COSTA RICA TO NICARAGUA, then into the jungle.
16.03.2017 - 20.03.2017
DAY 39 THURSDAY 16TH MARCH
We were outside and waiting just minutes before 9am - our agreed meeting time for the taxi to take us to the border. We had a quick breakfast of toast and coffee/tea and had the luggage waiting. No taxi by 9.10 gave cause to our landlady to offer to make a phone call. Luckily I had been given a mobile number of the guy we negotiated with yesterday. She advised taxi would be here in 5 minutes.
Sure enough 5 minutes later a clapped out old battered car pulled up and two blokes got out saying something about frontier and it turned out they were our lift. The driver had to empty his boot, which had 3 spare tyres in it, so our luggage could be loaded up. Then us 3 had to squeeze in the back seat which was a pain considering it was only a 2 door car. Of course the mate was coming along although it would have made much more sense for him to stay with the excess taken out of the boot and make more room for us. But whatever.
The driver started the engine and music started to blare out of the back speakers, thankfully an English song was playing with prompted us 3 squashed in the back seat to start to sing along, much to the delight of our driver and co pilot. I had remembered to write down in Spanish that we needed to stop to pay the exit tax for Costa Rica and we were driven to the pharmacy opposite the bus station soda to make payment. The exit tax for Costa Rica is US$7 plus there was an extra US$1 commission. Not exactly sure what this fee is for, but if you don't pay it you can't leave the country.
Back into the car we pile and drive the 6km to the border. This was a bargain ride at US$5.
Due to lack of signage we actually missed the place where we were supposed to get an exit stamp and after walking 100m into no mans land we were sent back to get the stamp. The border guards were very polite and happy and had a bit of a chuckle on our return with the correct stamp.
So it was adios to Costa Rica and hola to Nicaragua. First up we were met by some lovely ladies who pointed a thermometer gun at our head to take our temperature. Not sure what this was for, but they asked so nicely and then offered us tourist information to take about the country we had just entered. We picked up some maps and were advised to move on to the immigration counter where we had to pay US$12 entry fee and received a Nicaraguan entry stamp in our passports.
Next our bags were put through an xray machine and given the all clear were advised to walk down the road to the awaiting collective taxi van that would take us to San Carlos. I was able to get some local currency out of an ATM before walking to the taxi. Crushed into the back seat of the mini van it was not long before it was full and we were on our way passing citrus groves on either side of the road.
About an hour later we arrived at the bus station in San Carlos which was a bit of a shit fight. Touts started hassling for bus tickets to other places before we even got out of the van. We did not want to travel on any further, but most of the other occupants of our van were taking tickets as the touts thrust them into their faces. I suggested we grab a seat at one of the bus side restaurants to have a drink and to move away from the chaos.
I had not heard back via email from the hotel I sent a request to so I decided to go and find it while Dolly & Lyn stayed at the bus station with luggage. Of course just before I set off it started to rain, but it was dry again even before I left the bus station compound. Enroute I checked out a few other hotels, but the one I had picked was in fact the pick of the hotels I saw along the way. They still had a triple room available so I said we would take it and I returned to collect D & L waiting at the bus station. Hotel Gran Lago was only about a 15 minute walk with our luggage along a pedestrian market street and then the lake side boulevard.
San Carlos has a very nice relaxed vibe, which we all noticed instantly and it seemed to be more friendly than Costa Rica.
After checking in it was time to find food. The lady at the hotel said her husband is selling food and she sent their young daughter out with us to show the way. Luckily it was one of the water front places we had seen and wanted to try out. Beer was the first order for the day and on the first sip got a thumbs up from all three of us, and at a great price of 19 cordobas = A$0.84c. Yes we liked Nicaragua already. Food was good too, similar fare to local food in CR but cheaper. Chicken, rice, salad & fried plantain 100 cordobas = A$4.43. We had a few more beers to celebrate the new country.
The young girl at the tourist office advised where we are to catch our boat tomorrow as we are going into the jungle. Actually up a river that is off the lake, about 4 hours from here in a boat.
We had a bit of a wander around town. Bought a pineapple from a street vendor and Dolly asked her to cut it up for us. She did this no problem even dividing the cut pieces into 3 bags for us. 30 cordobas = A$1.33 - it was sweet and juicy.
We ventured out again to catch the sunset on the lake - beautiful. There are a few tourists around, but not many. Returning to the lake side restaurants for dinner and a beer, we joined many locals doing the same. Lyn & I shared a whole fish that was only 150 cordobas = A$6.65, and Dolly had a chicken soup that could have fed us all for 100 cordobas = A$4.43, washed down with our new favourite beer.
After dinner we returned to the hotel to have cold showers, no hot water here. And we had to pack a bag to take into the jungle, we are going to leave most of our luggage here at the hotel.
DAY 40 FRIDAY 17TH, DAY 41 SATURDAY 18TH & DAY 42 SUNDAY 19TH MARCH
Our luggage left in the room, we headed out to have some breakfast before boarding the boat. We went to a restaurant and had scrambled eggs with ham, gallo pinto & tortillas, with coffee C$65 = A$2.80 . We needed something in our stomach in case we would be throwing up later on the boat, lol. We walked to the pier at 8.30 but the boat was already almost full, and the best seats (bits of plank) already taken, side seats where you can lean are prime position. We scrambled aboard and found a some empty space in the middle. We were the only non locals on board, so all eyes were on us.
The boat was scheduled to depart at 9am and we pulled away from the dock at 9.30am, fully laden with what I guess is supplies for the little village we are heading to.
===Los Guatuzos Nature Reserve & Rio Papaturro===
Los Guatuzos Wildlife Refuge is located in the south of Lake Nicaragua, within the municipality of San Carlos, Rio San Juan. This natural site is a strip of wetland bordering the nearby country of Costa Rica. “Los Guatuzos” has an extension of 438 square kilometres consisting of tropical wetlands, rainforest and wildlife refuge. Adventurous travellers can take pleasure in its luxuriant flora and fauna through the magnificent Paputurro River. Here avid nature lovers have unique opportunities to spot all different kind of birds such as northern jacanas, purple gallinules, fasciated-tiger herons, great egrets, green herons, neo-tropic cormorants, anhingas, great kiskadees, and other colourful interesting birds.
The site has been recognized by UNESCO as a biosphere reserve and belongs to the list of wetlands of international importance of the Ramsar Convention, which is an intergovernmental treaty that provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources.
Both “Los Guatuzos and Papaturro River” also provides the opportunity for nature enthusiasts to observe mammals in wildlife like white-faced monkeys, spider monkeys and howler monkeys, actually the loudest monkey in the world. In addition caimans are also seen sunbathing along the river. Reptiles like “green iguanas” are also spotted in lush trees.
Around 11.30 we make a stop at a little island in the middle of the lake. This looks like the lunch/toilet stop as most of the boats occupants evacuate and head for a shelter that is serving what looks like fish soup. Dolly decides to stay on the boat and Lyn & I get off to stretch our legs. We don't eat, but watch as the locals purchase fresh fish from the islands inhabitants. These fish are kept in a wooden box which is in the lake water keeping the fish alive and kicking, or at least tail swishing as they are dragged out and sold off. Can't get much fresher than that.
It was almost another 2 hours before we finally reached the month of the Papatorro River. Now the boat really slowed down as the river was narrow and shallow and the boat had to be poled along up the river. WOW this is where the adventure started. Not very far into the river I spotted iguanas in the trees. The second one I saw was a giant monster and was to be the biggest I would see all weekend. I was loving this place already, it took us 45 minutes to manoeuvre the boat to the dock, it was slow going, but great for viewing.
Eileen & Armando were at the dock waiting for us. I had pre booked this trip months ago and Eileen advised they did not speak any English. Turns our her English was quite good, much better than any attempt by us at Spanish anyhow. Armando spoke very little English and we did the tours with him. What he lacked in language skills he made up for by having the eyes of an eagle and could spot wildlife in darkness and in light.
We had a wonderful couple of days here and we saw tonnes of wildlife. We did 3 tours: night tour by boat, walking tour at crack of dawn and afternoon boat tour. All 3 were fantastic, as I said Armando had an eagle eye.
We also had a lot of time to relax outside our cabanas. Lyn and Dolly would sit reading for hours as I just sat and watched the wildlife come to within eyesight of us. I fell in love with the iguana's and they were plenty. Not only on the tours did we see them everywhere, but in the trees across the river from our accommodation there were basking iguanas too. I particular one that I named Oskar became a favourite and we monitored his movements. Smaller lizards would be closer and some would co-operate and sit still to be photographed. Unlike the 3 species of monkeys we saw, which we not so good at staying in one place for very long. Still we saw plenty of howler monkeys, white faced monkeys and the long limbed spider monkeys. I managed to get some photos, but these guys are high up in the tree and move so fast.
Caiman were in the river, and we saw them during our tours and one came to visit on the beach opposite our cabana. Armando had said it was safe to swim in the river, but I'm kind of glad I didn't. Not that the caiman were likely to attack, but I would have had heart failure had one come swimming up next to me while I was in the water. Birds, birds everywhere. Not a birder, but still appreciated them all. Dolly became quite fond of the kingfisher and we saw a lot of those. Both the large amazon kingfisher and the smaller one. Beautiful they were.
We had an amazing encounter with an anteater, who seemed to want to drink from the river but would get spooked every time he went close to the water. Perhaps he could sense a nearby caiman which we could not see. Armando actually got a cup of water from the river and the anteater drank from that. These fury animals were also delightful. So cute looking with not a great fear of humans as it just went along its way.
And the frogs, we saw some ugly toad looking frogs on our boat tours but Armando went above and beyond when he started to rustle around in then jungle during our morning walk, following the sound of the frog to produce a highly poisonous blue jeans frog. This beautiful and very tiny creature was the size of a 5c piece and happy to sit for just 2 seconds while we took a photo. Not even Armando touched this little guy, using his cap and a stick to bring it closer to us. Seeing this frog was just amazing, only to be topped when Armando showed up at our lunch time with a red eyed green frog. Another absolutely beautiful specimen. Wow!
We even managed to see a very large snake which Mr Eagle Eyes pointed out to us high high up in a tree. It was not until I saw the photo on the bigger screen of my computer did I realize that the snake had his head up and was watching us from a great height.
These days in this environment really has been a big highlight in the trip so far for me. Our hosts asked us on the last night if it was as good an experience as what we expected, and we all replied it was much better than we imagined.
The meals that Eileen fed us were great too, no way would you ever go hungry while staying here. The accommodation was excellent also. The cabana we stayed in had a double bed, single bed and bunk bed so we all got to sleep in our own bed. And the sheets were changed daily. There were mozzie nets on all the beds. Cold shower, but it was pretty hot so not a problem. And the lights were run on solar power so there was no electricity, but all this just added to the experience.
As you can imagine I took lots of photos - all posted on Facebook. I don't have a very flash camera (and it has been playing up) and these animals are in the wild and do not do the curtesy of stopping to pose for a photo, and a lot of the time they were at a distance, but still I think I took good enough photos to get an idea of what we saw.
I'm just going to post a few photos here, a few highlights of our sightings. Also am going to list costs for my future reference.
Boat C$105 = A$4.65 per person each way on ferry boat
Accommodation US$20 per person per night including breakfast
Beer in local bar C$40 = A$1.77
DAY 43 MONDAY 20TH MARCH
After breakfast we were back on the ferry for the 4 hour trip back to San Carlos. We hugged Eileen and Armando goodbye and left with many wonderful memories of our last few days.
Halfway across the lake instead of stopping at the island for a meal break we were met mid stream by another boat selling ready to eat meals.
We had a quiet, relaxed rest of the day in San Carlos. Went to the bus station to purchase our tickets for our departure tomorrow, had a few beers and just reflected on our time in the jungle.
To Raymundo who requested more details, today I am wearing black knickers.