Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Back to reality

We are back in the Netherlands for a week! And things are already starting to get back to normal..

Our 3-month trip has been amazing. Travelling allowed us to experience that materialism is not the source of happiness, we experienced the warm welcome from family and friends of our friends (mi casa es tu casa), we saw how the environment is being destroyed in rapid pace (most countries) yet also kept clean and beautiful (Costa Rica).

From corruption, to high crime and poverty rates: this area of the world has a lot to suffer. Yet, you can see lots of hope and courage in their people. Many environmentally friendly and green energy initiatives are starting up everywhere.

We brought home better Spanish and an Open water diving certificate, a new playlist in Spotify called “Trinidad Carnival - Soca Music 2014” and an ambition to keep on kiteboarding... And travelling!

Last but definitely not least, we would like to thank Alvaro, Mario and Ayisha and their families and friends for the great hospitality. The welcome and friendliness has been amazing in their home countries.

This is the last blog of our trip. Thanks for reading and following us!

Some interesting figures from our 3 months:
No. of country visited: 8 (Mexico, Belize for ½ day - transit only, Guatemala, Honduras, Costa Rica, Panama, Curacao, Trinidad&Tobago)
No. of volcanoes climbed: 3 (2 in Guatemala and 1 in Costa Rica)
Hottest Place: Quepos in Costa Rica
Coldest Place: Monteverde in Costa Rica
Highest Point: Quetzal Trail in Panama (2500m)
Southest Point: David, Panama
Best experience: swimming through natural pools in gorgeous Semuc Champey, Guatemala (see picture above :) ) 
The worst experience: being rejected to enter Nicaragua while having the proper visa
Best Hotel: Quinta de Las Flores in Antigua, Guatemala
Biggest rip off: a shitty hotel in Puerto San Jose, Guatemala (they charged us EUR 60 during a holiday weekend, while it normally costs EUR 10). Luckily a free Steve Aoki concert made up for it :)
Best city: Antigua, Guatemala
Worst city: La Ceiba, Honduras
Best Party: a tie between Carnival in Trinidad and the Hardwell concert in Guatemala City
Favorite drink: For Kendy – Mango Batido; for Daniel: Angostura – rum from Trinidad.. and of course the coffee!!
Best meal: Grilled self-caught fish in Progreso, Mexico
Coolest animals we've seen: hard to make a selection between... Tapir, Agouti, Coati, Peccary, Sloth, Howler monkey, Squirrel monkey, Spider monkey, White-faced monkey, Toucan, Quetzal, Scarlet Macaw, Humming Bird, crazy colored Frogs, Crocodile, Iguana, Snake, Turtle, lots of coral fishes... Too many!

Our favorite meal & drink :)

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Big People Party!! @ Trinidad Carnival

On the last lap of our trip we celebrated one of the world's biggest festivals in Trinidad & Tobago. Carnival is a huge thing on this side of the world, celebrated on nearly every Caribbean island and in many Latin countries, and Trinidad is always listed as one of the top destinations to celebrate it. So when our friends Ayisha & Mirthe told us they would go here to celebrate it this year, we decided to take a detour from Central America and join them :) 

Colorful for sure!

After arriving on Thursday evening, we had the Friday to ourselves in a house that we shared with 5 other friends of friends: Ana from Portugal and James, Abid, Coleman and Andy from US. The house was nice with a shared pool, but we quickly learned that outside Carnival, there's not much to do in Trinidad. We were warned about safety issues, especially for women; even taking a taxi was not recommended.

On Saturday, we went to a 'Fete': an outdoor party with Soca music. These Fetes are fantastic all-inclusive parties that serve unlimited alcohol and food and are organized between January 1 and carnival, to warm up the people for what's coming. We quickly learned that two of the main Soca carnival songs of the year were Big people party and Forget about it

On Sunday, we chilled at a beach (Maracas Bay) and had the local dish Bake&Shark which is shark meat on a piece of bread with some salad. 

MUD ME!!!!
Then on Monday, it all started. We woke up at 3am and headed to the capital Port of Spain to attend j'ouvert, which is a French term for 'day opening'. This 4-hour parade is the first parade of the 2-day festival. It started at 4am till the sun rise.The tradition in this parade is to cover yourself and people around you in paint and mud and dancing with soca music. After j'ouvert, everyone goes home and wash it off and the shower is also part of the fun. A few hours later people went back to the city for the next parade :) 

After j'ouvert 
Coleman, James, Abid, Andy and Daniel - in full paint

After washing ourselves at home, taking a much needed nap and a coffee, we headed back to the city. Our friends also attended the carnival parade (Trinidad term: play mas) on Monday afternoon and Tuesday full day (you better be in a very good shape when you get here) but we were happy to just chill and walk around on the streets full of partying people. It was amazing to see all the colors, dancing&wining and countless trucks with loud Soca music coming by! 

And a video at night to show how crazy the crowd goes:

Saturday, March 1, 2014

From the 3rd world to the 1st world in an hour

On our way to Trinidad & Tobago, where we were going to celebrate Carnaval, we made a 2-night stopover in Curacao. What a change! 

We almost got used to the chaos of giant holes in the road, cold water showers and extremely loud traffic. But in Curacao, although only an hour from Central America, it's a completely different story: the roads are in perfect condition; there are female bus drivers; everything in our bathroom was working and you can flush the toilet paper; the paint jobs on the houses are picturesque; and no more street dogs walking and barking around. Its Dutch influence was very clear, from the blue road signs to stores that close at 18:00 sharp. If you walk around at night, you might think you’re in a quiet Dutch town on a hot summer night.

During our 2½ days here ,we went for a nice dive with a guy who set up a dive shop with his twin brother, called twin divers. The bay we went diving was called “Directors’ bay”, the name is because the queen has swim there before. The most amazing part of the dive is we saw hundreds of blue fish swimming around us. After the dive, we visited some beaches, walked around and had a delicious kroket on the street J

Friday, February 28, 2014

Corcovado Park

Our final stop in Central America was the Corcovado National Park on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast. This area is much more difficult to get to as compared to other parks: from north Panama, we had to take 4 buses (and in between pass another horrible border), a taxi and a boat to get there, which took us 12 hours all together. This included a “1-hour” wait for a boat ride, which turned into 2 hours and in the end was nearly 4 hours.. (for everyone that plans on visiting central America, here is the bus- and boat schedule for the entire continent: it leaves when it leaves.) The wait wasn't that bad though - we sat in a restaurant overlooking a river with crocodiles! The boat ride was also an adventure, first going through the crocodile area, then a huge mangrove area to finish on the choppy ocean with crazy surf.

Because of its remoteness, Corcovado park is more natural and untouched, and full of animals which are considered endangered species. We took a tour to this park, which started at 6 in the morning so you can visit during the active period of animals (when they wake up and catch some breakfast). The highlight of our visit was seeing 3 tapirs*, a highly endangered specie which looks like a combination between a small elephant, a huge pig and a horse, with the nose of an ant eater. We also ran into a peccary family, lots of monkeys (squirrel monkeys*, howler monkeys* and spider monkeys), a crocodile and many exotic birds (scarlet macaw, toucan, trogon, tanager, wild turkey, hawk) during our visit. 
*endangered species

Apart from the tour in the park, we did the 'beach hike' which took us to many small and empty beaches, rented kayaks for a few hours and enjoyed our final moments in Costa Rica. This country has been beautiful. Although it's lacking any culture and we thought it was a bit too touristy and very expensive, it was great to see how this country - unlike its Central American neighbors - takes extremely good care of the amazing nature and environment. We will miss the sounds of exotic birds and monkeys everywhere around us all day!

Getting on and off the boat was a fun start.. reminded us of Wadlopen :)

Scarlet Macaw

Baird's Tapir - this one was 2m long and more then 1m high!

Just chillin', waiting for people to fall out of the boat

To get anywhere, get through the mangroves!

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Time for Coffee

One thing Central America is famous for, is its coffee! Many coffee bars in the Western world sell coffee or beans from Guatemala, El Salvador or Costa Rica.

As a coffee lover, one thing on my list was visiting a coffee farm to know where it originally comes from and how it ends up in my cup :)

In Antigua, Guatemala, we visited a farm, where we learned about the full process: from picking the 'fruits' on the coffee plants, to the peeling and drying and export of the beans. Thanks to the homegrown coffee, Central America is full of nice coffee shops and cheap or free coffee can be found everywhere. We wanted to visit another farm in Costa Rica but that was insanely expensive and touristy, so we skipped that option.

 Yes.. our coffee comes from these plants!

Hand-picked :)

 Drying of coffee beans - I just want to jump in

The coffee got us HYPED UP!

In Costa Rica we found this coffee shop with coffee plants in their frontyard!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014


Last week we were so far south in Costa Rica, plus we had some time left before our flight to Curacao on 25 February, so we decided to check out Panama for a few days!

From the border we took chicken buses and a boat to Bocas del Torro, an island group in the Caribbean. We stayed 5 nights on the main island in a Dutch-owned hotel, Casa Max, where lots of other Dutch people stayed at.. warming us up for Curacao, probably! So the only thing we could do on the first day was rent a bicycle to check out the island.

On the second day we took a boat and deep-boarding/snorkeling tour to island Zapatilla, which is a small paradise:

Deepboarding is basically snorkeling except that a boat drags you - 10 meter behind the boat, you hang on to a rope. It's a fun way to experience the sealife at a fast pace. But the main attraction was the perfect combination of gorgeous beaches, clear water and palm trees on this island... and all of that on Valentine's Day !

On the third day we rented an ATV and toured around the island. This was one of Daniel's favorite things to do, and for Kendy as passenger, let's just say it was a bumpy ride!

After all these beaches we decided to go to Boquete, a mountainous area in Panama, which also appears to be the only region which is not super-hot. Boquete lies near Baru (Panama's only volcano) and has many trails. We walked the 3-waterfall trail on the first day.. through a rainy rainforest. On day 2 we walked the Quetzal trail, which was a nice but pretty tough 5-hour walk. We met a nice English couple in the bus on the way, who we shared a taxi with and ended up walking the full trail together. 

Peaceful town of Boquete 

One of the waterfalls on the 3-waterfall trail 

View from the Quetzal trail

 Relieved after the long hike!

We will return to Costa Rica via the Pacific border tomorrow (we left on the Caribbean side last week) and visit one more park, Corcovado, before we have to say goodbye to Central America and fly to Curacao.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Borders and Chicken Buses

One of the most interesting and at times funny, but mostly disturbing and annoying thing that any traveler in Central America has to deal with, are borders. 

Four of the 8 countries in Central America have created a CA-4 agreement, indicating that borders between these countries should be open and people can go freely from one to the other, similar to the Schengen agreement in Europe. One small issue: this is not the case at all, as we unfortunately experienced and blogged about a few weeks ago.

The borders are open - you can freely walk passed every checkpoint. However, if you don't get your passports stamped, you'll be illegal and with the police often checking passports in cars and buses, the chance of getting caught is pretty high.

So in the end, you do have to go through the painful process of taking all your luggage from the car/bus, waiting in line, exiting a country (which sometimes involves paying a legal or illegal fee), walking a few hundreds meters through no-mans land, waiting in line again and entering the next country (which again sometimes involves paying a legal or illegal fee).


Here we are in no-mans land

Travelers are doing this in 30+ degrees Celcius with high humidity, walking with a backpack on super dirty streets occupied by people trying to sell you all kinds of stuff, street dogs and other animals. If you're really unlucky, a group of kids will get all the luggage from your bus while it's driving slow or standing in traffic near the border, just so they can mandatory walk or bike it across no-mans for you (at a price). Or they just steal it from you and take it to the next country before you can even get there.

Today we crossed the Sixaola border from Costa Rica to Panama. From stories we read online, we learned that immigration on the Panamanian side always wants to see a flight or bus ticket out of Panama. If you don't have a ticket, entry will be denied, or you can buy a future bus ticket back to Costa Rica at a nearby office just so you can pass the border (which suddenly costs 5x the normal price). Or, if you've prepared, you can be 'creative' with a digital flight ticket; they're not really checking details with the airlines.

Luckily enough it went smooth for us today, and our luggage is still with us. No-mans land here was a 500 meter bridge, which is not being maintained by either country.. so it's full of holes and broken parts. Good luck walking there with your luggage :/

Be careful! 

The borders are full of rules and notes such as the one below. One memorable one was in Honduras, where a sign literally said "Entry fee: $3". When we took out dollars, the border control didn't accept it.. we had to pay $3 in Honduran Lempira, which meant going outside, changing $3 (plus exchange rate) to 60 Lempira, go back inside and pay the $3 fee in Lempira's. I'm lost. 

Very kind of Costa Rica to translate this note for all the tourists. Too bad it doesn't make any sense!

After passing the border, we took a 'chicken bus' to get to our destination, Bocas del Torro islands. This is a phenomenon in Central America: old American school buses get a colorful new layer of paint and are used to transport people, goods and animals. Chicken bus is actually the nickname that tourists have given it, officially it's called a Camioneta. It usually costs less then $1 per ride but people are being crammed in the bus, which doesn't have official stops: it will stop anywhere you want or wherever future passengers are waiting, even along the highways. The bus driver usually doubles as DJ, playing loud music (usually reggaeton). Quite an experience!

Chicken bus in San Pedro, Guatemala

Panama Chicken bus (Note: these are luxury seats! Normally they come with original American schoolbus seats!)