Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Day 6: Liberia to La Fortuna

Today we left Liberia and headed for La Fortuna in the Arenal Region.
Group photo before leaving Liberia
We boarded the bus and began the three+ hour trek - our guide Wendy explained a lot as we drove through the dry, arid areas and entered tropical areas, noting the differences in vegetation and animals. Interesting fact - no hunting or hunting seasons in Costa Rica, only fishing is allowed.
We broke up the drive with a stop at a café where, after a brief demonstration, we tried our hand at making cheese empanadas.

Made with corn meal, salt, water and cheese, they were easy to make; a little bland and as they were pan-fried, a little greasy. Overall, a fun activity and good to have some time off the bus!
Back on the bus, we continued our trek around Lake Arenal, a very winding, narrow road with lots of hills - several of us were feeling the motion sickness. 
We rounded one corner and stopped briefly to take photos of white-faced coatis (belonging to the raccoon family)....

...and pictures of Lake Arenal

By 12:30 we reached our destination for our zip-lining tour. 

After some safety instruction, we climbed the staircase for the first of eight lines. All of us were left in awe of the breathtaking views - and were disappointed when it was over way too soon!
When finished, we traveled a couple of miles to a restaurant where we ate lunch - several different choices...beef, chicken., pork, fish, arroz con pollo, or pasta with beans, salad, hard-boiled egg, juice and water. 
After lunch we walked across the street where Wendy had spotted a sloth. Difficult to see because he was so high up and blended so well into the foliage.
Back on the bus, we were at the town of La Fortuna within a few minutes. La Fortuna is a small town, four blocks by ten blocks, so everything is within walking distance. After checking in to our hotel, Arenal Rabfer, we had time to walk around, shop and explore the town, and several in our group enjoyed gelato at a shop right across the street from our hotel.
Dinner was at 7 at the hotel; most of our group was worn out and called it an early night. Tomorrow is busy with kayaking, visiting the Arenal waterfall, and Baldi hot springs.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Day 5: Playa Hermosa/Guanacaste

Sunday started off with breakfast at 7:30, after which we had time to relax by the pool. By 10:30, we loaded the bus and headed out for a brief tour of the area around our hotel. Our first stop was a huge Guanacaste tree in the middle of an intersection just three blocks from our hotel.

Just a few blocks further and we were observing a parade supporting women's rights against domestic violence. Several hundred people were walking in support and there were many activities in an adjacent park.

We then stopped at a market near the square. Lots of interesting things to see, and opportunity to work on our currency conversion skills!
Back on the bus, we headed to Playa Hermosa, where we made a brief stop to buy drinks and snacks, enjoy the beach, and put our toes in the Pacific Ocean.  Our snorkeling site was about 20 minutes away; once we arrived, we were on a boat that transported us to a cove about two miles off shore. 

The cove we were snorkeling in was beautiful - we were able to see coral, several types of fish, eels, and an octopus. Everyone in our group was in the water for at least an hour - tiring but so worth it!
After the snorkeling, our guides had fresh pineapple and water for us; there were also dozens of cappuccino monkeys that were very close by - hoping to get a slice of pineapple, I'm sure. 

After our afternoon of snorkeling, we had a late lunch in a nearby town - choice of beef fajitas, arroz con pollo, chicken, or pork with rice and beans.  Before heading back to Liberia, we returned to Playa Hermosa to catch some beautiful photos of the sunset over the ocean.

The drive back to our hotel was about 45 minutes, and we had some time to shower and relax before a late dinner of spaghetti, salad, and garlic bread.  Tomorrow we will be leaving Liberia and heading to the Arsenal region and La Fortuna.

Day 4: Nicaragua to Costa Rica

Today we began the lengthy drive from Nicaragua to Costa Rica. After breakfast at the hotel, we departed around 7:45am. We traveled for about an hour, then stopped at a roadside fruit stand. Several on the bus needed to use a bathroom - cost to use the "western-style" toilet was $1.50 per person. The fruit was also fairly expensive, so we passed on that. As we left, there was a very loud thumping sound - not a flat tire, but a large rock wedged between two back tires. Jason was able to pry the rock out and after a few minutes we were back on the road.
A couple of hours later we were at the border. At the stop on the Nicaraguan side, we handed over our passports and had about a 15 -20 minute wait until we were cleared to go on.

Once we cleared the Nicaraguan border we then had to go through customs at the Costa Rican border. This was a lengthier process; between waiting in line, getting our passport inspected and stamped, and putting our carry-on luggage through a scanner, it took a little over an hour. Interesting to note, when my bags went through the scanner, the woman that was watching the monitor wasn't watching the screen at all and didn't look at me.

Finally in Costa Rica! We continued on the bus for another hour, and reached the Rincón de La Vieja national park.  We stopped at a hotel near the entrance for lunch. Lunch was buffet-style, with salad, plantains, rice, beans, chicken, pork, and pasta, along with sweet tea, and sweet bread for dessert.  Very filling!

After lunch we drove into the park for about a half hour, reaching the area that we would hike and explore, with fissures and sulphur pools formed by volcanic activity.
We hiked around three miles, and Wendy explained a lot about the native vegetation and its uses.

Leaving the national park, we headed to Liberia. We stopped at a supermarket to get snacks and water, then continued to our hotel, Los Boyeros, which was right across the street from the supermarket.
After checking in, we had a little time to relax before dinner, which was chicken tenders, French fries, and salad. Tomorrow is snorkeling at Playa Hermosa.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Day 3: Masaya

Today was our last full day in Nicaragua. After breakfast, we boarded the bus and traveled from Granada to the Masaya area. Our first stop was at the Volcán Masaya. After spending some time at the museum with our guide, Gino,  learning about the history of the volcano, we took a few photos of the view then traveled up to the volcano.

A couple of interesting things we learned about this volcano: small green parrots called chocoyos live inside the main caldera of the volcano; and indigenous people sacrificed babies and maidens to the volcano several hundred years ago.  We did not see any parrots - or sacrifices! - but we did see vultures circling above the volcano. They use the smoke and gasses from the volcano to clean themselves.
For lunch we traveled to the town of Catarina. The view of the Apoyo Lagoon, with Lake Nicaragua behind it, was incredible.

Lunch was a choice of beef, chicken, or pork with rice, salad, and tea. After eating we had a little time to walk around the market area. We then went to a "taller", a ceramic workshop, where we watched a demonstration on pottery, from start to finished product.

After the demonstration, we shopped at nearby tiendas for pottery, then boarded the bus and returned to the hotel. We had some free time before dinner to relax and shop at the local supermarket.
Dinner at our hotel was followed by a trip to the downtown area to see a little of the nightlife. Lots of people out and about, enjoying al fresco dining, dancing - including some young teens break-dancing - and a musical group that we watched for a while.

Tomorrow (Saturday) will be a long travel day as we leave Nicaragua and travel to Costs Rica.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Day 2: Granada

Today started with breakfast at 7 am of scrambled eggs, turkey bacon, toast, fresh fruit, juice and coffee. We met our local guide for the day, Gino, and in planning out our agenda, we decided that rather than spend the day entirely on the bus we would use "volantas" which are 4-person carriages pulled by horses.

Our first stop was the Fuerte La Polvora, which was built in 1748 and is being renovated as a museum.

We then traveled a few blocks to the oldest cemetery in Central America. It felt a lot like New Orleans, as everything is above ground. We also learned that in Nicaragua, cremations are allowed only in Managua and no other city.

We then traveled to a couple of churches; at one we were able to climb a very narrow, steep staircase to get to the bell tower where we had a beautiful 360° view of Granada.
At this point we bid farewell to our volantas, and walked a few blocks to a city market, where we were able to sample a local drink called grama (similar to a sweet tea) made with a native grass that grows near the volcano. Delicious!
We continued on to the Convento San Francisco and spent about an hour touring the grounds and our guide Gino explained a lot about the artistic and cultural heritage of the city and region.
Leaving the Convento, we took a short bus ride to Lake Nicaragua where we boarded a boat for an hour tour. There are dozens of small islands in the lake, and lots of inhabitants - people and animals.

Our lunch was at Cafe de Las Sonrisas (The Smile Cafe). We had a wonderful lunch of burritos and shredded cabbage and carrots. For dessert, we were served a baked banana dish; however, the rule during dessert was that we couldn't speak but had to find other ways to communicate than our voices. We found out that the owner, Tío Antonio, hires young adults who have some type of disability that would usually keep them from being employed. He also, besides the restaurant, has a hammock- making business. We were able to try our hand at hammock weaving and took a group photo on the "world's largest hammock".

After lunch, we stopped at a local supermarket to shop for snacks, drinks, and toiletries. Upon returning to our hotel, we had time to relax (nap) and enjoy the pool.  Dinner was at 6:30pm - beef fajitas, rice and fresh avocado, dessert was ice cream and cookies. I can speak for the entire group when I say we are well-fed!!

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Day 1: Des Moines to Nicaragua

Our travel day began with our group meeting at the Des Moines airport at 9:45 am. After realizing that the self check-in kiosks were not working, we had to check in as a group at the Delta counter. Lots of student groups were traveling with Delta, so it was very busy and chaotic, but once we were checked in we made it through security fairly quickly and our flight left on time for Atlanta at 11:40 am. 

Ready to start our Nicaragua and Costa Rica adventure!

 In Atlanta we had several hours layover, so we charged phones, played card games, and a few of us ate a late lunch.

Leaving Atlanta

Our flight to Managua departed at 6:20pm. It was a fairly short flight (only 3-1/2 hours) and no meal was served. But we were able to pass the time watching movies and TV shows.

We landed at 9pm and made our way through Customs, which included paying $10 and getting a tourist visa card. Once through Customs, we met our tour guide Wendy, loaded our bus, and drove about an hour to Granada. During the drive we ate a late dinner of a chicken sandwich while Wendy talked about expectations for travelers and tomorrow's itinerary.

We arrived at our hotel, Los Chilamates, at 10:30pm.

  Tomorrow will be a tour of Granada, including the Convento San Francisco and a boat tour on a lake.

Day 6: Liberia to La Fortuna

Today we left Liberia and headed for La Fortuna in the Arenal Region. Group photo before leaving Liberia We boarded the bus and began...