Monday, November 30, 2009

Last Post

We just have one day left in San Jose and then we will fly home again. This will be the last post of the trip.

Yesterday I took the Combo Tour. We started out having breakfast at a coffee plantation and getting a coffee tour after. I now know how to grow coffee, knowledge I will never have a use for. One thing was interesting (to me at least). The coffee processing plant was over a hundred years old and some of the equipment dated back that far. The plant had a belt and pulley system very much like the woolen mill at Upper Canada Village. It is now powered by a generator but apparently they used to divert a nearby river to power the mill.

We went from there to Volcan Poas, a volcano with two crater lakes. Apparently the last time the mountain really blew was 7,000 years ago but a few years ago they had some spewing. The volcano is on a mountain that is in a cloud forest. We got there and saw the crater moments before the clouds rolled in for the day. I knew from the book that this happened and had picked yesterday because the weather forcast was for clearer skies than either of my other two optional days. It was not a really clear view because the mists were already upon us but at least I can say I saw one (sort of). There is a secondary crater a kilometer up the mountain from the first one. By the time I got there, the clouds were in full force. I did get a picture of the sign that showed what you would see if there weren't any clouds. I had noticed at the entrance to the park a sign which said "by the way, the entrance fee is non refundable" and in Spanish it said that inclement weather was no reason to ask for your money back. Two young newlyweds said that they knew people that lived in San Jose that had been 6 times and seen the crater 1 1/2 times. I think we can count our view as 1/2 so we beat the odds. Nonetheless, it was a lovely walk through a cloud forest (with clouds) for an hour so I can't say that is a bad thing at all.

We then went to the obligatory souvenir shop where the driver and guide get their kickback on the way to lunch and a waterfall park. The guide was big on maintaining group integrity which was sort of a pain because we had to go through a zoo and most of you know my opinion of zoos. I would have liked to have been told right off the bat how long we had at the park and taken my time walking down to the waterfalls. Apparently the area had a 7.5 Richter scale eathquake in January and a lot of the roads and trails in the area were out. They used to let you off at the top of the park and you walked down to the waterfalls, then they picked you up at the bottom. Now you have to climb back UP the mountain too. You can only see two of the five waterfalls that run down the mountain because the of the trails being out, but they are impressive. Unfortunately they gave us just enough time to get down, snap a picture and climb back up. No time to commune with the falls or anything. I definitely got my workout for the day, not that it helped me sleep...I am typing this at 3 in the morning. I had been sleeping really well on the trip but it looks like that is over with now.

Tomorrow I am going to the gold museum, cathedral, etc. and that will be it for the trip. Home again, home again lickety split.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

What the Sam Hill was I thinking?

Zip lining through the canopy is definitely not for fat fifty-somethings. I had already decided that maybe it was not such a good idea before I got there. I had been expecting that the tour would have some Aussies or something on it but it turned out that not another soul spoke a word of English. They strap you in a repelling harness and attach you to a steel cable with a little hand pulley. You are supposed to relax (ha ha) and zip down the line and land on the next platform. I was told the sign for brake and I broke too hard so I stopped before the platform. Then the guy said let go (30 or 40 feet off the ground) and turn around and pull yourself hand over hand to the platform. I did manage it but I was completely freaked out. On the second line I did not brake but still did not make it to the platform. This time I froze and had to be helped to the platform. Things were decidedly NOT GOING WELL at this point for me. The third line was fine because it ended on terra firma. Unfortunately we had to walk immediately to another platform. I had completely lost any nerve I had started with at this point and the guide had to slide in tandem with me on this and the next line. At this point they radioed basecamp and got someone to come and walk me out of the forest. Oh, well.

I think that if I had not been completely alone in the adventure, things may have been different. Not that I feel I need any excuse not to be completely comfortable suspending myself way too high above the forest floor and zipping down a cable. There were three other sets of people in the group. A young couple, a group of three buddies and a (I am guessing divorced) father and his twelve year old daughter. The father was obviously not comfortable at first but he had to step up in front of the girl so he ended up getting into it. Similarly the guy from the couple and one of the three buddies. All three of them I think were helped by being with someone else who was doing it and having to save face. It was obvious that another one of the three was a real daredevil because he was in like a dirty shirt from the beginning.

Anyway...I am not sorry I tried but I am equally not sorry I bailed. I know what ziplining is now and I don't think it is for me. Add it to the bungee jumping column (not that I have ever tried that) and give it a miss from now on.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Red Tape Behind Us, Big Adventure looms....

Well, I was torn between calling the whole thing quits and lying around for the weekend watching tennis or actually doing something. Doing something has won. I have signed up for two trips at this url: I am going on the San Lorenzo Canopy tour tomorrow. The lady assures me that I am not actually too fat and will not fall out of the trees. We will see...

On Sunday I have opted for the Combo Tour with a visit to a coffee plantation for breakfast followed by a volcano and a big waterfall. Will let you all know how they turn out.

Nothing else much to report. The bus trip back to San Jose was the "executive" class of the same company we took to Panama City. This time for $35.10 you got the aircon bus with toilet AND two meals. There was also a steward serving drinks the whole time. It was very much like a long haul flight without the nice hot towels.

There was a bit of human drama on the bus. We got stopped again for the same two passport checks in Panama. There was a woman who had two kids that got hauled in at one stop. She apparently didn't have the stamps she needed or something and the driver ended up taking up a collection to bribe someone or help her pay a fine, I am not sure which. ANYWAY, it took about an hour to sort everything out and get back on the road again. When we got to the border they made us all go into a room and line our bags up, they then used a sniffer dog (cute little cocker spaniel) before they made us pick up our bags and put them on tables for inspection. They checked them all over, many quite thoroughly. Then we had to line up about 45 minutes again while the woman and kids were inside before they finally gave us our exit stamps. Really, isn't it the problem of the country you are going to not the one you are leaving to bring on the sniffer dogs?

As Charles said, turnabout is fair play so when we got to the Costa Rican side of the border, we had to line our bags up again....they mustn't have had any sniffer dogs on standby because we had to wait for about 20 minutes before they came to inspect the bags by hand again. All tolled it took 2 hours to cross the border and another hour before we even got there. What a bunch of malarky. As I have mentioned ad nauseum I HATE BORDERS. Only the good old USA to come before we cross home into Canada.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Last bus ride ahead...

We are off back to San Jose, Costa Rica for the weekend and will be returning to Canada on Tuesday. Today will be our last big bus trip and our last Central American border crossing -- yeah on both counts.

Yesterday we got up early and caught the tourist train that follows the Panama Canal from Panama City to Colon. It takes about an hour. It was nice but you don´t see a lot of details of the locks as you pass by. Most of the canal is actually a man made lake in between the two lock systems. There are three sets of locks, two which step up from the Pacific and one which steps up from the Atlantic in three stages. The rest is the big lake in the middle. The canal can handle the same size ships as our seaway right now but they are digging out a new set of locks at a cost of billions so they can handle the super tankers soon. Given the state of world shipping right now, I wish them luck. I hope they realize something in return for the investment.

I am not sure yet what I will be up to in San Jose...I still have some museums and I am going to see if I am too heavy for the zipline canopy tours...don´t want to come crashing out of any trees.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Things I have learned (or remembered again)

-Alt-64 is the ascii code for the @ symbol when you are faced with a foreign keyboard
-Sidewalks sometimes have gaping holes where grates should be in poor neighbourhoods
-In Central America, the basket beside the toilet is for used toilet paper---same as in China
-Toilet seats are apparently a frill
-There are not nearly as many mosquitoes in Central America as you might expect
-If you need bug screens and/or air conditioning, they are probably available even in budget accomodations
-Rice and beans are apparently the perfect compliment to any meal in the day
-Words are often superfluous for communication -- use lots of hand gestures
-Big hotels have nice air conditioned lobbies with cushy seating -- it may be the only upholstery you see for days and no one every seems to question your right to be there if you are over 50
-I like travelling on buses way more than I long as they are old school buses in interesting countries
-The internet is everywhere and in poor countries you can get access really easily because not many people have their own PC´s at home
-The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy was bang on when it comes to towels
-You really ought to have a compass when you are trying to follow a map in foriegn cities
-You can´t bring too many changes of underwear
-Hot water for your shower is apparently a frill
-You can only feel truly comfortable when you know where your next bathroom is
-It is easily possible to brush your teeth with one mouthful of bottled water
-Coins are heavy...collect the smallest bill from each country
-Always carry your own supply of toilet paper and hand soap (and sanitizer)
-Central American bus conductors seldom try to rip of tourists (unlike Asia where you are on your own)
-Borders are a pain in the ass
-Earphones take the edge off really bad really loud PA systems on buses (as well as the occasional itenerant preacher)
-I have an almost phobic aversion to taxi drivers all over the world

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

It`s not that gruelling, really

I have been getting emails from various people who seem to think the trip has been gruelling. I think I may have overstated the case in my previous postings. There was a time (around Belize/Honduras) that we may have travelled a tad far a tad fast...but for the most part I would have to say it has been thoroughly (sp?) enjoyable and interesting.

We have been exploring Panama City for the past couple of days. We have been for a longish walk each day (about 3-4 hours each). The first day we walked down to the Pacific Ocean and then into the newish part of the city where the highrises are, today we walked the other way into the old part. There is a LOT of construction going on in the new part of the city. The skyline looks like Shanghai did when we were there three years ago-- at least 10 new highrises going up on the horizon (a conservative estimate). You can tell that if you took a new picture of that part of the city once a year, the pictures would show a vastly different skyline each time. It is a similar story in a different way in the old part of the city. The section called San Filipe was apparently declared a world heritage site in 1997. There are a lot of buildings being converted back to their former glory as you walk around. There are also a lot of skeletons of old buildings too. All in all I would say a LOT of money is being spent on new and old construction all over the place here. I hope the general population ends up benefitting somehow.

We still haven`t seen the canal during the day -- I think that is on the agenda for tomorrow

Monday, November 23, 2009

Hats off to Panama

Well, that trip was surprisingly fine. We left at noon and passed some of the most impressive scenery so far in eastern Costa Rica. It went dark before we hit the border. They have some pretty stupid quirks at that border. As Charles says there are no signs anywhere telling you where you are suposed to go. Not even in Spanish, which we could figure out if they existed. You just exit one country and walk through no mans land asking people where you are supposed to go and eventually (hopefully) you will end up where you should be. I ended up at the window only to be given a stamped card and told to go back to a (previously unnoticed) window to pay my $5 tourist fee. Charles was tickled that he only had to pay $1 because he is on his UK passport. Then return to the first window to get the stamp. Then go back on the bus to get our bags off so we could stand in a room with them and fill out a form before being told to go back to our bus. All the while there was a man from the bus yelling at us to hurry up ... as if it was in our control...

...Then the bus got stopped twice in the next hour for passport inspections... what's that about? In Costa Rica a few days ago we were stopped 3 times in a row on the same bus by police inspecting ID.

I actually managed to get a few hours of sleep on the bus. It was very much like one from had movies (unfortunately dubbed in spanish), aggressive air conditioning (the first time I have used my hoodie since Syracuse and I put my towel over me like a blanket too), cushy seats and a bathroom (I would never use it, but it is nice to know it exists for insurance purposes). We arrived 2am Costa Rica time which was 3 am here. There were a fleet of taxis to meet the bus and they all brought us to the same hotel. It was sort of funny to see the bus disperse at the shopping mall outside town and reconvene 15 minutes later in the hotel lobby. Charles and I slept top to tail in a double bed which wasn´t bad at all really. I got up 9.30 this morning and found a new hotel next door with two beds for $15 less than this one. I don´t even feel like I am down on sleep.

Off to see the engineering marvel