Nicaragua to Costa Rica to Panama to Ecuador
After a few uneventful days in Granada, and having finally got rid of Wrighty, the rest of us headed to Isla Ometepe. Ometepe is an island in the middle of Lago Nicaragua, formed of two volcanoes and not much else. Lava flows have created an isthmus between the volcanoes, and forming the island we see today. It took 4 uncomfortable hours across to Altagracia, although we were rewarded by a beautiful sunset over the lake. Following a cheap night in Altagracia we traveled along a very bumpy road to hacianda merida, a hostel on the lakes edge. Having secured a spot overlooking the lake and the setting sun, me and Sherwin set up shop, and relaxed in the hammocks reading most of the day. The next day Sherwin, Danny, and i (Rosie still out of action due to her fractured back and punctured lung) headed up Volcan Maderas, the smaller of the two volcanoes at around 1400 metres. It was a fun climb with fantastic views out over the cloud covered peak of Volcan Concepcion. Towards the top the clouds set in around us and turned the trail into an almost mythical scene. Tangling tree roots and overhanging trees crosses all over the path making the climb a lot more interesting. Having reached the summit, those misty clouds remained, covering any view there might have been. Although we were lucky enough to sneak a peak of the crater lake below, but only for a second as the clouds quickly re engulfed us.
That night i sat down to a well deserved buffet, (well deserved as the only food i had eaten the entire day was packets of oreos), enjoying pesto pasta, pork, cannelloni and many other dishes. Although Sherwin was fuming with jealousy at the site of all the food, i did make peace my sneaking him lots of free food.
The following morning we headed to the principal settlement of the island, Moyogalpa, where Danny and Rosie headed back to Granada. Meanwhile Sherwin and i booked into el indio viejo, a french run hostel which was a bargain at 2 and a half bucs, me in my tent and Sherwin in a hammock. The most unique trait of the hostel was a certain unwanted visitor in the garden. After having dosed off reading i awakened to see a deer eating into my packet of tortillas. Later, not satisfied by half my tortillas, it came gain and knocked off the table a mug of fanta, breaking it in the process. The old french lady, who was also the chef, seemed to keep the deer as a pet. That night we watched the sunset and a smokey eruption poor out of the nearby volcano Concepcion, in our own private rooftop bar. Then followed a whole day of doing nothing until it came to the night.While out eating we saw George, an English guy we had met before in Leon. We ended up playing drinking games with him, some German girls, and an American girl most of the night. The best part of the next day was when we planned to cook lunch in the hostel. Instead of letting us cook our meager past she took them off us and said she would cook it all. After around 20 minutes we were cooked a great big dish of pasta each with the chefs spare onions, pepper, beans and tomato sauce added in. To pay her back for her kindness, Sherwin and i chopped up vegetables for her to use in the meals at the restaurant later that evening. A good deal all round.
The next morning we made a break for Costa Rica. Due to it being Easter all the buses were booked so we started off by walking from Rivas towards the border. After around 30 minutes we hitched a pickup truck then as we hoped off it, fell onto a bus going straight to the border. After around an hour of controls we were on a chicken bus to San Jose, and i say chicken because there were literally 2 chickens on the seat behind us.
After the bad experience of JC and friends the last time we were in San Jose, we decided to head to tranquilo backpackers. This turned out to be a good move, as we had two relaxing days there before getting on a Tica bus with Rosie and Danny straight down to Panama City.
Following 1 night at lunas castle in Panama City, Rosie Danny and i headed up to Portobello, a small town on the Caribbean coast famous for its Spanish fort ruins. in the museum we found out that a third of the worlds gold at the time passed through the port and that it was later sacked by the welsh pirate Captain Henry Morgan. We finished the day watching the sun set over the Caribbean, from high up on an old fortress on the edge of town.
The following day i headed back to Panama City with Danny and booked in at lunas hostel again. That afternoon we headed out to Panama Viejo and saw the ruins of another old Spanish stronghold, again destroyed by Captain Morgan in the 18th century. That night after a few happy hour beers, me and Tim, an Aussie guy we had met, headed over to a table of girls and started talking. Long story short i very nearly missed my plane the next morning. After a lot of drinks at one of the girls houses, Tim and i stumbled into the door at some crazy hour in the morning. With little sleep i took the opportunity to get a few winks, but there was the problem, once they found me, Sherwin and Wrighty could not wake me up. Apparently they tried for about half an hour with the only success when Wrighty poured water over me, causing me to choke and therefore wake up. With little time left, and the bus well gone, we ended up taking a taxi. Although we did leave Panama City in style, with Sean Paul's, `te amare` blaring out the cars speakers as we rode into the airport.
At the time our plane approached i was a mix between tipsy and hungover, but apparently in a good mood to make a bet. This was that i would get 10 bucs if i went on to the plane wearing only board shorts, flip flops, and my snorkeling gear. I stupidly agreed to this and so went off down the walkway with my snorkel mask on. Unfortunately the stewards on the plane didn't find it quite as funny as us, as they made me put my t shirt back on. To make the entrance yet more ... different, Makano, the reggaeton artist, was on our plane along with a big entourage and the little girl singer. Of course i got many looks on that plane and of course i looked like and idiot and of course i didn't receive as much as a cent from Sherwin or Wrighty for my antics.
Arriving back in Quito we headed to the centro del mundo hostal in the middle of the mariscal. This turned out to be a very lively area, and so, after a few free rum and cokes, we headed out with some Belgian girls from the hostel. It was so lively out, so we ended up having a great night, being entertained by firstly the drunken Belgian girl pissing people off in clubs, then a stripper on the bar in tequila sunrise.
The next day we explored the old town of Quito. First climbing up the bell towers of the basilica to get some great views over the city. Then we wandered around some of the churches and plazas, being astounded by the quantity in gold in some of the churches. Unfortunately our meanderings were cut short by rain showers so we ended up staying in all night drinking, you guessed it, rum and coke, with some northern girls.
The following morning we headed up the teleferico with an English guy from our hostel. This cable car gave amazing views over the long and thin city and of the surrounding hills. However once we reached the top we were engulfed by clouds so could barely see anything. We walked up the flanks of Rua Pichincha a little but i wasn't feeling the 4000 metre altitude yet so i decided to try and run up the volcano. I got around 250 metres and as panting like a dog for the next 5 minutes, no exaggeration. At the bottom of the teleferico we went into the volcano theme park, all set to go on the roller-coaster, until it started chucking it down. We ended up just going on the bumper cars and failed at football free-kicks and basketball games whilst the downpour kept going.
On Monday we went up to the mitad del mundo, the point where the equator passes through Ecuador. The official complex was a let down but the nearby inti ñan museum was more interesting as they claimed to have the true equator and tried to prove it in a number of ways. This involved demonstrating gravity and forces (Sherwin and i proved them to be wrong) then by proving the Coriolis effect. Their emptying of a sink of water on either side of the equator was also figured out as the scam it was, when we suggested they pour the water in, in different ways; they admitted it...
Back in quito we had a quiet few dyas before Wrighty and i joined 2 frenchmen doing cotopaxi on a bike tour. After around 2 hours drive we got to the cotopaxi national park, home to the highest active volcano in the world, Volcan Cotopaxi. After driving to the car park at 4,400 metres we walked up the volcano to the climbers rufuge at 4,800 metres slowly but surely. While i arrived pretty tired and with a headache, the altitude didn't seem to bother Wrighty. After a short break we made it up to the start of the glacier topping the peak of the volcano at 5,000 metres. At just 5,900 metres the summit seemed so close but we knew in reality it was a tough 8 hour climb over the ice. After a good lunch we got back to the car park and prepped the bikes for the ride down. What followed was the easiest cycle ride of my life; 30 minutes with absolutely no pedaling. Although the dodgy brakes made the hairpin turns interesting, it was a fantastic ride with amazing views all the time. After cycling down to a lake we strapped the bikes back up and we heading back to Quito. What followed was my favorite type of meal, all you can eat. In total i polished off around seven plates including 2 steaks and a cut of gammon. For dessert? Around six balls of ice cream and jelly. All feeling very full we did nothing but play cards the rest of the night.
In one of our final days in Quito we visited the disappointing museo banco central, which only had 2 exhibitions open. After some good shwarmas and a pizza slice we were ready to leave for Baños. The bus journey passed reasonably quickly and we found ourselves with some nice fatty kebabs quickly after getting in. It wasn't until the next morning that we really noticed we were in a huge valley with very steep sides and a big waterfall. To better appreciate the views we headed out on biked along the road to Puyo. This mainly downhill stretch is littered with many waterfalls and stunning views as it winds rounds the hills. At our first stop we hopped onto an open cable car taking us over a waterfall. While these heights were viewed from the safety of a cabin, on our next few stops the views mere appreciated in a more first hand way. After getting strapped up with a harness we stood on a bridge ready for puenting. This is similar to bungee although instead of bouncing straight back up you swing under the bridge. Sherwin was first to go, followed my me, then Wrighty. All i remember was the adrenalin rush and fear while falling then the pain as my crotch was compressed on every swing by the harness. After a shaky couple of steps on land it was back on the bikes as we cycled down to cascadas pablos del diablo. Having walked down to the falls we got a good view from a bridge over the river. But then we headed further towards the falls to a platform right above the pool of water. The power of water falling was an unbelievable side, but one we would get still closer to. Seeing a small path we headed further up towards the falls through a small space between the rocks, eventually getting right behind the falls. After getting sufficiently soaked we continued on the bikes down some serious downhill. At one point i even got enough speed up to go into the wrong lane while i overtook a truck. A good cheap lunch was enjoyed by all before we caught a bus back into town.
The next morning we checked out one of the local hot baths although the piss coloured water didn't look as good as it sounded. We ended up spending most of our time racing down the slides into a pool there. However the best discovery of the day was Sherwin finding a pizza place with good size pizzas for only 3 bucs. Having eaten Sherwin headed off to catch his bus, but on the way we ran into Parmalat, a volunteer from Puerto Lopez. It turns out he is engaged to Samantha, who we had teased all along about her marrying her then boyfriend Parmalat. After Sherwin left, Wrighty had just enough time to watch die hard, before he too headed off. With Sherwin off to Cuenca and Wrighty to Montanita, i headed to the bar where Parmalat worked. It turned out to be a lot of fun as i met some American girls, an Aussie dude, and a bunch of English girls on their gap yah. The next day i went off back to the centro del mundo hostal in Quito.
After a few days of doing very little i headed for the little town of La Esperanza, in order to climb Volcan Imbabura. With my guide, Jose Louis, i set off up the volcano, starting around 7 and reaching the summit around 12. It was very tiring at the altitude (4,607 metres) and the later part turned into rock climbing. Jose Louis would go ahead then i would be there looking for routes up the rock face, with steep drops on either side i went wrong. I did have some help in the shape of two dogs who followed us all the way from the town to the summit. Sometimes while searching for the route they would come and run up the rocks reveling the easiest path. The dogs enjoyed their nap at the top just as we did, although it was a tad chilly. On the way down the clouds completely cleared showing the jagged rock faces we had just climbed. To the south i could see Volcan Cayambes glacier rising to around 6,000 metres. Stopping for sardine, tuna and chip sandwiches i admired the great vista out over Ibarrra, the red lake, distant peeks and the small village of La Esperanza.
The next morning with my legs aching i stumbled down the hill into Ibarra then on to Cotocatchi and Laguna Cuiochoca. The lake is famous for its volcanic cones rising from the deep blue lake. I managed to hitch a ride round some of the path to get a better view out over the hills and down to the lake. Back out of the park a long walk back to the town of Quigora awaited, however after 30 minutes of walking i got a lift. Surprisingly it wasn't a car, and i didn't even have my thumb out at the time. The ride into town came from two Ecuadorian guys on a big motorbike. I don't know how but we managed to get me and my big bag on the back of the thing as well as the two Ecuadorians. Once back in the village it was an easy journey back to Quito, via Otavalo.
That is as much as happened to this point. i am now back in Quito and heading out on the Quilotoa loop next week. So stay posted for the next blog!