Entering Nicaragua

Today we entered Nicaragua!

Ometepe island and both its volcanoes

And as most border crossings around here, it takes some time and energy. The Schengen space in Europe is really a good thing!

So we started with a first bus from Liberia to Peñas Blancas, the border town between Costa Rica and Nicaragua. We hadn’t even stepped out of the bus that we were told to follow women who “worked for the exit tax office”.

We knew we had to pay a 7$ exit fee per person to Costa Rica, and that at the immigration office there is a machine where you can pay the tax with credit card. Of course, at the exit tax office, it was 8$ (1$ for service…). And of course if you ask them, the machine at the immigration office “doesn’t work today” (which of course was a lie…). But for us it didn’t change much, as if we pay by card we have a 1€ surcharge anyway. And we had read online that this office existed in case you want to pay cash or the machine doesn’t work (which really happens sometimes apparently), so we paid there. But it still feels a little shady 😉 .

Once the exit tax payed, it was hello-stamp-goodby at the immigration office. Then you walk 500m to the Nicaraguan immigration office, while warding off the horde of change/transport/etc… agents that are always present in numbers at these type of borders. At the immigration office, a first women asks for 1$ per person “city entry fee”. Ok, we also had read this existed (even though it actually might already be included in the country entry fee, but it’s not clear). Then the next immigration agent just asks where we’re headed and our profession (and as most places here, not currently having a job is not a valid answer, probably for the software…). Then it’s 12$ per person country entry fee and a luggage scanner, same as the airport’s.

But in total the administrative part wasn’t a hassle (as long as you pay, if possible with the exact amount of change). But as soon as you leave the official building on the Nicaraguan side, you’re immediately harassed by different “transport agents” wanting to sell you bus or shuttle service for the usual very high price (12$ for Rivas or 25$ for Ometepe, whereas it cost us less than 6$ for two to get to Ometepe by public transport). They really do try, and tell the usual lies (the bus won’t come, it’s Sunday, it’s very complicated,…).

Once the right bus spotted (which is always quite difficult, probably on purpose so that the less patient tourists pay the overpriced shuttles), it was quite simple. It took 40 minutes to get to Rivas, where we got some Cordobas (the local currency) at the ATM. Then we tried to get the bus to the ferry terminal (about 4km away), but it wasn’t very clear. We asked some people and found the bus stop, where a women was waiting and told as the bus would come in 30 minutes, but she left after 15 min telling us it was Sunday and the bus wasn’t running, so we should take a taxi.

The street vendors, always carrying and amazing amount of stuff!

Meanwhile a dozen taxis stopped at the bus stop and we tried to negociate the price, but they all had the same fixed price, and wouldn’t go down. So we did some hitch-hiking instead, and were picked up by a romanian couple that had been living in Canada for 25 years. They were super nice, and seemed to have traveled quite a lot. They dropped us of at the ferry terminal, where we ate with a great view of Ometepe island and the lake.

Yeah, we know you’ve missed the watercolor paintings 😉

The ferry took about an hour, and was very easy (well, it’s a lake not a sea, so it’s pretty calm waters), and we met our Romanian friends again, so we talked a bit more about life and traveling. They very nicely invited us to their home in case we’re in Toronto 🙂 .

Once settled down at the hostel (and shopping for tomorrow’s breakfast done), we explored the town a bit (not much to see), and worked on the blog (so now we’re up to date!). Then we had a beer on the lakefront with a few dutch travelers at sundown.

Another cool picture to make you jealous 😉

So, that’s all for today, now it’s shower time (well deserved, it’s quite hot here, but it should go down to like 25°C tonight…). See you soon for more adventures (and swims in warm waters 😉 ).

P.S : there were a lot of firefly flying around near the docks at sundown, it was blinking everywhere like a Christmas tree (but way cooler!).

Liberia – Day 1 : a city, a movie

Today, we got closer to the Nicaraguan border.

Since the road will be long to our next point for visiting and adventuring, we decided to split it into two and stop for the night in Liberia, a province capital. So got up late, took our time, and then took a bus. We had traveled through Liberia on the way to Tamarindo, and it’s on the way to Nicaragua anyway, but there is not much to see there. We arrived at the end of the afternoon, all sweaty and dusty, and proceeded to our installation ritual (showering – shopping for next breakfast – drawing money if needed – fresh beverage). Then we had a few drinks at the next hostel with some other frenchies we had met on the bus. Then we succumbed and went, for the third times in this trip, to the movies.

It really is comforting to find the same posters, same sugary stuff, popcorns (we don’t buy them but still), advertisement and seats in every movie theater. We always find it hard to get there and find the timetables and the non-dubbed movies, but it really reminds us of our habits in Toulouse and it really feels good (and it’s about once a month so not that much). So we saw Thor, and are packed with special effects and hollywood stereotypes for the upcoming month, before the next Star Wars.


Liberia is not very pretty but not ugly either, there was a band in a park and the people were nice (we find everyone nice when we travel). The american owner of our hostel was super helpful and there were coloring books near the hammocks.

Tomorrow morning, we are getting up early for a long day of transport to Ometepe island. But that’s tomorrow !

PS : we are a bit late, so we are actually writing this from Ometepe, but now I’m giving the computer to Ben so he can write the next post !

Tamarindo – Day 2 : beach day

Today was vacation day !

Yes, we took this picture just to make you jealous :p

Yeah, I know, we’re pretty much on vacation since we began the trip, but it rarely was just chilling. So we decided to do a more conventional day of vacation : going to the beach! As every vacation day should start, we started with getting up late, than breakfast and TV show(s). At lunchtime we still hadn’t moved from the hostel, so we went out to find some food.

We went to a slightly hipster restaurant (first place we’ve been where the staff members speak english to each other) but with delicious shrimp tacos and a great tuna salad.

After lunch we decided to fulfill the day’s goal : to go bathing (yes, that’s a very high goal, we know … 😉 ). So we went to the famous Tamarindo beach, with it’s fine sand and clear waters at 27°C (we’re not just saying that to make you jealous… or are we ? :p ). There were quite a few people there, mostly apprentice surfers, but it was still ok and not too crowded (good thing we’re still off season!).

So we spent the afternoon bathing and lazying on the beach with a cool American couple we met there. We also noticed something, or rather the absence of something : the sandflies! There are no sandflies here, so you can stay on the beach without getting bitten every other second!

This is not a postcard

At sundown we went back to the hostel, where we totally dishonored french cuisine by screwing up cooking some gnocchi (yes, they are supposed to be simple to cook, but with the equipment we’ve got here, it’s a bit of a challenge!). We also finished our rum bottle (that we had since Bocas del Toro) by making some Piña Coladas that we shared with other travelers around a card game.

The hostel pool has a inflatable unicorn!

And so we didn’t write the blog (and we didn’t write it the next morning either). So this post is like 24h late (and the  next one will probably be the same 😉 ), but we also have a right to vacation days (during our vacation :p ).

So that’s all, more news in the next post 🙂

Tamarindo – Day 1 : let’s have a (more) tourist-day

Today, we moved again! We are now in Playa Tamarindo, or as friends call it, Tama-gringo: a seaside resort area perfect for tanning, surfing and drinking! We didn’t specially plan to party and it’s still low-season, but it looks very spring-break-y.

To get in this tropical paradise / touristic hell, we started with the 6 o’clock bus. Well, 4:20AM and 3PM were not much better options… And considering timing, it was almost worse than the trampoline of the death, which here means 35km in one hour three quarters, on a curvy dirt-road. That being said, we had the nicest driver, who transformed himself onto a free touristic guide to show us monkeys on the side of the road (15 monkeys in a tree against 60 sleepy tourists, which were funniest?)

Once on the Pan-American Highway, we took a second bus to Liberia, bit Costa-Rican city, and from there a third one to the nearest beaches. We arrived at 12:30, devoured some meals from the hostel’s restaurants and went to have some siesta!

Tonight, we went out to visit, though. The town is mostly constituted of touristic housing, restaurants and souvenir or clothing shops, with some surf-shop here and there. We sat at a table on the beach, with the stars, the coconut trees, the lanterns and the sound of the waves, to sip at cocktails and listen to soft music played next door. It was very very cliché. But in the movies, you don’t have to tell the musicians that it’s not worth it to play at our table, we are poor backpackers sharing a pizza (the cocktail was in happy hour) but thanks for offering. You also don’t have the tiny blood-thirsty animals buzzing around, or the taxes that are not included in the menu (23% – ouch!) and the diverse sea-front playlists covering each-other…

Well okay, it’s easy to be a buzz-kill and mock the touristic seafront, but all is not so bad! The climate is perfect (we’re entering dry-season!), there are iguanas in the trees in our hostel, the wet sand is so soft under our feet and the sound of the waves is soooo nice. We also know that, at home, the temperatures are painfully dropping, so we enjoy it as long as we’re here!

About coming back, you may have noticed that we are a bit short if we want to go all the way to Mexico before Christmas. That’s because we changed our plans some time ago and decided we largely preferred to take our time rather than running and spending days and days in buses. Colombia was much longer than expected, because it was big and beautiful and interesting, and even Panama and Costa Rica, where we didn’t plan to stay long (for money reasons mostly) we decided to stay a bit more in the end. Nicaragua was always a goal for a long-time stay so we are not out of traveling-time, and it’s okay! We enjoy much more to taste different regions in each country anyway, so we decided to fly from Managua (Nicaragua) instead of Cancun (Mexico) on the 4th of December and then to Paris on the 13th. We will visit the ancient ruins and jungles of Guatemala and Yucatan another time, and take our time on the Nicaraguan volcanoes instead!

See you tomorrow, X

Monteverde – Day 3 : more hiking

Today we went hiking again!

The french hiker look 😉

We started the day with the unusual but very good free breakfast of the hostel: two black beans-cheese-potatoes-eggs tacos.

Santa Elena natural reserve

Then we took the minivan to the Santa Elena natural park. This one gets only 20 000 visitors per year, compared to the 200 000 visitors from Monteverde national park (and Curi Cancha where we were yesterday gets very few people, and limits the number of simultaneous visits to 50!). This is one of the reason why we chose to visit Santa Elena rather than the very touristy Monteverde. Another reason is that the Santa Elena reserve is managed by an association linked with the Santa Elena high school, and the benefits are re-injected into the local community (whereas Monteverde is privately owned).

It’s really jungle like out here!

The reserve is pretty high up in the mountain, about 300m over the town and the other reserves, and on the Atlantic side of the mountain, which explains the greater influence of the Caribbean weather. So the forest is old and much more humid than Monteverde or Curi Cancha (which are next to each other), and much denser than in Curi Cancha (where part of the forest was pretty young).

The clouds over the Arenal volcano

There are several hiking trails, and as we are big adventurers, we took the longer loop, which took us about 4 hours. On the way there was a cool observation tower enabling us to see the forest from above the canopy level. On our hike we saw loads of birds but no other animals (probably pretty hard to spot in this dense forest). But the amount of trees, vines and other vegetation gave a very Jungle Book (or Tarzan) like vibe to the trail, and it very fun 😉 . We even got some view of the Arenal volcano (still under the clouds, as it has been since we arrived at La Fortuna!).

Panorama from the observation tower, one of the highest viewpoint around Monteverde

At the end of the park we met a very nice Spanish couple who brought us back to town (so we didn’t have to wait an hour for the next shuttle). So we got a bit of training in the art of understanding Spanish people. Because people from Spain speak much faster than those we have encountered in Latin America, even though these guys where pretty nice and tried to slow down for us 😉 .

Here are (quite) a few pictures of the hike:

That’s all for today. Tonight we are NOT going to the bar, because the bus tomorrow is at 6am (and the next one is at 3pm, so we don’t want to miss it!). More news about our destination in the post 🙂

Monteverde – Day 2 : hikes and mammals

Today, we went in a national park. Wouldn’t have been hard to guess, they are the main attractions in the city, which has 3 of them. The most famous (named Monteverde) is owned and was founded by American Quakers, who came to Costa Rica to avoid being conscripted into the Korean war (cultural minute : check !). The second one is the one we were at today, it is also privately owned and is named Curi Cancha. We will tell you about the third one later.

Since we were lazy, we missed the bus, and went hitchhiking instead. Since the region is very touristy, it’s very safe and efficient. The parks’ idea around here is to protect a piece of jungle, but mostly to make tourists pay for the entrance in exchange for a very good care of the forest and nice and clear signs on the trails. We paid our 15$ fee (each)(ouch !) and got a very clear map of the park and its trails. This forest is not all old : a part of it is only growing since the park was founded, in the 70’s. But even these younger patches are impressively green, and the whole is mostly dry (for the region) and belongs to the Pacific divide. The park is known for having a lot of wildlife, and we actually met some !

As we arrived, we saw a group of around 10 monkeys, but they were so fast and jumping around in the trees that we can’t really be sure of the number, especially since some of them were carrying babies on their backs. They were small and black, with a white mane around their faces. They were also eating oranges, parts of it being peeled and devoured in the tree (with bits of peels raining around) and the rest was collected and brought back (somewhere ?), but mostly ended up falling because an orange is huge compared to a little monkey’s hands (so not many people dared walking under the orange tree). After that, they ran around in the nearby trees and we got a few long looks at them, but pictures were really hard to take…

We then walked, admiring plants, bugs, fungus, trees of course… It was a very nice hike, the weather was clear but not hot and we walked for around 3 hours.

During that, we also met agutis, sort of crossing between a groundhog and a coypu (sorry if that’s not accurate in english), with reddish hair, and also 2 coatis, more like a crossing between a badger and a dog, with black hair and white face. The agutis were scared of us, but the coatis, without coming too close from us, weren’t to rushed to hide either.

After a while, we stopped for a picnic at a stone table in a clearing. That’s where the unforgettable meeting happened. We had left our groceries bag (out of thick plastic) under one of the benches while we were opening an avocado (that’s was too ripe and not edible). At this moment, we saw a coati walking straight to us, calmly. We thought it was amazing and took pictures. It went closer to our food, so Ben grabbed the bag to put it on the table. At this moment, the beast understood that the banana flavor emanating from the bag was going to stay a fantasy and it went all in : it threw itself on the bag with all claws and teeth available, tearing threw it like nothing, and starting to eat the bananas. At this time, Ben was pulling on the bag, lifting the thrashing animal (the size of a regular dog). Since it wasn’t letting go, I decided to scare it by shouting as loud as I could, 30 cm from its face. It didn’t give a single fuck. Finally, a good slap in the face unhook it but didn’t scare it at all, since it stayed at our feet to eat the banana shreds it had managed to get.

It finished eating quite quickly and started to stand as to jump on the table, so we left it our avocado, and it scraped it thoroughly. Since it also finished that really fast, we had to spend the rest of the meal establishing dominance by standing tall and stamping our feet to prevent it from going to close to the table. Suffice to say, we didn’t want to piss it off enough, because the claws and teeth were kinda big, but food is sacred !

Ben agrees

Besides the crazy coati, we also met a nice American couple who brought us back to the village, after we were finished admiring the hallowed trees in the park. Chosen pieces :

The last tree trunk in this article is seen from the inside !

We aren’t very clear on how trees work around here, but it was cool to put our heads inside of this one !

At night, we went for beers and pool with a two german travelers, and that’s why we didn’t write sooner !

See you tomorrow, X

Monteverde – Day 1 : Hot Blood Cold Blood

We started by getting into a van at 7am to drive to the Arenal lake. The lake, near the Arenal volcano, is the biggest in Costa Rica thanks to the hydroelectric dam that was build in the seventies (and tripled its size). Even if it did drown a village (the constructions, not the villagers who were relocated to Nuevo Arenal), the dam initialy produced 70% of Costa Rica’s electricity (nowadays close to 20%) !

Behind the clouds you feel the presence of the big Arenal volcano

So we crossed the lake by boat and had very nice views of the surroundings, even though it was quite cloudy. On the other side of the lake, the road to Monteverde are mostly in bad conditions, so most people go by 4×4. We decided to do the first part of the trip … on horseback !

Don’t we look awesome ? 😉

It was very nice, we followed the lake for some time with again great views on the surrounding mountains. As we were only 7 people we had the opportunity to talk with a Swedish family (in english), a Canadian tourist (in english) and the guide (in Spanish). In total, slightly over 2h of riding in the beautiful costarican countryside.

After this, a small van brought us in an hour and a half to Santa Elena, where we sleep tonight. Santa Elena is the nearest small town to the Monteverde natural reserve and a few other natural reserves around making the area one of the big touristic points of Costa Rica known for it’s great biodiversity. Here we’re much higher up than la Fortuna, so it’s much fresher at night (but it still is Costa Rica, we won’t have snow 😉 ). We’re also very near to the continental divide, the separation between rivers going into the Atlantic and those going into the Pacific.

By the time we had eaten a bit, it was too late to really enjoy one of the natural parks, so we decided to go to the nearby herpetarium. As for Ecuador, especially Mindo, Costa Rica, especially Monteverde, has a great variety of reptiles.

So we saw turtles, toads, frogs, tarantulas and snakes (which made Alice very happy 🙂 ). The animals were really cool, even if the guided tour was a bit too informative and not practical enough (meaning, we didn’t get to hold any serpents :p). But at least now we’re close to expert in herpetology. And the cool thing is you get to come back at 6:30pm, when it’s dark, to see the nocturnal snakes and frogs in activity.

Alice got a new friend

Let’s start discovery channel time by clarifying that herpetology is the study of amphibians and reptiles. So we learned that a crocodile can reach up to 9m (in Australia, here it’s “only” 7m). The fastest snake in the world is the African black mamba, able to cover 25km in an hour (now I know how to get motivation for running exercises!). And the most poisonous frog in the world live in Colombia (shit, we missed it, or rather phew, we avoided it !), and it contains enough poison to kill 1500 humans.

So, that’s all for today, now we’re going to sleep early as we want to get up early to get to the parks before the crowd tomorrow !

See you !

P.S : today’s game : try to guess what it is (don’t scroll too much, the answer is down there !)





And it was a frog !

La Fortuna – Day 3 : unwillingly resting

Today, I have caught a cold [Alice], so we didn’t go to the long forest hikes including 400 steps to a waterfall…

Seems that my nose figured out that it’s November already. Maybe there’s a psychic connection between my sinuses and french weather, or maybe my body’s clock is stronger (and dumber) that I thought. Anyway, I have a nice big winter cold, with 27°C outside, which is weird. So we ended up sleeping late and making pancakes (in our great kitchen with decent pans that don’t stick), than watching shows in bed and when I was feeling a bit better in the afternoon, we went to a pool where Ben swam and I read stupid things online. A normal boring November afternoon (give or take the swimming pool).


As you can see, there are still clouds on the horizon. The volcano (in the picture, between the antenna and the church) is still invisible, although its slopes clear at certain moments. We still get blue skies and a warm but nice weather. And since I’m reaching this boring subject, I probably have told everything that had to be told for today !

Hugs (from afar) and see you tomorrow (which should be much more interesting !)