A Travellerspoint blog

🗻💚 (Monteverde)

Our First Week in Costa Rica, by Ailsa

all seasons in one day 20 °C

We left Il Castillo by river boat at 5 am. It took about three hours and one more boat but we finally arrived at the Costa Rican border and got in line and waited. And waited. Then we took two more buses to get to La Fortuna and found a hostel (a PURPLE hostel) to spend the night. There was a grocery store nearby which for the first time since we entered Central America stocked a bunch of brands that we get at home in Canada. They had nice olives, non-uht-milk, good gluten-free pasta and Welch's grape juice. How exciting! We ran up and down the aisles like crazy people and then we had a feast!

The next morning we ate cookies for breakfast (unheard of!) and hoped on a jeep-boat-jeep to get us across Lake Arenal and on to Monteverde. We could see the volcano on the side of the lake. C0F7F50BC7ED549CA41C2F8D7E095F68.jpg90_C0F69BBCCF8DAAE4599A8C6953661492.jpg

There are loads of adventure activities to do here. But maybe most exciting for us was meeting new friends. Daisy and Millie from Devonshire were so much fun to play crazy games with and also to sit and watch the sloth move very slowly on the tree behind our hotel. They had been travelling for one month longer than we had and we quickly became friends! 🇬🇧C19A3AC6C0AB8ACFB02AEBEBD9CA3BBA.jpg

We went zip lining with the Original Canopy Tour and we got to do a Tarzan swing and climb inside a hollowed-out, ancient fig tree. It was so much fun. We could very clearly hear a hard to spot bird, called a quetzal, but we could never find where it was.C1314402D4F58E1AE4F03D3DB530FEEE.jpg90_C13383FBAC84D075E243488F4936C9EB.jpg

The next day we went to the Reptile and Amphibian Centre and got to see lots of snakes, frogs, turtles and spiders up close. Some of them were very poisonous. See if you can spot the frog in the next photo. (If you cannot see it, I will leave a hint just below the photo - but no peeking!).C19B2BA4B8C3DE8FBB5B9D806E1D0BEE.jpg
(It is hiding just under one of the leaves, but you HAVE to look very closely)

That night we went on a night tour to the Children's Eternal Rainforest. C19CFB590F4C13C67D65BA89CE5768AD.jpg

We saw lots of different animals including: a tarantula, a porcupine, a sloth, a coati, a side-striped-palm-pit-viper, a bunch of different ants and a headlight click bug - no kidding, that is its real name. Our guide told us the amazing story behind this part of the rainforest. This reserve was started when children in Sweden in the 1980s sold chocolates and sweets to raise money to buy land in Costa Rica to preserve for the plants and animals. When they started it cost $100 an acre. He told us it can now cost close to $1,000,000 to buy an acre near Monteverde. But they managed to buy over 55,000 acres and it is the largest privately owned reserve in Costa Rica. I thought it was really amazing that children could do something so important by just raising money a bit at a time. Check it out: http://www.acmcr.org

We are now heading to Playa Grande on the Pacific coast for some sun and time on the beach. ☀️

Posted by Salsa Sojourns 19:13 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (1)

Aargh Pirates!

Río San Juan, by Fraser

semi-overcast 26 °C

We went on a boat to get to El Castillo. It took us 3 hours. El Castillo is a town in the middle of the jungle on Río San Juan in Nicaragua. We wanted to see the fort that was built there to stop pirates from getting to Granada. The fort was at the top of the hill where there are rapids in the river that the pirates would have to climb and that would slow down the pirates enough that the soldiers could shoot at them. We visited the fort and could see down the river in case pirates came. There were lots of cannons and gun holes. Because the soldiers were shooting out of small holes it was harder for attackers to shoot the soldiers inside. We got to run around and play 'soldier and pirate' since nobody else was there. I got to be a pirate!


The next day we took another boat to go on a rainforest hike in the Indio Maiz Reserve. They gave us shiny black welly boots to wear. The trail was muddy and I got stuck a bunch of times. We had to use walking sticks. Our guide showed us a jaguar print in the mud that was a few days old. I got my picture taken in front of the coolest tree; it could walk (move) sideways over a period of 5-10 years. It would grow new spiky roots to one side to slowly, slowly pull the tree that way. There are 12 families left that still live in the rainforest that don't talk to or see anyone else. They never go to the doctor or the dentist or the hospital and instead they use the jungle plants to make them better when they get sick. We saw a poisonous snake. Ailsa was scared of it, but it was only a baby. By the end of the hike everyone was muddy, not just me! Our boots were so muddy we had to wash them in the river before we gave them back. We took another boat back to the hotel and saw white-faced monkeys on the way.

Tomorrow we have to take two more boat rides on our way to the border for Costa Rica. Urgh. I am sick and tired if these boat rides! Bye.


Posted by Salsa Sojourns 07:33 Archived in Nicaragua Comments (0)

Some like it hot!

Granada, by Norm

sunny 40 °C

As we sweated through our earlier travels in Guatemala and Honduras, locals repeatedly told us that Granada, Nicaragua was HOT. Escaping the Canadian winter, everywhere seemed relatively hot to us so we shrugged off the comments but weren't really ready for the extreme heat we met when we reached Granada.

Granada is a beautiful colonial city at the north end of Lago Nicaragua. We saw some of its most picturesque sites as we took a horse drawn carriage ride one morning with a guide that pointed out every hotel, finished each sentence with "this is Granada" and repeated the founding date of the city for any important date in history: 1524 for anyone interested. Apparently, the cathedral was built and burned down three times over in 1524. Captain Henry Morgan of pirate (and rum!) fame sacked the city in 1524. American William Walker and his mercenaries took control of Granada and the country and declared himself president in 1524. We may need to double check the accuracy of the carriage driver's claims. Maybe the heat was getting to him.


The casa we rented for the week had a beautiful balcony view out to the Mombacho Volcano and the cathedral on Central Park. We strolled the city streets each morning before the heat forced us inside by 10am to relax in the shade or in the saltwater pool. After a couple of weeks on the move and in transit, including a two day bus journey to reach Granada, the respite was welcomed.


As I cycled alone along the lakeshore one morning my backpack was snatched by two motorbike bandits. The bag held an iPad and our beloved point-and-shoot Canon camera so the photos on the blog for the next few weeks will be from the goPro and the spare iPad. It was quite disappointing but not wholly unexpected given the poverty we witnessed here. And although I am a firm supporter of some global wealth re-distribution I really prefer to do it on my own terms!

In a not completely unrelated turn of events, we sampled the local Flor de Caña rum, frequently regarded by experts as the best rum in the world. And, for the first time since our travels began, we discovered that fresh mint was easily available (8 cents Canadian for a bunch!). That could not have come at a better time! Maybe it was the heat or the poolside setting, but those mojitos were the best we have ever had! Cheers!


Posted by Salsa Sojourns 05:49 Archived in Nicaragua Comments (2)

One Jaguar, 18 Rabbits and lots of Macaws

Copan, Honduras, by Mirren

sunny 26 °C

One Jaguar:
At the Luna Jaguar Hotsprings the naturally hot water is too hot and steamy to sit in by itself so they have to run cold water from a spring along with the hot water into a bunch of different pools. Some were cool. Some were warm. Some were hot. We had to take a tuktuk to get here and then had to walk over a hanging bridge, through a cave-like tunnel and over stepping stones in a river to get to the pools. There was a mud bath where we put mud on our faces and left it there to dry. We looked kind of funny with our faces all dirty, but our skin felt very soft when we washed it off in a warm waterfall shower. One shower had water coming out of a Mayan statue's mouth. Our tuktuk ride back to Copan was all uphill and we had to get out and walk up some of the hills. We all felt so relaxed and sleepy but it was a really bumpy road home and we had to hold on tight so we didn't fall out.


18 Rabbits:
Early one morning we headed to the Mayan ruins of Copan. Our guide, Gladys, pointed out all the amazing sculptures carved out of rock. One carving showed a person wearing a jaguar skin and dancing and it looked a lot like Tigger. The most powerful ruler was called "18 Rabbit". He was beheaded when he went to visit his friend (that's a frenemy!) in another Mayan city. After that, the regular people realized that their rulers weren't gods and were only humans. They lost faith in them and eventually people moved away from Copan and went to other Mayan cities. The rulers all had funny names: Smoke Snake, Smoke Shell, Sunrise and, of course, 18 Rabbit. Chichen Itza and Tikal were both bigger than Copan, but Copan had so many beautiful carved statues and even a carved staircase so I thought it was the most beautiful.


Lots of Macaws:
The scarlet macaw is the national bird of Honduras. Macaw Mountain is a sanctuary and rehabilitation centre for scarlet macaws, toucans, and other tropical birds. Lots of people foolishly buy wild birds from poachers and then can't care for them properly. These birds can live for 80 years if cared for properly. Like other parrots (in the wild) they find a mate and are together for the rest of their lives. If their partner dies they can get very lonely. Once these birds are rehabilitated they are eventually released at the gates to the Mayan ruins of Copan where a large group of scarlet macaws live.


Ailsa, Fraser and I spent the day looking for feathers on the ground and we ended up with an amazing collection. There was one part of the centre where we were allowed to have the birds sit on our shoulders. It felt so cool but they were very heavy!


Posted by Salsa Sojourns 06:00 Archived in Honduras Tagged birds ruins hotsprings Comments (4)

El Corazón de Pitahaya

Visiting the families of Project Harvest, by Ailsa

sunny 26 °C

When we started planning our trip two years ago we wanted to find a charity to help in Central America. The Fergus-Elora Rotary Club, which my dad is in, started to support a charity that we really liked too, so we picked that one. The charity we chose was called Project Harvest and it helps people with not enough food to start their own vegetable gardens. The money raised helps people to buy seeds and to build special containers to catch rain water in the rainy season and stores it for them to use in the dry season.

For my 10th birthday last March I decided to ask my friends for donations to Project Harvest instead of gifts. They were all so generous and we raised lots of money together. Thank you to my friends! We also gave Project Harvest donations to some of our family at Christmas instead of gifts. My family and I drove down to Hamilton just after my birthday and gave the money to Project Harvest at their yearly musical concert fundraiser. There was traditional Guatemalan food and dancing and we had lots of fun. They were very grateful for my birthday money. They even put a picture of Mirren and me in their newsletter. I will put a link to this at the end of my post in case you want to learn more about the charity.

We planned our trip so that we would have a few days to visit the communities that have worked with Project Harvest. The towns are in an area called Chiquimula, Guatemala. It is about an hour drive from where we were staying in Copan, Honduras. So, we left our bags there and headed back into Guatemala for a few days without all our heavy stuff. We got to know a border guard pretty well because we crossed the border so many times in a few days. She was grumpy to begin with, I think because our Spanish is not very good, but she finally smiled at us the last time!

People from the local Rotary club that are helping to run the project picked us up in Chiquimula and gave us a tour of the area. They took us to one of their other projects (supported by other Canadian Rotary clubs) which is building more classrooms at an elementary school out in the mountains. They were also building bathrooms for the school kids to use. Here is a picture of Mirren and me inside one of the new classrooms. Their old school only had two rooms for one hundred kids. It will be so much better for them.


The second day the Rotary people took us to the Project Harvest community, Pitahaya, and the ladies showed us their gardens. They were very proud of them! I would have been proud too if it was my garden! The earth all around was very rocky and very dry. It took them 20 days to dig the hole in the earth to build the container to catch the rain water. It was 15.75 cubic meters and held enough water to water their veggies for the whole dry season. The ground in their gardens was dark brown and much softer because they used a lot of composted stuff and watered it daily. Their veggies were much bigger than the ones we grow at home in Canada. Some gardens were shared between two or three families so they all had to help build them and pitch in with the gardening too.


If they had extra veggies they would sell them at the local market. The families now had chickens and pigs too. Before Project Harvest started several years ago the kids back then were not able to grow properly or learn as easily. We met one little girl who was so tiny because her mom didn't have enough healthy food when she was growing in her mom's tummy and she didn't have enough food when she was a little kid. The mothers all said their kids are much healthier now. And the little babies on their laps were all happy looking.


My dad had emailed the Chiquimula Rotary club before our trip to say we would be visiting and asked if we could maybe see the project to take photos for his Rotary club back home. I couldn't believe it but the Project Harvest leader down here knew my name and kept saying how thankful they all were for my help. She spoke in Spanish and called me corazón which means 'heart'. The families gave us a delicious lunch and gave me a thank you card and a beautiful tapestry that they had stitched themselves! I totally wasn't expecting that at all!! I left there feeling like I had really made a difference to their lives. They were doing well now and I think they had just needed a bit of help to get started. I was so glad that the little bit of money that my friends and I had raised had made such a big difference. That was such an amazing feeling!


You can click to see more information about Project Harvest or go to this website, http://projectharvest.org
We can tell you that donations are making a big difference!

The kids we met in Pitahaya were all so friendly. We had parked in front of their school when we went to visit the gardens and when we walked back to the truck to head back home it was recess time and they all ran to the fence to look at us. They invited us into their school yard and I got to play basketball with them. I play basketball at home in Canada (Go Phoenix U11 Team!) so I kind of knew what I was doing. They cheered when my first basket went in. When I missed my second basket they all just went 'ohh' at the same time. It was sooooo funny! There were about 100 kids and they had a nice play area but they only had two old balls to play with. The teacher my mom spoke to told her that they could use some pencils and other stuff. It really made me think about how full my own pencil case is at home... Me and Mirren are planning to raise some money to send some balls and school supplies to this school, just so you know we might ask you to come to our yard sale or lemonade stand! :)


From our family:
We would like to thank the Rotary Club of Chiquimula de la Sierra for helping organize these visits and touring us through the communities, especially Veronica and Abelardo. You are facilitating such worthwhile projects! We also send a huge 'thank you' to Isaura and the Project Harvest community leaders; Elvia, Gloria, Maria Elena, Roberta and Santa. You opened your gardens, your community and your hearts to show us how we have so much in common and how even the smallest gesture can grow into something significant.

Para nuestros amigos en español:
Nos gustaría dar las gracias al Club Rotario de Chiquimula de la Sierra por ayudar a organizar estas visitas y nos paseábamos por las comunidades, en especial Verónica y Abelardo. Usted está facilitando este tipo de proyectos que valen la pena! También enviamos un enorme 'gracias' a Isaura y los líderes de la comunidad Proyecto Cosecha; Elvia, Gloria, María Elena, Roberta y Santa. Ha abierto sus jardines, su comunidad y sus corazones para mostrarnos cómo tenemos tanto en común y cómo incluso el gesto más pequeño puede convertirse en algo significativo.

Posted by Salsa Sojourns 16:24 Archived in Guatemala Comments (8)

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