My 2014 trip to Costa Rica and Panama is over and I’m back in good old Germany. Today I finally uploaded some of the photos to my Flickr account: Check them out here.
- Featured Content
During my short beach trip to Samara in Guanecaste (on the Costa Rican Pacific coast) with Gabriel and his friend Steven we came across this cute self-made warning sign. It was near a bridge across a small creek leading into the ocean, just about 100 or 200 meters away from the main beach where people (including us the next day) went swimming. Could it be that crocodiles inhabit this creek so close to the beach and with plenty of cars passing by? I presumed they might prefer a more quiet habitat. In all that time I had spent in Costa Rica I never saw a crocodile, although I heard stories. I was wondering if the warning sign was put there just in case but the last actual sighting of a crocodile was perhaps years ago.
We tried to catch a glimpse of a crocodile by peeking through the branches from different angles. But the water was dark and absolute quiet. No movement was to be seen in the water or the thick bushes on both sides. As I wandered around I noticed a long stick with a thin rope and a noose at the end. It was just a few meters from the bridge, hanging in one of the bushes. Someone seemed to have placed it there on purpose. It almost looked like a fishing rod. That gave me some idea… Why not put a stone in the noose and lower it from the top of the bridge to make a few splashes in the water. Perhaps this might get some attention? The instant I let the stone on the rope splash into the water the large head of a crocodile surfaced right below me. Wow, I didn’t expect that. It must have been waiting there at the bottom of the creek all along. Although I love reptiles, to be surprised by a grown up crocodile in the wild, just two meters below me had a rather chilling effect. Others seem to care less. I made a few more splashes until the stone fell off but the animal wasn’t fooled by it any longer and would not show up again.
After a few days on the Pacific coast I went spent a long weekend in Puerto Viejo on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica. This time I wasn’t traveling alone, though. Rodolfo (also known as Fofo), one of my oldest Tico friends from the time I was living here was accompanying me. It’s Easter weekend and because the Easter week (Semana Santa) is the most important celebration of the year in many Latin american countries exceptional circumstances apply.
On Easter Friday there was no public transportation at all and by law it’s forbidden to sell alcohol (thankfully, popular tourist spots consequently ignore that law). For Costa Rica Easter also means that everyone is heading for the beach, so it can be extremely difficult to find a place to sleep unless one books weeks in advance – which is so not my style. so we had quite a hard time finding any kind of accommodation. Even the tents and hammocks were booked out.
Eventually, Rodolfo got hold of a large hostel that isn’t listed on any of the hostel-booking websites and still had two dorm rooms available.
We left San José on the first bus at 6am in the morning and arrived in Puerto Viejo about 5 hours later. Most of the Caribbean region of Costa Rica is quite beautiful (so is its Panamanian counterpart Bocas del Toro just across the border) and there’s something for everyone. Puerto Viejo is more of a party town at the beach. A few kilometers down the coast is Punta Uva which is much quieter and even further South is the chill village Manzanillo, a vibrant outpost of Afro-Caribbean culture.
We stayed at Rocking J´s, a large and surprisingly well-organized hostel (for Costa Rican standards) about 10 min walk out of the city center and right at the beach. The hostel had a good and relaxed vibe and was mostly frequented by European backpackers. Next to our room was a bunch of Israeli surfer boys and we shared the room with two Dutch girls – and that baby cockroach that I found in my bed. Rest in peace little cockroach.
Those of you who know me a little better, are familiar with my special ability of getting myself in unnecessary trouble, so that life never gets too boring. A condition, my friend and travel psychologist Rolf V. diagnosed as sensation seeking. This story is a representative example.
One of the reasons I came back to Costa Rica was to meet up with old friends from the time I was living here. Unfortunately, many of my Tico friends here are even more spontaneous than me and it’s been near impossible to make any plans ahead of time of who to meet when and where. For that reason a trip to the cloud forests of Monteverde and another trip to a beach had been cancelled at short notice and I grew tired of being stuck in San Jose. So I decided to go to the beach of Manuel Antonio by myself. While I generally love travelling by myself, it can have some disadvantages at times. For example having no-one to watch your stuff at the beach while you go for a swim. But as the seasoned traveller that I am, I have a solution for such minor problems: I left my camera and all valuables at the hostel and only packed my Costa Rica phrasebook and two beers in my little man-purse, grabbed a towel and headed for the beach. The sunset was nice and my Spanish skills seemed to improve with every beer as I was studying useful sentences from the phrasebook. Well, until I remembered that I had hidden my other credit card, driving and diving license, vaccination pass and my bus ticket back to Panama in an inner pocket of my man-purse. Damn. So much for being well prepared. I had heard that theft is not uncommon at the beaches here, especially at dusk and well, I had two beers already and was all by myself. But hey, the water was just too tempting. So I went to swim. The waves were great fun and the water had perfect temperature. Luckily, nothing was stolen while I was in the water.
A seemingly obligatory part of backpacking in these parts of the world is that things don’t always work the way you expect. I may be a spoiled first-world kid but I do love my hot shower in the morning. In the three days I have been staying at the ‘Casa del Parque’ hostel in San Jose, the first day the thermoducha (electric shower) didn’t work and the next two days the power went off for hours (and therefore again no hot water and no WiFi either).
Thermoduchas have been fascinating me ever since I started traveling across Latin America. Basically, it’s two electric wires connected with the shower head to warm up the water as it flows through. Some people call it the suicide shower. One of my Tico friends got a shock once. But hey, I’m willing to accept some risk to get a hot shower.
Time to move on to Costa Rica. Flights from Panama weren’t within my budget, so I took the bus which can be fun but it’s also quite a long ride. If all goes as planned (when does that ever happen?) it’s a ~16h trip from Panama City to San José, Costa Rica. When I last took that bus about two years ago, I ended up getting stuck by a road block and had to spend the night in a Catholic convent in some village nearby.
All the tickets for the first class bus were gone, so I took the regular Ticabus which leaves Panama at midnight. Next to me sat a guy that reminded me of the main character in the movie Machete Kills. Those seven hours until we reached the border, I didn’t sleep very well. At he border all passengers have to line up their luggage in a room, so it can be inspected by the customs officers. First, all the names from the passenger’s list were read aloud. The guy had to repeat my name three times until I understood he meant me. His pronunciation of “Splettstößer” didn’t even come close! I don’t blame him but corrected him nevertheless so he’ll know for the next time I cross that border.
Next, the drug dog entered the room and ran along the line of suitcases, bags and backpacks. At my backpack he paused and and took an awful amount of time to sniff it. Was it my smelly socks? Or the two bottles of cheap red wine I ‘smuggled’ from Germany (Dornfelder)? I’ll never know. He moved on to the next suitcase without raising alarm. My seat neighbor Machete was called into another room for some questioning.
Getting the passport stamped was quick and without hassle. On the Panamanian side they took another photo of me before I left but no fingerprints this time. On the Costa Rican side the bags where checked again. This time without dog.
Three and a half years ago I bought an expensive Sony Vaio Z in order to be able to work throughout my original 2-year trip across North and Central America. That 13.3″ Vaio was pretty powerful and had a nice screen. But more often than not it gave a headache. The first time I had to sent it to repair was still in Germany just a month after I got it. The second time was during the trip in Boston, which took them forever to fix. Eventually, the screen showed some permanent damage in the form of vertical streaks of dead pixels that drove me insane. Anyway, I didn’t have the money to buy a new one, so I kept using it whenever I traveled.
The last few weeks before this trip to Panama and Costa Rica have been pretty intense. Plenty of work with tight deadlines. In general I think it’s not good to bring work to your vacation but I didn’t have much of a choice. The first few days in Panama I spent in a small beach hut with my Panamanian friend, a fridge full of beer and WiFi. Good conditions to get some of the urgent work done. Until… the power went off for hours. And when it came back on I realized it had killed the computer. Nooooooooo…. ! Whenever I tried to turn it on, it would power off after a few seconds. Stuck at the beach with a broken laptop and some tight deadlines sucks. I swore to myself never to buy a Sony laptop again…
The next morning my friend and I went back to Panama City. He found a small computer repair shop that would get the harddisk out of the laptop. Then we went to the Albrook mall, one of the large shopping malls here to buy a new one. Electronics are fairly cheap in Panama, cheaper than Germany or Costa Rica. But even though we went to several stores, the choices were very limited. I wanted a Lenovo since they have a reputation for good built quality but most laptops they had for sale were – you guessed it – Sony Vaios. Eventually, I decided for a cheap model for 450€ with 6GB or RAM and 1TB hard disk. It’s not as compact and fast as the old one and the screen isn’t that great either but for that price I don’t care as long as I have some computer to work with. Oh, and the keyboard and operating systems are all in Spanish, yeay. This should speed up my attempt to learn Spanish considerably, ha. I’d have to upgrade to Windows Pro for $140 to be able to change the language, so I’ll just leave it for now.
I must admit without a computer I felt a little amputated. It took me a day to copy all the files and install the most important programs (thanks to Adobe Creative Cloud and Ninite) and now that feeling has vanished.
The last few days have been crazily busy and stressful due to work and last minute preparations. I’m renting out my room for the month to some Estonian girl. Perhaps I should clean it before I leave?
But I didn’t want to do all the packing in the very last minute since I’m pathologically forgetful. So for the last few days, whenever I thought of something important that I definitely have to bring, I would just find it and throw it on the black carpet in my room. My diving license, that camera charger, the proof of my yellow fever vaccination, nose hair trimmer etc.
Slowly the carpet filled up but when I actually packed everything into my backpack and hand luggage an hour before I left, it really didn’t seem so much.
Here, have a look for yourself:
It’s 2014 and a year and a half have passed since I finished my great Pan-American journey, returned from my beloved Costa Rica and settled in Berlin. But like any good love story, this can’t just be over. It cries for a sequel.
Back in January, I was chatting with my friend D. from H. one night. He has mastered the art of finding the cheapest possible deal for… just about anything, really. I once witnessed him bringing a specific vacuum cleaner back from the US in his suitcase – just because that particular model was significantly more expensive in Germany. Anyway, that night D., knowing how much I love Latin America, pointed out some extremely cheap flights he found to various Central American countries. I’d never seen anything like it before. 277 Euros for a return flight from Frankfurt to Panama?
Only few seats left. A decision had to me made right away! Pro: I really want to go and I’ll never find a cheaper ticket. Con: I don’t really have the money anyway. So, the answer was clear: I’m going, of course. I decided to go for the entire month of April, which is the last month of the dry season, during which I want to visit Panama and Costa Rica. This is one of the moments where I love being a freelancer and not having to ask a boss for permission to go on vacation. Also, I took this trip as a motivation to work hard, and it seems it worked to some degree, although I didn’t manage to finish every project in time and left a few clients slightly unsatisfied.
I hope you are going to join me on this trip again as I plan to blog frequently throughout the month.
It’s been three and a half months since I got back to good old Germany. I do love Berlin. And I do hate the winter. All day gray sky, freezing cold and depressing. Berlin has a reputation for being one of the ‘in’ cities in Europe, so perhaps this sounds odd but truth is my life has been pretty uneventful ever since I moved here. Then again, what did I expect? Backpacking across Latin America for almost 2 years is hard to beat in terms of excitement. Which reminds me of all the stories I did not blog about. I hope I can fill some of the gaps in the future. So, don’t stop checking for new posts…