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Tarantulas, ziplining and border crossings – Costa Rica Message #3 – Sunday, March 18, 2007

on March 16, 2013

This is the final message of the three I sent from Costa Rica in March 2007. For the next post, I’ll be zipping back to my 2005 trip to India. Stay tuned.

But first…final stop to Central America.

 

Hey all,

 

In less than 24 hours I shall be on my way back to Canada. The week has gone by quickly. In some ways I am glad I did the solo resort experience but I’m definitely not sure I’ll do it again. On the one hand, I met way more people than I ever did while “resorting” with others. But on the other hand, resorts are definitely designed for twos, couples, groups, families…aka anyone who isn’t on their own. My resort has tons of Canadians staying at it (maybe cuz of the crappy winter we’ve had across the country?) and so I never felt truly “alone” – there were always plenty of friendly, smiley faces. I wore my “staple travel jewellery” – my Canada flag necklace so people struck up convos with me wherever I happened to be. I also met some cool Spanish girls, a couple of Aussie guys (big surprise), and a nice couple from Florida. Mostly, though, I hung out with Canadians.

 

Some of you will be happy to know that although it took me pratically the whole week I have now mastered the art of relaxing and doing nothing more than reading a book/magazine, listening to my Ipod, drinking slushy drinks and taking naps in the sun. Other than a walk on the beach and water aerobics I did little else today.

 

I was supposed to meet a work colleague, Don (and his wife) who arrived in CR last night. But they were denied entry to the resort…weird. (Don, I only got your message about a half hour ago when I went back to my room! Sorry I missed you two!)

 

I’ve decided water aerobics is fun and something I might do when I return to Edmonton. Not sure how exactly I will fit it into my schedule but it’s something to consider. I would also continue with yoga on the beach, if only we lived near the ocean. 😦 That has been a fun way to do yoga.

 

My spider woes continue. I killed another one in my room this morning and the other day I saw a…get ready for it…a TARANTULA. Not in my room. THANK GOD. It was in the lobbby. Instead of screaming like the girl I am, I pulled out my camera and took some photos. I was proud of myself for id’ing it as a tarantula (later confirmed by one of the guides who looked at the picture.) I can’t believe some people have these for pets. Ick.

 

After my last e-mail home, my friend Michael (I visited Michael and his wife, Christine, in the Cayman Islands last March) pointed out that once you’ve been to the world’s best beaches (aka Cayman) no others compare. He’s right. I was spoiled by the Caymans and hence my being unimpressed with CR beaches. Ah well, beats winter in Edmonton, any day. BTW, beaches in Thailand are quite lovely, too. The Andaman Sea, where I climbed for most of the my stay in Thailand, was awesome, white sand, clear aqua water. Beautiful. So, I’ve had my share of nice beaches and I ought not complain. 🙂

 

And, reading my book while I face the Pacific O and hearing the gentle crashing of the waves while lying under the shade of trees that allow glimmers of sun rays through the leaves is quite cool too. Counting my blessings now.

 

I am just about ready to bid farewell to Central America. I hope Edmonton has completed its final throes of winter and I’ll be greeted by sunshine and spring.

 

Okay, other stuff about this trip…two days ago I spent the day in Nicaragua and what a stark contrast between Nicaragua and Costa Rica! First, it’s pretty cool that I was able to work in a visit to another country as part of this holiday. The trip to Nicaragua, land of volcanoes and lakes, was worth the bus ride there and back and gave me a different viewpoint on Central America than I would have taken home just from holidaying in CR alone. Nicaragua means “close to the water” in Spanish and that is very true. Lake Nicaragua is the world’s largest lake and 500 years ago, the Spanish mistook it for the Pacific O. Easy mistake to happen since in some parts of Nicaragua, the Pacific O and Lake Nicaragua are only separated by 10 miles of land.

 

Of Central America’s seven countries, Nicaragua is the largest (land) and with five million people, larger than Costa Rica in terms of people. (Geography lesson: the other six are: Guatemala, Belize, Panama, CostaRica, El Salvador, and Honduras). Nicaragua also has the majority of the water supply of Central America and the region’s only baseball team. Our guide explained the Nicaraguan team is stuck in the middle – the worst of the best and the best of the worst teams.

 

Nicaragua is known for its hammocks, coffee, rum, and cigars and its income sources are tourism, farming, seafood, cattle export, and gold and silver mining. It’s a very “young” country, with 60% of the population under the age of 25 and half of the land is undeveloped as it is rainforest. It is also a very poor country that is still recovering from the Civil War of the 1980s (one that was supported by the Cubans and the Russians). Our guide didn’t get into much detail but did indicate that tourism has just been picking up recenty (the Civil War ended in 1990) and that he was surprised our group was a large one (19 people) because he felt that Americans and Canadians would be shunned for visiting Nicaragua. I’ll have to read up on this a bit to see exactly what he meant…all I know is the President at the time of the Civil War was not very nice (human rights issues and general corruption) and that he was recently re-elected….huh? How does that happen? Actually, in this case, it was that the two better options split the right-wing vote and the Ortega (sp?) government got in with 38% of the vote (which might not have happened if the parliament? hadn’t changed the figure from 45% to 35% for a party to win an election…).

 

Another thing our guide told us was that we ought not to give kids money or buy their goods when we got into Granada and Masaya. He explained that kids only go to school in the a.m. and they help with the farming in the p.m. So, already there is not much emphasis placed on schooling. And, add to that the reality of tourists giving money or buying stuff from kids and parents will pull their kids out of school completely and send them to town to make a more lucrative earning from the tourists. Instead, the guide encouraged us to give the kids food if we really wanted to give them something. I ended up not eating the bagged breakfast we were provided and gave my entire lunch away. I’ve eaten so much on this trip that I really doubt one missed meal will have an adverse impact on me.

 

In addition to a city tour, which was interesting, albeit a bit rushed, we spent time at a market and visited an active volcano. The market was HUGE. It reminded me of the many markets I visited in SE Asia, but especially the one in Bangkok, because it was so easy to get lost once you entered the maze of stalls and vendors. It was busy and complex to navigate (especially when you have no sense of direction like yours truly).

 

IMG_0960

The above picture was taken at the active volcano I visited in Nicaragua. The active volcano was very neat. I saw tons of dormant and extinct volcanoes when I went to New Zealand a few years ago but never an active one. The thrill seeker in me thought it would be cool to rap down to the crater but that wasn’t an option. The Spanish believed the devil lived in the volcano so they placed a huge cross on one of the peaks and it still stands there today (approximately 500 years later).

 

Crossing the border in and out of Costa Rica and Nicaragua went off without a hitch. Our guide said it was the smoothest crossing he’d ever experienced. Lucky for us!

 

Apparently, there is some underlying tension between Costa Rica and Nicaragua. I think it might be rooted in the have/have not dynamics. Costa Rica is much more developed, has a stronger tourism base, and way better infrastructure. Many Nicaraguans fled during the Civil War; some came to Costa Rica, some went to Miami. The ones left behind harbour animosity (explicably). It kinda reminded me of Canada and its have/have not provinces but worse because there are no transfer payments in Central America. Makes me want to encourage everyone to add a stop to Nicaragua if they come to Costa Rica. It’s worth it to see two totally different (but similar) countries and bonus, you get to do your part to help Nicaragua’s economy and strengthen the country’s tourism efforts.

 

Okay, now a recap of yesterday’s ziplining and other activities. OH MY GOD! WHAT A RUSH!!!! I love ziplining and can’t wait to do it again. We had a small group – only seven people so that was GREAT!!! I went first for all the activities (five of the people in my group were a family that wasn’t very adventurous and none of ’em wanted to go first…I figured why not!)

 

The whole morning was a blast and exactly the kind of thrill-seeking adventure I was hoping for and now I’ve finally ziplined – something that is definitely a must do for anyone visiting Costa Rica. I was very impressed with the safety features and protocols of the company. All of the equipment was very similar to the stuff I use for rock climbing and it was all Petzl (a trusted climbing brand) and in great condition. They suited us up in full-body harnesses (a bit overkill in my opinion but better safe than sorry, right?) and we were off. We did 10 different ziplines a rappel, a rock climbing wall, ladders, Tarzan swinging (on a rope over a canyon – three times!!!!) wahoo!!!! The rappel was different than anything I’d ever done through rock climbing and the guide encouraged me to rap down head first (upside down), something I NEVER would have done a couple of years ago. But I had a helmet and I figured why the heck not. What a total total total blast. Wahoo!!! My aerial skills/trapeze classes came in handy as I was completely comfortable flipping myself upside down while hanging on a rope and the guide was suitably impressed; so much so that he allowed me to finish the 10th zipline upside down – over a canyon. What a complete rush! The afternoon’s activity was horseback riding to a waterfall and bathing in a crystal-clear lake. That was fun but the ziplining et al was the highlight of the day, and probably of the week.

 

Ironically, my being Albertan came in handy on the horseback riding part of the day. I have actually gone on trail rides a few times so I generally know how to get on/off horses, how to hold the reins, and how to make the horse stop and go. So the Torontonians treated me like I was the expert (ha ha ha cuz I’m so NOT a cowgirl, right folks?) but it was cool. The horse guide didn’t speak much English but I could communicate enough in broken Spanglish that he and I trotted back for most of the way back to the stables (the trip to the water fall was 30 minutes and he and I made it back in about 20 minutes so there was a fair bit of trotting). My horse was really good, too. He went fast enough that I was leaving my saddle regularly but never bucked me off. Soooo fun.

 

So, that’s a wrap….

 

Hugs and kisses to E&N. Auntie misses you two!!!!

 

Narmin
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