Lake Atitlan
chicken bus

Santiago Atitlan
Independence Day
language school

a new year
Semana Santa
las Americas
Machu Picchu
year 2
Santiago Sacatepequez
lake weekend
UK in winter
Caye Caulker
El Salvador
year 3
Carnival Trinidad
Rio Dulce
Semuc Champey
journey's end


Guatemala Journal



18 abril
The San Jose airport was beginning to look familiar, this time I was headed to Guanacaste, the southwestern most province of Costa Rica to explore mountains and beach for a week. My traveling companion, Bill, another international teacher, has friends here - Marguedy, wife of an American friend, is Costa Rican - her cheerful uncle Pepe met us at the airport and gave us a ride to our first destination. The road from San Jose to the mountain country of Monteverde Cloud Forest was reasonably direct, but the climb up to the reserve was slow and winding, a steep road with precipitous drops. Pepe hadn't driven that road before and kept looking down the steep slope as we climbed. He laughed when I told him in Spanish, you don't need to look, you just watch the road.

The little inn in Santa Elena was run by a Swiss couple. I complemented the owner on the beautiful violet orchids blooming in front of the main building. He proudly gave us a tour of his labor of love, apparently a treat not every visitor receives, a well tended orchid garden - hanging branches heavy with yellow orchids, tiny delicate orchids I would never have noticed if he hadn't directed my attention there, orchids holding on to the sides of tree trunks and branches, in pots and on bushes.

Monteverde is a privately run reserve, slightly different from the rainforest ecosystem. Howler monkeys swung high through the canopy and coatimundis roamed as we walked the trails slowly with a patient and knowledgeable young man as a guide. He would stop from time to time and wait for the arrival of birds, setting up his gear - the trail guides are well equipped in Monteverde with high powered lenses on tripods for bird viewing. Among others, we spotted the elusive resplendent quetzal (national bird of Guatemala) - bright green with red breast, this was a female not the more flamboyant male with the feathery flowing tail. A hidden tumbling waterfall with three sections was our reward for the first hike. We continued down the hill to a lunch spot (Stella's, a Brit, her shop a gallery of her own paintings) and shops, and caught a bus back up to do some more hiking on our own.

After a few days in the cool mountains, we journeyed down to warm Costa Rican Pacific beaches along the Guanacaste coastline. Five hours on four buses, connections through the larger town of Liberia. The beach at Playa Hermosa, not far from the Nicaraguan border, was reminiscent of Monterrico in Guatemala, with green plants leading up to the brown sand, fishing boats hovering not far out from the shore. A night ride to the more lively town at Playa Coco, we visited a local artist and bought a painting Bill watched him create on the beach a few days ago.

Bill's friends picked us up the next morning to drive across the Nicoya peninsula to the tiny town of Rio Grande, near Paquera. Along the way we stopped for lunch - I had a cold resbaladera, a local drink made of rice, milk and cinnamon clove that tasted like liquid rice pudding. Continuing our periodic search for Internet cafes, the one in the Jicaral was hard to find, we were directed by residents around in circles several times, there was nothing obvious in the little shopping area. Finally I noticed "servicios de computacion" in the list painted on one storefront. The man at the counter directed us to an unmarked orange door outside. There were language classes conducted here - two desks with computers, flash cards of English words taped to the wall. A young woman pulled the phone cord diagonally across the room to connect the phone jack, we were in business.

The Hotel Bahia Gigante was our home for the next few nights, owned by a young French Canadian. Our room didn't lock - of some concern since, during the Semana Santa holiday, there were locals tent camping everywhere, even on the hotel grounds - we locked up some items in the hotel safe. A wooden suspension bridge connected the trail from the hotel to a beach, iguanas ran by and scooted up the trees. The next day we joined Dave and Marguedy for a fishing trip. We took along snorkeling gear, but decided against it after being warned about sharks. No fishing poles, just hand rolls of fishing line, 6 of us in a small boat. The fisherman's wife Ana who had never gone fishing before, decided to join us since there were couples. Marguedy announced you couldn't have fish for dinner if you didn't catch one - everyone caught at least one fish, even Ana, but me. I had plenty of bites but a bandito fish kept stealing my bait. A local man, Chon, came and cleaned the fish at the house while we tried out the hammocks. They didn't make me go hungry after all.

Saturday morning Marguedy announced she would go pick up the tortillas for breakfast, I asked to join her. On the way we saw Chon out talking to someone at the side of the road, he asked for a ride to town to fill up his kitchen gas tank, ran back to the house to fetch it and hopped aboard. Next stop was Doña Bella's little house for tortillas. I went out and gave the thin woman with ripped clothing the container. She disappeared into the house for a minute and then, moving aside the tin sheet used as a gate, she handed me the tortillas and a bag of fresh eggs. We then drove to Doña Ana's house and Marguedy yelled to her son for her to come out, she asked Ana to have some refritos (black beans) ready when we returned from town. A stop at the shop in town for a few things, Chon gassed up, then back to Ana's for refritos on the way back to breakfast. At Chon's we stopped to watch a family of monkeys swinging through the trees. Marguedy explained that the plastic bags hanging from the plants in a nearby field of guayabas (guavas) were to keep the fruit safe from insects.

Driving to the ferry to Puntarenas, we found a huge traffic backup and walked the rest of the way - we had obviously misjudged the numbers of travelers headed back to the city from the week's vacation. Waiting on line, we missed the 10am ferry, and finally got tickets for the 12:30 crossing. A band of musicians working their way to Columbia entertained the crush of passengers sitting and standing - Rastafarian locks, guitar, bongos and bass made from an upside down rubber bucket, pole and string. Arriving in Puntarenas, we caught a bus to the train station, boarded a comfortable luxury bus (in comparison) for the home stretch to San Jose, and taxi to our hostel. Our last day in the city, we wandered the downtown streets with a mission, finding an Internet cafe that would burn a cd of people photos to leave with our guests.


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