A Travellerspoint blog

January 2012

Backpacking La Fortuna and Volcano Arenal

Not as easy as it could be


View World Trip 2012 - Actual on dariusz's travel map.

I am sure La Fortuna near Arenal was once an amazing backpacker destination. It has all the right things going for it being a tiny town near a natural wonder with decent roads and a large number of things to do and places to see. It’s only when you attempt to explore the area independently that you realize the days of La Fortuna as a backpacker destination are numbered.

We got off our bus, paid $2 for a taxi to our cabin, checked in and headed into town to grab some food. The street we were on was lined with hotels, cabins, and all kinds of other accommodations, however there did not appear to be any restaurants. It was a good 20 minute walk to town but we luckily happened upon a Pupuseria about 15 minutes in on our way so we ate there and ran into some Montrealers. They had visited the Waterfall not too far from our cabins and told us it costs $10 per person just to go in and see it. There goes our plan of spending the day somewhere else and just going in for quick afternoon swim.

The next morning we asked our host what we could do in the area. He immediately started showing us all types of tours we could book. When we informed him we wanted to see something on our own he looked very confused. I don’t think he was faking, our hosts were wonderful in every way and just really awesome people, so I think he really had no idea how to handle such a request. There were no maps of the area, no public bus schedules, not even a list of attractions. There was a LONG list of very expensive pre-packaged tours though (for example $60 per person for entrance to hot springs and lunch).

We decided to go into town and hope to get a bit more information there. Luckily I had read a bit on the internet about the area and found a recommendation for “Gringo Pete’s” a hostel which supposedly offered good information for backpackers. We ran into “Gringo Pete’s” almost immediately when we got into town and the guy manning the place (not sure if that was Pete or not) was our saviour. He explained to us that the $60 hot spring resort lies near a river from which it diverts its hot spring water, but there is no entrance fee to actually go to the river. This is of course where the locals go since they clearly can’t afford to pay $60 every time they want to go in for a dip. Unfortunately only one single public bus a day goes to this area so we had to splurge on a taxi, but the $15 was way better than paying $120.

The Rio Tabacon was AMAZING! It was way better than the overpriced resort right next door. Sure you had a beautiful buffet, pools, and a crap load of staff at the resort, but the natural jungle setting of the river eclipsed all of that. Just take a look at the pictures!

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We spent a good 3 hours exploring the river, moving up and down it to experience different water temperatures and different “jet” intensities. The river flow across the rocks created a natural massaging “jet” varying in intensity depending on the location. We caught the one daily returning public bus back to town. Total cost of excursion for BOTH of us was approx. $20.

The next day we wanted to see the national park offering hiking trails near the volcano and some amazing photo opportunities. We were of course already offered $50 per person lunch-included options by the various “tourist information” centers but we asked Gringo Pete the day before and knew there was an 8:30am public bus ($3 per person) that went to a spot that was only a 20 minute hike away. We packed our lunch and headed to the bus station. As it turned out we ran into a German couple there and ended up splitting a $20 cab ride directly to the park but the public bus was a decent option.

It turned out that the national park offers only two very easy and short trails with sparse wildlife and a single but very impressive Ceiba tree. The real reason to come here however is the amazing views of Volcano Arenal. It is truly an impressive natural wonder towering in a perfect cone over the volcanic soil and rocks it spewed only 40 years ago. The picture opportunities alone are well worth the $10 per person entrance fee.

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We had walked all the trails and were done taking pictures by 11:30 but the public bus was not coming to take us back until 2:30pm. There were of course no other options for getting into town since everyone else in the park either took a tour or had their own car. There is a gorgeous lake nearby as well but unfortunately we had no way to get there other than walking.

Since we had a ton of time to kill we thought we’d try to find a way to get to the lake. It became very clear quickly that this was a pointless attempt. The road was dusty, straight as an arrow, and had signs saying “8km to Lake Arenal Lodge” which I suppose should have been our first hint. We were lucky that a shuttle driver driving some tourists back from a ziplining tour was nice enough to stop and give us a lift to La Fortuna.

All in all we had a great time in La Fortuna and both the Volcano and the Hot Springs in the area are awesome attractions. This is not a backpacker kind of place though. It is a high-end tourist, pre-packaged tour, “here for a week” kind of place. While it’s still possible to see the area independently it can be difficult and frustrating. Therefore, if you want to backpack Arenal/La Fortuna, hurry up while it’s still somewhat possible!

Click here to see more pictures!!

Posted by dariusz 06:08 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (0)

Taking a Vacation from your Trip

How to avoid travelers exhaustion


View World Trip 2012 - Actual on dariusz's travel map.

You might think that travelling for 8 months would be similar to taking 10-12 3 week vacations all in a row. However, you would either exhaust yourself to death and/or bore yourself out of your head if you tried to do it that way. In many ways travelling for an extended period of time is very different from a vacation. You are not just trying to escape the stresses of work and the cold weather for a little bit. There are different but still plenty of stresses involved with taking a longer trip. You are also not trying to maximize your time with excursions, sights and experiences. I mean, of course you want to see as much as you can while you travel, but to keep the pace of a 3 week vacation up for 8 months is impossible. You will get exhausted and overwhelmed. The experiences will all start blending together and becoming more of a chore than an enjoyment. The whole point of taking the trip in the first place, the wonder and amazement one feels when discovering a new wonderful place, will be lost.

The key to preventing this traveller exhaustion lies with taking vacations from your trip. These are times when you decide to just stay in one place for anywhere between just a few days to a couple of weeks. It’s best to choose a larger city or at least a place with plentiful and easily accessible first world services and shops to avoid boredom. The idea is not go on a spree to see every church, building, museum or park, but rather to AVOID sightseeing and do as little touristy things as possible.

Today we had one of those “vacation from travelling” days. We went to a mall in San Jose Costa Rica and spent the afternoon looking around for a few things we have been missing all along. We then ate lunch at the mall food court and decided to catch a movie at the malls cinema. It was the new Sherlock Holmes movie and it was actually a lot of fun. The movie tickets, drinks and popcorn all together came out to be $10, which incidentally made us realize how badly we get ripped off back at home. We then grabbed a pizza and a couple of Canada Dry’s for dinner. It was wonderful to spend a day doing things we could as well be doing back home on a weekend.

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Posted by dariusz 15:18 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (1)

Making it easier to follow our route

Small changes to the blog map on the top of the blog

I just made a small change to the map on top of the blog. It should now show our actual route in BLUE and it will let you guys know where we currently are since its the last spot on the blue line. The GREEN line on the other hand shows where we are planning to go, more or less of course, as it is likely to change significantly. Hope this makes it easier to follow our travels!

Posted by dariusz 13:00 Comments (0)

Hiking to the Montezuma Waterfalls

It appears water makes rocks slippery... who knew

Today we decided to check out the Montezuma waterfalls where we heard you can jump into the pools created by the waterfalls and go swimming. We also heard that the way there was a bit difficult, but we figured after our Maderas experience, really how hard could it be?

It turns out we were both right and wrong. The hike is nowhere near as hard as Maderas, but in places it get's quite harrowing, as you hop, skip and jump from slippery stone to slippery stone across a rushing river. It also turns out there is a second set of waterfalls, located above the first set, with a short but very steep hike leading up to them. It's well worth the heart stopping, jungle vine swinging trek to get there, and there are two more wonderful swimming pools once you get there.

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Here is a video from our trek:

Sometimes when I'm doing "riskier" activities such as, oh, hanging onto the side of a cliff for dear life, I can literally hear the biological clock ticking harder. In that video, as I attempt to climb along the side of that cliff like Spiderman's uncoordinated sibling, that clock was ticking LOUDLY!

Posted by krisses 13:35 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (0)

Isla Tortuga: A Self-Guided Adventure

Isla Tortuga is a gorgeous island on the Pacific Coast of the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica. It's known for its white beaches and snorkeling. It was a "must-do" while visiting the beautiful town of Montezuma.

We went with "Cocozuma Traveller" tour company. Our hostel booked it for us. Cocozuma Traveller charges $50 for snorkeling equipment, drinks, and lunch. We were also told that there would be a bilingual guide. This is actually on signs around the tourist office -- a guide is to be included. This is important to know.

Our boat had 10 passengers. One guy was actually from Oakville, my home town! No... we did not know any of the same people since I am eons older than him. The tour operator told us that our guide would meet us at the beach. We climbed aboard the boat with our captain, who equipped us with life vests, and we were on our way!

The views were beautiful, the ocean was clear, and one passenger SWEARS she saw a dolphin. (On every snorkeling trip there is ALWAYS one person that swears they saw a dolphin!) We approached a gorgeous white sand beach where our captain loaded the boat with snorkeling equipment, but still no guide. One of the passengers spoke fluent Spanish but still had trouble understanding what the captain was trying to say. After the captain's feeble attempt of communication, he handed us our equipment and pointed to the water. We assumed that's where we were supposed to snorkel. Since there were other boats, EQUIPPED WITH GUIDES and snorkelers in the area, we joined in.

The visibility wasn't too bad in the water. I didn't see any live coral but there quite a few small but colorful fish swimming about. When all of us rejoined in the boat, our captain asked tour guides from OTHER boats to provide us with an explanation as to what was going on. The tour guides from the other boats asked us if we wanted to have lunch and snorkel in the afternoon or to snorkel now and have lunch later. Unanimously, we voted to snorkel later. Then the guides said that the snorkeling is much better now and not later. Since it seemed that we didn't have a choice, the captain literally drove us around the other side of a rock and pointed to where we were to snorkel. This venture took about 2.5 minutes. We all started laughing since we could have easily snorkeled our way over! Unfortunately there wasn't much to the snorkeling so everyone gathered on the boat and we were off to lunch. Maybe our guide was hiding on the island?

Of course not! We arrived on Isla Tortuga and were greeted by a guy that was to show us where we were having lunch. He confirmed that he was NOT our guide and proceeded to take our orders -- chicken or fish. No one offered us any drinks, but we were offered dessert which was fruit surrounded by a swarm of flies. Ew. We all ate our lunch WITHOUT refreshments and were told by someone (not our guide) that we were to go back to our boat by 3pm. It was 12pm and the island itself takes 5-10minutes to cross from end to end. We also enjoyed the island's domesticated pet:

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Fortunately, Isla Tortuga is a gorgeous island to relax on. The sand is white, the water is pretty clear, and the water was warm and not too deep close to shore:

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At one point while Derek was swimming, a guy approached me and wanted to talk. He had an accent like Ali G -- seriously. He claimed that he had met "the president of Central America" and Hugo Chavez while vacationing in Nicaragua. I asked him what Chavez was like and he replied ,"He's a super cool, chill guy! He talked to me and everything!" I disagreed with him and told him that Chavez is not very good to his people. The Ali G wanna-be responded with ,"Oh yeah! He's not nice! I told him to *&$% off and stuff!" I don't know why I attract these weirdos. Derek did not come to my rescue until much later -- he was enjoying my obvious discomfort. In that time I learned that this guy had "paid off a guard to attend a Central American President conference, that he's traveled all over the world and stays at all of the lavish hotels in rooms next to famous people, and that he loves drugs." Yay me, and Derek, you suck.

At 3pm our group rejoined at the boat. Unfortunately one of the passengers cut her foot pretty badly on sharp part of the boat. Luckily, there were 2 registered nurses who tended to her (yes one was me!) There wasn't a first aid kit on the boat and one had to be brought from another boat. Of course, we all were not surprised. With only half a bottle of rubbing alcohol, a piece of gauze, 12 inches of gauze/wrap, tape, and a zip lock bag, I managed to cleanse, bandage, and create a waterproof case. Here's the result:

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The captain did not give us life vests on the way back and we joked about how suddenly it didn't seem to matter on the way back but on the way there it did!

When we returned to land, all 10 of us marched to the Cocozuma Traveller office in Montezuma. The guy at the office literally sneered at us as we demanded some money back for not being provided with a guide. After no apologies, a few heated discussions and 3 phone calls to "the boss", $10 was returned to each of us.

Overall we had a good time and we now have a story to tell! We also learned we can do just fine without guides, so maybe next time we'll just hire a boat for a fraction of the price :)

Here is a video from our trip:

Posted by krisses 10:02 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (0)

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