We’re finding that it’s really hard to be cool when you’re traveling through Central America this time of year! We’re told the rainy season is late & the temps are off the scale compared to normal. Feels it!
We booked a week of diving on the island of Utila in Honduras but we arrived a couple of days early to go back to Pico Bonito National Park where Jon & I had done some nice white water rafting years ago on the Cangrejal River. It was practically the same time of year. Well we did go, but the water levels were way down and we even had to scooch over rocks at times in the raft to get over the low spots. When we did get some rapids they were fun but while in Hope, Alaska this past summer we were just hoping to stay in the raft, this time we were hoping to have something big enough to maybe fall out. Funny thing though, our guide, Juan Carlos was the same guy who took us 15 years prior! And the macaw in the pic?- We asked and that’s the same bird as well. We also took a hike to a waterfall one day in the national park.
We couldn’t wait for our week underwater on Utila, with an AC room when we were topsides- so much so that we even changed our ferry to get there a day earlier. The hotel we stayed at in La Ceiba the night before allowed us to park the trucks there in their secure grassy lot for the whole time we were gone. Plus they had a pool. There’s a nice high speed ferry from La Ceiba to Utila and by the next afternoon we were in the water.
It had been awhile since we’d dove in the Caribbean and it was nice to see all the old familiar creatures. We longed for all the pinks, purples and blues of the South Pacific, but it was still great to be there. There was a lot of life in the shallows and we enjoyed drift snorkeling around the tip of the island back to the hotel. I miss those long days Jon & I used to do where we’d snorkel for hours towing the dinghy and come out when we wanted all wrinkled and happy.
We took an advanced course and Ivan began his Open Water course. It feels like PADI adjusted the rules so now some shops are saying you can’t dive below 60 ft unless you have an advanced certification which is more about spending money on it than learning anything new. We had to do a deep, wreck, night, peak buoyancy and navigation dive. Still, our instructor Chris was really fun and because there wasn’t much learning to do, it felt laid back and easy.
We’d chosen a really nice dive center- Altons’ and it was perfect to be staying right there so you could roll out of bed and onto the dive boat. It had a really nice low key feel and there were so many cool travelers there from all over the world. While lacking in pelagic life, the corals looked good except for the pillar corals which have taken a huge hit from some kind of algae that’s hit the Atlantic. We sure missed having our boat compressor where we could launch ourselves and do as long of a dive as we wanted to wherever we wanted without someone telling us when it was time to come up or how fast we needed to be geared up for the next dive. But, it’s all about choices I guess. And we cashed that in for the truck life where we can move a lot further in a day and see more than the coast with our home always with us. Anyway, we enjoyed our dives and especially the night dive because it was so peaceful down there and the moon showed enough to light up the sand a bit. The crabs & urchins were out while some of the fish were sleeping.
Utila itself could be really cute but all the nice little roads have a constant stream of tuktuks blasting by the pedestrians which takes away from it. Once we three finished our respective classes, we did our last two dives together with just us and a divemaster. It was the culmination of a goal to be able to dive together and we accomplished that. We are now on the lookout for our next dive spot. And before we left the island, we each bought new dive computers because they were a good deal and our old ones are outdated. It’s good to carry our own since they don’t come with rented BC’s & regs.
We came back to La Ceiba to the trucks late in the day. The following morning, we headed south towards one of Honduras’s national parks up in the cloud forest. Along the way, we passed a large solar farm. We got a chuckle out of how they keep the grass from growing too high- lots of sheep! The place we headed to was called Panacam Lodge and it had a beautiful jungle campspot, trails to hike, tons of birds and total peace and quiet. We’re really getting a lot of good looks at toucans now and all of the other singing birds are so great to hear. Their songs are so catchy they stick in my head over the day. They had hummingbirds feeders up and we saw a couple of new types.
Back when we were building our truck, we got some good ideas and motivation from a British couple Neil & Pat who have a truck similar to ours along with a thorough website on their build called Cloud 9 On Tour. Well after several years of waiting, our paths would finally converge in Nicaragua and the timing was just right to celebrate Neil’s 60th birthday. So we did a couple of long driving days to get out of Honduras and into Nicaragua.
Nicaragua wasn’t a place we were dying to visit because of it’s politics and relatively recent violence. But, when headed down this way, there’s no way around it. Border cues are known to be long at times and the country is like a furnace this time of year. But, our border crossing was actually pretty easy even though it was a long day and we made a beeline to the Pacific coast to camp on the beach. After Guatemala with its belching chicken buses and Honduras with it’s pigged out tuk-tuks, it was immediately apparent that the poorer Nicaragua was beneficial in that there weren’t as many vehicles, many more horse and buggies and the roads were in great shape! There was much less trash. It was actually kind of pretty.
We got parked up under some palm trees and played in the strong waves as the tide came in until we couldn’t take their punches anymore. It was a hot night so we got up early to head to the town La Infernita, which means little inferno (no joke) to Rancho Los Alpes. Pat had arranged for us to stay on the ranch for a couple of days and for a birthday dinner in celebration of Neil. It was a beautiful place, very quiet, there were capuchin monkeys swinging around, there were trails to walk and rocking chairs to sit in and even a big grill so we could do a group BBQ on the terrace. We plugged in so we had AC, a welcome break from sweating bullets. The next night’s dinner ended up being truly great (not just by Central American standards) and to my total approval- 4 courses! They even made us a special cocktail. I made Neil a cake and we had a long evening of chatting and eating. The staff at the Los Alpes were so friendly and bent over backwards for us- another example of the kindness we’ve received throughout our travel here.
After cleaning the monkey crap off the windshield the next morning, we reluctantly unplugged and parted ways with Neil & Pat to head out of Nicaragua into Costa Rica.
We were dreading the day because people say it can take even longer to get out of the country than it does to get in. Also, we had to drive a stretch of road where its well known that the cops pull you over for nothing and then try to collect a bribe. We use an app called Ioverlander and it was clearly indicated on there. Well, we passed through 3 of the markers where this has happened but either the cops weren’t there (it was a Sunday) or they were standing in the shade (who can blame them?) looking at their phones. But then further down there was another road block and we were immediately motioned to pull over. The “charge” was that we were in the passing lane for too long. Huh? There was a car next to us so it wouldn’t have been very nice to drive over it….. So we discussed this bogus claim, turned down the idea of a fine and after a few minutes, the cop wished us well and we were on our way. It was weird and gave us the creeps. If you can’t trust the police then who can you trust???
We concentrated really hard for the last miles to the border an stayed in the right lane while trucks passed us on the left hoping nothing would get in the way of us crossing it. And in the end, there was no problem. I think checking out and then in to Costa Rica took less than two and a half hours.
Our friends Marcus & Julie told us that driving in to Costa Rica is like a breath of fresh air (literally) with it’s trash free countryside, good roads, decent infrastructure and peaceful feel. Hallelujah! The first night we stayed at a beautiful finca owned by a Swiss couple. There we saw 3 sloths! And a small crocodile. Sloths remind me of koalas in a way.
Then we moved to another spot higher up in the hills with thermal pools (cool and warm but not hot) which was really cute although there were some huge bugs there that night! I even got stung by something. Sometimes the cicadas are deafening too. That morning we took the first run we’ve been able to take in a long while because it was finally cool enough to do it. We ran by several farms with cows, horses and toucans. Yup! Toucans in the trees. Its so funny to have that combination.
Then we moved again to another jungle hotel campspot and parked under a massive tree. When you talk of the tree canopy this is the real thing. One big tree with high branches forming a huge umbrella of shade and a lovely shape. There are so many of these big trees throughout Central America. One thing we’ve gotten used to is lifting power lines with a stick to fit our truck under. I never thought it was possible but we’ve learned since we’ve been down here that its just a necessary part of driving around here. So I lifted one to get to the big tree campspot but when the staff found out, they came and trimmed some low branches and shrubs for us and also they tied the power line with a rope to make it high enough to pass when we left. How nice. We need to buy a fiberglass pole to store in the truck. That’s on the wish list.
It was in this spot that we celebreated Ivan’s big 5-0 birthday! Paella of course and good wine and bourbon chocolate pecan pie. It’s a good life.
We’re loving Costa Rica. So for this, all the other was worth it. It’s a bit pricy for things, but then again, we aren’t paying to stay in a campground every night because there are actually nice places to go where it’s OK to park.Then you make up for it by paying the entry to the parks. Still, I can see why people love to come here. Its been a long time coming, but we finally made it and it feels good.