Archive for April, 2010

Manuel Antonio – Quepos 26th April

29/04/2010

The coast road was a good decision.  Beautiful scenery and a good new road.  We pulled down to the coast at Quepos looking for the Manuel Antonio National Park and decided to try to find a place to stay the night.  The place was full of US tourists but the beaches looked great and so did the restaurants.  

We found a place that allowed us to park up in front of their rather rundown cabinas and spent the afternoon getting bashed by large Pacific waves.  The heat and humidity was extreme.  We got back to the van just before the heavens opened and then found out that most of those nice looking restaurants were closed.  So back to the van, in the rain, for a nice dinner of pizza and sausages.  But spirits were up because we’d booked a half day trip on a Catamaran going snorkelling and dolphin watching.

Next day:  Great time on the boat.  Lots of snorkelling and beautiful views of the National Park from the sea.  No dolphins though.  They served a BBQ lunch on the boat and unlimited cocktails.  Bummer – I had to drive to San Jose in the afternoon.

Posting this in Belen/San Jose.  Due to head to some Volcano national parks up North tomorrow and then on to Nicaragua.  Don’t expect to have Internet for 4-5 days. 

Getting bashed by Pacific waves

Fancy meal in Van

Lounging on Cat

See – we really are a happy bloody family

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Starting the journey back up

29/04/2010

Leaving Gamboa marked the turnaround point in our trip through Central America. We stopped off again in XS Memories. But just for a night and then hit the road for the Costa Rican border. 360 miles later we pulled into San Isidro De El General in the dark. In fact we’d driven the last 80 miles in the dark and in driving rain. The rainy season has arrived with a vengeance. There were rock and debris on the road from the rainfall and I only managed the final 50 or so miles by following a truck. Let him hit the stuff first.

The next day we had a choice. Follow the same road back to San Jose as we’d taken on the way down along with it’s 11,500ft climb or follow the Pacific coast. We’d heard that the coast road had been upgraded from dirt road in the last couple of months and was scenic. Decision made.

Gamboa Rainforest Resort 21st – 24th April

25/04/2010

Susan Says:

We spent the last few days in Gamboa Rainforest Resort (not to be mistaken for Gamboa “town” – A semi deserted armpit of a place.  It used to be the town for the US expats working on the canal) in the lap of luxury.  Luxury by our standards anyway. We had a lovely air-conditioned room with a spiral staircase leading up to the girls’ personal space. They had a separate bathroom also with important items like hairdryers, an endless supply of clean towels etc.  There was a hammock on the balcony overlooking the pool and the Chagres river, a nice spot to chill and read your book in. The pool, as you can see, was the business. We spent a lot of time in it, trying to cool off.  The heat and humidity is quite intense this far South.

On Thursday morning we went on a hike through the rainforest with a guide from the hotel, and in the afternoon took a trip into Panama City. We parked in a shopping mall ( after having to make an illegal u-turn just in front of the toll booths of Panama’s only Autopiste) on the outskirts and took a taxi into the city centre. Before we headed in we went into the supermarket to stock up on a few essentials, water, beer and nibbles. It’s customary here to hand in backpacks, shopping bags, etc. at the entrance of the shop and collect them as you exit. I duly did this. Unfortunately my wallet was in it.(Plonker! I’ll save Ian the trouble of adding this). It was some time later that I missed it, but as I couldn’t be sure at that point that my wallet was not back at the hotel, no accusation could be made. When we returned to the hotel, of course there was no wallet, no cash,no  laser card and no driving licence (she also lost the bloody spare key to her car! What the F&ck she was doing with it in Panama I don’t know – Ian). Luckily I still have my visa card so I won’t have to be a kept woman.

 Apart from that hitch we had a taste of life in Panama City. We saw the Emerald Museum and visited the Panama Canal Museum.  All the information here was in Spanish, which seems a bit crazy considering the number of English speaking tourists. Then, on my recommendation, we took a taxi to a restaurant listed in our Rough Guide book. It turned out to be a seedy little bar in a seedy little area – this was not one of my better days! So, into another taxi (quickly) and on to better things. We (aka Ian) eventually tracked down a Lebanese  restaurant, also recommended, and had one of our best meals so far.

 Took a taxi back to the camper and promptly got lost and ended up at the same tollbooth.  At least I knew which cones to move this time as Ian cursed and made a 4 point turn.  Still – real fun in a 25 foot camper.  

 On Friday morning we took an aerial tram ride up through the rainforest. The guides  are always very enthusiastic about their subjects. They’d need to be. We paid out US$ 150 for the pleasure of their company on our ride. This was followed by a visit to the orchid garden, the reptile house and, best of all, the butterfly house. The girls loved this and took a mountain of photos.

Ian and Jane went kayaking in the afternoon. We tried convincing the tour guides that Emma was 12 but it didn’t work so we headed for the pool instead.

We’re back in the van now and ready to head back up towards the US. I’m looking forward to meeting up with other travellers as we head up North.  They’re a bit thin on the ground around here and Supermarket carparks are not the most sociable of places, but with the lack of campgrounds here we have little choice.  Onwards and upwards.

Emma says:                                                                                                                             

 On the 21st of April we went to stay in Gamboa Rainforest Resort. When we arrived we checked in and went to our room. There was an outdoor passage-way to the rooms. It was a big room with an attic room.  Me and Jane slept upstairs and mum and dad slept downstairs. There was a double bed downstairs and two single beds upstairs.  There were two bathrooms one on each floor.  There was also a balcony with a hammock and a table and chairs.  The balcony looked over the Chagres River and the swimming pool. The swimming pool was huge with loads of deck chairs and tables.  In the pool was a swim up bar.  After we saw our room we went for lunch.  You had to have dinner in the hotel because there was no other restaurant near by. In the hotel there were four restaurants but one was always closed and another one was formal wear only and dad didn’t have a suit. In the end we went to the monkey bar. There was nice food there.  After that we went swimming.

Yesterday we went to the butterfly garden.  There were so many butterflies.  The butterflies ate mango and banana.  We saw the butterflies larva (caterpillar).  There were lots of plants in the butterfly garden for the butterflies to rest on.  The guide told us that it takes a larva twelve days to turn into a butterfly. I loved the butterfly garden and we took loads of pictures.

Panama train crossing the isthmus

Dodgy bridge to the resort.  Weight limit 8 tons.  Planks on top of planks

Resort pool containing riff raff

Emma on balcony

Susan pretending to read

Panama city skyline

Lillies on the Chagres river

Boat heading into Calibra Cut

Us on top of  observation tower

Butterfly before its a butterfly

And after

And a whole bunch eating Bananas & Mango

Shot of Rainforest from gondola

Back to the Classroom 20/04/10

21/04/2010

We had a really nice experience today. Our Santa Clara campground is run by an American couple, Dennis and Sheila. Dennis is heavily involved in fundraising for the local school and is constantly upgrading it. It is a small school with two classrooms, one outdoor and one indoor. There are 27 pupils from 4 to 12. The children and parents also make bags out of recycled supermarket bags. These are sold in an eco shop in order to raise funds for the school. Dennis looks for volunteers to help out with either manual labour or to spend time at the school. With that in mind we dragged Ian 30kms (each way) yesterday to stock up on some art supplies and spent a few hours last night preparing stuff!

We headed off at 8 this morning and spent a very enjoyable few hours with Edith and the children. They were very receptive and a really happy bunch. We learnt a bit more Spanish and they learnt a bit more English. They even sang Happy Birthday to me in English. The girls really enjoyed themselves too.

Panama Canal & City– 19/04/10

20/04/2010

Hired a car to drive into Panama City and see the Canal. Well worth it given we got properly lost and needed to make several slightly dodgy u-turns. They would have been 6 point turns in the camper. Panama City was a surprise. Very cosmo with quaint districts and a skyscraper center. More girly shopping was done in quaint district.

The canal was as expected. A big trench filled with water, big ships and a few enormous gates. Seeing the museum was made all the more interesting for me since I’d read a history on the canal before leaving Ireland (thanks Chris).

Susan says:

Reading Ian’s comments on visiting the Panama Canal, I was struck by the complete lack of enthusiasm and excitement on reaching our goal.  Considering it was his bleedin’ idea to take us all out of our schools, out of our nice house and put us in a van for 6 months, the least he could do was show a bit of enthusiasm!

YMCA in quaint part of PC

Boat in Canal!

Susan going to a Super Mercado on way back from Canal

Santa Clara – Panama 18/04/10

20/04/2010

Up bright and early (not a massive amount holding us in the car park of the shop we weren’t allowed shop in) and hit the road for the 200 mile drive to XS Memories RV park in Santa Clara. Easy driving along the Pan-American highway. Stopped to buy some chick stuff on the side of the road (see bead guy below – I’ll await retribution for this comment).  We also pulled off to see what is, according to the Rough Guide, the oldest church in CA.   Arrived to find a nice small campground with a decent pool, cold beer, good food and excellent Wifi. The only strange thing is the completely open air showers.

Hot and very humid here too.  But aircon is working well.  I can tell because there is condensation on the outside of the windows! 

Bead guy making chick stuff

Old Church

Chilling out in XS Memories (no – I dont know what XS stands for)

PriceSmart – Panama 17/04/10

20/04/2010

We crossed into Panama. The crossing was much the same as others. I paid for a little help again. See the bloke on the minimoto below. The woman official in Panama discounted my expensive Pan-American insurance policy as invalid without even looking at it. I had to buy local liability insurance for US$15. Panama uses US bank notes as currency they just call them something different.

As usual we had to have the van disinfected ($6). They only spray non Panama registered vehicles. It must be that the insects/pests are discerning and only hop on foreign vehicles. Or perhaps… its just tax collection. I should be thankful – Apparently they used to insist on spraying the inside of vehicles too.

After the 100 mile drive we were relieved to only have a 30 mile drive to our first destination in Panama. The internationally acclaimed PriceSmart car park just outside the town of David. We weren’t actually allowed to shop in PriceSmart because it was a membership store but we were able to stock up in another supermarket nearby. It was a surprise to see all the US products again (Susan finally got tonic water to feed her habit again).

The temperature and humidity was through the roof and we decided to put up with the racket of the generator and aircon for the first time. My god it made a difference. After 30 minutes running stepping outside felt like walking into a steam room. We slipped the security guard $5 to keep an eye on us for the night.

Panama

20/04/2010

Too tired/lazy to do a blog but just to let ye know we are in Panama (Santa Clara) and visited the canal and Panama city today.  Promise photos and smart comments tomorrow.

Costa Rica 2

17/04/2010

Susan says – We’re going on Safari

 If you’re reading the blog, you’re probably thinking “are they actually doing any sightseeing”? Well, the answer is “not a lot at the moment”. We decided to do a whistlestop tour on the way down to Panama and then do all the sights on the way back up. Then, when doing our research, Ian found a family package in Gamboa, a Rainforest Resort in Panama. So, we’re heading there on Wednesday for 3 nights. The girls are very excited. Apart from all the activities, the various swimming pools etc., they’ll actually have a bed that they can sit up in.  I’m looking forward to a long soak in a bath.

 Going to a posh resort does present its own problems though.  How do we disguise the fact that we’re really trailer trash?  Jane wishes that we had a caravan.  That way we could dump the caravan and arrive in a car like everybody else.

The next problem was our clothes.  We are clean but always a bit dishevelled looking due to the absence of ironing. Tonight we’re parked up in a soccer field at the back of a hotel in San Isodor, Costa Rica.  We do pay for this privilege ($20) and can avail of their facilities, swimming pool, bar, bathrooms etc., but there are no hook-ups, water, electricity etc. Luckily, however, we spent the last two nights in a regular campground in San Jose, in Costa Rica. So, after tackling the laundry, 6 machine loads, I set about ironing. We have now reduced our wrinkled look.

 This morning Jane and I headed down to the local hairdressers. We managed to convey our requirements to Maribel (no habla Ingles) and came out two hours later, Jane looking very cool, me, no longer grey, but a bit more hedgehog like than usual. A few swims will sort that out I’m sure. Emma had the pleasure of getting her hair cut in Mexico, so all that’s left is Ian, then we’re ready for off.

We do the last new border crossing tomorrow.  Costa Rica to Panama.  It should be striaghtforward.  That will be 8 borders so far.  Great fun.  We’ll try to get some pictures of the mayhem on the way back now that we know how to deal with them.

Jane sporting new hair at a roadside fruit shop

Our route from San Jose to San Isidro took us up to an altitude of about 11,500ft (3.5Km).  This is us testing if you really will faint if you ru at this altitude.  Emma didn’t

Relaxing after arduous drive

A couple of cool vehicle pictures

Jane Cassidy’s Guide to Showering in Central America

15/04/2010

(1) Check  that the shower is working and is actually clean enough to use (they usually aren’t).

Note: Try to ignore the remains of other people’s hair and the fungus growths on the shower curtain. Being quite honest, you’re lucky if that’s all there is.

(2) If you deem the shower sanitary enough , begin the process of de-beetling the shower

For smaller beetles: Pick up the beetle and place it outside the shower door (some force is required).

For larger Beetles: If the beetle is larger than your thumb, try another shower.

(3) Before you begin undressing, make sure that the shower door locks (it probably won’t). To make it clear to others that you are in the process of self – cleansing, throw your towel over the shower door and place your shoes so that they can be seen on the other side of the door.

(4) Hop in and enjoy your ice-cold shower (that takes at least 15 minutes to warm up, minimum).

(5) Remove clothing first

(6) When you have ceased showering, begin the process of drying yourself in a tight, awkward (and very wet) space with your towel (which has invariably fallen into the pool of water that will always  gather on the floor, even if you close the shower curtain).

(7) After you have completed the process of drying yourself (don’t bother trying too hard; you’re never going to be fully dry anyway), begin to dress yourself. Be aware that your clothes have probably fallen into the pool of water on the floor (if this is the case, you may as well skip step 6)

Golden Rule:

Always, always, always wear your flip flops. You have no idea what might be living (or dead) on the floor.