Back on the Road with a Wooden Sign

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We got our wooden sign yesterday and are ready to hit the road! Today, we will drive to the very Southern part of the Nicoya peninsula, just the tip. We have read that one can camp on the beach close to Malpais and that we waves there are good.

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Kyler and I both paddled out at Tamarindo yesterday and had a fun session in the surf! After a walk back to our wonderful Hotel Mono Loco and a shower, we went out in search of a cheap dinner. Not long after leaving, the sky opened up its taps and it started pouring down! The rainy season is over, so the downpour came as a surprise! We found shelter at a nearby bar where we watched some football and talked to some “locals.” It was the first rain we have had since Calgary – that’s 3.5 months ago!

We found a Costa Rican restaurant down the road that did wonderful, juicy BBQ chicken. The menu had lots of really pricy items on the list given in American dollars ($9-$20) and it was all written in English. We flipped through to the end and on the last page they advertised their BBQ chicken. It was written up in Spanish and prices were given in the local currency. We split a half and paid $8 for the both of us. Not too bad at all!

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We saw the sign and it opened up our eyes!

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Tamagringo, Costa Mucho

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After crossing the Costa Rican border we went right into the thick of it in Tamarindo, or as some people call it, Tamagringo. Old Americans, skyrocketed prices and a massive tourist machine. All of the things people had warned us about, seem to be true. Coming from countries cheap as chips with lots of love and life, it was all a bit of a disappointment. We keep asking ourselves: Where are the locals? Where is Costa Rica? All we see here is a country taken over by foreign capital.

A little bit impulsively we decided on our first night to buy a wooden door sign with our new family name for our future home. We are excited to get the sign. The only problem is that we have to wait until Wednesday at 5 PM for the sign to be done. That meant we have had to stay around Tamarindo the past couple of days..

Yesterday, we went on a drive to explore some nearby beaches. The roads leading to the beaches are in shockingly bad condition. Honey performed well, but we had to turn around when we encountered a hill with a massive drop and lots of water at the bottom.

We visited Playa Avellanas, Playa Negra and Playa Junquillal, all South of Tamarindo. The beaches are all beautiful since Costa Rica has protected the area between the high water line and 150 meters in. With the lush vegetation all the mansions and resorts are well hidden, thank you very much.

Back in the day, there used to be camping in Tamarindo and on the nearby beaches. Today, there are not many options for people trying to do it on the cheap. We looked around for a while before we found a hotel with parking for a reasonable price. We are staying at Hotel Monoloco, which actually is a beautiful hotel, for $25 a night. With prices being multiple times that of El Salvador and Nicaragua, we have cut down on our fancy habit of eating out. We eat cereal for breakfast and bread for lunch. When we pulled out the bedside table to use as a breakfast table, a scorpion came to sight. Kyler grabbed a magazine, I opened the door and cleared the way for the scorpion to be hucked out. Phuuu, our joint effort saved our lives, for now. Note how Kyler’s mustach is really filling in as we are getting closer to the end of Movember.

Tomorrow morning we will be leaving Tamarindo (one wooden sign richer) in search of the real Costa Rica.

Border Crossing #7

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We woke up at our homestay in San Juan del Sur ready for another adventure. As we were walking out to get some breakfast, before hitting the road, we bumped into the family from Quebec that we got to know in Antigua more than a month ago! What a fun reunion! As it turned out, they were on their way to the Nicaraguan/Costa Rican border as well. It’s a small world!

We made a right turn out of San Juan del Sur to go South instead of going left to go North, like we did in 2007. New territory!

We met up with our fellow traveling friends at the border and helped each other out. It is a lot more fun crossing borders together with somebody else! We figured out where to get your passports stamped on one side. They helped us out with what to bring to one of the officials on the other side. Win-Win!

In order to get our vehicle import permit cancelled on the Nicaraguan side the vehicle was inspected by a border patrol, then another border patrol, a police officer, a border patrol behind a desk and then another police officer. The permit looked like this when they were done with it:

We were out of Nicaragua and drove through to the Costa Rican side of the border. This entire border crossing was quite time consuming (3 hours in total,) but pretty straight-forward. Fumigation of our vehicle, some more copies, a couple visits to the bathroom, a cold Coca Cola, chats with the border patrol, some more paperwork and we were through.

We are now in Costa Rica!

The South of Nicaragua

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When we strolled around Granada we came across a religious festival honoring a saint. We found it fairly entertaining that the entire parade decided to make their way through the busiest street in town, where all the chicken buses park.

The artisan market in town have much to offer, just like Nicaragua.

After two nights in Granada we drove to Rivas/San Jorge on Lake Nicaragua. This is the port for the boats and ferries going out to Isla de Ometepe, an island consisting of two volcanoes. We had planned to go across with the van on a ferry, or leave the van on the mainland if we could find secure parking. We were advised to bring the van across. It all started sounding really expensive. It was also really windy and the volcanoes were covered in clouds. In the end we decided to save it for another time and went to the beach…

We drove from Rivas/San Jorge to San Juan del Sur in the very Southern part of Nicaragua. San Juan del Sur was the turning point of our Central American roadtrip in 2007. Anywhere further South than this will be new territory!

We thought of going swimming with our clothes on, but we are not that local.

Liberal León and Conservative Granada

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After entering Nicaragua, we spent a couple days in the colonial town of León. In addition to rushing down the side of a volcano, we also visited the town’s Museo de Revolucion. Relatively unaware of the fairly recent and violent history of Nicaragua we were educated by a former Sandinista fighter.

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Our guide, Roberto, provided us with an interesting insight into the events, before and after the revolution, that have shaped Nicaragua into the country it is today.

León was known as a liberal city, whereas it’s counterpart was the more conservative Granada. The two cities rivaled to be the country’s capital for years. In 1852 it was decided that Managua, conveniently located between the two, served as a middle ground and was made capitol.

Roberto brought us up on the roof of the building of the museum. It is located on one side of the city’s Central Park with a great view of the active volcano San Cristobal. What looks like a cloud is actually smoke from the volcano.

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Plans to meet friends in Granada got us back on the road after a couple days in León.

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Granada is a colorful, colonial town. In some ways it is much like León, but it’s location on Lake Nicaragua gives it a breezy feel and cooler nights.

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Granada is well set up around tourism, but one does not have to walk far to find a more local side of the town. Just a few blocks from the touristy walking street by the central park was a soccer game on and down by the water we witnessed baptisms and general frolicking. Observation: Central Americans go swimming with their clothes on! Does anybody know why?

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Later in the day we met up with our friends Ashari (Aussie) and Guy (English) whom we got to know in El Salvador. They are extensive honeymooners like ourselves. We had a great time exploring the Granada markets, and later, Granada-by-night.

Volcano Boarding

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No better way to finish a beautiful hike up a volcano than to speed down it on a homemade sled!

Kyler set a personal land speed record of crazy 77 km/h! Sparks were literary flying behind him.

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Kyler went down too fast to have his photo taken. When we were done we all got a cookie!

Border Crossing #5 and #6

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Easy? – No!
Logical? – No!
Straightforward? – No!
Quick? – No!
Did we get through? – Yes!

Border crossings in Central America are complete gong shows!

We woke up early with the turkeys in El Salvador and hit the road. We had a big day ahead of us, as we were to cross two borders in one day.

In order to leave El Salvador and enter Honduras with a vehicle the following events had to take place:
– Recognize which unmarked building on the El Salvadoran side you must go to to get the registered to leave the country.
– Find another unmarked building to have vehicle importation permit cancelled.
– Drive through no-man’s land and wonder which country the people you see belong to.
– Approach Honduras’ border, get stopped by border patrol, hand over passports and title of vehicle. Vehicle VIN is checked.
– Be lead to unmarked office number one. Get our passports and title of vehicle back.
– Be told to go to unmarked office number two. Have our passports stamped.
– Return to office number one. Be told to go get copy of passport stamp, passport and vehicle title.
– Return to office one with copies.
– Fill out form outside office.
– Return with form to office one. Be told to go to the bank to pay vehicle importation fee.
– Walk across border area and over a pile of rubble to enter bank. Bank only accept local currency and only cash.
– Go outside to shady guys with big wads of cash to exchange money.
– Go back to bank. Pay vehicle importation permit fee. Get change from different teller before getting the receipt from teller one.
– Return to office one. Be told to get copy of form and receipt of payment.
– Go to copy shop (again!)
– Have passport stamped with car importation permit (two pages!)
– Two hours and a lot of head scratching later: Good to go!

We drove through Honduras in three hours. The road was horrible, at best. Deep, crater like pot holes covered the road in both directions.

The border crossing between Honduras and Nicaragua went by in a similar fashion. In addition to the time consuming, illogical events of entering Honduras, we had to buy a specific third party insurance, fumigate the vehicle and have a curious, non-thourough vehicle inspection by a chatty police officer.

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We are in Nicaragua!

A Night with the Turkeys

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Our first night after leaving El Tunco was spent on the beach in Las Flores, further East in El Salvador. The 170 km drive through most of the country (it’s a small one!) went by without any problems. However, a couple interesting encounters along the road is the rule rather than the exeption around these parts. Cattle crossing is as common as the pot holes and corn kernals that are left to dry on the road. A guy in a hammock on a truck is just amusing. B-Rent and T-Dawg: Somewhat of a Hammy-Scoot, yeah?

A little off road adventure eventuelly lead us to Las Flores, semi-known for it’s nearby surf break Punta Mango. We got a camp spot on the beach between swaying palm trees and chuckling turkeys and chickens. They got even closer when the owners of the property decided to feed them one meter behind our van. It woke us up well before sunrise!

Getting in – and out – of Las Flores required a massive effort on Honey’s part. Not only was the dirt road leading there partly washed out in the rainy season, the rocky hill down to the beach was also really steep and bumpy. After that obstacle we had to keep our pace to get across the sandy beach before climbing a speed bump/castle wall to enter the camping property. All of this had to be repeated – in the opposite order – to get back out. Our Honey is a Gem!

Las Flores is a beautiful beach. It is a great place to visit if you would like some peace and quiet, as you will likely be one of few there (especially mid-week.)

If you did not bring gear to go camping at Las Flores and you don’t feel like paying the big bucks to stay at one of the surf resorts, you can chill with this family!

Rearview Mirror: Ruta de las Flores

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Seven years of being together cannot go by unnoticed, so we went for a little road trip to celebrate ourselves. Keep looking if you would like to see what we get up to on date-day!

We stayed in the town of Concepcion de Ataco for the two nights we stayed in the area. It is known for its many murals and colonial style architecture. On the weekends it appearently attracts a crowd of visitors from San Salvador. We were there mid-week and were the only tourists in a many mile radius.

On November 14, the big day, we drove thrugh the main part of Ruta de las Flores from Concepcion de Ataco to Apaneca and then on to Juayua. With considerably more action going on in Juayua we decided to spend the main part of our date-day there.

The main square is a lively place for a market and for socializing. One side of the square is occupied by the main cathedral, the opposite side is taken up by city hall and the tourist information office. Outside the tourist information we soon saw a lone guy dressed in a quasi-military uniform sit down on the curb. He was in his mid-thirties and constantly playing a wooden game consisting of two pieces of carved wood attaced by a string. On piece has to be swung up so that it slides on to the other piece. We went inside, inquired and decided on going on a hike to a nearby waterfall and a visit to a coffe plantation. Mr. Wooden Game was to be our guide, as it turned out.

Unfortunately most the conversations went like this: “This is an old house.” “This is a very old church.” At one point we walked by a wider part of the road painted up to resemble a 100 meter race track. We asked who the current champion of the town is, the reply was a look up to the sky and “Jesu Cristo.” I did not really know where to go on with that one.

After a beautiful hike we reached the waterfalls, which are actually part of a hydro electric plant. It was really pretty and in retrospect we regretted not bringing our swim suits. Guess who snapped this shot?

Our guide, Mr. Wooden Game, left us mid-day for another hike. It was perfect timing for us to grab some lunch. We had been told about R+R Restaurante and decided to check it out. The restaurant was full of city officals and their Japanese visitors as we entered. Observing the happy crowd, we were pleased with our choice. The incredible food and the complimentary glasses of wine for the honeymooning couple were very much enjoyed and appreciated. The painted walls and bath tub filled with plants in the bath room made it all even better. Recommended!

Part two of our date-day was a visit to a coffee plantation. Not only do they grow and do all the work to make coffee, they also grow fruits, herbs, vegetables and flowers.

Our visit to the coffe farm finished off with some very fresh and tasty coffee in their testing room. We got in the van and returned to Concepcion de Ataco just as it was getting dark. We parked safely and went out for dinner. The pics from there on in are private.

Even though it might appear we went to Ruta de las Flores on our own, we did not. The Mopelia ping pong trophy came with us. We named him Roar (because it is a Norwegian name that sounds pretty bad-ass in English) and he also had a great time, however a little rougher than our holiday. Either way, we all made it back to El Tunco safely.

Bye, Bye Mopelia – for now!

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With heavy hearts and sad faces we left our family at Hotel Mopelia in El Tunco on Tuesday morning. We managed to leave because we know we will be back. What a wonderful place!

Our last night in El Tunco was Monday night and time for the weekly Mopelia ping pong tournament. We had been (easily) convinced to stay so that Kyler could attempt to defend his title from the past week. The tournament attracted a big crowd of people and all together 29 ping pong competitors. After some intense games, Kyler handled the pressure and won again!

The reasons why we stayed for a while in El Tunco/Hotel Mopelia are many:

Gilles, family and friends, thank you for a great time!