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Blog Archives: Entries for 2016

Now in Tegucigalpa, Honduras

I’m now in Tegucigalpa, capital of Honduras. This is country 113! Getting here was fun, a challenge and an interesting day all round. I started Saturday morning in Esteli, north Nicaragua, my task to find an internet café and Skype my girlfriend. This was my second attempt to find an internet place, my first attempt had ended in almost failure. I did find one eventually but when I arrived, the internet decided to quit working. This Saturday morning, 7th May was more successful. I walked five blocks from the Sonati Hostel where I stayed and turned left and walked two blocks as instructed. Still no café. I asked one guy and he crossed me over one road and pointed up the street with my stick. I walked up the street and asked in the first open building I found, it was a café, but no internet. The owner spoke English and was originally from Kenya. I decided to have breakfast and attempted to order a sandwich – ham and cheese with no salad. Moments later the food arrived, but strangely with lettuce only and no meat or cheese, I chewed away wondering to myself what had happened. The owner returned and I mentioned the problem laughing. He also laughed and said nobody listens. Eventually the correct sandwich was produced and happily feed, I continued my quest. One block later I found the internet café in question. Naturally, the headphones and microphone failed to produce sound and my only option was to write messages. This done, I retraced my steps back to the hostel and with minutes to spare, grabbed my backpack and jumped in a taxi and headed to the bus station to go north to the border with Honduras. Not a straightforward trip, first a two hour chicken bus to Ocotal crammed in with many locals and other people jumping on and off the bus selling anything from water to mango, chicken and rice to chocolate bars. Once in Ocotal, I was taken to the stand for the next bus to Las Manus, the frontier town with Honduras. This was another bumpy ride of 1.5 hours with more being squashed and squeezed!

Once in Las Manus, sweating like a pig and bladder full and aching, I walked towards immigration up a steep hill with much traffic doing its best to run me over. One guy helped me up the hill, then another officious type asked me in Spanish for my passport and demanded $2 exit fee. I looked and acted confused. Two ladies who spoke Spanish and English came to my rescue and took me in their pick up truck to the Nicaragua immigration. I climbed into the open back and sat on the wheel. At immigration, I paid my 2 dollars in Nicaraguan Cordobas and we continued to Honduran immigration in the truck. Five minutes later customs officials questioned me, took my passport, asked my destination, and eventually stamped my passport and let me cross the border. The family who I was travelling with, a mix of one lady from the US and Nicaraguans, took me to a small town named Danli from where I caught a minibus to the capital. For anyone doing this journey, there is a bus from the border to Tegucigalpa, but the last bus buggers off at 2 pm!

2.5 hours later in the dark I arrived in Honduras’s capital and largest city. A spread out place with little to see or do apart from a large statue of Jesus Christ in the hills. I took an expensive taxi to my intended hostel, but was told it was closed. The driver tried to explain this in English but I didn’t understand. Eventually a pedestrian managed to translate what he was saying. Therefore I headed to Palmira Hostel and stayed for 2 nights. By the time you read this I will be in Los Naranjos, near Lake Yojo.

Nicaragua was interesting, in two and half weeks I managed to cover almost all of the west side of the country. I’m not sure where I left you, maybe in the historic city of El Castillo on the banks of the calming Rio de San Juan. This is an historical tourist town with a beautiful old castle built around 1660 to stop pirate raids on Granada, Nicaragua’s oldest city in 1524. Exploring the castle with a lovely local lady I was led onto the ramparts which give magnificent views over the river and surrounding hills. The lady gave this description. After two nights in El Castillo it was a boat back to San Carlos my first stop in the country and a nine hour journey involving three buses to Granada, Nicaragua’s first capital.

Two nights of historical wanderings, plus a crazy zipline on Volcán Mombacho and it was off to explore Isla Ometepe. Island of two mountains. A chicken bus takes you to Rivas after a rough two hours of yet more bouncing and twisting, then an expensive taxi to the port of San George before an hour long boat ride to Moyogalpa, the main town of Ometepe. I had one quiet night at Hostel Yogi, which I found with the help of a French traveller I met on the bus from Granada.

In the morning with a couple from Ireland, I caught a taxi to Little Morgans hostel on the lake where loud music and lots of drinking awaited me. Little Morgans is a fun place, mostly made of natural material with dorm beds close to the ground, the toilet and shower block too far to walk if you’re caught short, it is nevertheless a happening place. It’s basically a beach bar without the ocean. I spent four lovely relaxing days there, went horse-riding into the foothills of Volcan Maderas one evening, a lovely ride up the steep slopes with birdsong in the trees and nothing else except the clip-clacking of the horse’s hooves.

I made some friends at the hostel, Alex a crazy seed who’s been living in Australia for the past year, Carli a small, kind Aussie girl who attended to my every food need, and Whitney a lady, who like myself doesn’t like men! The first people I met however were Jessie and West, a funny couple from Ohio. They took me down to the lake on my first morning, a refreshing dip and a bit of sunburn. The remainder of that first day was spent relaxing. Other people arrived during the course of my stay and many drinking games were played. Iggy from London was an especially memorable chap, especially re-encountering him later. Also two nice chicks from Australia arrived on my final day, Nicole and Alisa. What jokes we told and funny card games were played. Finally I said goodbye to one and all. I remember the final night with fondness as we listened to Thunder Struck by AC/DC during an actual heavy thunderstorm! Then it was back to Granada for one night before heading to Masaya.

Unfortunately, when I arrived, late in the evening, the hostel I visited was full. I found a cheap hotel, but no English and was a struggle to find places or internet cafés. Alas, with the slight disappointment of Malaya and not finding much of interest I continued to the hot streets of Leon. Staying at Big Foot hostel not only meant meeting old friends again but allowed me to climb Cerro Negro volcano and try my hand at Sand Boarding.

A bus picked up people from the hostel and a 45 minute ride took everyone to the national park. It’s 31 dollars to sand board, another 5 dollars to enter the park and another 5 more dollars if you want someone to carry your board up the hill. A lovely funny Swiss guy took my board up for me and dragged me up the mountain, which for most people takes roughly an hour to climb. Once at the top, panting and out of breath, I put on my jump suit, walked down part of the black ash and stone covered mountain and waited for the fun to begin. When my turn came, I sat on the end of my board which had wooden ridges along it, took hold of a triangle-shaped handle attached to the board rope and put my feet either side of the board on the ground and pushed off. Immediately, having not gone three metres, I fell off and rolled in the stones! Not bad for a beginner. Laughing I picked myself up, sat back on the board and began again. If you keep your body weight forward you can go slowly and control your speed. The further back you lean the faster you go down the hill. The run is mostly straight but the board likes to go left or right. In order to keep the board straight you need to tap one foot on the ground, the right foot if it goes left and the left foot if it veers right. The faster you go the more it tries to change direction. About half way I fell off again and rolled three times, sliding in the gravel. I managed to keep hold of the board and after digging it out of the stones remounted and continued. After the half way point the hill gets a little steeper. I leaned back too far and began going too fast for me to control the board. I finally went left tipped over, landed extremely hard on my left shoulder, bounced a second time and rolled a further three times before sliding to a stop. I sat up and sat still. My left shoulder hurt. I mean really hurt. I didn’t make a sound, I just sat there for maybe five minutes. Thinking this might be broken. I eventually bounced down the remainder of the hill where the others met me. One girl put warm water on it and another asked me if I could move it. When I tried moving it backwards it was OK, but moving it forwards hurt like hell. A doctor later checked it out and gave me pain relief. I continued travelling…

Costa Rica

So now I’m getting ready to leave beautiful Costa Rica and cross into Nicaragua. Well I’ve travelled from the Caribbean cost to the Pacific, been near Mount Chirripo in San Geraldo, staying at Casa Mariposa, a wonderful paradise hostel retreat. I’ve rafted and got sunburnt in Turrialba, ziplined and done my 16th bungee jump in Monteverde, hiked trials, fallen often, cut toes and been attacked by many mosquitos. Yet the one constant thought in my mind is, the Costan people are lovely. Keiner and his lovely girlfriend who I stayed with in Turrialba to Oswalso and Andrea in the small town of Belen near San Jose, whose hospitality and humour I’ll never forget. Yes, the country is expensive, especially food and activities, but the nature in its abundance compensates for any expense. The beautiful birds that woke each morning or the howler monkeys with their occasional screech were delightful. I walked and swam in rivers and hiked to many spectacular waterfalls, the highlight being Viento Fresco, about 11km from Tilaran in north Costa Rica. It has been fun and interesting. Bring on Nicaragua and more adventures.

Costa Rica, country 111

I’m now in Costa Rica, country 111. The last 10 or so days have been interesting and full of adventure. Upon leaving Santiago in central Panama I took a four hour bus trip to David, Panama´s second city, then a local bus for an hour’s ride into the beautiful fresh aired mountains. Destination Boquete. It’s a backpacking haunt within a smallish city lined with restaurants, bars, cafés and many hostels to cater for all. I was staying at Hostel Nomba, half way up the large and long mountain. A taxi from downtown to the destination cost me 2 US dollars, Panama’s current currency. Nomba is a smallish hostel with a couple of dorm rooms and several privates. It’s run by an interesting American named Ryan in his late 30s. He likes to become friendly with his guests and is a character. It’s run with few staff, mostly volunteers, so things don´t always get done as efficiently as some guests might like, but it is a fairly cheap option in a quiet area and has breakfast included and a bar-restaurant most evenings.

People visited Boquete for hiking the mountain trails. This was my plan. However, upon alighting from a taxi to hike the Quetzal trail, one of the area’s most challenging and more well known, I was promptly told I couldn’t under any circumstances hike, too dangerous!! I returned to the hostel, gained directions to a nearby river and set off down the road, cane in hand, walking along the road edge. Many of Panama´s cities and town don´t have pavements. I followed the road and continued walking when it veered right. 10 minutes trekking took me across the metal bridge I’d previously crossed by taxi. I listened the gentle flow of the river and followed across the bridge and up the rolling hills into the mountains. An hour of walking-climbing took me into more open countryside and farm land. This I discovered when asking directions from a nearby motorist. I was told the gradients increased from this point and was offered a ride back into town. I was dropped near a paved footpath, which I followed using the sound of the traffic to guide me, this had me in the centre within 15 minutes. Once in town I found a ´Fonda´ – a local Panamanian restaurant which serves rice, beans, chicken, chicken or beef soups and a variety of other local cuisine. They´re extremely cheap and a good place to met locals and practice some Spanish! I attempted to do a rafting trip and also a zipline canopy tour, the rafting was cancelled due to lack of water in the river and the zipline company refused to take me on the grounds of not being experienced enough with blind people. I considered it their loss of money and continued my adventures.

I met several German couples at the hostel and the odd American or two. One afternoon an interesting, friendly German couple, Ryan, the hostel owner, and I went to the nearby natural hot springs. Ryan charged too much, but he drove us there and back and spent four hours with us, so I suppose the 29 dollars was okay. The hot springs only costs 1 dollar to enter. Natural rock surrounds a pool of hot water, which leads from a small flowing river containing much cooler water. I had a dip in both cool and hot water, before taking a horseback ride from the local farmer and owner of the land. An hour’s ride through narrow forest in almost dusk conditions was peaceful and relaxing.

The following day I met up with an American lady named Natalea who I´d previously met in Portobelo. She´s originally from Slovakia but now lives in Florida. A cool relaxed girl who likes nature. We hiked the Pipeline Trail with an older guy from Pittsburgh, USA. It was fun, a mostly rocky trail with several rustic narrow bridges with only one rail and a large drop if you slipped! The trail gradually steepened before ending in large rocks which lead to a waterfall. I didn’t hike the last part as it was deemed too rocky and steep. Quetzal birds were spotted, a rare sight, so we were lucky.

I heard a band play in the downtown square one evening and they rocked, but with the songs in Spanish! So after five days in fresh hilly country I headed to the Lost and Found Jungle Hostel, one of Panama´s most famous backpackers’ places. What a place, what a challenge. I took a bus back to David, an extremely hot town and then a two hour ride on a smaller bus to the bottom of the mountain trail, which is the start of the Lost and Found property.  A trail rides its way steeply up the mountain slope through dense jungle forest with large thick trees with large leaves. I was lucky, as when I alighted the bus, one of the hostel staff was just returning from a hike and guided me up the trail. Steep gradients lead to narrow uneven rock steps, the trail undulating continuously with many switchbacks.  Tripping and sliding, my cane being entangled in many bushes and branches, huffing and puffing, sweating continuously, I finally reached the top and descended several rocky steps to the hostel. An interesting place, which to my mind, resembles a castle or more likely a fortress. The complex is comprised on several levels with a main open reception and outdoor dining area with picnic tables and several steps, one stairway of stone steps leads down and around to toilets and private rooms and another set ascends up the mountain to the showers and eventually via a series of rough cut and uneven flagstones to the bar, a wooden shack-like structure. I was shown around and settled. It is a difficult place to navigate if you are sighted, but blind is very tricky. Other guests helped me find my way and at the end of my two day stay, I felt I’d mastered most of it! Dinner is available for 6 dollars a night and food is available too for a small fee. I bought cereal each morning for breakfast, tea-coffee is free. Several tours are available, including taking a bus to a waterfall or a river canyon. Several paid tours with guides are also available. The most popular activities are the treasure hunts, prices being a bottle of beer and drink in the bar. I headed to the bar on both nights and met several interesting people including a Canadian couple in their late 30s and a lovely cool Australian couple. They showed me how to pay Jenga, a brick building game where three wooden blocks are place in one direction, say horizontally, and the next 3 bricks are placed on top in a vertical direction. Once all blocks are placed, the idea is for each contestant to remove one block or brick without collapsing the tower and placing it top the structure. The first person to collapse the tower is the looser! Great fun. There was a larger version, which created lots of noise and cheers from the guests each time it collapsed!

I attempted to visit a large waterfall after being guided back down the mountain on my first full day at the hostel. However, it being Holy Week in Central America, buses were few and a local man told me in broken England and Spanish “canyon too much water!” Eventually I turned back and made my way slowly up the trail. I eventually made a wrong turn, climbed too high, came of the end of the trail and became lost, surrounded by thick trees with strong large trunks. It was extremely peaceful with a cool wind and hardly a sound, delightful. I descended several times, retraced my steps, swung my cane over the ground and eventually found rough ground, which resembled what I took to be a trail, worked my way down and when I heard voices turned a corner and found some people heading to the hostel. I followed them and was helped back.

The next day I again descended the trail and took a bus to Almirante on the Caribbean coast and took a boat taxi to Bocas de Tor archipelago. The name means ‘mouth of the bull’ in Spain. It’s one of Panama’s provinces and has some land on the mainland as well as an archipelago consisting of four main islands and many smaller ones. I headed to Isla Colon, where Bocas del Tor town is situated. I couch surfed with an interesting English guy named named Stuart. I didn’t know until I met him, he’s an alcoholic and likes to take cocaine!  Unfortunately, when I arrived in Bocas, it was the two main days of the Easter celebrations, and in Bocas they were having a 48 hour complete alcohol ban!  This didn’t amuse my host too much! We walked around the small town on my first night he described the layout and some of the buildings as we passed. I had dinner in a Chinese place, which was reasonable.

Next day we met up with some of his friends, Anita from North Carolina and her friend Lauren.  We started with brunch in Boa Vista before eventually deciding to head to BB’s, a beach and restaurant on the next island, Caranero. A watertaxi took us there in under two minutes. A short walk lead us to the sandy beach surrounded by rocks. The restaurant has a large wooden deck over the water, very nice. After beers and fruit juices all round, some of the restaurants were selling booze despite the ban, we hit the beach and I entered the sea after stripping. We later walked a trail through a small forest and as the evening began we returned to Bocas.  Stuart introduced me to some more of his friends and we had a laugh.

The next day I took a watertaxi back to the mainland and a minibus taxi on to the border. It’s possible to do this trip via two public buses for less money. At the border, a Panamanian guided walked me across the old railway bridge and helped complete the immigration procedure on the Costa Rican side. I had been told that I’d needed a flight out of Costa Rica, but nothing was asked for, not even evidence of having had a yellow fever vaccination before. Maybe because no one spoke any English, maybe because I’m blind, maybe because it was a Saturday, I don’t know, but it was a formality.

I was now in Costa Rica. An hour and half bus ride later I reached my first destination, the party town of Puerto Viejo de Talamanca. It’s a beach town on the Caribbean. I stayed at Rocking J’s hostel, a huge complex, which caters for over 300 guests if it chooses. I stayed for three nights and slept in a hammock, not the most comfortable, but the cheapest option. Finding the toilet at night was a challenge. The many guests from various countries helped me out. They have a large bar and play lots of Caribbean and reggae music often extremely loudly. However, one is able to escape to the more tranquil forest and beach to sleep in a hammock or swing with a tyre swing. The hostel is most intriguing, the floors designed in many different mosaics and the columns created with hundreds of small tile pieces. Messages are written or carved on several walls and the large bar is also tiled. Food at the hostel is mostly American but the rice, beans and chicken in coconut sauce is Caribbean and delicious. A 14 minute walk takes people into the small lively compact town which clings to the coastline. Mainly comprised of shops, bars, restaurants, banks etc. The best bar being Hot Rocks, which has lively music nightly. I visited on my last night. My first night was spent on the beach in gentle rain listening to the many Costa Ricans talking a laughing, many of whom had travelled from San Jose for the weekend partying! One guy played a drum continuously, keeping the partyers entertained all night. Many people smoked joints and relaxed.

I attempted to do a zipline canopy tour on my first full day, but again was frustrated by health and safely rubbish, apparently, I needed a specialist guide and one wasn’t available. My money was returned and I relaxed on the beach. In the evening I met more people including a lovely older Costa Rican lady named Petrica who composes instrumental music and plays piano. I bought one of her albums, great stuff. Next day, I walked into town, tried to find an internet café, fell in a hole and eventually found the main bank where I changed my US dollars into Colones, the local currency.  I met a German couple during my walk back and they helped me find the hostel. Later I met an Italian guy who I´d previously met in Panama and hung out with him and his Costa Rican girlfriend.

On my final morning, in Viejo, I did a tour to an animal sanctuary called the Jaguar Centre, where I was informed about slouths, toucans, various parrots, an ocelot, which is a cat-like animal that is nocturnal, and several other animals. These are mostly rescued animals and the centre works without government support and is run on donations. They have their own portion of rainforest and many of the rescued animals are released back into the natural habitat.  After this tour we visited and hiked down to a small waterfall. I met an English guy named Layth and we hiked down together, slipping and sliding over the wet terrain. The final stop of the tour was at a chocolate making house. We were shown how the entire process worked from the tiny seeds, which can be used as medicine to the final sweet sugary chocolate. At one point in the tour pregnancy was mentioned, which seemed a little confusing as I’m not sure of the connection between chocolate and being pregnant, maybe some local ritual! Finally we were permitted to taste several different types of chocolate, from vanilla to nutmeg, coconut to black pepper. Once the tour was over, I was dropped at the hostel were I grabbed my backpack and headed to the bus station to catch a five hour bus to San Jose.  More to come later.

Panama

So, where did I leave you? Ah yes, Aruba. End of February and I sunny myself in the ABC Islands in the good old Caribbean! I spent three nights in hot sunny Aruba, the most touristy of the three islas. I stayed with an interesting and slightly crazy guy from Brazil, met him on the internet through CouchSurfing.com.  On my first night with him, he took me to a music festival, which took place on the beach – Eagle Beach to be precise – on the island’s north-west side. I stood in the sand and wiggled my ass in time to the heavy beat of strange reggae/techno music with verbal “hands in the airs” and “come everyone, clap yours hands and love everybody”!  The fest finished around 2 am. During the gig I met two lovely girls from Holland, one named Celen, who I’d already made contact with via couch surfing and another named Sharon. They’re both nurses and are working and partying in Aruba for a year or so.

The next afternoon, my host and I went jet skiing, see the video on FB. Great fun. First a local guy took me around which was nice as he took the turns expertly. However, he was a little nervous about having a blind person with him. Then my Brazilian friend took over and we increased speed and I bumped and bounced alarmingly, nearly coming off several times, excellent!!  What a thrill and burst of energy! :) That same evening we again partied on the beach and met up with the Dutch girls, it was less frantic than the festival and less people were out, it being a Sunday. The next morning I headed to the airport by bus and flew to Panama. Country 110! 

I’m writing this on Monday 16th March having been in Panama for 16 days now. It’s an interesting country with a mixture of history, nature, jungle and beaches, also mountains. I spent five days in the capital. Staying with a wonderful kind and funny French guy named Oliv. He has a cool place near the main bus station. I also met a lovely German couple named Jule and Tim. They helped me out a lot, taking me to an office to find out info about a tour and also cooking for me and helping me with my emails. I can type but not read as I don’t travel with a talking iPhone or laptop when on the road, it’s too dangerous – I’ll only be robbed!  I use other people’s equipment and ask them to kindly help me. This works in most places, otherwise, I visit an internet café and ask the local people to help me Skype.  I did a couple of tours around Panama city, doing an Urban Adventure day city sightseeing tour which took us to Ancon Hill, full of nature and with good vantage points to view the entire city. A sloth was sitting in a tree and also a small creature which resembled a large rat. Plus hundreds of birds high in the trees.

Next stop was the mighty Panama Canal, first built by the French in the 1880s and later completed by the Americans from 1903-4 to 1914.  Thanks to a Cuban doctor and scientist who discovered that Yellow fever was carried by mosquitoes, the American overseer of the project on the canal was able to reduce Yellow fever and malaria cases considerably.  We visited one of the locks, Miraflores lock, and saw (heard in my case) a large car transport ship entering the lock and 10 minutes later exit.  A short video inside the museum/visitor centre gives an overview of the canal and its history. 

The third stop took us to Casco Antiguo or Casco Viejo, Old Panama.  Vasco Núñez de Balboa sighted the Pacific Ocean in the early 16th century after which a settlement was founded by the Spanish.  However, in 1671 this city was burnt and mostly destroyed by British pirate Morgan. There followed a second city, Casco Viejo. We visited several churches, including San Jose, with its golden altar and the Cathedral, which is not open to the public as it’s under major reconstruction. 

Our last stop was at Amador Causeway, a 5km long causeway comprised of four islands. These were constructed from rubble taken from the digging of the canal. The Smithsonian Institute of Marine Research is on one such island. This is where we visited to see and touch starfish and the like. Turtles are also on display.  I also did another tour on an amphibious vehicle which enters the actual canal on two occasions and also drove around part of the city. It was explained how the canal worked with its lock system, raising and lowering the ships on each side of the canal over the continental divide. It takes 24 hours for vessels to pass from the Pacific to the Atlantic and vice versa. At present the canal  is being widened to allow faster crossing of vessels and also safer passage for larger shops. In places there is as little as a metre between the side of a ship and the canal wall – they even occasionally scrape the sides. 

After my five days in the capital with okay but not totally friendly locals, I headed to Portobelo and the Caribbean coast for history and jungle.  I stayed at Captain Jack’s hostel, a party place on a hill overlooking the historical and now sleepy town. The food is good but a little expensive. A small Colombian place down the hill and to the left has more cheaper options. However, Captain Jack’s offers good dorm beds and Batillos, fruit juice smoothies, which are delicious!  I’d found a small company online called Portobelo Tours. They offer jungle hikes, kayaking, plus full moon nights in the forest and more. I did a half day kayak with them plus a jungle walk and history tour of old Portobelo. The kayaking was excellent, my guide, Austin from America, took me through the mangroves, thin tree-like structures in the ocean just off shore. The mangroves are low lying trees/grass which fish and birds feed off. They’re great for hiding as I’m sure pirates did in the 16th 17th and 18th centuries. Only small boats and kayaks can enter the mangroves, which are like being inside a giant skeleton. The lower ends of the branches were covered in moss, which felt like a gorilla’s furry legs! After the mangrove we paddled into open water, the sea being as calm and flat as a millpond. We stopped on one island, Palmelo for a rest-bite and to spy on the Capuchin Monkeys on an adjacent island. They squeaked and squealed on our approach.  Once back on the mainland, I dried off and had my hike in the jungle. Really it’s the same as European forest, with different plant species and lots of humidity. My guide, a lovely Scottish lady named Heather took me on an educational stroll through trees and bushes.  I touched huge banana leaves and strange fruits and flowers. Heard birds and smelt various fruits.  One smelt like lemon but was orange.  One of the trees I felt uses the trunk of a larger tree to get to the sunlight like a strangler tree, it sprouts many thin trunks itself.  At one point we crossed a dry river bed, which floods in the rainy season, roughly May to November.  I felt a ‘fountain’ plant, so called because it has leaves that droop very like a fountain or sprinkler spray.  The forest was humid but quiet and away from partying young tourists.  An indigenous festival was occurring near Portobelo and many of the other travellers I met in the hostel from various countries – Canada, Germany, France, Switzerland – had stayed for this. The last few days of the event turned into a party and several people dropped acid! One guy told me about it in great details! :)

I had a quick history tour around Portobelo the following morning, visiting the church which was built just before the Spanish departed in 1814-1820. A large structure able to hold up to 50 thousand people apparently. My guide told me about the Nazareno, or Black Christ, as named by African American soldiers stationed there in the 1940s. A large dark wooden statue of a man, found apparently by fisherman one fine day.  This statue only came to be revered after the entire area had a cholera epidemic soon after the Spanish departed. Portobelo was apparently spared and the locals decided it was this deity that saved them. Every 21st October, the statue is put in a boat and then paraded around the town. It takes all day and pilgrims come from all over Panama and even further apparently. 

Next I jumped on a bus, travelled back to Panama city via Colon and headed to El Valle de Anton (Anton Valley). This was my second couch surfing experience in Panama. I stayed with a cool guy named Jhohnie in the foothills of the mountains. His father builds houses and he has also constructed one for himself. There, I had a small concrete house to myself for two nights. Our first day was taken up ziplining and doing a canopy tour. This was over Chorro Macho (Macho Waterfall) apparently 115 feet high. We walked from Jhohnies’s house into town and to the zipline place, we had an hour to wait, so visited the bottom of the fall while we waited. This involved descending several rock steps and transversing over several bridges.  The sound was delightful to my ears. We also visited a small man-made water pool where kids jumped in from off the rocks.  Back up the steps, I was given a harness and a crash helmet and Jhohnie along with my instructor walked me through the jungle canopy. We climbed many rough rocky steps and trampled over grasses, leaves, tree branches and roots. I was slipping and stumbling all the time. One part was so steep and full of loose soil I struggled to get up. The guys pushed me and I succeeded. Once at the top, I was clipped to the zip wire told to put one hand on my harness and the other on the wire, far away from the wheel. I wore thick gloves to prevent my hands from getting friction burns and protect them from getting trapped on the pulley wheel. I was told to let the wire slide through my hand. This was a brake mechanism. I was down and swung off the plat form, letting the wire run through my hands as I began sliding along. However, I pulled too hard on the brake wire and stopped in mid air, finally I slackened my grip and made it to the second platform. On the next wire, the brake was taken off and I flew along freely, what great exultant fun! There were four lines altogether and the last ride really sent me flying – wicked!! Once the fun was over, Jhohnie and I headed into town, he had a meeting, so I hung out at Heaven’s Cafe. It is owned by the girl I would be staying with the following evening.

Next Jhohnie and I, accompanied by a German traveller we’d met the previous evening, visited the hot spring, about a four minute walk from town. You get your face painted with mud, let it dry in the sun and then jump in the hot pool to relax. It was fun, though the man-made pool wasn’t that hot! After walking back to town we had lunch in a local place – beef soup with lots of veggies, rice and chicken for me and beans and rice for Jhohn. After which we visited the snake centre, where I held a couple of beautiful snakes. They’re not slimy like people believe but smooth, cool and peaceful. In the evening, I met up with Heaven and had dinner and chatted. The Chinese was tasty but way too large in portions.

The following afternoon, Heaven put me on a bus for Uvas, where, with help, I eventually caught a bus to El Cope, a small town in nature. I spent one night with a delightful Panamanian old couple who fed me and the next morning drove me to Chorro Yayas (Yayas Waterfall). A kind elderly guy walked me down the steps and took me to the three levels of large falls. He took pictures for me and I made a couple of videos.  After that, I took a local bus back to the hostel in El Cope. From there I went first to Penonome and secondly to Chitré, a large town or city with noisy traffic and intense heat. I spent one night in a quiet hostel run by an ageing American guy and the next day, took a direct bus to Santiago, where I’ll be for the next couple of days.

ABC Islands

I am currently in the Caribbean, travelling the ABC islands of Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao. After one night in Amsterdam, Holland on 21st February 2016, I flew to Curacao, one of the islands of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and my trip began. An interesting historical island with friendly people. I stayed with a lovely German guy named Thomas via couch surfing and he helped me take a minibus into the main town and showed me to the historical and cultural museum, Kura Hulanda. A guide gave me an interesting tour of Curacao’s involvement with the Dutch and its history of slavery. I felt various objects including wooden masks and doors, wooden chairs carved into elephant’s heads, wooden boats and bowls etc. I also felt many chains and shackles. The museum is a stark reminder of what terrible things people can do to each other. After this I wondered down to the harbour with its wooden bridge which splits Willemstad into Otrobanda on the west and Punda on the east. Both sides have historical forts, which guarded the harbour in previous colonial times. I visited Fort Rif which has now been turned into a shopping and eating area with views of cruise ships which bring many day tourists to peruse the many gift and jewellery shops. Thomas and I explored the Punda side of the town on another evening. I touched one canon and we explored the large stone letters which spell out Curacao and Dushi, a local word, which means love, darling. 

The following day, Thomas and I did something amazing, we had a dolphin encounter (see photos). It cost 100 dollars per person to touch, be kissed, hold its flippers and make it sing by waggling my fingers in a V sign. The dolphin jumped and splashed, making kind of laughing, farting sounds, which is funny!  Twenty minutes in the hot sun and cool water with beautiful mammals was magical.

The day after I flew to Bonaire where I stayed in a local hostel a couple of kilometres from any shops or beaches which was very peaceful. Most people visit Bonaire to dive or wind surf. Its a very windy island, as are Curacao and Aruba! I spent one day at a beach bar, lying in the shade and listening to a book. The following afternoon, a fellow hosteller, Lary from Holland drove me around Bonaire in a battered old Jeep belonging to the host. We toured the rough rocky dry cactus strewn landscape, taking photos of the sea at various view points. At one point we stopped high above a lovely lake, silent except for the breeze, pink flamingos in their hundreds could be seen and Lary described the picture. The following day I flew to Aruba, where I am until Tuesday. Last night I danced on the beach at a music fest with my crazy cool Brazilian host Eduardo. What fun the Caribbean. Next stop Panama.