Tag Archives: costa rica

Ruta Maya 15 – And So To Jinja

After waving goodbye to the ruins of Copan we jumped a taxi back to town, picked up our things from the backpackers, went to the shop, bought some water and nonchalantly wandered down to where the bus leaves at 2pm for Tegucigalpa, the unpronounceable capital of Honduras.

All this way!
Te-gussy? Te-gassy? Gal-pah? Gul-pah?? Fooked if I know!

We arrived at 1.55pm to find the bus had already gone. GAH!! This is no time to be getting ruthlessly efficient, Honduras!!

We had to wait another hour or so for the next bus, a minibus that got us into Tegucigalpa in the middle of the night. You know, the murder capital of the murder capital of the world. Sorry to hang this on Honduras, I think it’s quite a cool place, but the murder rate (90 per 100,000) is three times that of “really quite dangerous” South Africa, 19 times that of the “gun crazy” US and 90 times that of “it’s all going to the dogs” Great Britain.

In a word: EEK!!!

Lookin' cool....
Keep frosty people….

I’m no fool, I travel with both eyes open. Tegucigalpa is not a particularly groovy place to be right now, thanks to America’s genocidally moronic “War on Drugs” (43 years, trillions spent and no victory in sight). Luckily we made a friend on the bus over, a local Honduran who had lived in the UK for many years. He shared a taxi with us from the bus station and made sure we got safely into the (horrifically overpriced) backpackers (in which the security was like Fort Knox).

We booked the first bus out of Teggy City, which would leave at 6am. However, as the backpackers was so horrifically overpriced, we didn’t have to cash to pay for our tickets, so the hostel owner took me and another guest in their car to the cash machine at the all-night garage. It felt like we were doing a (albeit rather boring) mission on GTA. Everyone’s on edge! Or maybe I was projecting. I dunno.

Since I thought I would be on stuck on Jinja Island at the end of June this year I had (foolishly) allowed the reservation on my Glastonbury ticket to expire. But now I knew that my friend Kendra would be looking after the island for me, I could go… and the few remaining tickets would be going on resale that night at 3am (yeah, Glasto, just wreck everyone’s night sleep in the Western Hemisphere why dontcha?).

I had 4 tickets to try and get for me and three of my friends. I got through to the input screen – yes, even though I was sitting on a bunkbed in a dorm room at 3am in the hardest capital city name to remember next to Bandar Seri Begawan – I put in everyone’s details… hands shaking GOD THIS IS STRESSFUL… only to be told I “exceeded the quota” whatever that means.

Quick as a flash I pressed the back arrow back to the input screen and just punched my details in. I got it. For me at least. I pressed the back arrow again to get Anna’s… punched her details in quick as I could… and was directed to the SOLD OUT screen. It was 3.07am.

I was gutted for Anna, but also elated that I had managed to snag a ticket from the jaws of defeat here in the middle of Central America. I was also absolutely knackered. I fell fast asleep.

Two and a half hours later I was in the cold shower (how much did I pay for this room again??) getting ready to leave on the Tica bus for Nicaragua.

I always like going south, feels like going downhill.
I always like going south, feels like going downhill.

The air of familiarity about all this made it seem almost routine. Here I was, tearing through Central America on a bus and the air-con was set to 0° Kelvin.

How cold are the buses in Latin America?
With apologies to Stanley Kubrick.

Around lunchtime, we found ourselves crossing the border back into Nicaragua – a bit of a backpacker favourite, but exploration would have to save it for next year perhaps when we “do” Southern Central America properly.

It wouldn’t be Nicaragua without the obligatory volcano shot.

We arrived in Managua – the capital of Nicaragua – in the late afternoon. Casey and I tried about 13 different guest houses until we found one that was just right – Hostel Los Cisneros, well recommended. Managua is a sleepy old town, not much going on at all. I walked the two-hour round trip to the nearest shopping mall (I couldn’t find and shops or restaurants on the way) and bought us both food to eat. I found Casey chillaxing on the balcony.

Casey Turner in Managua.
Yes it is possible to chill without freezing to death.

We were planning on pressing on to Costa Rica the next day, but the tickets were sold out and Casey wasn’t feeling so good. Hats off to her – we had been in Central America now for over a month and she hadn’t got even slightly ill (vaccinations! YAY SCIENCE!!), so a day of pampering was well within my remit. Another bloody long walk to the shopping mall though.

The bus left at stupid o’clock the following morning (because OF COURSE IT DID – it was a Tica bus), too early to get breakfast, but the lovely people at the guest house got up and made us coffee anyway.

Managua
Mind the lake!!

Later that same day we were back in Costa Rica for the third and final time of this trip.

Costa Rica sign
Welcome welcome!

Having sworn never to step foot in the Lonely Planet-recommended Hostel Pangea for as long as I live (seriously guys, did you actually stay there or did you just go off their website??), Case and I stayed at the infinitely more pleasant Costa Rica Backpackers, near the screeching wheels of the railway station.

The next morning we were picked up from the hostel in a minibus and taken to the bus station for the bus to Sixaola – the border with Panama.

East is East
Through wonderful Bananaland!!

This time it wouldn’t cost us $100 in taxi fares.

Costa Rica Bus
Screw you taxi guys!!

So then, back through Liverpool, Costa Rica…

Liverpool, Costa Rica
IT EXISTS!!!

Over the rickety bridge at Sixaola, into Panama, and then the white-knuckle minibus ride to the boat dock at Almirante.

Weeeeeee!!

We arrived back in Bocas on the last ferryboat from the mainland just before dark on April 30 2014. The Bocas Turtles baseball team had just won the league and the party stretched on into the night, but we were exhausted. What a trip! Back not moment too soon… the next day we’d be taking over our very own private island… Jinja Island.

HELL. YEAH.

The Ruta Maya had given us both a fascinating insight into the world of the Mayan people. We had been to almost a dozen incredible sites spread out over 4 separate countries and seen hundreds of monumental works of ancient art, design and imagination. Not only that, but we had hung out with real Mayans, such as Luis from An Idiot Abroad, and watched real-life Mayan warriors play the ball games that were so integral to the lives of their ancestors.

Mayan Fire Hockey
It doesn’t get any cooler than this.

Still one thing I still haven’t figured out though…

Is it pronounced MAY-an or MY-an?

Ruta Maya 1 – A Glitch In The Matrix

What is the Ruta Maya?

I don’t take over Jinja Island until May 1st, so Casey and I have a spare month to go and explore Central America, one of the areas I rushed through on the Old Odyssey Expedition. The plan is for us to race north and visit at least ten Mayan sites spread out over Belize, Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras.

So after a few days on the island we said our farewells to Ian and Vanessa for the moment and returned to Bocas Town, where we stayed for a week, chilling out in the Mundo Taito backpackers.

Much of which was out of focus.
Much of said week was out of focus.

Then it was time to hit the road. Panama to Belize overland? Hell yeah! Why am I getting this strange feeling of Deja Vu…?

Casey and I left Bocas Town on April 5 and began our journey by taking the ferry boat over to Almirante and the mainland of Panama (Bocas Town is on an island). Then it was a typically hair-raising minibus ride to the border with Costa Rica.

Crossing the rickety old bridge at the border was as hilarious as ever, but at least we weren’t trundling our suitcases over it this time. From now on it’s backpacks all the waaaaaaay!

GINGER POWER!!

On the Costa Rican side of the border a group of backpackers coming the other way recognised me from such medical movies as “Mommy, What’s On That Man’s Face?” and “Alice Doesn’t Live Anymore.” Photos were taken…

Graham Hughes and Fans, Panama-Costa Rica border

..and photos were photobombed.

Graham Hughes Photobombed on Panama-Costa Rica border

I thought I had timed our border crossing really well, arriving at 1.55pm for the 2pm bus for San Jose… but I forgot that Costa Rica is an hour behind Panama (Panama, formally part of Colombia, syncs up its timepieces with Bogota) – and so 2pm Costa Rica time wouldn’t be for another hour. Case and I grabbed a dreadful burger from a (tellingly) deserted cafe, but before long we were well on our way to the capital via Puerto Viejo, Puerto Limon and – yes – the Del Monte town of LIVERPOOL, Costa Rica!

It exists!!

A few miles west of Puerto Limon…

 

We arrived in San Jose around 10pm and headed to a bar that would be open late, near the bus station. The bus up to Guatemala left at 3am. Madness I know. I think it’s something to do with the fact that buses don’t like driving at night.

We got online and went to the Tica bus site to book our tickets for tonight’s bus, but the website don’t wanna let you do that.

So I left Casey in the bar with our backpacks and walked the streets of Costa Rica’s capital, late on a Friday night, to the bus terminal.

One of the most irritating things about travelling around Central America is that each bus company tends to have its own terminal, as opposed to the MUCH BETTER system in South America, in which there is ONE bus terminal and all of the bus companies operate out of it.

I walked for ages, and I just couldn’t find the damn place. Bad map reading skills? Not on your nelly! It’s not 2009 anymore. My memory (and my Lonely Planet guidebook) was out of date. The station had moved to the other side of town. Only, San Jose doesn’t think much of road names either, so finding an address for the new place was nigh on impossible.

I decided to take a cab, hoping he’d know where it was, and luckily he did. I arrived, asked my cabbie to wait outside, queued for half an hour only to be told the 3am bus was sold out.

Groan.

I returned to the pub to let Casey know what was going on, and then walked the street trying to find somewhere to stay the night. Nearly all the places marked in my 2008 Lonely Planet had either closed down, moved, or didn’t take guests after midnight.

In desperation, I checked us into Pangea Hostel, a former jail that I’ve heard nothing but bad things about. And I can happily say that they didn’t disappoint!

For thirty dollars, we slept in a dorm room (cell) on bunk beds. In the morning we drank our tiny cups of free coffee whilst having pop dance music BLASTED into our eardrums at 120dB. At 10am we had to not just check out but leave the premises entirely… or else stump up another $15 to stay for a few more hours.

To add insult to injury, the staff were surly as hell (except for one guy who was nice but tellingly utterly exasperated by it all) and seemed to have gone to the Basil Fawlty school of hospitality.

YES WE’RE HAVING A GREAT TIME THANK YOU THANKS

Wow. Way NOT to run a hostel guys! Check out the reviews on Trip Advisor…

http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Hotel_Review-g309293-d570376-Reviews-Hostel_Pangea-San_Jose_San_Jose_Metro_Province_of_San_Jose.html#REVIEWS

“Scathing” would be an understatement.

Luckily, there’s a lovely little bar a few buildings down the same road that’s cheap, cheerful, has wi-fi, the food is grrrrreat and it’s open until 2am.

We stayed all day and late into the night.

Till 3am, actually.

At 3am we left the city on our way up though Nicaragua, Honduras and into El Salvador.

Nicaragua not only has some amazing natural treasures, it’s also obsessed with Smurf hats. There’s one on the flag AND on the coins. Don’t believe me? Look closely…

SMURF HAT!!!

We arrived in San Salvador at around 2am and the connecting bus to Guatemala would be leaving at 5am. We imagined we’d just stay up, but the bus company had thought of that…! They gave us no choice but to stay in their crappy little hotel, so we wound up paying for an entire night even though we were only there for 3 hours.

Grr……

Tica Buses = EVIL

So then onward to Guatemala City! We arrived around noon and took a taxi to the bus station for Puerto Barrios on the caribbean coast… from whence we could take a boat to Punta Gorda, Belize.

These place names are not meaning much, are they? Would a zoomable map of our journey help?  YOUR WISH IS MY COMMAND!

I know, I know, I’m far too good to you.

I managed to do this same journey much quicker on The Odyssey Expedition, but on this trip we didn’t arrive in Puerto Barrios until nightfall – there were no ferryboats until tomorrow morning.

So we checked into a sweet little guesthouse and went out to get ourselves a couple of mountains of yummy grub.

Wowsers!!

In the morning we paid our ‘exit tax’ and were stamped out of Guatemala. Onto the morning speedboat… next stop… BELIZE!!!

LET’S GOOOOOOOOOOO