North…to Nicaragua…

Though we have been in Panama for a while, we are still catching up on our blog. After our wonderful tour in Costa Rica, we found the Nicabus terminal in San Jose and headed to new adventures in Nicaragua. The bus ride was pleasant with the windows opened there was a pleasant breeze and, even though there was no a/c, the bus was equipped with wifi. Go figure! We were headed to San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua and were dropped off in some small town somewhere and told we could get a bus there. We had, fortunately for us, made friends with a young couple from England on the bus who were also headed to San Juan Del Sur and who spoke Spanish!! A taxi driver immediately approached us and said he would take us to our destination for $25/person. Our Spanish speaking friend looked into finding a bus but ended up negotiating with the taxi driver to take us to San Juan Del Sur for $25 for all four of us. It was a small taxi, but somehow we all got in with our luggage for the 30 minute ride ahead.

We arrived at our home for the next week and immediately fell in love with the view.

The bay and surrounding area...
The bay and surrounding area…

San Juan Del Sur is a quiet little town on a bay with a statue of Christ overlooking the area

Jesus watching over San Juan del Sur...
Jesus watching over San Juan del Sur…

and sunsets that everyone in town stops whatever they are doing to watch.

Amazing sunsets...
Amazing sunsets…

The beach is lined with restaurants

Restaurants along the beach...
Restaurants along the beach…

and with the spectacular sunsets as wallpaper, we enjoyed some wonderful seafood meals along the beach.

Another beautiful sunset...
Another beautiful sunset…

Nicaragua is a poor country and children follow tourists begging and selling little trinkets, chicklet gum, or things they have made from palm leaves. They assemble these so quickly and perfectly and will make whatever you want if they don’t have it made. Flowers, bugs, hearts, you name it.

Street boy weaving palm leaves...
Street boy weaving palm leaves…

And, of course, new country, new money. We were busy learning how many Córdoba Oros make $1. It’s somewhere over 25 Cordobas to the dollar, so confusing. So much money for $1.

We rented a car for a couple of days so we could look around and drove to the base of the Christ statue. We still had a hike up to the statue but it was worth the effort as the view was amazing.

Stairway to Jesus...
Stairway to Jesus…
From the feet of Jesus...
From the feet of Jesus…
Tiny chapel under Jesus...
Tiny chapel under Jesus…
San Juan del Sur as Jesus see's it...
San Juan del Sur as Jesus sees it…

Our time in SJDS came to an end and we found a shuttle service to take us to our next adventure, Granada.

Volcanos on the island of Ometepe...
Volcanos on the island of Ometepe…

Granada was a very welcoming city and we immediately felt a good vibe there.

Overlooking part of Granada...
Overlooking our hotel and part of Granada…

Our hotel, home for the next several days, was in a great location far enough away from the center of town to escape the noise yet close enough to walk or take a horse and buggy

Carriages in waiting...
Carriages in waiting…

or taxi to the many wonderful restaurants in the tourist area. We took advantage of all of these.

La Merced Church...
La Merced Church…
One of the sanctuaries...
One of the sanctuaries…

We climbed the stairs, including the narrow spiral staircase near the top

Suzi heading up into the steeple...
Suzi heading up into the steeple…

of the La Merced Church across from our hotel for a wonderful view of the entire city.

Inside the steeple...
Inside the steeple…

Taking a break at the top for Suzi to recover the climb, we welcomed people from Texas, France, Germany, California and other places we don’t recall.
We walked to Lake Nicaragua

Walking to Lake Nicaragua...
Walking to Lake Nicaragua…

and even took a boat ride for a wonderful view of many beautiful homes on the numerous islands in the lake. Most of them are seldom occupied and are vacation getaways.

Vacation home on Lake Nicaragua...
Vacation home on Lake Nicaragua…
Another lake vacation home...
Another lake vacation home…

After the tour,

Our bi-linguil tour guide...
Our bi-linguil tour guide…

our guide accompanied us to a local restaurant in the city park

Lunch in the park...
Lunch in the park…

and we enjoyed a typical Nicaraguan lunch.

Our lunch...
Our lunch…

We heard there was a Chocolate Museum in Granada so we set out to discover the nuances of making chocolate.

Making chocolate by hand...
Making chocolate by hand…

We skipped the chocolate massage but did splurge on a treat at the restaurant in the museum.

Our chocolate "lunch"...
Our chocolate “lunch”…
Inside the chocolate store...
Inside the chocolate store…
Painting on the wall of the museum...
Mural on the wall of the museum…

Many of the restaurants and hotels are built around a center courtyard

Inside courtyards...
Inside courtyards…
Our hotel pool...
Our hotel pool…

as was our hotel with the swimming pool in the courtyard. There was a beautiful marble staircase up to the second floor and our room.

Through the lobby to the stairs to the rooms...
Through the lobby to the stairs to the rooms…

When our time in Nicaragua came to a close, we found the Tica bus depot and bought our ticket to take the bus to Jaco, Costa Rica.

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The Tour Continues…

Monteverde is a beautiful small town with old world charm

1 horse power or 100 horse power...
1 horse power or 100 horse power…

and a modern life style with lots of shops and tourist adventures like zip lining, rock climbing, and hiking the nine hanging bridges. We opted to take the morning off and just walk around town.

Remember these Kodak signs...
Remember these Kodak signs…

We went in and out of the many souvenir shops and looked at the unique items.

Souvenirs abound...
Souvenirs abound…
Butterflies of Costa Rica...
Butterflies of Costa Rica…

There is a lot of beautiful hand crafted wood furniture available in this area and they will make to order if you know what you want.

Wood table tops...
Wood table tops…
Mango wood vases...
Mango wood vases…

Suzi loved these hand carved mango wood vases.

In the afternoon we joined our other tour mates for a tour of the Don Juan Coffee plantation.

Don Juan Coffee, Monteverde, Costa Rica...
Don Juan Coffee, Monteverde, Costa Rica…

We saw the coffee plants

In the coffee fields...
In the coffee fields…

and Cacao trees growing and learned about harvest techniques,

Coffee & chocolate drying...
Coffee & chocolate drying…

drying, grading,

The coffee roaster...
The coffee roaster…

roasting and finally

Which roast do you like...
Which roast do you like…

drinking and eating.

Fresh ground chocolate...
Fresh ground chocolate…
Suzi meets Don Juan...
Suzi meets Don Juan…

We also got to see the process used to turn sugar cane

Hand grinding sugar cane...
Hand grinding sugar cane…
More grinding...
More grinding…

into brown and white sugar,

The syrup of their labor...
The syrup of their labor…

molasses and Costa Rican moonshine known as “Guaro”.

Our "chariot' arrives...
Our “chariot’ arrives…

One final treat was a ride in a true Ox cart.

Twin ox boost...
Twin ox boost…
The view from behind the tails...
The view from behind the tails…
Seating for as many as you can pack in...
Seating for as many as you can pack in…

Who knew ox carts have no suspension?

Our hotel in Monteverde...
Our hotel in Monteverde…

Our last day on the tour was a travel day back to San Jose, Costa Rica. We checked out of our hotel in Monteverde and boarded our bus back to the big city.

On the bus again...
On the bus again…

Along the way, we saw beautiful vistas,

Costa Rica countryside...
Costa Rica countryside…

and even some wild life just hanging out in the trees.

Howler Monkey...
Howler Monkey…
Just hangin around...
Just hangin around…

Up next, we head north again to Nicaragua…

Hiking the Volcano…

We awoke the next morning with the Arenal Volcano as our daily wallpaper.

Arenal Volcano...
Arenal Volcano…

After breakfast, we checked out of our hotel, boarded our trusty bus and took the short drive to the trailhead up the side of the volcano to the lava flow.

We were there...
We were there…

Positioned within Costa Rica’s fertile northern lowlands, the Arenal Volcano, Costa Rica’s best known volcano, is an unavoidable presence while traveling within this part of the country. It is tall and imposing and has a reputation that precedes itself. Arenal’s perfectly symmetrical shape makes it a sightseer’s dream. Until 2010, it was Costa Rica’s most active volcano. Much to the enjoyment of its visitors, Arenal spewed enormous amounts of lava, gas and ash on a regular basis. That eruptive cycle – which began with the infamous eruption of 1968 – ended recently. In October 2010, Arenal entered into an indeterminate resting phase. For the time being, visitors will be unable to watch the much-loved explosions, although that could easily change anytime.

The trail...
The trail…
Blueberries, NOT for eating...
Blueberries, NOT for eating…
Natural grasses...
Natural grasses…
Lizard...
Whip Tail Lizard…
Beautiful wildflowers...
Beautiful wildflowers…
Blue tail lizard...
Another Whip Tail lizard…
Tour friends walking the trail...
Tour friends walking the trail…
Stairway to lava...
Stairway to lava…
Lake Arenal...
Lake Arenal…
Still that far to the top...
Top of the trail, still that far to the top…

We then boarded our bus for the trip to Monteverde, Costa Rica, home to the Monteverde Cloud Forrest Reserve and one of Costa Rica’s major ecotourism destinations.

Just a short note here. On the way to Monteverde, our bus had a cooling issue.

Losing water...
Losing water…

Ricardo and our driver, Jose, tried everything they could think of to nurse the bus to the next stop. Finally, when it was to no avail, Ricardo called the Don Juan Coffee plantation

Don Juan Coffee...
Don Juan Coffee…

and they arrived shortly with vans to take us on into Monteverde. A big thumbs up to Ricardo and our driver for all their efforts and a “thanks” to Don Juan Coffee for providing rides for us, NOT in the ox cart.

Next, the tour continues…

A Glimpse of Costa Rica…

We met up with our tour and got on our bus

Our trusty bus...
Our trusty bus…

which first headed to Arenal, the home of Arenal Volcano. As we traveled through the countryside, one stop we made was in Sarchi, home to the Guinness Book of Records’ world’s largest ox cart

The World's Largest Ox Cart...
The World’s Largest Ox Cart…

and also an ox cart factory where ox carts are built and meticulously hand painted.

Painter hard at work...
Artist hard at work…

Ox carts started out as a way to transport goods and people from town to town and from inland towns to the sea ports.

History, by the wheels...
History, by the wheels…

In the early 20th century, families began painting the carts and the style of painting could be used to tell what area and what family the ox cart came from.

History on wheels...
History on wheels…

As more modern ways of transporting goods and people came about, ox carts were used less and less but the painting got more elaborate.

A wheel...
A wheel being renovated…
Work in progress...
Work in progress. All done by hand….

Currently, ox carts are used mostly in parades and celebrations but are even still used for transportation for some local farmers.

Another stop on the way to Arenal was at a local school that Gate1 Tours has “adopted” and provides with some support. As we drove up,

Waiting for the bus...
Anxiously waiting for the bus to arrive…

all the kids were waiting for our bus. As we got off the bus,

Being escorted to class...
Being escorted to class…

a child took each of us by the hand and escorted us into their school. We sat down and watched as the children performed local dances for us.

Tiny dancer...
Tiny dancer…
Even dated with the Gate1 folks...
Even coaxed some of the Gate1 folks to dance…

They sang the Costa Rican National Anthem and

Singing for us...
Singing for us…

God Bless America for us. Then, they showed us around the school,

The computer lab...
The computer lab…

the computer lab, lunch room, and playground. It was obvious to us that they took great pride in their school. Our visit came to an end and we loaded back up in our bus and headed to our first overnight stay at the foot of the Arenal Volcano.

Arenal Volcano...
Arenal Volcano…

It’s much cooler in Arenal than San Jose and the cool air was a welcomed pleasure. We stayed in La Fortuna at a lovely hotel

Our "Hotel"...
Our “Hotel”…

with a great view of the volcano.

The volcano from our room...
The volcano from our casita…

Our first full day by the Arenal Volcano, we hopped aboard our trusty bus and headed toward the border of Nicaragua and Costa Rica to the town of Cano Negro for a boat ride down the Cano Negro river. As we headed across the green country side, our tour guide, Ricardo,  said we were going to stop and see some of his “family”. We stopped and he went to the fruit stand and bought some bananas. As he came back,

Did you say bananas???...
Did you say bananas???…

several LARGE iguanas

We LIKE bananas...
We LIKE bananas…

appeared from the bushes and began clambering for the bananas.

Bananas good...
Bananas good…

A real feeding frenzy.

Just hanging out...
Just hanging out…

Back on our bus again, we made our way to the Cano Negro river. Once there, we got on the boat, said good bye to our fans on the dock,

Our fans...
Our fans…

and headed down the river. Our guide, Ricardo, was excellent at pointing out all of the various wildlife along and in the river…including a crocodile with babies, bats on a tree, lizards, turtles, monkeys and even a water cow!

Momma and the "kids"...
Momma and the “kids”…Crocodile…
Snowy Egret...
Great American Egret…
Can you spot the bats?
Can you spot the bats?
Here they are...
Here they are…Long Nose Bats…
Im flying...NOT...
I’m flying…NOT…
High up in the trees...
High up in the trees…Montezuma Oropendola…
The border...
The border…

Time to turn around…

Sitting in the shade...
Sitting in the shade… Cormorant…
Hanging around...
Hanging around…Howler Monkey…
Watching for food...
Watching for food…Boat Billed Heron…
Laying in the sun...
Laying in the sun…River Slider Turtle…
Drying the wings...
Drying the wings…
Colorful lizard...
Colorful lizard…Basalisk Lizard
More wing drying...
More wing drying…Anhinga…

Once we arrived back at the dock, we boarded our bus and headed back to our hotel, looking forward to the next adventures on this tour. Oh, here’s the picture of the water cow…

The water cow...
The water cow…

Another wonderful day came to a close.

Costa Rica Bound

As our time in Boquete came to an end, we grabbed a school bus to David

Our "decked out" school bus...
Our “decked out” school bus…

and then, with a little help, found the Tracopa ticket office

Walked right by it...
Walked right by it…

and purchased two tickets to San Jose, Costa Rica. One note here, Tracopa buses are not air conditioned but they DO have internet,

Our big bus...
Our big bus…

but since we were heading to Costa Rica, we didn’t think it would be a big problem and it wasn’t. We hit the crowded border check point and got stamped out of Panama and then walked, with our suitcase and backpacks, to the entry check point of Costa Rica. We got our entry stamps and then were herded into a cage with our luggage and told to wait.

Yes, really a cage...
Yes, really a cage…
Cage entertainment...
Cage entertainment…

About 45 minutes later, 2 guys from immigration came into the cage and did a search of our bags. Then, we were back on the bus and headed to San Jose.

Just because the timing was right and the price was good, we signed up for an 8 day tour by Gate 1 around part of Costa Rica. We got to San Jose a few days before the start of the tour to give us a chance to look around. San Jose has many museums and we were able to visit two of them, The Gold Museum which contains a lot of pre Columbian era gold and was a fascinating place.

Exhibits at the Gold Museum...
Exhibits at the Gold Museum…
Yes there was gold too...
Yes there was gold too…
Lots of it...
Lots of it…
Very pretty...
Very pretty…

We also went to The National Museum

The National Museum...
The National Museum…

and had a wonderful time visiting the exhibits

Ancient Artifacts...
Ancient Artifacts…
The Spheres...
The Spheres…
Lots of Spheres...
Lots of Spheres…

and learning more about the fascinating history of Costa Rica.

We visited the market in downtown San Jose one day

The Central Market...
The Central Market…

where one can buy anything from chicken feet

mmmm Chicken feet...
mmmm Chicken feet…

to hand crafted items

Wooden ox and carts...
Wooden ox and carts…

in rows and rows of vendors

Tight aisle's...
Tight aisles…

selling food,

Fish for sale...
Fish for sale…

clothing and miscellaneous.

There is one avenue that is opened to

Lots of foot traffic...
Lots of foot traffic…

pedestrian traffic only

Someone dropping of products...
Someone dropping of products…

and is lined with stores of every kind and many restaurants.

Surf Shop...
Surf Shop…

Great place for people watching too.

 

Sloths, Margays and Coffee Oh My…

A combination of living life and bad internet has set us behind on our blog posts. How could we ever have left Boquete without touching upon two of our favorite things there, the Dos Jefes Coffee Tour and Raquel’s Ark.

Raquel...and the sloths...
Raquel…and the sloths…

Raquel Frame is an interesting animal savior who moved to Vulcan, Panama about 12 years ago and has started a rescue shelter for animals needing a place to stay before either going back to the wild or moving to a more permanent home. Raquel rescued two baby sloths about 8 years ago, sisters Jessie

Jessie....
Jessie….

and Kira.

Kira...
Kira…

She has nurtured and house trained these two beautiful and loving creatures and gives anyone

Andy and Jessie...
Andy and Jessie…
Tom and Daphne take a turn...
Tom and Daphne take a turn…

who visits the opportunity to get up close and personal with them. They are loving animals (remember these two are domesticated, not wild) and holding them is a joy.

Peaches and Kira...
Peaches and Kira…

We went first as visitors then back twice more with friends who were visiting so they could also experience this wonderful opportunity. Raquel also has a margay cat,

Margay...Thanks Daphne...
Margay…Thanks for the great photo Daphne…

three coatimundis,

Some of the coatimundis...
Some of the coatimundis…

two raccoons,

One of the raccoons...
One of the raccoons…

a few dogs and cats, an owl

The shy owl...
The shy owl…

and you never know what else might be there when you visit. It’s a wonderful day trip from Boquete.

On one of our trips we included a tour of Finca Dracula

Finca Dracula...
Finca Dracula…

which is a beautiful orchid farm

IMG_2816

with over a thousand varieties of orchids growing.

IMG_2806

The bilingual tour guides are very knowledgeable

Our tour guides...
Our tour guides…

and we learned a lot about the many varieties of orchids on the tour.
While we were in Boquete, we wanted to tour a coffee finca. After asking around, the tour that everyone said was the best was at Café Luna, also known as Finca Dos Jefes or Two Bosses.

Finca Dos Jefes...
Finca Dos Jefes…

We called Rich and he picked us up from Valle Escondido at 9:30 and after picking up another couple we were off to Finca Dos Jefes. When we arrived, we all sat around a table on the patio

On the patio...
On the patio…

and Rich told us that he and his partner had owned the finca since 2003. He explained the complex system in place for rating coffee, how hard it was to make money in the coffee business. He pays his workers a fair wage and provides them with better housing than he is required to.

In the coffee fields...
In the coffee fields…

Then it was time to walk the coffee fields. All the coffee grown in the area is arabica coffee. As we walked he showed us which beans were ready to be picked

Red to purple is ready to pick...
Red to purple is ready to pick…

and how the beans are dried in the fields under the sun.

Drying racks...
Drying racks…

They have to be wrapped up if it rains and unwrapped when the rain stops. He took us into a dark, dusty concrete room, approximately 12 foot by 12 foot square.

Standard coffee picker quarters...
Standard coffee picker quarters…

This is the room where 4 or more workers would stay on a normal coffee finca during the harvest. They would cook over a open fire with no ventilation for the smoke.
We went back to the patio and Rich let us inhale the scent of a light roast and a dark roast.

Light roast and dark roast...
Light roast and dark roast…

He explained the relationship between time and temperature when roasting coffee and how darker doesn’t always mean more caffeine. Rich then brewed a light and a dark roast coffee for us so we could taste the difference. Then it was time for us to roast our own coffee beans. As a group, we chose Norma to be our coffee roaster.

Norma, ready to roast...
Norma, ready to roast…

The roaster was brought up to temperature

Flame on...
Flame on…

and the beans were loaded in.

Loading beans...
Loading beans…

We watched as the temperature was brought up again and then stabilized as the beans were roasted. When we heard the beans start to pop, the roaster was opened

Roasted beans being dumped out...
Roasted beans being dumped out…

and our roasted beans were dumped out of the roaster. Our beans were bagged

Norma displays our bagged beans...
Norma displays our bagged beans…

and we said our goodbyes and Rich drove us back to our pickup points, each of us with a bag of our freshly roasted coffee beans. After this coffee tour, we have a whole new appreciation for our morning cup of joe.

Day Trippin’ In Boquete

Boquete offers a lot of fun day trips and hiking, rock climbing, zip lining, and more.

There are several loop trips one can take in the hills around Boquete.

Boquete loops...
Boquete loops…

One of our favorites is the Bajo Mono loop. There are many fun stops and sights to be seen without hiking. There is a magnificent climbing wall

The climbing wall...
The climbing wall…

and various tour companies in Boquete have the equipment to take folks on a fun filled adventure.

My Beautiful wife at the climbing wall...
My Beautiful wife at the climbing wall…

For us, viewing the formation was very satisfying.

Climbing guides...
Climbing guides…

We did see several metal hooks in the wall that are permanent and can run ropes for the adventurous at heart.

Crimp-ons...
Crimp-ons…

A little farther along the loop is a wonderful waterfall

The waterfall...
The waterfall…

that we visited several times both as tourists then as tour guides.

Friends at the waterfall...
Friends at the waterfall…

Even farther is a castle that was being built by someone for his wife. Legend has it that his wife died and the castle has been abandoned

The castle...
The castle…

and just sitting vacant since then.

The castle...
The castle…

Then near the top of the loop is Finca Lerida

Finca Lerida...
Finca Lerida…

where there is a B&B and a wonderful restaurant with a relaxing, peaceful view.

Herb garden....
Herb garden….

There are herb gardens outside the restaurant where they grow their own herbs used in the preparation of the delicious meals served there.

Inside the resturant...
Inside the resturant…
Lunch with friends...
Lunch with friends…

We were so glad to have a wonderful lunch there one day.

One day we went to El Explorador.

El Explorador...
El Explorador…

This is a whimsical garden full of characters and scenes with inspirational quotes along the way.

IMG_3430 B

We had fun with our translators since none of the quotes were in English.

IMG_3415 B

We also took three different day trips to check out the beach areas within driving distance. One was a tour by Explora Ya, a local business whose motto is “We don’t sell tours, we provide experiences.” We took a van to Boca Chica then hopped on a boat for whale watching

Whale on the surface...
Whale on the surface…

and lunch on Volano Island where we swam, snorkeled and had a wonderful time.

 beautiful beach...
beautiful beach…

Another day we did about a 2-1/2 hour tour to Las Lajas beach which is a beautiful beach and had lunch at the very nice resort there.

Lunch at the beach...
Lunch at the beach…

Our last beach trip was to Los Olas

Las Olas...
Las Olas…

which is about 60-90 minutes away where we enjoyed a walk on the beach and a wonderful lunch at the resort. There is a gated community along the beach

Hi-rises coming...
Hi-rises coming…

and the start of phase one of a three tower condo development, phase one of which is anticipated to be complete in 2-3 years. This is certainly an area we will keep an eye on. It is only 30-40 minutes to all the shopping one could want in David. The only drawback is that it’s not a good swimming beach

Beautiful but dangerous...
Beautiful but dangerous…

as there are very dangerous riptides and the waves can be quite threatening. We were warned by many locals that this beach can kill you.

There is another castle just outside Boquete

For Sale...
For Sale…

that overlooks a beautiful hillside of coffee beans growing. We heard this castle is for sale for $1.5 million.

$1.5 Mil...
$1.5 Mil..

Here’s an opportunity for you.

We really enjoyed our time in Boquete and made many friends we will surely see again but the temps there were a little too cool for our taste and we really missed the beach.

Next stop, Costa Rica, coming soon!!!!

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