The next new day I go in search of Emerald jewellery for the females in my family. Doesn’t take long to find these shops as they are everywhere. Most of the shops actually have a factory out the back and if you are lucky enough they will let you out the back to watch them working. Wow there are just emeralds everywhere. I spent a small fortune but found I just couldn’t resist. My favourite purchase was a rare Tourmaline with a matching bracelet. I was also given all the certificates for the rings I brought. Apart from being for insurance purposes it tells you from what mine the stone came from and what day they where mined. It is so fascinating to me that they even take the time to do this. The following year when in Bogota I went to the emerald trade centre and the mass amount of emeralds there is mind boggling so tracing the mine they came from has got to be a nightmare and I am left wondering whether they really are telling the truth.
By this time also I have found the closest Juan Valdez coffee cafe. I ended up going here every morning and every afternoon. The guy in there would see me walk in the door and just make up a coffee for me. Now I don’t know what he was putting in it but man it was nice. I have decided Colombian coffee is the best in the world. At my hotel the Colombian people that are there on holiday are giving me smiles by this time. They are getting used to seeing me and since I am the only foreigner I am quite the novelty – not that I give a damn in the world. One lunch time Juan came and sat with me while I had lunch out on the terrace. Another Colombian guy turns up – he’s staying at the hotel- and starts talking with him. He then turns to me and speaks perfect English with an American accent. Turns out that Eric is Colombian and had married an American, moved there and lived in the US for 12 years before it fell apart, he divorced and moved back to Colombia. He meets his ex-wife and daughter in Cartagena every year to spend time with his daughter. Poor guy ended up several nights being an interpreter for us.
And the same day that Eric and I start talking to each other this young Colombian couple introduce themselves to me. Manuel speaks English but his girlfriend Fabiola doesn’t. They are in their late 20s and such fun. Things are going great and now I have some friends here I am thinking maybe I will stay longer than I first intended to. Juan’s sister, Zylekia, is by this time, spending every afternoon with me on the beach trying to drum Spanish into me. That girl had the patience of a saint. There is also Christian who sort of works in the bar that’s two steps out the door. He is in his 20s and speaks English to and he has taken a shine to me. Whenever I step out the hotel door he seems to magically appear and starts walking down the street with me. One night Fabi, Manu, Christian and I go to the movies. Its only 2 minutes walk. The movie ‘Perro Come Perro’ (Dog eat Dog) is in Spanish of course, but I can tell you that didn’t matter. It was hilarious. Fabiola, Manuel and I were to hang out most nights.
Another night was spent in the old city just strolling around and looking at the homes. Many have been brought by Americans who are doing them up. They look great. There is just as much entertainment going on in the evenings as there is during the day. All the restaurants and bars have their seating outside and as it is so hot you sit outside under a tree and listen to music and drink. Damn nice way to spend the evening. On yet another night we went to a nightclub that was right in one of the corners of the old city wall. You could look out from the top and over the water to Bocagrande where we were staying. This certain night we stayed out until 2pm. Because of the heat in Cartagena I have to buy some new clothing. Down to the shops I go and into this really nice store which has great fashion clothing. Yet another hilarious hour trying to communicate with the store girl. I am, by now, throwing in a lot of Spanish words but god I must sound totally confused as it aint hard to get them to burst out laughing so I figure that I am really not saying what I think I am. I brought some beaut clothes and man it is so cheap.
One night I went walking by myself. I feel totally safe in Cartagena. No one at all has given me any trouble and the taxi drivers have not tried to rip me off at any time. I usually ask the locals what I can expect to pay when going from A-B and the have found this is a brilliant way to get the upper hand on taxi drivers if they are trying to rip you off. If you have had this, ‘should I go to Colombia of not’, well I can tell you GO. It is just as safe as anywhere else in the world.
Over the next few days Christian and Zylekia spend all their time drumming more Spanish into me. Must admit that I found it an enjoyable way to learn more Spanish. One night in the bar I get approached by Angel (bar owner) and asked if I would like to invest money in a holiday home in Cartagena. This makes my ears prick up and next thing I’m in a conversation with 2 American guys about going in with them on a property in Cartagena not too far from where we are. Really nice they where and I still send emails to one of them though I decided to not take up the offer.
Genny came to the bar one last time to say goodbye as she was returning to Bogota, Juan had disappeared to heavens knows where so Eric and I spend an evening talking. I get the low down on his life in the USA and how it is for him now back in Colombia. I spent the next day getting orders from people wanting the Lonely Planet Spanish to English phrase book as they couldn’t find any in Cartagena. It seems that every man and his dog wants one and especially when I say there is a website called Amazon that you can order them from. Now in between all of this I am walking about 5kms everyday right down and around Bocagrande. I have found the best place to swim if I am not swimming at the hotel and I have meet friends of Juan and Zylekia. I have also found out that Angel is married and his wife is running their hostel up the coast. They don’t get to see each other very much and he has a young child. He’s a bit of a wheeler dealer because the bar doesn’t make much money for him.
Another trip into Al Centro (old City) saw me buying more emerald jewellery and then the lady that served me, a friend of Juan’s, gave me an uncut emerald. I instantly decided that I would leave it as is and have it as a necklace . One night I’m sitting on the terrace having my dinner and a fire breaks out in the dining room. They have small gas burners under the big stainless steel bowls and plates that keep the food warm, but the thing is that they cover them with small table cloth sheets so you can’t see the burners. One of the waiters decided to pull the burner out from the one that had caught on fire and next thing there is a line of fire where the gas had spilt on the floor as he had dropped it. The huge table cloth that was over the table itself had caught on fire by now and people didn’t quite know what to do. I calmly got up and went in, got the lids off several of the food trays and dropped them on top of the fire on the floor. The waiters seeing what I was doing then started doing it on the table to put the other flames out. They all had these panicked looks on their faces and couldn’t quite get how calm I was. Well the last job I had done in NZ was security for the Army through a private company and to get my security certificate part of my training was to handle small fires along with a load of other stuff so it came in handy. The waiter had burnt himself on the hand so I promptly made him hold it under cold water. At first he thought I was crazy but decided I knew what I was doing and understood my insistence that he had to do it for 10 minutes. About 2hrs later the kitchen and dining staff come out with someone else I hadn’t seen before and he thank me on behalf of all the staff as he spoke a little English. We then sat for awhile and I went over what they should do if they have a small fire. All this time I’m thinking here is a job opportunity if I was to ever live in Colombia – basic fire training for establishments such as restaurants and hotels. Things are getting more interesting by the day.
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Well there seems to be something to surprise me all the time and the next thing was when I went to a local internet cafe. I’m sitting there checking my email and this young Colombian guy hands me a note. On it says; I know you can speak and read English and I have to do this quiz in 5 minutes in English. Can you help me, it’s to get into the Navy. I looked at him and just smiled at the same time I’m thinking you can write English but can’t speak it as I had said ‘you want me to help you’ which I just got a blank look. Anyway I helped him and hoped the hell he didn’t have to prove he could speak English if he had to do an interview as they then would be wondering how he got all the questions right. While I was there I booked a flight on to my next destination and my hostel.
This day it also rained. My first bit of rain since leaving NZ. Quite refreshing but the heat didn’t let up, not that I minded. I had written out a heap of postcards so went on a hunt for a post office. Never found one but I was getting used to that after the rest of South America. Oh to be back in NZ where there is one of every corner – or so it seems! I then spent the rest of the day walking and in the sun and with a little Spanish thrown in by Christian. I must say I am super proud of myself now as I’m getting pretty good. Colombian Spanish is different in pronunciation to from all the other South American countries. It changes from country to country and makes it hard when you are just learning but I found the Colombian Spanish the easiest or maybe it was because I was getting thumped with it every day.
Fabi, Manu and I went somewhere nearly every night and this night it was to the local ‘Crepes and Waffles’ restaurant. Oh my god – heaven. Ate too much of course but oh it was so damned good. The one thing we didn’t end up doing was going on one of the chivas. Chivas are a like a truck come bus that is open and they pick you up and take you around to clubs while you get drunk and have this Caribbean drums come music in your ear all night. The music and beat is good though. You can hear them coming from a mile away.
My last night in Cartagena we all went into Al Centro again. I love going here and this night we walked the wall, had dinner, drank and talked. A spent about an hour walking down the beach afterwards. It’s all lit up and safe. There are tractors with miniature hay baler like machines which go down the beach every night just on dark and scoops up all the rubbish and then brush it all flat and smooth. The guy who does this has quite a few kilometres of beach to do every night. My day of moving on arrives and I pack and get ready to leave. Had to buy a new bag as the strap on my smaller one broke. I am not leaving until the afternoon so I have the morning to say goodbye to everyone and have my last walk down the beach. I have spent 10 days here and have loved every minute of it. Cartagena is yet another city I have every intention of revisiting. All the taxi guys out the front say goodbye to me. They have got so used to seeing me come and go every day that I am sure they were also wondering when or if I was ever going to leave.
My send off was quite something with about 10 people waving me off. At the airport you first have to go through security and they do a hand search as they don’t have the x-ray machines. Well I have 22.5kg in my backpack, (I find out at check in when it’s weighed) and the security guy tries to put his hand down the side of it. He is pushing like crazy and in the end finding this near impossible to do tells me to zip it up and go. He is just looking at me when I put it on my back and continue to check –in. When I am getting my boarding pass this is where I find out that you have to purchase a tourist visa to get into PANAMA.
You can’t get one at the airport in Panama so if you arrive without one then you will be turned away. Thank god the lady at check in told me this as I had no clue whatsoever that you needed one. I had goggled whether NZers needed a visa to get in but it has said no. Don’t know why it didn’t say yes you need one before arriving. It only cost $10 US. Anyway that sorted the lady then tells the man behind her that he can put my bag on the belt. He went to lift it up by the top handle, just the way I had put it down. He just looked at me as to say ‘how the hell do you lift that with one hand and lift it on the scales’. 22.5 kgs is heavy! I just smiled. Things had gone great all day and so when the flight is delayed an hour I don’t worry too much as I will still arrive in Panama in the daylight with plenty of time to get to my hostel. I don’t like getting to a new country in the dark unless I have airport pick up organised.
Flying into Panama I counted 78 ships sitting in the bay before I couldn’t see them anymore. I figured there had to be over 100. As I found out later there probably was as they have to sit there for up to a week until it is their turn to go through the Panama Canal and get this, they have to book their spot close to a year ahead. That’s got to take a bit of figuring out. Anyway I get to the airport and turn the corner to find nearly 15 rows of people standing in line to get through immigration. Yep there has got to be 2000 people or more ahead of me. God I don’t know, there were just people everywhere. I had noticed lots of planes and more planes landing as I was getting off. It took me 2 hours to get through. This is the longest I have had to wait at any immigration.
When I had finally picked up my bag and gotten outside it was dark. Found myself a taxi driver that speaks English and off we go. Getting to the hostel is a breeze but I then find out the hostel hasn’t received my booking or so this grumpy lady says and then she won’t even let me use the phone to ring other hostels to see if they have vacancies. The whole time we are yelling at each other because she won’t even let me in the door and she’s three flights up on a balcony. The other hostellers sitting two flights up are busy telling me she is like that and that I’m probably booked but once it gets to 8pm she can’t be bothered and has turned lots of people away. Man that just made me so angry. What the hell are people supposed to do at 10pm in a foreign country when they more or less lock you out? My taxi driver says ‘come on I will take you around all the other hostels as I know them’, so off we go. The first one was no longer there and the taxi driver was so surprised, next one was full and the next but the fourth one was a YES. It was the HI hostel and the bloke running it was so great. The taxi driver after all this running around, which turned out to be an hour, only charged me $50. I was expecting it to be so much more.
The hostel guy then points me in the right direction to get something to eat and I finally crawl into bed around midnight after sitting and talking with others for awhile. The following day I get a map and start walking and looking. The area I’m in doesn’t seem all that busy. Kinda struck me as odd as I wasn’t really all that far from the centre of Panama City. I teamed up with Andreas from Norway and went to a pizza place for dinner this night and later this night I was sitting on the balcony and this American lady comes in and we start talking. Turns out that her and her husband own some timeshares and she was here to have a holiday at one of these resorts and she invited me to spend a week there to. She is having another friend from Seattle meet her there and after checking with the resort that I can also go I decide why not.
A backpacker at a resort in Panama. I like the idea. She also gives me a card of a private tourist operator owner who will take me to all the spots in Panama City for a fixed day fee so I get on the phone and organise him for the following day. So the following morning I’m up and ready and my driver Rafael is the coolest guy. Spoke good English and I’m already going back to English now as so many in Panama City can speak it. This is not good and I already know I’m going to lose what I have learnt. First place we head to is the Miraflores Locks. Yes the Panama Canal. This is something I have wanted to see for as long as I can remember, especially after seeing a documentary film on the making off the Canal which included lots of real footage. We timed it perfectly and watched an oil tanker come in and go right through. All the time that we are watching this guy on a speaker system is giving you a commentary on the stats. We, at one stage there, are looking at these gates as the water is coming up and he says the height from the water to the top of the gate that we can see at the moment is 3 stories high. I look at it and yep I would agree with that, then he tells us that the gates are actually 18 stories high. Holy sh.t. That’s high and amazing considering the machinery and technology they had back then to build the Canal. These days the stuff we have makes it so easy but back then….Makes you realise what an achievement it was to get it finished.
(If going to Panama Rafaels contact details are; CEL;(705)6652-4293 email; firstname.lastname@example.org ) Hopefully this hasnt changed.
So after seeing the Miraflores Locks we came back in near the old city but first went off to the right around past the port and then went along a causeway to a brand new mariner with a heap of very expensive boats that where mainly from the US. Wow was there a heap of money sitting on the water. The causeway is new and this road connects to a small island. I had been able to see this when I flew in. Then into the old original part of Panama City. Where we actually drove in was rather a rough and dangerous area. Even Rafael looked a little nervous, but once past here we were where a lot of American people have brought homes and renovated them. They look great. There’s bougainvilleas’ hanging down from big pots on the balconies. There are cafes and restaurants. It’s really nice here and this is where you can look over to Panama City.
There was a ton of cranes and new building going on. It would seem there is no shortage of money in Panama. After having lunch we then headed right through the city and out the other side to an ancient ruin city site. There is not much left of it today but the history is worth the visit. Pictures posted at the bottom of this piece will show you what I mean. All in all Rafael and I spent 6 hours visiting everything he could think of that he thought would interest me. He does ask first what you are interested in so you don’t end up going somewhere that you don’t really want to be. I even got to see ex President Noriegas house. Wow is that a mansion or what, and that’s only the little bit of it that I could see from the road. Today it is all locked up and not even being used. Damn waste that is, and has been since all that trouble with him went down.
So that was a great day and a great way to see Panama City and Rafael was an excellent and interesting guide. The following day I spend in the city and walking. I end up talking with Susan. She owners the cafe two steps from the hostel and is American. From there I end up going to a bar not too far away and meet some of her friends. And yep you guessed it, ended up being there for a long time.
Two days later and having decided I have seen what I came to see, I get Rafael to take me to the bus station and catch a bus to Playa de Cameroon. Lari, (who has invited me), should be there to meet me and I’m really looking forward to a resort. I figure this is going to be fun. The resort is off the main highway about 6 km but the bus driver took me all the way in. There were people with bags walking along the road heading there and the bus driver didn’t pick them up either. I must have smiled at him the right way because they don’t usually take you right in. Rafael had told me I would have to walk from the highway and I wasn’t looking forward to that in the heat. I wonder if he paid the driver to take me in. I was the only one that got off there to.
At the gate the security man stops me and says wait till I ring ahead and make sure you are booked. I can understand this. I mean a foreigner with an accent he has probably never heard before, shorts and small top as it’s so hot and a backpack, when everyone else coming here has expensive luggage. I really wonder what he did think. This checking to see if I was expected took close to half an hour and I was starting to wonder if Lari had completely taken me for a ride. Finally he says its fine and a porter is coming to pick you up. They ride around on golf cart vehicles. I walk into the reception and Lari is sitting there. Oh wow is this place nice, oh yea. How much am I having to pay for 6 swimming pools, all meals, bed, shower, golf course, spa, para-sailing, drinks all day, disco, entertainment at night and hunky young men that organise things like beach volleyball and other activities for you to join in and lifeguards, as we are right on the beach. $45 per day- Priceless!! Lari I can’t thank you enough.
Rhonda, who is Lari’s friend from Seattle, finally arrives at 11.30 after being delayed at a road accident. I don’t know what time we all finished talking and go to bed but it was late. The next day is brilliant sunshine and the first port of call after breakfast is of course one of the huge swimming pools. This place is glorious and I know I am going to love every minute of it. Swimming, sunbathing and watching the people. This is when we all notice this attractive lady flirting with one of the young guys that has set up a net for beach volleyball. He’s very good-looking and she had her eye on him from the moment she spotted him. Turns out she is from Peru. She had on an itsy bitsy teeny weeny bikini with everything just about falling out and she had this guy fetching her drinks all day and she didn’t move from her spot either. I don’t even recall her going to the toilet but then I was in the pool and in the sea, getting a drink, eyes shut sunbathing but I didn’t see her move all day. She was watching him when I went to lunch and watching when I came back. Of course this guy is only in his twenties and she had to be near forty but her looks at young girls told a story of lust and ‘get away from my man’ whenever they talked to him. This kept me amused all day.
Every night there is a show of some sort put on which is great. They involve the audience and it has everyone laughing. Even the little kids could get the gist of what was happening and were cracking up with laughter. One of the nights Rhonda and I decided to go to the disco. It was like ‘more women, come on guys’. All eyes fell on us when we walked in, but it was obvious that we were foreigners. Two guys were about to have a fight over who was buying my drinks. Now thats never happened before. So yelling my head off over the sound of the music, trying to speak Spanish and getting attention like Im the queen or something actually ended up being uncomfortable and with Rhonda having a sore knee which she was going to get surgery on, we didn’t stay to long. I look back and have a laugh to myself about it.
Even now I’m like I ended up in a resort in Panama while backpacking around the world. Yea I really did and how many people can say that. Not that I’m blowing my own trumpet but its that it all seems so unreal. Next day its para-sailing. This is something else I have always wanted to do and you can do it here so no time like the present. After much talking and convincing Rhonda and Lari both decide to give it a try to. Loved it but it didn’t last long enough. Must do it again oneday.
Both Lari and Rhonda say that they would do it again and are so happy I convinced them to give it a try. Later in the day Rhonda and I go walking down the beach. We’re standing there looking at these houses which are behind high walls and wondering what the people that own them do for a living as they are expensive nice homes. We end up looking at one which has completely gone to rack and ruin. This guy thats jogging down the beach, (crazy idea in this heat) stops and asks us if we want to have a look through it. Ok why not. Whose house did it used to be. None other than the ex-president Noriega. Now this is another first for me. I got to see his house in Panama City and now I get to see the inside of the huge beach retreat. Wow and I can tell you, in its day it was grand. It was huge, stylish, modern and had servants quarters. Swimming pool, roof-top party area with a glass dome so you could look down to the bottom floor, bath and walk-in-wardrobe in every room. Even though it had been vandalised you still could see how extravagant it was. Talk about being in the right place at the right time. Kodak and I end up in some of the most amazing places don’t we.
My week finally comes to an end. Like all things new it ends to fast but next stop is to be David. After a week of being spoiled for choice of pool and drinks, food and everything else it will be head out of the clouds and back to earth. The resorts own transport picks me up and takes me out to the main road and drops me in the middle of nowhere. Yep I am now standing on a stretch of straight road about 8km long in a small bus shelter waiting for a bus to come along. Here is yet another learning curve. None of the buses say David on the front. 3 buses go past before I decide that I will just have to catch the next one and see where I end up. So that’s what I do. I step out and put my hand out for the next one to stop, which he does, and ask if he goes to David. No but I could understand enough Spanish to realise that I have to change buses in Santiago. Cool that will do, even though on the front of the bus the destination is not Santiago.
I get settled into my seat with everyone on board following my every move. Another case of the only foreigner on board. We hadn’t gone 2 kms and the bus is stopped by the Policia. They were obviously looking for someone and when they get to me they looked twice and then asked for my passport which I handed over. Lucky again as I had thought about putting it in my backpack. After having a quick look through it was handed back and he continued to ask several of the other passengers for ID.
The rest of the trip into Santiago went quick and we soon pull into Santiago bus station. My driver was great as he then points out the bus I need to get on and my driver, takes me over to him, says something to him I don’t understand and then indicates on his watch that I have 45minutes to get a drink and eat before my bus pulls out. Most things turn out ok and I’m sure you have worked out by now that I have a can-do attitude. I always think if you expect the worse it will happen and I don’t like negative thinking. Doesn’t serve any purpose as far as I’m concerned. So I have lunch and on the bus again. I’m not the only foreigner on this bus. There happens to be 2 American guys and I soon find out that they are staying at the same hostel in David that I have booked into. Oh yea, I’m noisy. I see foreigners I just can’t help but ask where they are from, where they have been and where they are going. If figure if you don’t ask you don’t find out and you won’t make friends by not talking.
When we get to David I thank the driver and all 3 of us then get a taxi to the hostel. In Santiago there are 2 bus stations. One in the north and one in the south of the city. Another lesson. Always tell your taxi driver where you are going next if you are heading to a bus station as you could end up in the station the south of the city and can’t work out why there are no buses to your destination. I learnt this in Riobamba, Ecuador. The hostel I am staying at is the Purple Hostel. Purple alright, and wow not so good if you don’t like purple. It actually is a nice hostel and like all of them on my travels full of people from all over the world.
I do my usual and dump my bag and head to the nearest supermarket. It is very humid here and with a recent but quick downpour that lasts about 10minutes, the steam that is coming off the road and footpath means that by the time I got to the supermarket I had sweated so much I was all clammy. Andrea, who owns the hostel, had told me that this can happen most afternoons so I buy myself a new umbrella while I was there. I have dinner and find an internet cafe, get done with everything and head back to the hostel. This night is like most others with everyone sitting around tables and talking.
On the following day it decides to rain most of the time so I put my head in my Lonely Planet South America on a Shoestring book. This book is so thick and I have had enough of carting it about so I set to and make a heap of notes and leave my book at the hostel for other people to use on their way through. I look at how long I have before I have to fly out of Mexico City and after talking with other travellers think I will not go out to the coast in Panama but go onto Costa Rica and then onto Guatemala. On a nice Sunday morning I go down to the local bus stop and go for a day trip to Boquete. It takes around an hour on a chicken bus. And yes there where chickens on this bus. Not to mention the dogs to and again I’m the only foreigner. Boquete is nice and there are lots of Americans who have settled here for their retirement. There are new homes everywhere, a volcano not far away and hot springs. There are hostels and hotels and tours for allsorts including white-water rafting. Very nice place and I of course brought several soverneirs for family members.
Next morning I get up and Rich, an American guy from Rapid River, Michigan, has moved on. We had fun one night there winding two Israelis’ up to the point where they confused themselves. Mean, but funny. Hey if you really don’t understand world politics then don’t talk about it. Better to look the fool than open your mouth and remove all doubt, which they did so we just jumped all over that.
The following day is fine when we start out but it didn’t stay that way. Kodak and I are off to San Jose in Costa Rica. Now for some reason I had always thought that pineapples came from a huge palm tree. While at the Purple Hostel I found out this is not so. No, they grow from a plant that looks like a very miniature palm and in the middle it has the fruit. There are plantations all through Panama and especially near the border with Costa Rica and in CR itself. At the end of the season they are pulled out and new seedlings are planted each year. They only grow to around 2 feet high. Learn something every day.
So we are happily going along and there are lots of backpackers and I end up talking with another American guy who happens to be staying in the same hostel I am in San Jose. This is great as it cuts down the cost of taxi to the hostel once we get into San Jose but what works out even better for me is that he has been in Panama as his 3 month visa time was up so he had jumped the border for 10 days which now means he can go back for another 3 months.
Backpackers and tourists wanting to spend more time in one particular country do this all the time. So why was it a blessing for me? Well at the Panama/Costa Rica border I would have been walking around aimlessly for ages trying to find out where to go to get back on our bus to continue. You have to get out and grab your bags, go into this room and get it all searched and stamped out by immigration and then walk about ¼ mile to get to the Costa Rica immigration. Thing is that they don’t tell you where to actually go or even point it out for you. (Not that you can see it from where you are). For anyone going through here follow the unpaved road.
Yes, you get to here and the road is full of pot holes and rough as guts and it has to be a good ¼ mile walk. The reason for the unpaved road is neither country wants to spend the money paving or tar sealing it and they can’t decide on half way. Seems silly to us but that’s how it is. Costa Rica immigration was slow and the hand security checking of our bags just took forever and over an hour later we are finally on the bus and moving again. The air-conditioning on the bus is set to a comfortable level. We wound up and down hills for hours and through jungle with a stop somewhere in the middle of nowhere for lunch. You didn’t get to see very much because of the high trees and way up in the hills it was all misty. It’s humid though, very humid.
Rain set in about an hour before getting into San Jose but in the city itself was dry. We got in around 4pm. It’s a long trip from David to San Jose and I had a splitting headache when we finally got there. No worries, we get a taxi and get to the hostel. This time I just lay down and went to sleep for an hour. The hostel is well equipped with an onsite restaurant and swimming pool. Great as I don’t feel like shopping. A quick walk around the neighbourhood reveals some interesting shops and restaurants, supermarket and all important ATM. There is the usual mix of people from all over the world at the hostel. I have decided that I will eat in the restaurant each night instead of buying and breakfast is provided by the hostel and I figure I will be somewhere in the city each day so will get lunch there.
The following day I am on a mission to post a parcel home to NZ but first I head off in a taxi into the city to find out just where the Postal Office is. I don’t want to be wandering all around with carting heaps of stuff and not knowing where to go. This turned out not to be a very happy experience at all. I was promptly yelled at to ‘go home Americano’ I made the stupid mistake of yelling back that I was not American and no I’m not going. Stupid, real stupid!! I then had 3 young men following me down the street so I went into a souvenir shop to try get rid of them. They stayed outside for 10 minutes before moving on.
San Jose as it turned out was the only place in my travels where I have felt uncomfortable. Don’t let it put you off as so many tourists go there and have the time of their lives. I think I just struck it on a bad day and it was at the time there was a lot of hate towards George Bush and the Iraq situation (Not saying that was their reason for being uninviting) but maybe that was a contributing factor. Still feeling a little nervous I left the shop and caught a taxi back to the hostel and decided to leave the posting till the next day. I got on the internet and made ticket reservations to fly to Guatemala City in 2 days time.
I book my flight with my favourite airline TACA. Great airline if you are travelling in South and Central America. The incident in the city earlier had unnerved me. Next time maybe I will travel here with someone else. I haven’t totally been put off and do want to return one day.
So back into the city the next day and to the Post Office. Luck again is on my side as it only took half a minute to find out that no one behind the counter spoke English. There is a German couple in there and they are posting a parcel home and both of them where fluent in Spanish so they helped me out. The guy behind the counter didnt know what or where New Zealand was. That done I then head out to have a proper look in the shops. No troubles this time from anyone. The shopping in San Jose is on a par with most places in the world when it comes to fashion in all aspects. I find myself sitting in a plaza with cows. Cows made of corrugated iron and painted all the colours of the rainbow. I love looking at all the different outside art (as I call it) in all the different places in the world. I’m not so keen on Costa Rican coffee though.
After getting back to my area of San Jose I venture a little further afield than the day before and stick my nose into whatever I can see. Pleasant way to spend an afternoon. There are signs and brands from all over the world from tractors and chainsaws to bags and clothing.
Tonight at the restaurant I have company. No, not the human kind, the vermin kind. I’m sitting in the restaurant and just tucking into chicken pasta which is going down real well and in the door walks this huge rat. It just follows the wall along sniffing at the floor. The cook is busy doing whatever in the kitchen and making alot of noise but the rat doesn’t even flinch. The cook then asks me how my meal is going to which I reply fine thanks. Then I decide to point the rat out to her. Holy shit, she was on the serving counter before you could blink and away she went shrieking in Spanish at fifty mile an hour. I couldn’t help myself and burst into laughter. It was hilarious. I have never seen anyone move so damn fast. Meanwhile the rat is still going along the wall. This rat had to be deaf. I’m in fits of laughter and can’t stop, the cook is still screaming and the rat is still acting like there is no noise whatsoever. This lasts for a good minute and I’m thinking that the cook is soon going to lose her lungs and calm down. How wrong was I. Just as I think I had better get up and steer the rat back towards the door it turns around and walks back to the door and with a last look around walks out just the way it had walked in. The cook’s drama has ended. My on the other hand, had found it amusing and beats sitting through the whole meal by yourself don’t it? The poor cook is so shaken up that she gets a chair and takes it to the kitchen to sit down. She puts it so she can see the doorway. God I hope it doesn’t come back in as next time she will have a full blown heart attack.
That over I head to the nearest hammock and swing away the night listening to music that someone had put on. San Jose airport is small. A lot smaller than I thought it would be. This is my twelfth time I have been patted down at an airport because I have set off the alarm while going through security. I am sure the things are rigged to go off for anyone travelling alone!! It’s a beautiful day for flying and after a big circle around and over San Jose,
Kodak and I are on our way to Guatemala. I wonder what this country has in store for me. After landing in Guatemala City and collecting my bags I head outside to catch a minivan to Antigua. There is no need to book any transport as they have a schedule of all flights coming in so they are always there waiting as not too many tourists stay in Guatemala City. From all accounts it’s rather dangerous and not much to do or see. Antigua on the other hand is a bustling tourist town as so set up for tourists. It is full of history and the locals are very friendly and helpful. It only takes 45minutes to get here. The first thing you notice is the modern splattered in with old. Motorbikes, scooters, modern up-to-date cars, billboards, chicken buses, very old cobbled streets, horse-drawn carts and historic buildings and cathedrals, markets, modern clothing shops, freshly painted colourful homes…….. I like Guatemala. Kodak had a moment of jealousy on the way to Antigua. When he can he loves to sit on the dashboard in the vehicles. On this trip his spot was taken. Grrrrr!
My first full day in Antigua was eventful. I first went walking and found a huge market near the bus station. There is everything you can imagine to buy here and I ended up buying a very nice top. After spending an hour or so here I headed for the main plaza in the centre of the town. It wasn’t long before I was approached by a local man who promptly sat down beside me and started talking in English. I can’t remember his name (and for some reason didn’t write it down in my diary) but it turned out he worked in Guatemala City for the TV station so his English was pretty good. He asked if he could spend the day with me and practise his English which I agreed to so long as he showed me around the town to all the things he thought I should see and to fill me in on the history of each site. For this I will also buy lunch.
Antigua is so full of history and it didn’t take long to get over 100 photos. It’s a great friendly town full of agents to book tours to wherever you want to go. Anyway after most of the day walking all the streets of Antigua and going up the hill which looks down on the town we arrive back at the plaza and sit ourselves down. I’m just thinking on what I will do next when my new friend turns to me and says ‘You speak bad English’. Bloody cheek! Well it just came out of my mouth – ‘I’ve been speaking English all my life so where the hell do you get to say I speak bad English’? His reply ‘Well it’s your accent. I don’t understand some of the words you say’. Oops, I sort of stopped in my tracks. Then having a bit of a think about it, it dawned on me that he had said ‘What’ a heap of times while we were walking around. Never dawned on me he may not be able to understand because of my accent. He also tells me that it is the first time he has spoken with someone from New Zealand. So my thinking that he probably doesn’t even know where NZ is I asked. To my surprise he did know where NZ was but he did think you could take the ferry from Australia to get there. Not too bad for someone from Guatemala, considering that loads of people think NZ is in Europe.
So the next day I’m up early, breakfast and down to one of the tourist agents, in a van on my way to Pacaya. What’s Pacaya. It’s an active volcano that I am going to go up and some of the America guys on the trip with me have somehow found some marshmallows to toast while we are up there. Where they found them I have no idea. Our drive toPacaya takes about ¾ of an hour. We more or less do a big circle from Antigua to get there. At the bottom there are ton of tour groups. We set off and the whole time we are being followed by some boys, a few men and their horses. Why the horses. Well you guessed. It’s a damned steep hill and quite a distance. I am fit to cycling and walking but up a huge hill like this one it didn’t take me long to run out of puff. The boys keep asking ‘ Horse lady, you want horse.’ So I ask how much. Whoa what! Oh they know that you want to hop on one but when you here the price which amounted to $us35, you have a second think about it. I decide no I will keep going for a bit more and then start the bargaining game. Now I am not really begrudging them the price as I know they are just trying to make a living but at the same time I know they are just seeing if I will pay that as bargaining is all part of buying anything in Guatemala. In some countries it can almost be an insult if you don’t bargain and as the boy was telling me the price I caught my guides head out the corner of my eye and he was nodding his head for ‘no’. In other words, don’t pay that. After a bit more time and people going pass us that had obviously started out from the bottom on a horse I turn to a boy right behind me with a horse and ask what the price is going to be now. He looks at me and drops the price to $30. Hmmm, no how about $20. He takes I bit of time and has a think about it. ‘Ok lady $20’.
Much easier on a horse and I now feel that I am not holding everyone up. I definatly need to do more hill walking. I would have thought that all the walking in the streets in La Paz would have left me a bit fitter that this but obviously not. We come to this clearing and there is the volcano in front of us. It’s not huge and just looks like an upside down cone. You can see from this distance some of the red hot lava below the outside black hardened lava. First we have to go down then climb back up, but too far. (I am not on a horse anymore) It’s very safe to walk on the hardened lava but I wouldn’t recommend falling over. In the cracks that you step over the red lava is slowly moving past. The guys with the marshmallows pull them out and they had grabbed a branch from a tree on the way up through the bush so one of them has a try at toasting one. The stick quickly catches fire and the marshmallow is melted in 2 seconds flat. Another try, but keeping the stick a little further away from the lava, sees him having success. Tick that off the list. I have had a toasted marshmallow up a volcano in Guatemala. You have to keep moving up here as to stand in one place you soon realise the soles on your shoes are getting soft as they are starting to melt. I didn’t get many photos from my volcano trip as again my batteries went flat in my camera. I aint having much luck and think that my battery charger is not working properly, but the photos I did get are really all I need. Being there was the main point of it all. Anyway it’s another day tomorrow. We get back to the bottom and have a much needed coke before getting back in the van and back into Antigua. Nice half day out.