
— Water taxi from Bocas to the mainland — Taxi to bus station
— Bus from Almirante to David
— Bus from David to Santiago
— Bus from Santiago to Sona
— Bus from Sona towards Santa Catalina but only part way
— Old, stinky beat up SUV the rest of the way into town to our hostel- Jammin Hostel
+ Needless to say, it was an exhausting day.
+ After we checked into our hostel  (which is also a pizzeria) we ordered a cold drink and some pizza!
+ In the middle of dinner, the power went out for the whole town. Corey and I had a lot of things to do online, but unfortunately the power never came back on before bed.
+ Instead we watched Parks and Rec in the moonlight outside our dorm room.
+ There are multiple kittens here running around and wrestling with each other. One of them very much reminds us of Tumbles. He is super playful and also likes attention.
+ Still no power, so we settled in for another hot sweaty night in our dorm beds.

Click here for more photos from our time in Panama!

Costa Rica: 3/12 – 3/18


Puerto Viejo >>> San Jose >>> Quepos >>> Manuel Antonio >>> Uvita

Travel to San José and say goodbye for now to our German Friends
+ We all met up in the hostel lobby at 7:30 ready to leave Puerto Viejo on our last day together.
+ On our 4+ hour drive to San José, we were driving through that same place we’d been before so… we made our 3rd and final stop at our favorite Costa Rican restaurant, that same Taco Bell! Since it had been almost 72 hours since indulging our appetites there, we didn’t feel too guilty. Besides, it was practically tradition now!
+ It rained almost the whole drive and at one point, we noticed that in a passing car the guy was leaning out his window and physically moving the wipers back and forth to clear the rain! Lol. We still continue to be amazed by some of the crazy things we see in Costa Rica.
+ When we made it to San José, Marius graciously dropped is off at what would be our fanciest stay of our travels, a Holiday Inn right near downtown! Using some of the free IHG points we had earned back home, we booked 2 nights to catch up on some of the work and research we had fallen behind on.
+ Laura was headed to the San José bus stop to continue onward to the Montezuma area of Costa Rica, and Marius was going to meet up with his brother and 16 of his gay friends. They were staying at a super “schmancy” place near Manuel Antonio to celebrate his brother’s birthday.
+ Our room was also vastly different from the hostels and dorm beds we had been sleeping on and we were happy to have some little luxuries, like soap, hand towels, big soft pillows, and even A/C!
+ We spent the rest of our day lounging in the room using the phones and tablets and watching random movies in Spanish on the tv.
+ We also continued the trend of eating American food and got Pizza Hut for dinner since it was the closest take out to the hotel.

Rest and Planning in San José
+ Corey woke up early and watched a movie while Liz enjoyed our lush bed a little while longer.
+ We had a very lazy morning and afternoon, spent hanging out in the room and doing research.
+ We eventually ventured out for lunch and to run some errands. We stopped by a few stores and picked up snacks and ate lunch at a restaurant we hadn’t been to since Xela, Guatemala: Pollo Campero. Although it wasn’t quite as nice as before, it still hit the spot.
+ On our way home we passed through the park and watched a live band play as many locals danced. We decided to use the excuse of carrying grocery bags to not dance and went back to our room on the 14th floor, where we could still hear them anyways.
+ San José was definitely the biggest city we’d been in since Orlando (with 1 million people) and neither one of us had missed the crazy hustle and bustle, nor the McDonald’s on every street corner.
+ Back at the hotel, we went downstairs to use their computer room and spent the next bunch of hours researching and planning on those, as well as finally updating the blog which we were weeks behind on.
+ We ended the night by watching more parks and recreation until the wee hours of the morning.

Rest and Planning in San José
+ Slept in late today since we had decided to use more of our IHG points and extend 1 more night here.
+ Lounged around in the room watching various movies in Spanish before our growling stomachs told us it was time to leave for lunch.
+ Grabbed a quick lunch of more fast food 😦 There were no cheap Sodas within walking distance of our hotel.
+ After trying 2 more shops, we were FINALLY successfully in finding the special batteries we need for our Steripen (water sterilization light). If we had realized the Steripen takes such unique batteries we would have DEFINITELY brought spares from home!
+ Headed back to the hotel to do more planning and make some big decisions that will steer our travels over the next few months.
+ Later, we grabbed dinner of traditional Casados at a cafe . We were happy the cafe was not too far and hurried home after dinner. San Jose is definitely not nearly as bad as other central American capital cities, but still not a great idea to walk around at night.

Reunited with Laura and Marius in Quepos!
+ Reluctantly checked out of the Holiday Inn and walked across town to catch the 2:30 bus to Quepos.
+ Hopped off the bus in Quepos to discover our hostel, Villas Jacquelina, was very nice but a far walk outside of town.
+ After checking in, we saw a HUGE gecko on the outside wall. The gecko was black and at least a foot long! It didn’t even look real!
+ We walked into town and met Laura at her hostel! Later, Marius joined us and we were all reunited again! 🙂
+ Spent the evening socializing, boozing, and playing Hot and Cold (or Heiss und Kalt). Apparently this is one of Corey’s favorite games.
+ After the long walk back to our hostel up on the hill, Corey passed out in the hammock for the evening.

Beach day in Manuel Antonio with Laura and Marius
+ Corey and I overslept our alarms and were a bit late getting over to Manuel Antonio to check in to our new hostel (Backpackers Manuel Antonio) and meet Laura there. We decided to save exploring the national park for tomorrow  (to make sure we could get our money’s worth of the $16usd entrance fee)
+ Met Marius and went down to Playa Espadilla right before the entrance to the park.
+ We haggled with the vendor and got a good price on 4 beach chairs and a large tent for shade. We appreciated the shade as it was very hot!
+ Played frisbee on the beach. Liz finally successfully caught the frisbee under her leg! Corey was crazy impressed and wishes his frisbee skills were up to par with Liz’s.
+ The 4 of us watched sunset together and then caught the bus back up the hill into town.
+ After showering, Corey and I ate dinner at the pizza place next door to our hostel
+ Marius joined us after dinner at our place and we hung out the rest of the evening.
+ When it came time for bed, we said our goodbyes to Marius as this will probably be the last time we see him.

Manuel Antonio N.P. and travel to Uvita
+ After our free breakfast of pancakes and pineapple,  the 3 of us caught the bus to the manuel antonio national park. We all agreed, if we had not already been to other parts of Costa Rica, this would have been our favorite park. Lots of animals and relatively easy to find! However, in all of Costa Rica this park is by far the most crowded with tourists.
+ We saw tons of animals… multiple sloths, squirrel monkeys, baby deer with spots!, howler and Capuchin monkeys, nice Miradors. And Very hot everywhere.
+ After sweating out every bit of moisture from our bodies, the three of us caught bus in to Quepos and then caught a second bus on to Uvita.
+ Arrived in Uvita and checked in to the Tucan Hotel. Corey and I got the last 2 dorm rooms and Laura chose to sleep in her hammock for the night.
+ We ventured our to find dinnner only to discover most places were closed already! It was only 730 on a Thursday night. Corey decided on Chinese food for dinner! Liz tried this Costa Rican ice cream sandwich called TRITS that other backpackes had been raving about.

Snorkeled Whale Tail beach in Uvita
+ After a quick breakfast of granola bars, we checked out of Tucan Hotel and locked up our bags.
+ We walked 15 very hot minutes up the dirt road to a local waterfall.
+ Luckily, the water was ice cold and very refreshing. Much better than the ocean which feels more like bath water here.
+ Corey joined the other locals and tourists who would climb up to the top of the waterfall and jump into the pool below.
+ After our trek back to Tucan, we grabbed lunch at a local place advertised as a “beer garden”. Unfortunately the beers were so expensive we didn’t partake but we did eat some delicious burgers.
+ Grabbed our bags at Tucan and rode the short taxi ride over to our next hostel, Flutterby House. This hostel had a treehouse feel and was much closer to the beach.
+ After storing our bags on our dorm beds, we walked out to the beach and found Laura.
+ Uvita’s beach is well known for its whale – tail shape when the water is at low tide.
+ We walked down the beach and out to the whale tail. With the afternoon sunlight      looking back to the shore was so beautiful. Seeing the lush green Costa Rican jungle meet the sand and ocean here was definitely the most impressive beach we had seen in the country.
+ We had been warned this stretch of beach was prone to robberies and to not bring any valuables. We were disappointed we didn’t have our camera to capture the beautiful coast line.
+ After reaching the end of the Whale tail, the three of us snorkeled until sunset.
+ We saw Moorish Idols (yellow and black fish from finding nemo) for the first time among many other fish and we hung out with a turtle as he grazed on the reef for a bit.
+ The sunset was a fiery orange as we climbed out of the water and found our shoes.
+ After making our way back to Flutterby house, we enjoyed a huge dinner of fish, yuca, and salad.
+ Corey and I stayed up late planning our next moves in Costa Rica.
+ We eventually decided to give our wallets a break- it was time to move on to Panama.

Click here for more photos of Costa Rica!

Costa Rica: 3/5-3/11

Santa Elena (Monteverde) >>> Tortuguero >>> Puerto Viejo

+ Today we got to fulfill the stereotype of fat Americans as we ate 2 breakfasts! 1 was at our Pension hostel before we checked out, and 1 was at our new hotel, Moon House (which is only about 100 yards up the road).
+ After we said goodbye to Pension (the strangest hostel we’ve ever stayed at), we checked into our new hostel and Corey took off on a solo adventure to climb these giant hollowed out strangler ficus trees that were just outside of town. Meanwhile, Liz stayed behind to work on the blog and mayyyybe squeeze in a little nap too!
+ After a 15 minute walk, Corey found the series of trees that were hidden in the cloud forest. There were about 7 total, but only 3 were hollowed out and able to be climbed from the inside. This happens because strangler ficus vines grow around the outside of other giant trees and eventually “strangle” the tree and kill it. After many many (approximately 80) years, that tree inside erodes away and all that’s left are the solid ficus vines on the outside that now have a cool looking tube/tunnel that you are able to climb up inside using the vines as a ladder!
+ There was 1 main one that was better than all the rest and Corey climbed that one first and made it almost all the way to the top, but it got extremely narrow and hard to move so he stopped due to fear of getting stuck or not being able to get back down. He then went and climbed the other 2 as far as he could before he encountered the same problem. When he returned to the first tree, other (much smaller) people had climbed it successfully all the way to the top opening, so now he was determined to conquer it himself, despite the size difference. After waiting in the little line to climb that had now formed, he finally got his second chance.
+ This time, Corey managed to maneuver his body into a slender enough position on his back with his arms outstretched above his head to pull himself past the small opening to the top of the tree! He hung out there for about 5 minutes savoring the view of the town before climbing back down and hiking back out of the forest.
+ Afterwards, Corey walked back to the hotel, woke up Liz and they prepared for their next excursion, rappelling down waterfalls! This is referred to as Canyoneering, or just Canyoning. We would be going down a series of 6 waterfalls using ropes and s harness as thousands of gallons of water poured over our heads and our feet tried to grip to slippery rock.
+ On the shuttle ride to the tour, we met a girl named Laura who we began to talk to about different places in Costa Rica. There were also 4 native Costa Rican girls who were going to rappel and the 3 of us ended up getting separated into 2 different groups. So we spent our whole time rappelling talking with Laura and it turns out we had been in many of the same places at the same time over the past 2 months! All the way back to spending Christmas/New Years in Mexico! Somehow we had managed not to notice/talk to each other all the way until this tour! Crazy! (I.e we were all at the Treehouse hostel the same night and talked with a lot of the same people but somehow not each other! )
+ The waterfall excursion was a lot of fun and Liz did a fantastic job rappelling for her first time ever! Holding onto a rope and leaning backwards over a 40 meter (about 130 feet) cliff is easier said than done, especially when slick rock and water is eschewing your vision. Throughout the 6 waterfalls, Liz got progressively better and by the end of the 6th one, Liz was able to jump little bits at a time down the cliff as opposed to walking. She even had a final jump from about 6 feet above the water all the way down without stopping!
+ When we reached the bottom, the 3 of us hiked back to the top and then talked for a while before the 4 other local girls joined us and we rode the shuttle bus back to town.
+ We met up with Laura and her other German friend, Marius for dinner. Then we went back to Tico Rico where we all talked for a while before grabbing a few beers and heading back to Pension (their hostel now, no longer ours) where we hung out and talked for a good while longer. We were even joined by another guy named Will (nickname was Posh Will due to his very Posh British appearance) we had met a few weeks ago at the Treehouse place near Granada. At the time he had been very intoxicated and kept repeating that he was 37th in line for the British throne! He was very nice though and bought our group a round of drinks (in an attempt to impress/hook up with one of the girls we were talking with). What a small world! (Or at least small tourist travel circuit)
+ We finally called it quits around 11:30 and went back to our room to prepare for another hike in a different part of the cloud forest tomorrow!

+ This morning we woke up and ate our free breakfast and then caught a ride with our new friends, Laura and Marius (and “Posh Will” too) towards all of the forest reserves. They dropped us off at the Curi Cancha Reserve and they continued towards Monteverde.
+ Liz and I used our FSU student id’s again to buy discounted tickets (like yesterday), but this time the guy gave us a bit of a hard time. He asked when they expired, we said they didn’t, and he said well then we could keep them forever and always use them (Correctamundo!). We played it off that we were still students so he gave in and we saved $20.
+ This forest reserve was much less crowded and we both enjoyed our peaceful and remote hike through the jungle. This reserve was a higher elevation than Monteverde so the trees and plants were all different than yesterday. It also wasn’t as thick so it made bird watching a little easier, which is good because we didn’t hire a guide today.
+ We saw another Gwan bird, more Coatis, some new Quail/Dove birds, a whole bunch of hummingbirds, birds that were a relative of the cardinal, and a bunch more different kinds too.
+ After about 2.5 hours, we finished the park’s trails and walked down the road to the Monteverde Cheese Factory. Although they weren’t offering cheese samples or tours that day, we still enjoyed some of their delicious ice cream!
+ We started walking back to town afterwards, but decided to hitchhike instead to save 45 minutes. Some nice ladies from Vermont stopped and nervously agreed to give us a ride back to town.
+ Back at our hostel, Corey decided to book another excursion for that afternoon. This was something he had wanted to do his whole life – bungee jumping! So after a lunch of leftover pizza, the shuttle from Extremo company picked us up (Liz was coming along just to watch).
+ When we got there and Corey signed all his rights away, he went to the loading platform where they fitted everyone with harnesses. They took 3 people out to jump at one time. While we waited for Corey’s turn, we could watch other people jump and see what was in store for him.
+ Finally it was Corey’s turn to jump! He rode out on the cable suspension system they rigged until the tram was directly over the highest point of the canyon. He was with 2 other people and watched both of them jump first. It was even more intense watching them free fall from directly above. Now they hooked Corey up to the cables and put a go pro on his helmet to capture the moment and all of his horror-filled facial expressions too.
+ When he stepped up to the edge to jump, he had almost no time to even think about it because the staff was already counting down from 4, 3, 2, 1 … When Corey jumped he was determined to keep his eyes open the whole time to capture the moment. Falling over 200 feet for about 5 seconds was definitely an adrenaline rush and made his stomach turn, and then the slingshot back up was crazy too. Then there was a feeling of weightlessness as he was suspended back up for a little while and then had another free fall almost as long. Overall, he bounced up and down for a while until they lowered the cable to clip into his harness and pull him back up. He was trying to find the platform where Liz was standing to wave and pose for a picture, but he had no idea where anything was while hanging upside down. When he was up, the tram went back to the cliffside and he safely stepped back onto solid ground.
+ Back at the office Corey and the other people who jumped got to watch their videos from the helmet cam, which were all pretty funny.
+ It was definitely an awesome experience and as cool as he had hoped it would be for all those years. He would definitely do it again in the future somewhere else!
+ The shuttle took everyone back to town and we spent a few hours relaxing and working on the tablets, as well as talking to family members on Skype.
+ We met up with Marius and Laura for dinner at a restaurant called Bar Amigos and had some good pasta and another dish with pork rinds. While eating we talked about upcoming travel plans and where we were all heading. They said they were headed to Tortuguero the next day and had room in the car Marius had rented so we should come along. We don’t know if it was the excitement of the spontaneity or the few beers we had already drank, but we agreed it would be fun so we said yes!
+ The rest of the evening we hung out at Pension with them and a few other people and drank and had fun. Then it was back to the room to pack up since we were leaving town the next day to head to the other side of the country!

+ So today would be the first time we traveled to a new city in a car with friends, as opposed to public transportation. After a delicious breakfast again of pancakes and fruit,  our friends picked us up and we rode in the rental  car for 6.5 hours through Costa Rica to our next destination of Tortuguero.
+ Along the way we drove along the Pacific Coast before heading east across the continental divide all the way to the Caribbean coast. We passed through San José and got to see a lot of the city due to the weird route that Google maps sent us. One section we passed through was very hilly and reminded us of San Francisco. Then we looked at the map and realized it said San Francisco on the area we were in. Weird!
+ Around lunch time we were hungry and looking for a place to stop when we saw a sign for Taco Bell in 14 km! We all got super excited for the first Taco Bell we had eaten since we left the states, and the first time they had eaten it since they visited the U.S. years ago. So we stopped in and were greeted by the delicious looking pictures and smells we missed so much! After spending too much and eating what was probably our recommended weekly equivalent of fats and sugars, we hopped back into the car to continue our journey.
+ The last part of our drive was through really pretty scenery and banana fields owned by Chiquita and Dole.  At one point, traffic was stopped as a whole line of bananas were being transported on this interesting pulley system from one field to another. All the banana bunches are covered in what looks like blue plastic bags so these banana fields are definitely a site to see!
+ We arrived to the farthest city we could drive to and then parked the car and bought our tickets for the ferry to Tortuguero.
+ After a short wait at the office we hopped in some long skinny river boats and rode through the jungle canals for about 80 minutes. Along the way, we saw a big crocodile and some monkeys playing in the trees, including 1 with a baby monkey on it’s back! The area we were in its commonly referred to as the mini amazon, and we could definitely see why.
+ When the boat arrived in Tortuguero, the 4 of us got our bags and walked down the road looking for a place to stay since we did not make reservations. We picked a decent looking place called Cabinas Tortuguero and got their last 2 rooms.
+ We dropped off the bags and then went walking around to explore the island. It was pretty small so we saw all of the restaurants and shops pretty quickly and then grabbed a snack of pupusas (el Salvadorian tortilla filled with meat and cheese) and later,  dinner at one of the sodas.
+ Afterwards we walked along the beach with our headlamps set to the red lights looking for turtles. We only walked for about 15 minutes, but didn’t have any luck.
+ Then we headed back to the rooms and played around on the phones and tablets before bed.

+ In the morning we walked to one of the nearby “Supers” and picked up some bananas and chocolate milk for breakfast. Then we walked around looking for a place to rent kayaks or canoes. We’re not sure why, maybe because it was Tuesday, but none of the places were open so we instead decided to do the hike we were gonna do in the afternoon. We walked north on the island but after 30 minutes decided to turn around because it was just more like a road.
+ It turns out the better trails were in the national park in the south so we headed there, paid the ridiculous $15/person entry fee and then spent about 2 hours walking through the jungle that ran parallel with the beach. The hike was really neat and we saw a few Capuchin monkeys, some new kind of interesting looking birds, and a long green viper snake!
+ Back in town we found a place to rent canoes, then quickly ate lunch at another soda before embarking on our river journey just before the last cutoff time to enter the national park.
+ We canoed down the wide part of the river until we were able to turn off and go down smaller side canals. We were behind a couple of tour boats with motors filled with tourists which at first we weren’t happy about because we were sure they’d scare the wildlife away. But it turned out to be a good thing because the guides from those boats would find wildlife and everyone would stop to view it and take pictures and then we would just paddle up and look at it for free! So the first animal we saw was a sloth! We finally got to see one! And it was moving all around on the tree with a baby sloth on it’s back! So we looked at that for a while and then continued on our way.
+ Because the river was pretty low, both canoes would occasionally get stuck on submerged logs. Each time, we would have to try to shimmy the canoe past the log. This made for some pretty funny balancing acts! Luckily, neither canoe capsized. Phew!
+ We also ended up seeing other really small monkeys (hadn’t seen these before), a bunch more types of birds, a caiman, river turtles, a humongous Iguana, another sloth, and a river otter! Plus we heard a lot of howler monkeys all around us. Overall it was a great canoe trip and we saw way more animals than we expected!
+ Before the sun set, we made it back to the dock area and bought some beers from a bar right on the water and hung out in the canoes watching the light disappear over the jungle.
+ When the canoes were returned, we grabbed more beers and hung out at the park talking for a while before liquid dinner no longer satisfied us and we got some meat kebobs from a street side barbeque stand which was pretty good and cheap.
+ Not wanting the fun night to be over, we went to a bar over the water that had a lifesize Jar Jar Binks statue! How and why did that get over here in the jungle? I swear, the random things we’ve found in Central America never cease to amaze me. After a few rounds of drinks, our wallets were begging us to quit so we went back to our room, got ready to leave the next day, and went to sleep.

+ After packing up and checking out, we grabbed bananas before hopping on the 9 am boat back to town.
+ The river was even lower today so during our trip we had to switch boats to a different one that could go through shallower water. Fortunately no one (or bags) fell in the brown crocodile water and our new boat made it back safely.
+ We began the 4.5 hour drive to our next destination, Puerto Viejo, which was father down the Pacific coast. After about 2 hours we were pretty hungry so we stopped at … the same Taco Bell again! And yes, it was just as delicious as it was 48 hours earlier.
+ Then we hopped back in the car to continue our journey through Costa Rica. After a few more hours we reached our destination and checked into Hotel Puerto Viejo. It had basic rooms but a unique large hang out area on the bottom floor.
+ After some Internet time, we grabbed our frisbee and headed out to the beach and for a walk around the town. The 4 of us threw the frisbee around for a bit and were even joined by a local guy who was pretty good.
+ We had heard about an all you can eat pizza place on Wednesdays so we headed there for dinner. The pizza was pretty good (no Stevi B’s) and we ate 4 large pizzas total. Afterwards we waddled to a supermarket for some water and beer and then headed back towards the hostel.
+ On the way, we noticed something crawling on the power lines up above. After a little bit of confusion and guessing, we realized it was a kinkajou! It is an animal we had heard about multiple times but hadn’t actually been lucky enough to see. We watched it scamper into a tree and then disappear before we could grab a picture.
+ At the hostel, Liz was excited because we were finally going to get to use the pack of cards we had been carrying around with us this whole time. The 4 of us, along with another guy from the hostel from Israel named Tal, played Spoons, Crazy 8’s, Go Fish, and a German game named Schwimmen. It was a fun night teaching American card games to other people and learning new ones from them.
+ Around midnight we called it a night and retired to our open-air room. We would definitely need our ear plugs and eye masks tonight since the room was right off a side street and there were no curtains either. So while the breeze would keep us cooler at night, morning would be very bright and noisy.

+ Slept in until 9 today! That’s the first time in a while. We dropped off our laundry and grabbed our bags for the beach trip today. After some Internet time in the common area, we met up with Laura and Marius and went to breakfast/brunch.
+ We went to a place called Bread and Chocolate and although it was expensive, it was tasty and filling.
+ After “brekkie” we all hopped into Marius’ car and drove down south to  Manzanillo National Wildlife Refuge. There, we hiked around the park for about an hour and we saw a sloth, some Capuchin monkeys, and really cool scenery with the dense jungle meeting the beach.
+ We brought our snorkeling gear with us and tried to snorkel on the reef offshore, but the water was too choppy to see anything. So we hopped in the car and drove father north, stopping twice more at different beaches to try our luck again with snorkeling, but with no success. At the last beach, after swimming out 200 yards in an attempt to reach the reef, the water was still too cloudy to see anything. So we gave up hope of snorkeling for the day and instead chose to relax and hang out.
+ Marius and I threw around the football and frisbee for about an hour while Liz and Laura relaxed and chatted.
+ We left and headed to a restaurant called Accirefe for some sunset beers and fun live Caribbean music.
+ On the drive back we saw trivia advertised at a different restaurant so after a shower at the hostel we walked over just in time to catch the 8 pm start time. We had a really fun time and came in 2nd place! We even got 5000 Colones taken off of our check!
+ On the walk back, we stopped at what looked to be the most happening spot in town, Lazy Mon. They were having a ladies night with free drinks and so our fun night continued there. We also ran into “Posh” Will again (from the tree house and Santa Elena).
+ After the free drinks stopped we called it a night and left Laura and Marius to continue the party without us.

+ We all slept in a little later today and by the time we were all ready to go, we decided to skip breakfast and eat lunch 25 Minutes north in a town called Cahuita.
+ We didn’t have a lunch destination in mind and were driving around aimlessly until we saw a sign advertising “Pizza National Park”!!! After ensuring Corey he wasn’t dreaming, we obviously had to go find out what that was. Turns out it was a pizza restaurant at the entrance to the Cahuita National Park, not a National Park made of actual pizza.   😦
+ With crushed dreams, we sat down to eat and had some of the worst customer service we’d had the entire trip, although the food was pretty decent.
+ Stomachs full, we set off on another hike. This time the trail was much flatter than the previous day and made for much easier hiking on a path that ran parallel with the beach, only about 5 meters into the jungle.
+ On the hike we saw tons of animals! More than we had seen on any 1 day previously. Multiple troops of both Howler and Capuchin monkeys (including lots of cute little baby monkeys!), at least 7 or 8 sloths (1 was super close hanging upside down and eating leaves right in front of us!), 3 raccoons (1 baby), a weird type of squirrel, and different kinds of birds. The only animal we hadn’t seen in all of our travels was a toucan (besides the sleeping one on our Monteverde night hike that may or may not have been real). Just when we reached our turn around point to head back, low and behold we saw not 1, not 2, not 3, but 4 toucans! They were a unique kind that were smaller than the one you would normally think about (from the fruit loops cereal), but really cool looking! We watched them hop around different trees and eat the fruits and berries. When they flew off, we headed back finally content with our Costa Rican animal sightings.
+ We stopped at one of the beaches in the park and went swimming, but not snorkeling since was weirdly prohibited without a guide.
+ After a while we left to walk back to the car and saw even more animals! Then we drove back to town and grabbed some beers to sit on the beach and watch sunset. Unfortunately the weather had turned awful so we took shelter under a tent on the beach as it poured rain and just hung out there.
+ We grabbed dinner at Hostel Bikini and then went back to our place for a shower and more card games. Knowing that we had to get up early the next day, we made it an earlier night and went to bed around midnight.

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Costa Rica: 2/27-3/4

Tamarindo >>> La Fortuna (Arenal) >>> Santa Elena (Monteverde)

+ Today we had originally planned for Corey to go surfing, but his thumbs had not fully recovered from the scooter accident so we chose to forgo the free surfboards offered by Pura Vida hostel and just go exploring instead.
+ We decided to grab breakfast smoothies at a restaurant Liz’s relatives recommended called Nougi’s. It was a nice spot right on the beach to hang out in the shade and people watch.
+ After we had our fill of turning down trinket peddlers every few minutes, we left and went down the road a little until we found a Soda (local restaurant that serves Tipico food). One of the few cheap restaurants in town. We had lunch there and planned out our route for the day.
+ Our plan was to spend the day at the beach. We walked along the Tamarindo beach and since it was low tide we explored the rocks and tide pools, looking for sea life. We didn’t see much however, so we continued down the beach until we got to the river crossing, which separated the beach from the Marino Las Baulas National Park.
+ This area was another long beach on one side (with absolutely no trees or shade of any kind) and an estuary on the other side where you can take river trips with local guides to look for crocodiles. We opted to just pay the $1 to cross the river and skip the $20 river tour, since it was basically what we have in our backyard at home.
+ The beach on this side was a lot calmer and had clearer water, so we went swimming for a while. We eventually decided (after our 3rd coat of sunscreen already that day) that it was simply too hot (with zero shade) to stay any longer so we headed back across the river and found shelter at a restaurant on the Tamarindo beach.
+ It turned out the restaurant was connected with the Brewery we had stopped at the night before, even though they had different menus and names. We got their half order of “Big as your Ass” nachos and had some more craft beers.
+ We then headed back towards the main part of town, while we stopped into different tour agencies to inquire about onward transportation the next day.
+ When it was time for sunset, we grabbed some beers and found a nice place on the beach to watch the sky turn orange and purple again. These sunsets definitely weren’t getting old yet!
+ On our way back to the hostel we decided to finally become official backpackers and cook at our hostel for the first time! So we popped into the grocery store but ultimately decided to just go cheap and easy and cook Ramen and Mac n Cheese. Just like the good ‘ol college days!
+ While we were carrying the groceries to the hostel, a Howler monkey crossed the street right in front of us. He was almost crawling across the ground trying to be sneaky as possible.
+ After dinner was over at the hostel and our bags were packed, we chose to spend the rest of the night lounging in hammocks at the hostel (skipping the expensive and rowdy party scene) and prepare for our next Costa Rican destination, La Fortuna and Arenal Volcano National Park!
+ While we were planning in the hammocks, some guys at the hostel next to us started smoking weed out of a seashell and going on and on about it. They were also repeating how amazing Tamarindo was and how they could stay forever. To each their own, because we did not really share the same feelings and felt that 2 nights in Tamarindo was plenty and that we had enjoyed other beach towns earlier in our trip much more.

+ The next morning, the shuttle bus we signed up for arrived at our hostel exactly on time at 8 am to pick us up! This was a first for Central America! Luckily we were ready and loaded into one of the more comfortable buses shuttle buses we had been on so far.
+ Our 5 hour ride to La Fortuna was split in half with a stop at a touristy rest stop that had a bunch of Scarlet Macaws hanging around in the trees. We skipped the overpriced snacks offered there and instead ate the subway subs we had bought the night before for the trip today. (Corey loves subway and it’s one of the foods he misses most from home).
+ We switched buses at the stopover area and although our second driver was a little more reckless, we managed to arrive safely in La Fortuna and checked into a really nice big private room we had reserved at a newer hotel called El Secreto. It even had AC! This was a welcomed sight after the last 5 or 6 days in dorm rooms.
+ After soaking up the cool air on our comfy king bed for a little bit, we headed out into the city to explore and pick our excursions and tours for the next few days.
+ We ended up picking a tour that included hiking 2 volcanoes, visiting multiple waterfalls, going over some hanging bridges, checking out some nocturnal wildlife, and ending with a soak and mud bath in natural hot springs! We reserved 2 spots for tomorrow.
+ A huge pizza restaurant with flashing lights and delicious looking pictures was too tempting to pass up so we got dinner there and ordered their extra large pizza. Turns out that extra large is for like 6 people so we had more than half leftover to take back to our hotel with us, but that’s Ok because leftover pizza is still just as yummy!
+ Back in our room we got ready for our big long day tomorrow and then passed out.

+ Our hotel stay came with a free breakfast of Gallo Pinto so we ate that up before we set off at 8 am for our first destination, La Fortuna Waterfall! This was a huge 70 foot tall waterfall that you reach after walking down 500 steps. Corey went swimming at the bottom of the falls, but Liz was too chicken for the cold water.
+ On our way back up the steps, we passed a couple that had just gotten married and were walking down the steps to the falls still in their wedding dress and tux! We hope that dress stayed white and not too muddy!
+ We then met up with the rest of our tour group for the 2 volcanoes tour (we did the waterfall part on our own). On the tour, we met some nice Canadians and tons of Germans. This seemed to be common in our travels, as Canadians seemed to be the most prevalent, followed by Germans, Australians, and British folk.
+ Our hike up Cerro Chato was about 2 hours through cloud covered rainforest and got progressively muddier and steeper as we went along.
+ Along the way we stopped for a break and while people were snacking, a Coatimundi was running around trying to get free food from people.
+ At that point we were on the highest point of the mountain and from there it was a 30 minute hike down into the crater to swim in a volcanic lake! But those 30 minutes were by far the steepest and muddiest. This made for tough hiking and climbing.
+ At the bottom we went swimming and ate lunch as a few more even braver Coatimundi were actually stealing people’s lunches right from their bags! Just like monkeys or raccoons.
+ During the 2.5 hour hike back up and down the other side of the mountain to our next destination, we didn’t see any wildlife but we did enjoy walking through the cloud forest/rainforest.
+ Along the way we walked over 2 hanging bridges, and saw another impressive and secluded waterfall, plus a toucan flying overhead!
+ By the time we made it to the Arenal Observatory Lodge, it was dark and we got to hear some of the nocturnal sounds of the jungle. At the lodge, we walked to a pond and viewed some of the famous, red eyed frogs that Costa Rica is known for.
+ Wet and cold because it had been raining for 1-2 hours now (and we didn’t have our rain jackets), we loaded the bus and traveled to a natural hot spring in the river. It’s popular amongst both locals and tourists so it was pretty packed but it was still neat to be in a natural one as opposed to a man made one. At the springs, we were served Costa Rican cocktails and given mud facials by our guide with exfoliating volcanic mud.
+ After an hour or so of making new friends and letting the mud dry to make our faces look like a ghost, our 12 hour excursion came to an end and we were driven back to our hotel. We then spent the next hour cleaning all of our muddy stuff off before taking a nice hot shower and climbing into bed to watch some cable TV, what a luxury!

+ Today we are going to just lounge around our nice room and catch up on some things we had fallen behind on, such as research + planning, uploading pictures, and the blog (and a wonderful nap!)
+ After relaxing in the room and some more leftover pizza, we went into town to book the rest of our desired activities for our remaining 2 days here.
+ We booked hanging bridges through a different part of the Arenal Volcano National Park and a hot springs excursion at a really nice resort nearby that we had heard great things about. We actually found a great deal with the springs that included dinner and was about $22 cheaper than anywhere else we had seen (they gave us the national Costa Rican price).
+ Dinner was at a very busy Soda that came recommended and was a good, cheap meal (although again service was severely lacking – a theme in Costa Rica so far).
+ In our room we just watched some stuff on our tablet before calling it a night.

+ We spent the first half of the day doing the same thing as the day before and enjoying our comfortable bed and A/C.
+ We headed out to town for lunch, again at a local soda to pay 1/2 or 1/3 what we would at the touristy restaurants.
+ When we were finished with that, Corey got a hair cut at a local barbershop! His first haircut overseas and conquering another milestone that officially makes us long-term travelers!
+ After that we grabbed our bathing suits and day pack and caught a taxi to Baldi Hot Springs Resort. We were worried the place would be super crowded and resemble Wet n Wild back home (as it’s the largest hot springs resort here and most family friendly), but we were pleasantly surprised to find most of the 27 pools empty or at least sparsely populated and still very serene and tranquil.
+ We spent the first 4 hours there pool hopping between all the different pools of varying temperatures. Most of them were the natural thermal pools ranging from 96-115 degrees, but they did have an area with a natural sauna with 152 degree water, as well as some cold water pools dispersed around the property too.
+ In one spot, they had 4 fun slides that you could go down, so Corey went down all of them a few times while Liz hung out in the pool at the bottom and served as the videographer. The slides were surprisingly fun and best of all, there wasn’t a 30 minute wait each time like in Orlando!
+ Our dinner reservations were at 8 and it was an all you can eat buffet! Needless to say, this was a welcomed break from our normal meals and the first time we had eaten at a resort during our travels. We stuffed ourselves with all the different foods and about 6 kinds of dessert, including a chocolate fountain!
+ The last hour was spent pool hopping again and Corey managed to make it to all 27 pools! The pools were even more empty now and we felt really pampered having these massive luxurious pools (complete with steam, lights, waterfalls, swim-up bars, etc.) all to ourselves!
+ The rain started coming down just as we finished up and we changed and caught a taxi back to our hotel.
+ Back in our room, it was finally time to pack up our bags to leave the next day, despite Liz’s plea that 4 nights wasn’t enough! This place definitely was one of the nicest and most comfortable places we had stayed at during our trip so we were reluctant to leave.
+ While flipping through channels in bed, we managed to find Mary Poppins in Spanish! So we watched that for a while listening to the dubbed songs and laughing.

+ We were checking out today and catching the Jeep-Boat-Jeep transfer tour to Monteverde in the afternoon. But beforehand, we were doing 1 last adventure in Arenal, a Hanging Bridges tour through the canopy and jungle!
+ After breakfast our shuttle picked us up at 8 and it was a bumpy 45 minute ride through the jungle. When we arrived, we met our guide Nancy who gave us a debriefing before we started our hike. Nancy was a great tour guide and took her time to explain all the different plants and find us as many animals as she could.
+ Even though we didn’t see any monkeys or sloths, we did see 2 Crested Gwan’s, spiders, birds, a morpho butterfly, a toad, an eyelash pit viper, and she got a Tarantula to crawl out of it’s hole!
+ We also stopped at a couple of great view points, 2 waterfalls, and hanging bridges where we got to see different parts of the jungle. Nancy was also a very creative photographer and took some really great and unique pictures of us!
+ We would have stayed around the lodge longer to explore other areas and keep searching for wildlife, but we had to catch the first shuttle back to town to make sure we had time to eat lunch and be ready for our next shuttle pick up to Monteverde!
+ Ate lunch at Rainforest Cafe. (No, not the tourist trap at Downtown Disney). Liz finished her meal with a delicious “Choco Vienna”. Expresso, vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, and crushed cocoa. YUMMMMM
+ Arrived back at Hotel Secreto JUST in time to catch our shuttle for the Jeep-Boat-Jeep (actually bus-ferry-bus) to Monteverde.
+ The first bus ride was unremarkable followed by an hour boat ride through the man made Lake Arenal- almost comparable to Lake Atitlan in Guatemala  (almost!) After we crossed the lake and boarded the next bus to Monteverde, the scenery changed completely!
+ Because we are traveling during the dry season, most of the countryside had been brown as we traveled each country. But here, on the outskirts of Monteverde, everything was covered in a lush green carpet!
+ So the 2 hour bus ride to the little town of Santa Elena was very pretty and our shuttle bus driver was very nice and would even stop to point out some of the cool different birds around.
+ When the bus pulled into town, we hopped off and checked into our hostel, called Pension Santa Elena. We had booked a private room for 2 people and they gave us a room with bunk beds. Despite it being relatively early (around 6), when we asked for a different room with a double bed, he said they were fully booked and there weren’t other options. I highly doubt everyone had checked in already and he couldn’t switch us, he just seemed like he wanted to dismiss the idea and didn’t care.
+ So we dropped our bags and went walking around town to check out different restaurants and speak with tour agencies. We got some info on different activities like zip lining, bungee jumping, canyoneering, hiking, etc. So many different options in this really cool area of the world!
+ We decided to eat at the Mexican restaurant right next to our hostel, Taco Taco. The burritos were relatively cheap (compared to other Costa Rican options) and big and yummy, so we were happy.
+ The rest of the evening we did work on our tablets and we had some of the Costa Rican craft beers they offered right there on site. Then we watched some Parks and Recreation on our tablet before bed.
+ This hostel was weird because they closed the common area and kitchen at 10, so everyone had to leave and go to their rooms. It was the first time we’d encountered this and found it very strange.

+ Hiking was on the agenda again today but this time we were visiting another famous place that had been on Corey’s bucket list for a long time, Monteverde Cloud Forest!
+ So we ate our free breakfast at our hostel, which actually came from the Mexican restaurant next door – Taco Taco. We then shared a taxi with other people from our hostel to Monteverde in time to meet our guide for the day.
+ We opted to pay extra for the guide since we were told that was the only way we’d be able to see the animals. That turned out to be true, but the only animals we saw were birds. We even got to see the famous Quetzal bird! 2 of them actually! This was special because they have to be in season to have a chance and even then sometimes people don’t see them. If you don’t know what they look like, look them up online because they’re very pretty and unique. We also saw a mot mot, 3 wattled bell bird, centipedes, and even got to hike along the continental divide which had some magnificent views!
+ After our 2.5 hour hike with the guide was over, we went to the Hummingbird garden on the property and got to watch a whole bunch of hummingbirds flying back and forth between the different feeders. Liz really loved that and took a ton of pictures. Plus you could get really close to the hummingbirds, within a foot!
+ We hadn’t done a whole lot of actual hiking with the guide since we would mainly look for birds, then once he found them he would set up a telescope, we’d all look and then take pictures through the telescope. Because of that we didn’t cover a lot of ground in the forest. So we decided to go back into the forest and explore some of the other trails. It was really nice and peaceful and although we didn’t see any sloths or monkeys, the cloud forest and all of the different old growth plants and trees it contained was still awesome and different from anything else we had ever seen.
+ At 2 pm (6.5 hours after we got there), we finally caught the bus back into town and grabbed lunch at a nearby restaurant called Tico Rico. Except instead of getting typical food again like so many meals previously, we chose to get hamburgers instead. Not as delicious as they are at home but still really good and filling.
+ Since we didn’t like our room (or the staff and weird rules) at Pension, we looked around online for a different place to stay for the next 2-3 nights and found a good place nearby called Moon House. We walked over and talked to the owner, checked out the room, and decided we liked it so we booked it. The owner, Francisco, also gave us the best prices for our excursions so we ended up booking all of those through him as well.
+ We then spent the next few hours hanging out at Pension and uploading pictures before splitting a burrito from Taco Taco for dinner.
+ Tonight it was time for another guided hike. This time through the jungle at night to look for nocturnal animals, different from what we could see during the day. We had heard great reviews from people about all the different animals they saw, but read some online reviews that made us wary. We decided to try it anyway but our worries ended up being justified as it was basically a glorified staged hike in someone’s backyard. The guides obviously knew just where every single animal would be residing because not only did they do the tour just a couple hours earlier, but the animals are there everyday. So the 10 people in our group tromped along behind the guide as he “found” different animals like sleeping toucans (maybe real? They didn’t move even with 11 flashlights on them), a Tarantula, snakes, and other types of birds. We however did not get to see the one animal we had most hoped for: A sloth. That was the 1 thing that sold us on the tour is that every person from our hostel that had taken the tour saw at least 1 sloth. Of course our recent string of bad luck stuck with us and despite the guide seeing multiple sloths on the 5:30 tour, we didn’t find a single one on our 8 pm tour. So not only were the animals basically staged, but we still couldn’t find them! Disappointed that  we wasted $40, we went back to the hostel.
+ We were determined to end the night on a high note so we decided to go grab a drink at a cool bar we had heard about. Turns out they wanted a $4 cover charge because it was Friday night and we decided that it definitely wasn’t worth wasting any more money than we just had so we went to our next choice only to discover they had closed 2 minutes earlier. Whaddaya know! So we instead just went back to our room and watched some Parks and Rec on our tablet before sleep.
+ Not our favorite end to the day, but at times like these we have to remember we are blessed to even be here!

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