First impressions of Peru & things that go bang in the night…

We had a brief overnight stop in Lima before flying onto Cusco. We didn’t see much of the Capital City, but it looked vast from the air. We stayed at a great place (despite the slightly odd name) called SM Hotel & Business. We were picked up from the airport by a guy called Rene, who was getting married in 3 days time! He’s originally from Cuba and studied Economics at University. He’s now trying to earn enough money to train to be a teacher. He’d been working all night when he picked us up again at 4am to take us back to the airport and almost fell asleep several times at the wheel. He was clearly working hard!

In the departures lounge at Lima Airport, an announcement came over the tannoy for Mr & Mrs Wynn-Jones to come to the desk, and we had a horrible feeling we’d missed our plane. But it turned out they’d overbooked the economy seats and they bumped us up to business class – result!

The view you get from the plane flying into Cusco is incredible; the city is surrounded by beautiful mountains, which you circle before landing on the airstrip, which is pretty much in the centre of the city! We got a ridiculously expensive taxi to our hostel, La Boheme, which is in the San Blas area. The cobbled streets are very steep and narrow, and our hostel was tucked out of the way. It’s a very welcoming place, with a great communal area where you can help yourself to Coca tea at anytime. It’s also attached to a creperie. We went there for supper and had an absolutely delicious combination of chicken, mushrooms, spinach and bechemal cheese – all served in a massive crepe.

The view from nearby San Cristobel church is amazing; you can see right over the city. We also visited San Domingo on the site of a former Incan temple, which the Spanish partially destroyed and built over. The church was also partially destroyed by an earthquake in the 1950s and you can now see the unique combination of Catholic and Inca remains together.

Cusco is inevitably a bit touristy, because thousands of travellers pass through every year on their way to do the Inca Trail. You can’t walk through the main square without being offered a guided tour, a massage, or your photo taken with a baby llama – complete with a woolly hat! However the people are friendly and there’s a great atmosphere. The one thing we can’t understand is their obsession with fire crackers. We heard bangs going off throughout the day and were told by Quentin at our hostel, “that’s Cusco”. I think the whole area was woken again at 3am when the ‘fireworks’ started again, and continued until breakfast! It definitely wasn’t the good night’s sleep we needed before starting the Inca Trail!

J & R x

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Leaving Costa Rica…and the demise of The Beard

Costa Rica is an awesome country and we’re both sad to leave. It’s so diverse; it offers (sorry about the cliche!) something for everyone. There’s rainforest, cloud forest, mountains, waterfalls, stunning beaches, great surf, endless wildlife, fantastic food and super friendly people. They make it pretty easy for tourists (fondly referred to as ‘gringos’) to get around and have a great time, but it’s very difficult to say goodbye ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

As we are (sort of) on our honeymoon (!) we treated ourself to a stay at an amazing place called Hotel Blanca in the Cloud Forest near San Ramon for our final couple of nights. All the rooms are little cabins – very cute! The guides at the nature reserve have spotted pumas and jaguars not far from the accommodation – eeeek! Luckily we didn’t see anything that scary. We also managed 2 and a half weeks in Costa Rica without seeing a snake – despite the country boasting 139 different species of snake!!! I must say I’m relieved, not being a fan of the legless creatures. We almost got away without seeing spiders too, until the very last morning when Rob found a giant one on his shoe. A struggle followed, which involved a scene similar to a ‘Tom & Jerry’ sketch, in which the spider eventually lost.

Change was in the air…and as I packed and re-packed all my silly possessions into a bag that had clearly shrunk, I turned around to see Rob and his beard had split. The furry (if a bit spiky) face furniture is no more. I’m sure some Toucan somewhere is using it for a nest ๐Ÿ™‚

Peru here we come!

J & R x

Mature Naturists

Having spent an amazing few days in Santa Teresa, we moved onto a place called Quepos, the gateway town for Manuel Antonio National Park. Getting there involved an interesting combination of an overcrowded shuttle, bumpy speed boat and sweaty public bus, however I’m pleased to say it was well worth it!

Quepos is a likeable town with a strange mix of the old (it has managed to retain some Tico culture in the face of a massive tourism boom) and the new (there is an uber modern marina which caters for the big sport fishing scene and the odd gin palace). We stayed in a great little hotel in town and on our first night had the best meal we’ve had in Costa Rica. We found a highly recommended place online but saw we had to be picked up from somewhere in town and taken to the restaurant because it was so hard to find. We stood on a darkened street corner (pretty sure people thought we were buying drugs) for a while and eventually a lady called Marjorie came to get us. We were taken back to her home, sat on her verandah with tea lights in the trees and great music playing and were cooked the most incredible meal of fish (Mahi Mahi) with ginger, passion fruit and pineapple. And just when we thought things couldn’t get any better Marjorie rolled out her chocolate volcano dessert. For two self confessed chocaholics this was about as good as it gets! An amazing experience at La Boheme Cafe with a lovely hostess.

The next day involved a trip to the National Park. Manuel Antonio is one of the smaller parks in Costa Rica but this has the advantage of the wildlife being in far greater concentration. We were greeted in the park by spider monkeys, raccoons, kites, capuchin monkeys, land crabs, the list goes on. The beaches in the park were incredible and the water bath temperature as we are now becoming accustomed to! Jess and I spent a morning in the park and then went to the local public beach for a surf. We had great fun on small beach break waves as the sun set behind us. Amazing.

The following day saw us take a catamaran trip from Quepos to the waters surrounding the National Park. Our guide, upon seeing a few young (ish) people in our group mistakenly thought we wanted a booze cruise to the sounds of drum and bass. Thankfully when he realised we were ‘mature naturists’ he toned down the party chat and stopped trying to ply us with rum at 10am! We were then lucky enough to see dolphins and did some amazing snorkelling among more fish than we could name let alone count. The boat cruised back to Quepos as the sun set and despite our guide ending the trip with the thong song we really enjoyed ourselves!

We are nearing the end of our time in Costa Rica now. Just a few nights in a place nearer San Jose and the airport and then Peru here we come!

Oh and there has been some disparaging chat on Facebook of late about my travelling ‘beard’. On reflection it does indeed have to go but just for everyone’s amusement, a photo of the feeble attempt is below ๐Ÿ™‚

Bye for now
R&J x

Santa Teresa: The best hotel view ever.

I woke up on the morning of our journey to Santa Teresa (on the south-westerly tip of the Nicoya peninsula) not feeling well. It was only a matter of time before one of us picked up a holiday bug (!) but typically it was on a day when we had another very bumpy 5 hour bus ride! Luckily the journey passed without major ‘incident’. I managed to sleep while the bus jolted and jumped along Costa Rica’s ‘roads’.

We arrived in Santa Teresa in the heat of the day and were told the dirt track up to our hotel was ‘too steep for the bus’ and we’d have to walk. It was certainly good training for the Inca Trail; our hotel (Hotel Buenos Aires) was at the top of a mini mountain!! After slipping and sweating our way to the top with our bags we were rewarded with the best view from a hotel I’ve ever stayed in. The owner, Javier, was one of the nicest guys we’ve met so far. The hotel had a pool halfway up the hill, so to get to it we had to climb down some very steep steps. Javier told us he wanted to build a huge water slide from the hotel to the pool – but admitted it was a bit of a ‘stoner dream’…!

Our nearest beach, Playa Carmen, was beautiful, with trees along the edge of the sand, providing some welcome shade from the scorching sun. There was even a resident horse which we spotted several times wondering loose up and down in search of tit-bits! We hired boards and went surfing early one morning, although neither of us realised quite how powerful the Pacific waves can be until we were being chucked around like toys. Don’t worry – we soon realised we were a bit out of our depth (so to speak) and instead caught some smaller waves nearer the shore.

The sunset views from the hotel were absolutely amazing. We managed a few runs along the beach at sunset with a welcome dip at the end in waters that were still 20 degrees plus! And we were also treated to prime views of a massive thunder and lightning storm one night. The sheet lightning was like nothing we’d ever seen!

On the bus to Santa Teresa we’d met a woman called Catherine; a Kiwi who’s been living in London for 18 years. She’d been to Santa Teresa before and recommended a place called The Bakery. On our first day we went for lunch and the food was amazing; huge portions, delicious food and a great atmosphere. It felt slightly out of place in this little Costa Rican beach town, and actually would have suited Bristol (think The Lounge)!

We met a really nice Canadian couple at our hotel. They also recently got married and were on their honeymoon. They live near Winnipeg where they told us it gets down to -40 degrees! Amy was a occupational therapist and Don was a Mink farmer! Definitely one of the more unusual occupations…!

J & R x

Playa Grande – A little piece of paradise

We took a bumpy shuttle bus from Monteverde in the mountains to Playa Grande on the pacific coast. Stepping out of the bus it was hard to believe it was the same country – the temperature had gone up about 20 degrees! We were dropped at La Marejada Hotel, which was definitely the best place we’ve stayed so far; 8 clean, lovely rooms, next to a row of Palm trees and a pool, with a bar at the end. It turned out the bar served cheap beer and delicious food – winner!

Gail and Marco run the place with a host of surf-mad travellers who’ve never managed to leave. Playa Grande itself is tiny, with no real centre, a small shop and several boutique hotels. But it’s the perfect place to relax. Down a sandy path, the beach is a two minute walk from La Marajada Hotel. The waves are clean and the water is between 25-28 degrees! I’m sure that is the temperature of a bath back at home ๐Ÿ™‚

The place is absolutely full of beautiful people; they all look like they’re about to model for a surf magazine. In comparison we stood out as the whitest people on the beach; we are practically glowing! Everyone heads down to watch the sunset, which is pretty much at 5.30pm on the dot. Along with a spectacular sunset, you’re treated to a pretty amazing surf display too, as the locals (plus Rob!) fight it out for the best waves, to show off for their adoring fans….!

We met some great people too. Corynne is a friend of Ben, who Rob knows from Australia. She runs a surf shop in Playa Grande and came to meet us for a drink one afternoon, despite having just flown back from Florida and feeling a bit under the weather. We also spent some time with Serge and Christine from Quebec, who are travelling round Costa Rica with their 7 month baby Jules. We were both hugely impressed with their chilled out attitude towards parenting; Jules is one happy and contented baby! Hopefully we will meet them again in Montreal or Bristol! ๐Ÿ™‚

Jess & Rob

Swinging in the Jungle

We set off from La Fortuna on Friday morning on the ‘jeep-boat-jeep’ transfer to Monteverde. Crossing Lake Arenal was amazing. It was constructed in 1971 and is now home to a hydroelectric power plant that provides 40% of Costa Rica’s electricity. The scenery from the boat was stunning and we got the best view of Arenal volcano that we’ve had since we arrived. The boat was marshalled by a guy called Leo who we chatted to for a while. A nicer, more generous, more caring man you are unlikely to meet. He gave us a blessing as we boarded the next bus and told us good things happen to good people. What a legend.

The road into Monteverde was a fairly spine altering experience. The road was horrendous in places and Jess and I were sat right over the axle! We arrived into Monteverde and went straight to our home for 2 nights at La Collina Lodge – simple, clean and slightly out of downtown Monteverde which is relatively touristy.
We were recommended a coffee/chocolate/sugar cane tour (many thanks Mr Rob Annable – IT supremo at Bray Leino) at a place called La Trapiche and it was absolutely brilliant. Great guide, amazing location and learnt a load about coffee, chocolate and sugar that we didn’t know. They brew their local ‘moonshine’ there and it’s about 55% pure alcohol. We also saw a sloth right up close. He looked as if he’d been on the moonshine for sometime.

We ate at a fantastic local restaurant called Morphos on Friday night – Morphos being a butterfly. We ate fantastic sea bass and enjoyed the ultra friendly service.
Yesterday was split in two – the morning involved a guided walk around the local cloud forest. Jess and I channelled our inner ‘twitcher’ and loved seeing birds such as the resplendant quexal, the emerald toucan and the blue motmot. Our guide Carlos was amazingly knowledgable and had a sixth sense for spotting wildlife.

The afternoon was taken up by one of Monteverde’s biggest attractions, zip lining! We went up to a place called Selvatura Park and signed the usual waiver against death of dismemberment. We did a total of 15 zip lines ranging from 50m to 1km! It’s such a rush flying over the canopy and braking is strongly discouraged. We also did what’s known as the ‘Tarzan swing’ which does what it says on the tin. The squeal Jess made when she jumped off the platform was almost certainly heard in Nicaragua and Panama. Doing the Tarzan swing was pretty much mandatory after a 7 year old girl went first!

On our final night in Monteverde we enjoyed dinner at a local restaurant called La Tramonti. Fantastic food and wine. The Costa Rican’s fill wine glasses to the brim – a policy we believe should be adopted globally. This morning we travel on to the pacific coast and hopefully some sunshine!

Adios amigos
Rob & Jess x

Adventures in La Fortuna

If anywhere deserves the title of ‘ready-made adventure playground’ it’s La Fortuna in Costa Rica. It’s in the north of the country – 4 hours from San Jose by bus. We’re staying in a newish, clean, friendly hotel called Vista del Cerro. There’s a pool which cows and calves graze around, and Rebeca on reception has proved very helpful; constantly apologising for her ‘bad’ English, when we can barely speak a word of Spanish!

On our first afternoon, we visited a local waterfall called La Catarata de La Fortuna. It’s definitely worth the climb down (and back up) hundreds of slippery steps. We swam in the river which flows out from the thundering falls. I was a bit scared an Anaconda might suddenly join us for a dip, but we were lucky…!

The next day we went Canyoning, which basically involves abseiling down waterfalls. It was really fun; the right mix of excitement and safety…! There was a whole team of guides making sure we didn’t plunge to our deaths. They were led by a guy called Michael, who seemed very keen to set up a business with us selling Costa Rican coffee in the UK…! We also met a lovely couple from India called Abhi and Divya. Over a Costa Rican lunch of rice, beans & chicken, we found out they got married in September (like us) and Abhi’s studying for a PHD in Chemical Engineering in New York (and therefore much cleverer than us).

On recommendation from Rebeca, we ended up going to Restaurant Los Nenes in town, which turned out to have delicious Cerviche and great steak ๐Ÿ™‚

On our last day in La Fortuna, we went on a hike through the jungle. Our (extremely knowledgeable) guide, Walter pointed out a Sloth, Tarantula (luckily in a hole) and Howler Monkeys! We ended up in Baldi Hot Springs, located on the side of Arenal Volcan. On the way there we made a friend; a dog followed us the whole way there – I was sure he was going to be hit by a car ๐Ÿ˜ฆ The hot springs were pretty touristy, with a lot of American tourists flaunting a lot of flesh….but the water certainly was very hot!

Everyone we’ve met in La Fortuna has been incredibly friendly and helpful; clearly tourism is their main industry, but we both feel like the people aren’t fake, but are genuinely nice. One thing I especially loved is their notion that everything is ’10 minutes Costa Rican time’ away from where you are – again, I see similarities with Devon ๐Ÿ™‚

Jess & Rob

Costa Rica – The Happiest Country in the World

As long haul flights go ours was pretty good, although American Airlines were a big disappointment! Their movie selection was very limited and about 20 years old, and one of the air hostesses was very rude!

But after a flight change at Miami (which took the full 3 hours allocated to get through customs), we arrived in San Jose. Walking through the arrival gates, the sign says ‘Welcome to the happiest place in the World’. Awesome.

We were picked up by an airport transport diver called Julio and we piled into his ancient van. He was very friendly, although his driving was pretty bad! Before we’d even got onto the motorway he’d already almost careered into another van, before proceeding to dominate the middle lane, texting at the wheel while cars overtook on both sides.

We arrived at Hotel Leon and were welcomed by the owner, Patrick before we crashed out. We woke to the sound of a slow train trundling along next to the small hotel; I think every window was rattling! Patrick was really helpful the next morning and pointed us in the direction of a nearby bakery before helping us to get to the bus station to locate the bus to La Fortuna.

First impressions of Costa Rican countryside from the trip to La Fortuna: lush, green, hilly, beautiful valleys, very windy roads – essentially like Devon but more extreme ๐Ÿ™‚

Jess

Very nearly a false start…

We’d just managed to pack our whole lives into two smallish rucksacks when I realised I’d forgotten something vital.

My Yellow Fever certificate and vaccination booklet were still tucked inside my diary in my work bag – at Mum’s house. 100 miles away in Devon. Apparently, without those bits of paper they won’t let you into certain countries in South America. There was a brief moment of panic, before I called Mother Avis, who (as always) saved the day. She drove up to Bristol with the two tiny insignificant-looking documents (!) and we hopped on the train. First stop – a curry in Borough, London and a stop over at Gemma Walker’s house ๐Ÿ™‚

Jess