Tuesday, January 5, 2010

2 Tiger Sharks and 3 Hammerheads

When I heard this announced on the radio this morning, I thought, "Okay, I've got to do a post to my blog."

I mean, seriously, it has been 6 months! Where have I been? Did I fall off the south side of the planet, or what? Did I get sucked down a toilet that swirls the opposite direction when it flushes? Maybe.

So, apparently two tiger sharks and three hammerhead sharks were spotted off the coast of Perth this morning. Three beaches have been shut down. Not the one I normally go to, but don't worry, I won't be getting in. I rarely ever get in. Maybe just up to my knees...sometimes waist deep, but not usually.

The ocean is a scary place. I'm scared of sharks and jellyfish and rips...big waves...

The jellyfish I can overlook when there are already 100 people in the water...that's a pretty good sign that there aren't any jellyfish. I'm not even sure that Perth has a jellyfish problem. In Queensland on the east coast, they have a jellyfish season. They have two kinds of jellyfish whose stings can be fatal. If you want to know more about them, go here: Marine Stingers

So on to sharks and rips. I'm sure everyone thinks sharks are scary, especially if you saw Jaws as a child. So traumatizing.

Rips. There's a public service announcement on the radio here that says, "To escape a rip, swim parallel to the beach. To escape a rip, swim parallel to the beach. To escape a rip, swim parallel to the beach."

Rips are Australia's biggest beach killer. It's a current that runs perpendicular to the beach that can wash you miles out to the ocean. Scary, huh? Watch this video from the Surf Life Saving Club of Australia. Very interesting. Or you can go www.ripcurrent.com.au if you want to learn more about rip currents.

So, sharks. Chris (my Aussie boyfriend) always tells me that "they" patrol the beaches by airplanes or helicopters to look for sharks, that it's nothing really to worry about. (Did he not see Jaws?!) Having heard the announcement on the radio today, I believe him...the part about them patrolling. But it still freaks me out.

Australia is a beautiful place. I'm sure I said it before sometime 6 months ago, but it bears repeating. Beautiful. The ocean really is clear blue and green. The sand really is white. Sunshine and blue skies. I got to go out on a jet ski in the ocean the other day...the Indian Ocean! Who would have thought?!

I guess I'll leave it at that for now. I know you might be wondering about the past 6 months. I'll get to it.

90 degrees and sunny...with sharks.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

The Break Up...

Well, it didn't really work out with the Belgian guy, but the German girl and I hit off well...and it turns out neither of us could really stand Steven. We made it to Rainbow Beach together and were basically stuck together until after Fraser Island, but we were in a group of 11 people on Fraser Island so there were many diversions.

I guess he was just too immature and too clueless for me...I mean, I'll sit in the passenger seat and read a map for you, no problem...but PLEASE remember how to get back somewhere after we've been there three times! I mean, there's only one turn...how hard is it??? I should have known it wouldn't work when the first thing I had to do before we set out (super late, thanks to Steven) was clean a moldy cooler.

Anyway, Sara and I have been hanging out in Rainbow Beach for a few days looking for rides...no luck so far and after she got this text from a guy in Brisbane who is supposedly heading north, we decided to revise our plan. Here's the text. I hope you enjoy it as much as we did. All she wanted to know was his name, his age and where he's from. The text came through in 4 parts.
"Hi my real name is dhaval, but my australian friend call me darren. I am 26 yr old male. I am from planet earth, at earth, on earth because I believe because there is no boundary created on earth at time of origin, still no boundaries for birds, water & breeze but we are most logical creation of god and we logically devided this world in countries. my main aim to travel around world to feel part of planet not creater of this planet. I hve been in australia since 1 & half year, staying in queensland, tell me something about you if you feel that i m not crazzy, by the way enjoy rainbow beach."
Ooookay...We thought we'd tell him we're from Venus so probably not compatible travel buddies...Yikes! Sounds like a lunatic.

Anyway, yesterday we weighed our options...waiting for a ride, buying hop on/hop off Greyhound passes, renting a camper van. We decided to go with the camper van. It's slightly more expensive than the Greyhound but at least we can get out to see the national parks and all the beauty Australia has to offer.

So, to Crystal and Patty...I will be sleeping in a "van full of curtains."

We plan to get up to Cairns by the 20th. Sara will then spend a week with a WWOOFING family, I think, before she heads back to Berlin. I'll probably bum around the Cairns area for a few days before heading back to Perth.

So...Fraser Island was amazingly beautiful. It's the largest sand island in the world. It's just off the east coast of Queensland right near Rainbow Beach. I signed up, with Steven and Sara, for this self-drive safari. Basically the company that organizes it puts 9 to 11 people together in a giant 4WD Landcruiser, gives you some fairly detailed driving instructions, what to do if you get bogged, when to drive on the beach and when not to based on the tides, tells you what to do if you come across dingoes, etc., etc. Then he leads you to the vehicle ferry and send you on your way with your new big maybe-not-so-happy family for the next 3 days.

Our group was pretty good over all. I probably would have enjoyed a slightly older crowd...we had two 19 year old girls from Scotland, two 22 year old British guys, two 26 year old British girls, 20, 21, 22 year old German girls, 25 year old Belgian guy, and me. For the record, I have always found drinking games boring. Some of us were on the same page as far as getting up early to enjoy what we came there to see (mostly the German girls and me), and there is really a lot to see, so we needed an early start. But all in all it was okay, and we did see some absolutely beautiful landscape and a shipwrecked that washed ashore in 1935.

The dingoes stole some of our food the first night. They are sneaky animals and these dingoes are really not at all afraid of humans. One dingo crept in behind us in the dark as we were preparing dinner and stole the bag of wraps we needed for lunch the next day. So we had to improvise and ration out the bread for the next two days so we could have sandwiches instead for lunch the next day.

The government is working to keep these dingoes wild and enforces fines for feeding or attracting dingoes to your campsite by leaving food or food scraps around, but I think so many people come to Fraser Island every day that the dingoes are just very used to people.

Some of us were very fortunate the second day after our late start...we were supposed to go to a nice point called Indian Head where if you get there early enough you might see sharks (swimming in the water surrounding Fraser Island is not recommend due to sharks and strong undertows), whales, dolphins, dugongs (manatees), sea turtles or manta rays. We didn't get there early enough to see much and really didn't have much time to walk to the Champagne Pools which was another beautiful area recommended to see. We didn't even really know how to get to the Champagne Pools.

So I started asking around up top of Indian Head and stumbled across this Norwegian guy who said if I waited around just a bit his Australian brother-in-law would be up there and could probably tell us. So I waited, and the Aussie showed up. He told us it would take about 30-40 minutes but it would probably be a long hot walk. We thought about and decided we really didn't have the time because we had to leave Indian Head in about an hour and 20 minutes or so because of the tides...your car really can get washed out to sea if you're not careful.

But this nice Aussie guy, Mark, asked how many of us there were and offered to give us a ride over there in 2 groups if we wanted. Yes! Please! We weren't allowed to drive our vehicle that far per the rental agreement. So we piled in, and it turns out half of the people decided not to go, so it was just one trip. He zipped us right over there, and we passed Sara and Iris along the way. They had decided to head straight over there instead of going up to Indian Head. He said he'd pick them up after he dropped us off, and he did! It was great. We only had about a half an hour there, but at least we got to see it.

On the way back, Sara flagged down another Aussie in the parking lot who gave us 4 girls (the Germans and me) a ride back to our car. We really lucked out.

So, my memory card does have a virus. I got a new one for Fraser Island going forward, but all the pics from the west coast and when Crystal and Patty were here are stuck on the "sick" card. Once I get back to Perth, I'll try to have someone fix it up for me. Unfortunately I can't post any pics of Fraser right now because the computer I'm using at the hostel says if I plug any devices into the computer I will be fed to sharks!

I guess that's it for now...tomorrow I'll be in behind the wheel on the right side of a camper van driving on the left side of the road, but today...it's off to the beach.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Heading North!

I've been in Brisbane about a week now. It has rained almost everyday, but it's a nice city with a good vibe. I could very easily live here.

Crystal and Patty left on Monday to fly back to L.A. I had a fantastic time while they were here, and it may very well have been the most fun I've had since I left Denver. I laughed so hard everyday for 7 days that my abs were sore by the time they left!

We started out in Brisbane. I met the girls at the airport. They finally came out of customs after about an hour and a half. We rented a car and drove to Byron Bay, about 1.5 to 2 hours south of Brisbane. It was a nice little town right on the beach, but the weather was crap...and Australia wasn't turning out to be too enticing to Crystal and Patty.

Luckily the weather changed overnight, and the second day we had beautiful blue skies! We headed to the "Most Easterly Point of the Australia Mainland" just outside of Byron Bay. To get to it you have to walk or drive up a hill where there is a lighthouse then hike down and out east. On the way to the lighthouse we were lucky enough to spot some humpback whales heading north to warmer water to have their babies. We could see them splashing around, and although they were fairly far out, we occassionally got a glimpse of the whales...enough to identify there colors. It was awesome! I would love to go on a whale watching tour some day.

From Byron Bay we drove about six hours north to Noosa, where we got kicked out of a hotel before we checked in...may have had something to do with the booze breath that was radiating from Crystal, but I think the owner was just crotchety. I was the designated driver, or the skipper as they say here, so no booze breath for me. That was definitely a low point seeing as it was already 10.00 p.m. and all the hotel receptions were closed. Ugh. But we managed to eventually find a hostel with an open reception until 11...we barely made it. They didn't have any triple rooms, so we crammed into a room with two twin beds...the smallest twins you've ever seen. Crystal and Patty squeezed into one, and I was lucky enough to get my own. (Thanks Crystal and Patty!)

We spent one night there, then headed up to Agnes Water/Town of 1770 where we really splurged on a snorkeling trip to the Great Barrier Reef. It was pretty cool, although we all three were sea sick. Poor Patty was the only one who really had to make use of the barf bags...but Crystal and I were going downhill pretty fast once finally moved inside from the back of the boat where we were having a grand ol' time gettting soaked...I mean absolutely SOAKED...until the sun went behind the clouds never to return and we spent the next 6 hours freezing. By the time we finally made it to Lady Musgrave Island, we were really a collective wreck. But we had a great time all in all.

We spent three night in Agnes Water...met some great people there. Crystal maybe fell in love. Then we had to head back to Brisbane for one night before Crystal and Patty had to fly back. We stopped at the Australia zoo and fed kangaroos and petted koalas. Wow !

Would like to write more, but my time on the free computer is running out.

I leave tomorrow and a three week road trip with a Belgian guy and a German girl. I met the guy at my hostel and he met the girl through a community website like craigslist...she was looking for a ride north.

Two minutes to go...

Something is wrong with my camera. I can't seem to download/upload photos. It seems like I may have a virus. Is that possible?

Gotta run!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Down Under

I arrived in Australia about 5 weeks ago and have been on the go almost ever since, minus the first week when I pretty much only slept and ate and slept some more while getting over the jetlag and pure exhaustion from South America.

The first week I couldn't seem to stay awake past 7:00 p.m., and I was awake every morning before the sun came up...I heard the first bird of the day chirp...EVERYDAY. But now I seem to have my internal clock in sync with Australia time. Perth is 14 hours ahead of Denver.

It has been very nice to be in an English-speaking country. Australia is similar to the U.S. as far as standards of living goes, personal space, cleanliness, social norms, etc. So things generally make sense here. And the best part is, when things don't make sense, asking a question and getting an answer is easy because it's all in ENGLISH!

I have had to learn a bit of a new language, however:

stubby = bottle of beer
stubby holder = beer coozie
footy = Australian Rules football
cheesy = toasted cheese sandwich
pram = stroller
capsicum = bell pepper
tea = dinner
mozzies = mosquitoes
bottle shop = liquor store
sunnies = sunglasses
chewie = gum
chooks = chickens
daks = pants
dag = nerd, dork
bung = plug
ute = pick-up truck
Good on ya! = Good for you!, Well done!
sheila = a woman
lollies = sweets, candy
chips = french fries, fried potatoes
perving = checking someone out
pashing = french kissing
Rack off! = Get lost!
Wanna get on the piss? = Wanna go drinking?
rock up = show up, arrive
call in = stop by
spewin' = angry
Oz = Australia

And guess what. Fosters is NOT Australian for beer, Mate!

So what have I been up to the last few weeks?

Chris and I took a three week road trip from Perth up to Exmouth along the west coast of Australia. It was absolutely gorgeous, and we visited a lot of places that I would never have been able to see (or not so easily) without him because of the need for 4 wheel drive.

We hung out on some absolutely pristine beaches, some completely deserted and others jam-packed, but probably the most beautiful beaches I've ever seen. Some of them were nice and sandy, others were rocky with amazing cliffs. We went to one beach called Shell Beach which is made up of millions of tiny shells, something like 8 feet deep.

I've seen lots of dolphins since I've been here. Besides just seeing them in the ocean from a distant or "chasing" them with a boat in the ocean, I also went to a resort called Monkey Mia where they have a feeding program for a group of dolphins that come to shore every day without fail. There was one dolphin in particular who back in the 60s was quite sociable with humans and begged for food at the back of boats. Some woman caught on to this and decided to lure the dolphin into the shore over time, and eventually this dolphin would come to shore on its own to be fed.

Today the Monkey Mia resort has a program (and tourist attraction) where they feed 5 dolphins (although about 15 or so come to shore semi-regularly) up to three times a day before lunchtime 1/3 of their daily intake. They don't want the dolphins to become too reliant on humans for their food. They won't consider feeding any dolphins younger than 13 years old, and they only feed female dolphins these days because the males sometime became too aggressive.

Occasionally, one of their females is "taken" by the male dolphins when the males are ready to mate. They males will literally bully the female, bite her, and force her to come with them. Usually the female is seen at the shore again, with injuries, within a few days but the longest one was taken for was just over a month.

It was a really amazing experience to stand in the water with dolphins swimming past my legs just a few feet away!

After making it to Exmouth we headed inland and checked out the gorges in the Karijini National Park. Gorgeous! We spent one day just sitting half in half out of one of the pools in the gorge soaking in the sun, drinking beer and watching tourists. We hardly moved for about 5 hours except to take turns hiking back to the car for more beers! It was a fantastic lazy day.

I'm back in Perth for about another week, and then I head to Brisbane to meet up with Crystal and Patty who are coming for a 7 day vacation. I'm looking forward to seeing some friends, especially girlfriends.

I'm not sure what the plan is yet from Brisbane. I've been invited to a birthday party in Sydney, so I may head south to Sydney, but it will be colder there. Or, because of my new addiction to sunshine, I'm pretty tempted to head up north where it should be nice and hot!

I'll keep you posted!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Last Thoughts on Latin America

I've been in, on, and among ancient ruins in three countries.

I've watched ocean sunsets and walked on beaches barefoot.

I've climbed an active volcano and stood next to glowing, flowing lava at dusk.

I visited a cloud forest and hiked around the rim of a gorgeous crater lake.

I ate a picnic lunch next to a green lagoon with 2 - 90 something year old sisters and the young daughter of one of their daughter's.

I rafted. I looked at tons of waterfalls.

I went to natural hot springs several different times.

I tried a steam bath...nice!

I admired countless beautiful, old churches. COUNTLESS!!

I learned to speak Spanish.

I visited the equator.

I touched giant starfish.

Looked at ancient gold artifacts.

Watched shooting stars and ate pizza at night on the beach.

Listened to the waves crash and fell asleep in the grass in the park in the warm sun...for hours.

I ate tuna sandwiches, olives and cheese and coffee for breakfast on the beach and then ate the same thing for lunch in the same spot on the beach, but switched the coffee to beer...This was a routine for a few days. I loved it.

I took a couple of little boat tours - Flores, Granada, outside of Bogota.

I met wonderful locals, especially in El Salvador, Colombia and Ecuador.

I stood under waterfalls and went horseback riding on the same day.

I saw the Panama Canal.

I have been to 10 countries.

I have felt tremors!

Australia - Give me more of the same!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Hola, Peru! Hola, Lima!

I'm in Lima, Peru...I think it has a population of 8 million or so....so it's no Denver. But what a beautiful city, built on bluffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean...wow!

I have 10 days left before I fly to Perth. I got a work visa for Australia, which I'm sure I mentioned already...but in any case, I have to enter the country by May 2nd or I lose the visa.

When I was granted the visa, nearly three months ago, I was in El Salvador, and I thought, "My god, how will I make it through South America fast enough?!" And the truth is, it's not possible to make it through South America fast enough. This continent is huge, and every country deserves a fair amount of attention and patience.

So, I've been to Colombia, Ecuador, and now Peru. Peru is certainly the sketchiest country in South America so far...I was scammed big time by the Peruvian taxi drivers (fuck them!), and today I was with an other America at the supermarket...he tried, unknowingly, to pay for his purchase with a 50 note (about $17), which turned out to be fake...along with another 100 soles that he got at the border...completely fake!

I was completely scammed by taxi drivers back to back on the Peruvian side of the border...which at one point, I thought this post would be titled, ¨I hate Peru¨ or ¨Thank god I eat fish¨ or ¨Get me the fuck out of South America." For the record...taxi drivers are scum...generally they screw you over in some sly method or another...don't get me started.

In any case, thankfully, I did not title this post that...Lima has been great...but I still believe Peru to be sketchy, and I can't wait to arrive in Perth.

However, Lima is a beautiful city, very metropolitan...beautiful skyrises, hotels, restaurants, but for me the best are the parks...along the cliffs overlooking the ocean.

Tomorrow night I head toward Cuzco, but I think I will probably make a stop 1/2 way because I'm not totally keen on a 20 hour bus ride.

So I guess that's it for now...

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Ruta de las Cascadas

I had an action packed day today on four hours of sleep...and it's not over yet!

I rented a mountain bike for the day ($3.33) with two guys I met here in Baños. Paul from California and Vicente from Wales. We rode part of the Ruta de las Cascadas (Route of Waterfalls) about 10 miles (17K) fairly leisurely over the course of 5 hours with stops along the way to admire the many waterfalls and a few little side hikes to get a closer view. (Pictures soon to come.)

Oh! And how could I forget the bridge jumping ($15), which I happily observed despite the intense peer pressure. Watching was scary enough for me. Bridge jumping, I suppose, is a milder version of bungee jumping. Paul jumped. Vicente jumped. I took pictures.

At the bridge jump, we met a couple of Australians from Sydney (Simon & Jeff - ¨best mates¨) who also jumped, and who we met back up with towards the end of our ride and hiked up to the Pailon del Diablo waterfall.

The Pailon del Diablo (Pillar of the Devil) waterfall was amazing! Can't wait to post photos, but my battery is dead at the moment. It's not exactly Niagra Falls, but the water was really coming down fast and strong. You could walk right up underneath and have a bit of a ¨shower¨if you wanted...which we all did. It was a nice thrill!

Now it's off to thermal baths...which is what Baños (literally ¨baths¨) is famous for...this will be my second dip in the thermal baths. I also had a steam bath the other day, which was interesting and invigorating.

That's it for now!

Monday, March 30, 2009

Happy Birthday to Me!

I had a great birthday in Quito yesterday...better than I expected. I didn't have any plans really. I hadn't really met a lot of people at the hostel that I connected with or really enjoyed their company...except my two roommates which was very fortunate. My roommates were Ivan from Spain and Majken from Denmark. The three of us went to the Mitad del Mundo (Middle of the World or the equator) with them the day before.

As soon as I got up that morning, Ivan wished me happy birthday and gave me a hug. I was touched.

I slept in because I could, because I didn't have anywhere to be, no obligations, plans, etc...BUT I did get up just a few minutes before 10:00 a.m., before the free breakfast at the hostel was over! I ate breakfast, hung around the hostel on one of the terraces and soaked in some sunshine, took my time getting ready (like I always do!), and went to make some phone calls and do some emailing. I guess my only obligation was to call the two people who brought me into this world.

I felt more or less fine with not having any plans or doing anything special for my birthday, but after talking to my mom and my dad, I began to feel a little depressed when they asked what I was going to do to celebrate. But oh well, I felt fine and didn't want to let their questions influence my mood...but I did start to feel a little down.

I did some more emailing, and thought I would hit up a museum before it got too late...it was almost 3:30 already. Where does the time go? And the next thing I knew, there was Majken leaning into my view... ¨Happy Birthday!¨ And she had a big serving of chocolate cake for me! How did she know I was there at that internet cafe?! She told me she had asked around at the hostel and apparently someone had seen me at that internet cafe. So we headed off to the art museum together...

The museum was closed. Bummer. A $2 taxi ride for nothing. But we took the bus back to our neighborhood for $0.25. Neither of us had eaten, so we ended up at a Mediterranean restaurant watching the Ecuador vs Brazil soccer game, and I finally felt celebratory and had a beer...two big ones!

After the game was over, Majken said, ¨Hey, do you feel like just going back to the hostel and playing some pool?¨ Wow! Does this girl know how to make my day or what? Of course I feel like playing some pool! We got back to the hostel and she says, ¨Do you like wine?¨ I've been told I drink wine like water. We got a $4.50 box of wine, and the games began!

I played pretty well, made some nice bank shots, and after a while we were joined by two Israeli guys, a Colombian guy, two Argentinian guys, and an American guy who is studying at Naropa in Boulder. The Argentinians and Israelis wanted to play as well, so it was a fun night of pool with light-hearted disagreements on rules.

I popped back in my room at one point and discovered a new roommate. He told me someone had left me a piece of cake.
¨Yeah, thanks. She found me. It's my birthday.¨
¨Happy Birthday! How old are you?¨
His response: ¨Ouch!¨
Yeah, ¨ouch¨is right, especially when someone says ¨ouch!¨
But no biggie!

The night was great. Pool was fun. Majken and I drank a carton and a half of wine. I tried to stay up with her until 3:00 a.m. when she needed to leave for the airport, but I think I only made it to midnight or so. Majken really made my day...you never know how the day is going to go when you are traveling or who you are going to meet or where you are going to end up.

I'm in Latacunga now. It's just a little south of Ecuador. I'm happy to be out of Quito. I really didn't enjoy it. I'm not sure why...a mix of things I guess: the hostel, the neigborhood I was in, the daily stories of someone getting mugged right outside the hostel, and maybe I just wasn't feeling very touristy. Who knows?

I came to Latacunga today with Ivan. Tomorrow we are going to head to a village near Laguna Quilotoa, which is supposed to be beautiful. It's a crater lake. And I think day after tomorrow we will hike around the lake.

After that, I need to make my way out of Ecuador fairly quickly. I only have a month left in South America before flying to Australia.

So that's it for now!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

100 Bottles of Beer in Bogota and more!

Well Crystal told me she is tired of looking at The Wheels on the Bus post...and it has been a month after all since my last post...I guess I'm not really a blogger. I think real bloggers blog every day or so.

Anyway, I'm in Bogota, Colombia. I arrived almost a month ago from Panama City. I only spent a few days in Panama but I did see the canal which was interesting. I left Rosey, my British travel companion, in Panama City and met up with Chris, my Australian travel companion, in Bogota.

In Bogota, I met up with Sebastian and Mariana - a brother and sister who were like family to me when I lived in Germany. I met Sebastian in my German classes in Hamburg and through him met his sister. It was really great to see them. I hadn't seen them for about 3 or 4 years.

Chris and I just spent a few days in Bogota before heading to Cartegena on the Caribbean coast, but we visited the Gold Museum, a cathedral outside of the city that is built inside an old salt mine, and took a cable car up a famous hill in Bogota where there is a beautiful church and a view of the city of 8 million people!

The salt mine cathedral was interesting and not all what I expected...I guess I was thinking Disney because I had picture a big beautiful white cathedral made of salt. I must have overlooked the mine part of the description which would indicate dark underground tunnels! So it wasn't Disney, but it was interesting.

We headed up to the coast to Barranquilla for Carnival, which proved to be a little bit too wild for either of us. So after one day and night of being harrassed and ¨robbed¨by street hoodlums we headed back to peaceful little Cartegena and didn't experience Carnival at all. Once we got to Cartegena I was a little bummed that we didn't stick it out in Barranquilla and experience Carnival, but at the same time it's hard to have fun when you are constantly worried about your safety or getting robbed or pickpocketed. So maybe it was for the better.

Cartagena was a nice place with a beautiful walled old town - very colonial - with some beaches nearby. We didn't really do a whole lot there. We went to two different beaches, one for lunch one afternoon and the other so I could do a little tanning. It was hard to enjoy the time on the beach because we were constantly bothered by vendors selling ceviche, sunglasses, massages, pedicures & manicures - and just one look at the set up for massages (lay yourself right on the sand) with who knows what kind of ¨oil,¨ you would never take them up on it, no matter how cheap! At least I wouldn't! Same goes for the pedicures and manicures!

From Cartagena, it was an 10 hour night bus ride or so back south to Medellin - I think the third largest city in Colombia. In Medellin we really enjoyed the restaurant options because Cartagena was a week full of ¨tipico¨: for me that meant rice, beans, fried banana, salad, and a fried egg...and it was the same meal for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. There were some nice non-tipico restaurants in Cartagena, but they weren't for the backpackers budget. And I guess we splurged a little bit on dining in Medellin, but it was worth it!

It rained a fair amount in Medellin so we found ourselves passing the time in a couple of pool halls...which in Colombia appear to be strictly for men, but no one seemed to pay too much attention when we came strolling in, which for me was nice for a change! The problem for us was that we couldn't play pool at most of these pool halls because the tables had no pockets! This wasn't 8-ball. It was a pocketless game with three balls and the object was to use one of the balls to contact the other two. And each time you did that you got one point and another turn. I think they played 'til 50, and it was generally an hour a game. It was mostly older men who played. And there was always 10-15 men just hanging around each table watching maybe drinking some coffee, there wasn't much alcohol. We got a kick out watching them...I mean pool with no pockets!

We eventually found a couple of pool halls with a ¨normal¨ table but we could only play there (or I only felt comfortable playing) if it wasn't too busy because the only normal table they had always right by the urinals which were just up against a wall out in the open...so needless to say it wasn't an ideal set up for me.

We also visited a nice botanic garden in Medellin with beautiful orchids and banana trees...banana trees are fascinating!

From Medellin we headed by night bus back to Bogota to meet up with Mariana and Sebastian again, just in time for Chris' birthday. It was a wild night that started early that Friday afternoon in Sebastian's restaurant. We had done a little pre-celebrating the night before in the old town of Bogota which is now a university area, so by the time we showed at the restaurant, Sebastian was more or less done for the day, and friends were already there for Friday afternoon drinks. Once we had completely consumed all the beer and Aguardiente (literally hot water - a nice Colombia liquor kind of like Sambuca), we headed to a the apartment of one of Sebastian's friends. I think the night ended around 4 or 5 a.m. And I stayed in bed until about 5 p.m. the next day! The total count: 100 beers, 5 bottles of Aguardiente, 1.5 bottles of whiskey. What a party!

Sunday Mariana, Sebastian and their cousin Frederico took us on a little day trip north of the city. We saw some beautiful countryside, took a little boat trip, and had a nice lunch. We were all still recovering a bit from Friday night, so a mellow day with an early evening was in order.

Chris left for Buenos Aires earlier this week to continue his world trip, and I moved in with Mariana and Sebastian at their mom's house for the rest of my stay here. Once again, it has been such a treat to stay at someone's house and be out of the hotels and hostels. There's no place like home, even if it's not your own, I suppose.

I'm heading to Ecuador on Tuesday or Wednesday this week via night bus...ugh. It's 24 hours between here and Quito, but I'm gonna break it up and stay a night or two in Cali - a Colombian town about 1/2 way.

I applied for and was granted a work visa for Australia that requires me to enter the country before May 2nd or the visa will be revoked, so I'm on a bit of a time crunch now. I've decided to cut out Bolivia, Argentina and Chile. I've been to Chile once before, so that's okay, but I'm a little bummed about Argentina and Bolivia. I guess I'll have to take another trip down here sometime!

I'm planning to spend about two weeks in Ecuador before heading to Peru to see Machu Picchu, the Inca ruins. Then I'm hoping to fly from Lima to Sao Paulo, Brazil to visit Danielle - another friend from Germany. And then from Sao Paulo to Sydney or Melbourne or somewhere Down Under!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round...

I'm in San Jose, Costa Rica right now emailing from my hotel which is super nice and a real step up from some of the other places I've stayed recently. It's beautiful. Hardwood floors in the room and beautiful tiled hallways, and even hot water showers! I'm sharing the room (and king size bed!) with Rosey, a girl from Britain who I met in Granada, Nicaragua. I mean 3 1/2 weeks ago we didn't even know each other and now we're sharing a king size bed...traveling can be strange.

After I left San Salvador I went to Managua (the capital of Nicaragua). It wasn't exactly beautiful but I spent one night there and left the next day by noon. I visited a park that has the ruins of buildings and tanks left from their revolution as well as a small Sandisto exhibition and a nice view of the city and Lake Managua.

The ¨biggest¨tourist attraction, where I was the only tourist, was some footprints called Huellas de Acahualinca that were discovered in 1874 by accident by some construction workers. The footprints are 6000 years old and were left behind by a group of about 10 men, women and children. One theory suggests that the people left the area to escape a volcanic erruption, but the footprints don't indicate that they were running, so who knows? The footprints were left in a layer of volcanic mud and were preserved when they were covered by a layer of volcanic ash.

So besides that, Managua is pretty much a big, hot spread out city where for safety sake it is often recommended to take a taxi during the day. Not exactly the place for me.

I headed to Granada that afternoon. Granada is pretty and nothing like Managua really. It's smallish, quaint and colonial...and a big tourist destination, which has it's advantages and disadvantages. I took another week of Spanish lessons there and did a homestay which is a cheap way to handle accommodations if you can handle staying in someone's home. It was $80 for the week which included a ¨private¨room and three meals a day. The woman's name is Chagua and when she was younger she used to run one of the most popular ¨comedors¨in Granada. She's kind of famous. A comedor is kind a local restaurant often run out of a family home where they serve typical regional dishes. So, she was a great cook.

There was another girl staying with Chagua who arrived one day before me...Rosey, from Britain, who I'm still traveling with now. She was also taking Spanish lessons and had planned to stay another week, but ended up coming with me.

I made a nice little group of friends that week through the Spanish school...Rosey, Emily from Australia, Norbert from Germany, and Corey from the U.S. It was an awkward combination of people, but we had drinks together on several occassions, did a little tour of the islands, went to a baseball game, and did a cloudless cloud forest hike. I had a great time.

I left Granada with Emily and Rosey and the three of us went to Jiquilillo which is pretty far north in Nicaragua on the Pacific Coast. It was a bit of challenge to get there by chicken bus...but that's the only way. The chicken buses, by the way, are old U.S. school buses. So you can imagine that the buses are not very comfortable for adults...but Central Americans do tend to be small. At one point the bus was so full with school children that the bus helper was placing them two deep in the aisle between the seats. So they basically had to stand sideways in the aisle facing the windows...almost spooning!

We stayed at Rancho Esperanzo, which was beautiful and a little too intimate in the end. The three of us got a bungalow for $8 each per night. And there was basically a $12 a day meal plan, and an honor system beer fridge. When you took a beer, you put a tick mark by your name. We had a nice time, but because there's not much to do but hang around with every one else who is staying there, I guess we tired of the staff and other guests fairly quickly. And 2 days before we arrived two girls were robbed by two guys with machetes just down the beach a ways at 2 in the afternoon, so staying close to the ranch seemed like a good idea. We only stayed two nights. That was a lot of twos, huh?

In Jiquilillo I did try kayaking for the first time. It was a two man kayak and was frustrating at first with Rosey in the front seat barking at me about how to steer and when to turn, but after I offered to switch with her so she could do it and she declined, I had no problems ignoring her and taking in the beautiful views. And I eventually got the hang of it, so we had a good time. We went with Emily, the two girls who were robbed and the goofy little Nicaraguan guide.

From Jiquilillo (pronounced he-key-leo) Emily and Rosey and I had a hellacious journey to San Juan del Sur...it was supposed to take 6 hours and it took 9 hours. All in all it was a 12 hour day of travel with a break for lunch and emailing. Everything went pretty well until we were duped into getting on the slow bus to Managua from Chinendega. The driver's helper told us it would take 1.5 hours. It took 3. It was the total back road bus through the villages on dirt roads and the driver insisted on driving on the side of the road most of time. And don't forget, we're on a school bus. We were absolutely pissed. Emily especially since we were making this long trek for her to meet up with her boyfriend.

When we made it to Managua three hours later, a kind lady helped us with a taxi...which we desperately needed, the help and the taxi, because the last bus from Managua to Rivas was leaving in about 45 minutes. We managed to catch that bus, and now we hoped that we would catch the last bus from Rivas to San Juan del Sur. Well I sat with one butt check on the end of a seat that was already holding two adults with someone's butt in my face no matter which way I looked for about an hour as the sun sat and that sardine-packed bus to Rivas broke down.

At first it wasn't really clear that there was a problem because the bus hadn't stopped running; they had just pulled over. But I was toward the front of the bus, and I could hear the tools clanking and see the strange objects being past forward. I called back to Emily and Rosey and told them they were making repairs...with probably like 85 people on board. Emily decided to get out to assess the situation. Apparently they some how lost the lug nuts. Dear god. After waiting around 45 minutes or so another bus to Rivas appeared and we hopped on that one, paid the fare again and were on our way...and our original bus eventually passed us. Fine with me though...who knows if they made it there with all of their wheels.

When we arrived in Rivas the last bus to San Juan del Sur had already left. We had to take a taxi...which makes me unconfortable sometimes, especially at night. I mean it's basically like hopping in a car with a strange man and well...who knows what could happen. So I interviewed him, checked his drivers license, his taxi license, checked the plates to his taxi license...we stood around a felt him out for a bit and about 20 minutes later we were off. We got into San Juan at 9:30 p.m. with no problems. We found some over priced food, if you could call it that, and then hooked up with some people Emily's boyfriend had met. And suddenly it was 4 a.m.

Rosey and I headed to Liberia, Costa Rica the next morning. The border crossing from Nicaragua to Costa Rica was uneventful, but confusing. There aren't many signs or officials telling you what to do or where to go. I mean to leave Nicaragua you wait in a line that says Entering Nicaragua. We paid our $2 exit fee to Nicaragua and almost slipped across the border to Costa Rica unnoticed. If it hadn't been for some guy hanging around who got the official's attention we would have walked right past that checkpoint without noticing it or them noticing us.

So you are probably getting the picture here...the last few days have been virtually one long bus ride after another. Yesterday was a 6 hour ride, today was 4, tomorrow Rosey and I are going to David, Panama - 9 hours. Guess what's on the agenda for Saturday? Another 9 hour bus ride to Panama City...BUT...once I'm there I'll get to rest up for a few days before flying to Bogota, Colombia. But once I'm in Bogota, I meeting back up with Chris the Australian for a TWENTY HOUR bus ride to Cartegena. Have a I lost my mind???