Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Tamarindo to San Jose

From the border of Nicaragua and Costa Rica, we took a bus down to Liberia. From Liberia, we rented a car and drove down to our Airbnb in Tamarindo. It was a pretty place, not too far from a couple of beaches.
We got settled in, and then headed into the beach area of Tamarindo. We checked how much it was to rent surf boards for a day, and looked around some, before we headed back to our house. We spent the rest of the day relaxing, and then called it a day. 
The next day, my papa and I went out to do some reconnaissance of the area. Our first stop was two beaches called Danta and Dantita. Both were beautiful beaches, especially Dantita. We went for a swim here, and the water was silky smooth and surprisingly warm. Then we hiked back to the car and got some great fajitas at a roadside restaurant, them drove to Playa Avellanas. We swam here also. The waves were great, and we decided we would come back the next day with surfboards and see what happened.
And the next day we came back. We rented two surfboards in Tamarindo, strapped them to our rent-a-car, and drove down to Avellanas. There, we headed out to the waves.
Neither Zoe or I had ever surfed before, but we figured out the basics pretty quickly. Within an hour or so, I was able to consistently catch waves, and occasionally stand up. We spent a while at Avallenas, figuring it out, before we were worn out and headed home. 
We spent an hour here, and then headed to the beach in Tamarindo, where papa and I went surfing and found ourselves caught in a rip current, so we had to fight our way back to shore. We did get a few good rides, though. 
The next morning, we got up early and made the most of the few hours we had left with our surfboards before we had to return them at noon. Then we spent the rest of the day at the house, packing up and getting ready to move on. 
The next morning, we packed our stuff into our rental car, drove to Liberia, and then caught a bus to San Jose.

San Agustin and the long travel days

We arrived in San Agustin in the evening, and after we found the place we were staying, we got a delicious meal from a nearby restaurant, then went to sleep. 
The next day, we left the house after a delicious breakfast served by our host Gilma, to the San Agustin archaeological park. Here, we learned a lot about the history of the native people, and got to marvel at the stone statues that had been created a long time ago. 
Then, we headed back to the house for an hour before we headed outside at two o'clock to meet up with a horseback ride around the area. The man got us on our individual horses, and we set off. I had never ridden a horse before, but I caught on pretty quickly as we rode along the dirt trails. We all galloped some, and generally had a good time. We made a few quick stops to look at some other archaeological sites before we kept on riding. This was a really fun time. After a few more hours of riding, we went back to our place, thanked our guide, and then got another delicious meal, before calling it a day.
We spent our next two days here getting caught up on school, relaxing, and getting ready for our long travel day. 
At seven o'clock on our last day, Gilma kindly drove us to the bus station, where we caught a twelve hour overnight bus to Bogota. Luckily, it was a nice bus, and we got a decent rest during the long drive. 
The next morning, we arrived at the Bogota bus station and caught a taxi to our Airbnb. Once there, we relaxed for a few hours, then headed out and got some food, and then headed down to the heart of the city. We walked around here some, got a late lunch, and then headed home. 
The next day, we went to the gold museum, which was pretty cool, and the Museo Botero, an art museum that contained works by Balthus, Picasso, Matisse, and forty other artists. This was pretty cool as well.
The next morning, we left our place at five in the morning, and went to the airport, where we caught a plane to Panama City, where we then had a twelve hour layover before our flight to Costa Rica.
We decided to make the best of this layover, so we took an Uber to the Panama Canal. There, we walked through exhibits showing the history of the canal, and how the canal worked. Then we headed outside and watched some boats pass through the Miraflores Locks. It was cool to see them sink down so that just the tips of their masts could be seen, and then the doors would open and they would just sail away. The locks work like this: Boats move into the locks, and once enough boats are in the lock, gates close behind them, cutting them off from the ocean or the lake, depending on what side you are coming from. The water level in the lock is either raised or lowered, again depending on what side you are coming from, until the water level is even with the other side of the lock. Then another gate is opened, and you sail away. This was a pretty cool thing to see. 
An hour or two later, we headed back to the airport, got a meal from Carl's Jr., and then sat down and waited another hour for our flight. Our flight arrived on schedule, and we flew to Costa Rica. Then we spent the night in a hotel, and the next daytook a nine hour bus into Grenada, Nicaragua.
We spent three days in Grenada. The first evening, we went out to a Mediterranean restaurant called Pita Pita, which had good food, and was a welcome change from rice and beans. The next day, we took a horse-drawn carriage around the city, seeing what there was to see. It was awesome when the driver let me drive the carriage. It was a little stressful, since it was on busy city streets filled with cars and other carriages. 
At the end of the tour, he recommended a water tour of the nearby lake, so a few hours later we did that too, taking a panga and looking at all the little islands speckling the lake. The highlight of this excursion was Lucy, a monkey that jumped on our boat and hugged our guide, then hung out for a bit before jumping off.
The next day, we biked around town and relaxed. 
The day after that, we took a chicken bus down to Rivas, and then another bus to Playa Gigante. The place we had booked there was not at all what we were expecting, so we went to the beach for two days and then got out of there. 
The next day, we took a bus up to Rivas, and then to the border with Costa Rica. 
Thanks for reading, pictures are below.

Columbian Border, death road, and Mocoa

The next morning, we left Otovalo via city bus and set out to Tulcan, a town on the border with Colombia. It was an hour long ride to the border town, and when we got there we checked out of Ecuador and walked across the border into Colombia. Once we got to the other side, all we had to do was get our passports stamped and move on through; there was no customs or security checkpoints. Once we got our passports marked, we moved on through the gates, swapped currencies, and hailed a taxi. We stuffed three of our bags in the back, and took one up front, and took off. It was a fifteen minute ride in the taxi down to the bus station, where he dropped us off, suggested a company, and drove off. 
We headed down the stairs into the station, where we turned left to find the place he had told us about. We checked prices and decided it would work for us, so we changed our money in a nearby ATM and paid for the ride. Then a man led us out to the trucks, we loaded our bags, then went to Pasto. 
Our driver dropped us off at the end of the route, near a group of taxis. He helped us unload our bags, and then we were off in another cab to the Hotel we had paid for a night at. 
The place was near the square and was up a nondescript staircase, behind a steel door. The door opened up into a wide lobby, where we checked in and headed up a flight of creaky stairs to our room. The door was *very* secure, secure enough even that it would slip open even if you locked it from the inside. We used a chair to keep it from opening while we were there. The room itself was decent, with three beds and a bathroom. 
We got our stuff in and then headed out to the city. We walked around for a while, looking at the busy city full of people, and then went out for dinner, then went home and went to sleep.
The next morning, we got up early and went to a bus station. We paid for a ride, loaded our bags, and headed off on "death road". It earned its name in the wet season, when the dirt would wash out and it was very dangerous. For us, though, it was a beautiful five-ish hour ride. The entire time, we could look out our windows at huge hills, green jungle, rivers, cliffs, and more. At one point, there was a van with a broken axle that had to be moved from the road for cars to get by. We had to drive over creeks running over the road, past drop offs without rails, and more to get where we were going. 
When we got to Mocoa a few hours later, we bought groceries and then took a cab to the place we had booked. It was a little difficult to find, but we got there eventually. And we were not happy with what we found. The listing on Airbnb had way oversold the place, and in many places straight-up lied about it. We thought we had booked an entire house over a lake, but we had instead booked a dirty hotel room. We got settled in anyway, ready to move on the next day. 
The next morning, we went for a hike up to Fin del Mundo, a large waterfall. It was an hour-long uphill hike with some slippery sections, but overall it was a fun and pretty, if a little damp, hike through the jungle. Our first stop was a small waterfall with a pool beneath it that you could swim in. We swam around here for a bit, during that time finding an area almost completely hidden behind the waterfall we could crouch in. We spent another few minutes here, then I went on short walk on the other side of the river to see what else there was. Upon seeing the next waterfall, I jogged back and got Zoe and my father, and we headed down the trail. 
The next waterfall was wide and about thirty feet tall, and was beautiful to behold. (some pictures below) Our next stop down the trail was another waterfall, this one cascading over black rocks. What made this one so interesting was a few yards down the river was a naturally formed bridge made of stone that crossed from one bank of the river to the other. That was cool to stand on.
Then, finally, we reached Fin del Mundo. We were at the top of the waterfall, where it began to cascade the hundreds of feet down to where the river continued. It was amazing to be able to stand next to it and peek over the edge down into the jungle. It is hard to describe with words, so I will be sure to put pictures of it in. We spent some time here, in awe of how amazing it was, before we hiked back up the river and down the trail to our seedy hotel room, and then took a cab into town. From there, we caught a small bus to San Agustin.
Thanks for reading, pictures are below.

Otovalo Market and Mountains

We arrived in Otovalo about eight hours after we left Tena. Our bus drove past our stop, so they dropped us off on the side of the highway in the middle of the night and left it up to us to get back to town. Luckily, they had realized their mistake near a toll station, so we were in an area where vehicles were moving slower. We hiked our fifty-odd pound bags over our shoulders, ran across the highway, and to the toll station. There, we hailed a city bus and took it into town. At the bus stop, we then caught a cab to our rented room. After a long day, we went out to eat, then headed back, where we spent only another hour or two awake before going to sleep. 
The next day, we got up late and went to the famous Otovalo market. The market was in the town square and contained many booths, selling machetes, blankets, horns, hats, and more. We spent an hour or two looking around, and we found some cool stuff. We bought a few alpaca wool blankets, my sister bought an alpaca wool shawl, and my dad bought a nice wool hat.
Then we went out for a late lunch at a place near the square, and headed back to our place for the day.
The next morning, we woke up at six and got ready to climb Fuya Fuya, two fourteen thousand foot peaks near Otovalo. Only my sister, my papa, and I were going, as my mom doesn't like climbing much. 
We got the last few things packed, and then headed out to the curb and waited for the taxi we had called. He arrived a minute later, and then we were off. 
It was a thirty minute ride to the trailhead, located near a large lake. This lake actually used to be the crater of a massive volcano, until it blew up long ago. The mountains we would be climbing today were the rim. 
Once we arrived, we climbed out of the cab, thanked him, arranged for him to pick us up six hours later, and paid him for the ride. Then he drove off and we started up. It was very foggy, so we couldn't see much except during brief glimpses when the wind blew enough fog away to see more than a few feet. The trail was steep and muddy, but it wasn't too bad for me. We stopped two or three times for a water break, and kept going. At a few hundred feet below the saddle, it got much steeper and muddier, so we occasionally had to hold on to the highland grasses to keep our balance. About an hour and a half after starting, we reached the saddle. A saddle is the ridge line connecting two peaks. We stopped here for another water break, and then decided which summit we wanted to do first. We decided to do the the class four peak first, as it was the harder one. 
We set out across the ridgeline, with the fog making the trek feel ominous because we couldn't see how far down the vertical drop off either side of the ridge went. But then, like a switch flipping, the fog cleared out and we could see for miles in every direction. The vertical drop was only a hundred or so feet, and we could see we were only a couple hundred feet below the summit. The way to get there was tricky. We spent a few minutes checking our options; two ways scrambling along the exposed edge of the summit, the third scrambling across a steep slope with an drop off and then up. We chose the last option. We headed down the slope to a crossable area, and then carefully traversed it, trying to keep off the slick dirt and on rocks. After a few minutes of careful scrambling, we reached the other side of the slope. Here, we hiked up a very steep slope that luckily had strong plants to hang on to. After a few more minutes of this and some light rock scrambling, we reached the summit. In one direction stretched the lake surrounded by other mountains, in another lush hills, and ahead of us stretched flat land for miles. We could see the city we were staying in in the distance, nestled between hills.
We stayed here for a few minutes, absorbing the view, taking photos, and investigating some alternate routes back down. We found the main trail while doing this. We had missed it the first time because it was on a different side of the mountain. It was some hand and foot scrambling to get down, but nothing too bad. After ten minutes of carefully descending, we reached where we had started. We looked where we had been, then hiked back to the saddle. We ate a quick lunch here, consisting of canned sardines, crackers, and chips. Then we put our packs on and headed up the other summit. This one was very easy, just a quick five minute hike and a little bit of scrambling and we were up. We again took a few more pictures, and then headed back the way we had come. Once at the saddle, we headed back down. We had some interesting conversations while we hiked, about a wide variety of things. Once we had gotten to the bottom of the steep slippery section, we decided to try a different direction. This time we went out across a ridge line, over some small hills, off the beaten path. We chose to keep going in this direction, as we spotted a trail that we could intercept leading to where we had started. We waded through the tall grass, admiring our surroundings and talking. We navigated some treacherously steep hills, before intercepting the trail. From there, it was a nice hike back to the lake. We arrived five minutes before two, (the time we had arranged to be picked up at) so we sat down at a picnic table and looked through photos we had taken. Then our taxi arrived, right on time, and we drove back to our room. 
That night, we went out for dinner near the square, where we got some good food before heading home. 
Thanks for reading, pictures are below.


On our first full day in Tena, we went on an adventure.
We woke up at eight o'clock, got ready, and were out the door by nine thirty. We loaded into our guide's car, and drove away from our hotel. We spent half an hour driving around town getting some things done, before we drove down to the bank of the Rio Napo. There, we climbed out of the car and went into a thin grouping of trees, where our guide gave us each a handful of grapes. We saw one monkey hanging out in a low branch of a nearby tree and approached her. She moved away and called out, and within seconds we could see deeper in the forest there were branches swinging up and down. Soon, we could see monkeys leaping out of trees and landing on the ground, coming towards the first monkey. 
Once they had all relaxed and separated, our guide, Gerry, led us to one. He instructed us to approach the monkey sideways, and hold an empty hand towards it, holding our fistful of grapes away in the other hand. 
Zoe went first. She did what he said, and the monkey surprised her by running across her outstretched arm, bouncing over her head, and grabbing a grape before vaulting off her and leaping away into the trees. 
We found another one, and I tried. The monkey leaped from the tree and landed on my shoulder, then scurried across me and grabbed at my handful of grapes. It snagged two, stuck one in his mouth, and bounced away into the trees. We all tried again and fed a few more monkeys, before we headed down to the shore. 
When we got there, we climbed into a narrow canoe-like boat and started motoring down the river. We went down the river for an hour or so, until our driver pulled up on the right bank of the river. We hiked up a small slope, to a raised house where we met a woman who harvested cacao. Our group talked with her for a moment, before she led us into the jungle. There, we learned that the river had risen greatly a few days ago, ruining much of the cacao and other plants. She led us around for a little bit, before speaking briefly with Gary and then heading back the way we had come. We spent some more time learning about the environment around the area, before he walked over to a tree. He told us it was called a Sangre de drago. He stabbed his machete into it, and the sap that came out looked like blood. He put some on our forearms, and if you rubbed it it turned white and foamy. He told us to taste it, so we did, and oddly, it tasted like dust. Even though it was liquid, in your mouth it felt like eating dust.
After that little excursion, we headed back to the woman's house. There, we learned she had been cooking cacao beans. For the next half hour, they took us through the steps of making chocolate--from the pod, to the cooking, to the grinding, to stirring. At the end of it all, we got to taste the chocolate we had helped make. It was very good.
We said thanks to the woman, then walked back down to the boat, and then motored further down the river for another half hour. This time, our driver pulled up on the left bank. We hiked up a hill, to a large butterfly sanctuary. A manager there told us some things, then we went into the main area. We were greeted by thousands of butterflies. There were many flying around, of many different species. There were some eating and some just coming out of their cocoon, drying their wings so they could fly. We walked around here for a while, looking at all the different types, before we left. We hiked back down to the boat, and then took off to a quiet part of the river where we sat at a picnic table for lunch. On the way there, we saw something awesome. As we were motoring along the river bank, we saw a monkey hanging from his tail off a low hanging branch, drinking from the river. 
We had a good lunch of bread, ham, beans, salad, chocolate, and more. Everyone got their fill, and then we took off again.  
This time, we went down the river for a minute or two, before pulling up to a staircase that led to the "AmaZOOnica", and animal rescue/sanctuary. We hiked for a few minutes up the stairs, before paying for a tour around the place. She showed us all they had, and it was pretty interesting and sad at the same time. The first animals she showed us was a pair of Scarlett Macaws, who's previous owner had broken both of their wings to ensure they didn't fly off. Now they had a few trees to walk around. She also showed us an anaconda, and then started leading us to another area. Here we found an abundance of wolly monkeys, all of them with some sort of disorder. We also saw many more rescued birds. 
Some of the other animals she showed us were caymans, turtles, tapers, and more, all with their own story on how they got there. We learned some, saw a lot, and it was a good experience. 
We thanked our guide, and then hiked back down to the boat. We motored back to where we had eaten lunch, this time taking a path back into the jungle. We hiked back for a few minutes, to where there was a family of caymans in a lagoon. We threw a few pieces of meat to them, before hiking back out. It was a similar experience to feeding the crocodiles in La Manzanilla, Mexico (see one of last year's posts). We climbed into the boat, and began the long motor up the river. We got home mid evening, after a great day. 
We took the next day off, just looking around Tena and doing schoolwork.
The next day, Gary took us rafting on another river, called Jatunyaku, with rapids rated 3+ because of the breaks in between sets. We had a lot of fun in the four hour excursion. We rode a lot of good rapids, ate another good lunch, and at the end of it all got to shower off under a waterfall.
The next day, we bid farewell to our hosts, and took a bus up to Otovalo. 
Thanks for reading, pictures are below!