Stranded whilst surfing !! – San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua’s Pacific Coast

May 16, 2008

Drinking in the gutter wuth Jas and Lucy, oh the backpacker\'s life !Katie showing me how surfing should be done !!

Hola from Nicaragua

So we arrived at the border and I changed some dollars into the local Nicaraguan Cordoba’s. The exchange rate is more or less as good as the banks so it makes sense. The line was very long and it’s really hot here, at least it’s all orderly. Exit stamp achieved, we get back on the bus and hand over our passports to get a Nicaraguan entry stamp. We then have to stand in another queue with our bags and hand in the customs form. Not actually sure why, as they waved us all on and we put our bags straight back on the bus. I got out at Rivas with two really nice Americans and we were told a taxi to San Juan del Sur would cost around $15. You seem to be able to use both dollars and the local currency here. A school girl tried to get us a taxi but we went for an official one. There didn’t seem to be any buses or collectivos anyway. 45 minutes later we were in San Juan and today is just getting better and better for me as I got the last bed in Casa Oro. Due to my early start I’m knackered so go for a walk to find yet more sunglasses and then have some food. I like it here, it feels incredibly relaxed. As I check my email later on I see that Katie is here and is still up for giving me a free surf lesson. Surfing is something I would only ever contemplate in hot weather and warm seas. I’m not sure I’m going to enjoy it but I remember that she did assure me that the Pacific Ocean is less salty than the Caribbean Sea, and you never know you’re going to like something unless you try it I suppose. I reckoned she was probably at the beach so I’d go and try and find her around 6ish. Half an hour later back in the hostel I see Katie. We arrange to meet the next day for my surf lesson…HELP !!

I’m so tired I read for ages then head to bed still reading and looking forward to an early night. At 9pm a local guy is brought in looking rather worse for wear and is led on to a bunk. He bangs his head and then leans over to the crack between the bed and the wall and proceeds to be sick. It’s a big dorm but I really don’t want to smell that all night. I must have given daggers to the local girl (oh yes, be very scared at my daggers !!) and she went and got a mop and cleaned it up. I slept soundly and woke up at 7am.

I collected my surf board and went to meet Katie. We are joined by a Norweigan couple Andy and Anna. We heard last night that Nicaragua had called a nationwide bus and taxi strike due to the ongoing price increases (if you think we had it bad, the prices are horrendous in comparison here !!) so we had to get a secret shuttle to the beach. There are blockades out of town so we couldn’t get to the beach we wanted to go to so went to Maderas beach instead. The beach was empty. Katie ran through a couple of the few important moves we’d need to make, including popping up on the surf board, then it was time to hit the ocean. It strikes me that the hardest thing about surfing is getting out there in the first place to catch the wave. I seemed to be paddling sideways which meant that in no time at all I was on for a tumble dry setting in the waves. Glad I’d removed the contacts or I think I’d have had real problems seeing anything. At least my ankle strap was keeping the surf board attached. I watched Katie in action (as you can see from the shot above), just how long had it taken her to surf like that ? And she claims she is still a beginner. She was very good and kept encouraging me to keep going, which I did. I have to say I was thoroughly enjoying myself, I’d even go as far as to say I’d try this again with a full lesson. Sometimes I even surprise myself. I get dunked, dunked and dunked again, but oh what fun. I can now get into position but can’t pop up. Andy seems to have no fear. I think the coordination of being in position, paddling and catching the wave is getting there, i just can’t seem to pop up. Eventually I manage to kneel. I catch the wave and am screaming with laughter as I soar in to shore. My arms are in the air and I look like a crab doing the Mexican wave, but it’s such a brilliant feeling. I really don’t care that Anna is laughing her head off at me, well I must look a ridiculous spectacle. After an hour I decide to catch some rays. Then the others do the same. They go out again after lunch, I was going to but I’m really just enjoying watching and getting a bit of sun. That´s my story and I´m sticking to it…

Later on as I’m reading I see something black and orange coming towards me. Considering the last creature I saw with that colouring was a tarantula I screamed. It was a crab !! My scream and movement made it lift it’s claws up at me and scuttle past sideways. It did indeed look like it was doing the Mexican wave, at least something looks like the way I surf. The tide is coming in and all the crabs seem to be heading to us, my new game was not to let them past until they had performed the wave ritual. We got ready to leave as our bus was coming to pick us up at 3pm and I really must have pissed the crabs off as one of them secretly got behind Katie and gave her bum a good pinch. Sorry Katie !! We walked up the path to catch the bus. No sign. We waited and waited. After 45 minutes I’m so thirsty that I decide to get us all drinks back at the beach. The bus is still not there. We think he may have thought we said 4pm so we wait. No sign. At 4.15pm Katie decides to go back to the beach to see how we can get back. I’m not worried as at least there’s 4 of us. She comes back and says there are still trucks at the beach so we head down to see if we can catch a lift. We’ll need to find transport capable of taking the surf boards though. On top of that I’ve been fretting on how I’m going to get to Managua to pick my Aunt up in 2 days time due to the bus strike. I’m thinking of trying to get straight to Managua from here so at least I’ll be there on time.

The first guy we meet will take us but can’t fit the surf boards on. We then meet an older American woman who after Katie told her our stranded story just said “Well, good luck” (translation – hard luck leave us alone). Luckily for her I didn’t hear this at the time as I would have gone mad (in fact, she was staying at my hostel so I would have really have gone for it and I know whose side all the backpackers would have been on, not hers !!) – one word for you lady – KARMA !! It turned out that the driver who she’d made out to be her friend was a taxi driver who would take us back if we paid him. 2 hours after we were supposed to have left we jumped on the back of the pick up truck, it was bumpy but fine. It turned out that the route we’d been dropped off at earlier had since been blockaded aswell. We were dropped off at the far side of the beach and then walked back to town. I never realised how hard it was to carry a surf board. On the way I bumped into the 2 Americans I’d shared the taxi with the day before but was in a rush as it was 5.30pm and the surf shop was supposed to close at 5. Thankfully it was open. The old cow was returning her surf board and I just ignored her smiles. As I came out I heard my name, it was Lucy, last seen in Monteverde. They’d changed their plans and come here and were doing a homestay and learning Spanish for the week. We arranged to meet up later on that evening.

Arriving back at the hostel I was somewhat relieved to find that the shuttle to Granada was on, at least that would take me part of the way to meet my Auntie, so i ditched my plans to go straight to Managua. I met up with Katie, Anna and Andy and a couple of surfers from Newquay at a bar called Big Wave Dave´s. I was jealous I´d already eaten when I saw their food arrive. Jas and Lucy turned up shortly afterwards and after dinner and a couple of beers we headed to a bar called Republika. The bar was full so Lucy, Jas and I had to sit in the gutter to drink our beers (a lovely shot above), as you can see my social life is really soaring to new heights !! The rum was really strong and I sneaked off part way through to call home to advise my Auntie about the transport strikes. We didn’t really have a clue what was going on and it´s hard passing on local news without unduly worrying the parents. Panic over, I went back to the bar (we´d been found some chairs) and had some local rum. Apparently Nicaraguan rum is the 3rd best in the world so that´s good enough for me. As I was started to feel a little tipsy the bar ran out of drink so the girls left which meant more goodbyes, I stayed with Katie a bit longer and then left myself.

I have the feeling tomorrow could be a very interesting day and as for being stranded, I´d had a good time attempting to surf that I really didn´t mind at all !!

Transport count:

Plane = 24, Bus = 114, Train = 2, Boat =20, Sunglasses = 9, Mosquito Repellant = 10, Books Read = 30 1/2, Bags lost and then recovered = 2.

Take care all



Misty Monteverde !! – Costa Rica

May 14, 2008

Pizza night in MonteverdeSt Elena Reserve

Hola from Costa Rica

So on to my final destination in Costa Rica, Monteverde. You can catch a couple of buses or the quickest and easiest route is a jeep/boat/jeep. Really as you go in a minbus it should be called the Bus/boat/bus, but I suppose this doesn’t sound as exciting and therefore a lot of people wouldn´t opt for it. Anyway it was all very pain free. The highlight was the narrow little boat over the lake which gives you a great view of the Arenal volcano. I arrived in Monteverde in under 3 hours and checked myself in to the Monteverde backpackers. Possibly I´d recommend Pension Elena it looks more fun. Although the area is called Monteverde most of the backpackers stay in Saint Elena the nearby town. I like it, it looks real and although caters for tourists it hasn´t outdone itself and retains a lot of character. I chatted to an Aussie girl in my dorm for a bit then went out to get some food. Budget food is a little limited but I headed to a cafe called Maravilla and then had an early night.

The next day I pottered around town, had a late breakfast and decided to do the Sky Bridges walk. Just as I got back to the hostel it absolutely poured down. Luckily this didn´t last too long ( well we are coming in to rainy season) and I was picked up by my over friendly driver who insisted he wanted to marry someone from another culture and would I like to come with him to Bar Amigos that night….think I´ll give it a miss. I got to the Sky Bridges and was told it would take just over an hour to do the walk over the 8 elevated bridges. I set out down the narrow paths and tried to spot wildlife. It seemed like there was too much tree cover so made my way to a bridge. The bridges are incredibly high and you are above or in line with the tree tops. At first they felt a bit unsafe especially as they wobbled wildly when anyone else walked on them with you. I kind of wanted to experience this on my own so let various people pass by. Then the loud groups were so noisy that I didn´t think any wildlife would even stick around. As the bridges got higher and higher the scenery was getting better and better. Eventually the ends of the bridges looked like they were disappearing in to the clouds (could that be because I’m in a cloud forest? ), it was all quite misty! I spotted an Emerald Toucan (the smallest of the species) and managed to take a photo. Then a rare treat, I got to see a Quetzal swooping through the sky. This is a rare and protected bird in Costa Rica and is a gorgeous green and red colour, the males also have quite a long tail feather. Finally on the very last bridge I saw a nose bear otherwise known as a Coati, although it looked completely different to the ones I’d seen in Iguazu. Unfortunately I couldn´t get a photo as once again everyone was walking over the bridge so the shot came out blurred …. god damn those tourists !!

I was starving when I got back to town so went to Morphos for dinner and had some lovely roast potatoes with my dinner. When I got back to the hostel Jas and Lucy from La Fortuna had checked in. They also needed to eat so took them to Maravilla and just had a drink while they ate. It was great to see them again !!

The next morning I had to get up at 6am for an early morning trek through the Saint Elena reserve. Two of the other girls from my dorm were going whilst Jas and Lucy were booked to do the canopy tour which here includes a rather scary tarzan swing. I had been recommended to get a guide which was definitely worthwhile, otherwise it´s very difficult to actually see anything. Firstly, we were met by a rather wild pig called Charlie. Well when I say wild he seems to have domesticated himself. Apparently he did have a girlfriend once but she hated his forays into the car park to say hello to people so dumped him and retreated to the forest. He in the mean time has become addicted to insect repellant and was trying to lick it all off Helen´s legs. Being a friendly pig, he decided to begin our 3 hour trek with us (I so so want a pig, I’ve even given up eating pork for the time being, I just can’t face it !!). The Saint Elena reserve is a cloud forrest, it´s split into primary and secondary forest, here’s a picture of the primary forest above. You can also go to the Monteverde reserve aswell here. It used to rain every day but due to global warming it doesn’t anymore. In fact, the warmer weather has brought birds that never used to live here like toucans in to the area. They have then been killing the Quetzals and Bell birds, according to our guide there used to be more than 100 bell birds in the park 3 years ago but now there are only 35, it didn’t seem like they were endangered as we could hear them constantly, but maybe it was the same one who was a bit lonely. So on to the wildlife, we got to see a cool stick insect and then a millipede which gave off a rather almond smell to disuade predators. We did get to see a couple of the rare Three-wattled bell birds which look like they have rather strange black spaghetti hanging over their beaks. They have to be at least 7 years old to have this feature and were just sitting on the end of a high branch calling out with their bell sound to attract females. Next a huge helicopter beetle, I also pointed this out to a couple who were walking on their own. Then the tour ended, no monkeys – boo hoo !! Helen decided to go off and walk some more trails but didn’t see anything else and I caught the bus back in to town for a late lunch. I bumped into some girls I´d met on the volcano tour in La Fortuna and then went to book my bus ticket. There´s a TransNica bus that takes you straight through the border but unfortunately that was booked up so I´d have to stay another night and leave on Monday. Lucy and Jas decided that they´d leave and just try and catch the local buses so we all went out for a last pizza. In all there were 10 of us (as you can see above) and we caught up with Steve who´d also been my dorm mate in La Fortuna. We called it an early night. Actually it was really strange as our whole dorm had been out together so we all went to bed at the same time (it´s been ages if at all that that´s happened), it felt like we were on an illicit school trip and we were having to arrange a time to wake up for our midnight feast. Lucy was talking about the toilet and obviously being Australian called it a Dunny. Brooke (American) and Magnus (Norweigan) said “What´s a Dunny ?”, only the way Magnus said it was “Dun…..ny ????” in a very funny Scandinavian way. Lucy then repeated this and burst out laughing so we had some more fun and introduced them to the word “Doona” as well, which Magnus also pronounced in a very high pitched questioning way. It meant that we all went to sleep literally snorting with laughter under the bed clothes. Very juvenile but it took me ages to fall asleep I was laughing so hard. I think you had to be there. The girls had to leave at the crack of dawn. It was sad to see them go but there is a possibility I´ll see them in Nicaragua so who     knows …..

I got up and went to the Orchid garden. I´ve just finished a book called Orchid Fever about the rules and adventures of people in the orchid world so thought it was rather fitting (more riveting than it sounds – honest !!). They had some 500 orchid species out of 1200 that exist in Costa Rica including the smallest. Actually the garden was beautiful and I hung around after my tour in the hope of getting that all important shot of a butterfly pollinating an orchid – no such luck !! There was however a great moment of meeting Lorita. She´s a wild green parrot but comes to the garden every morning as she knows they will feed her. She has even learnt her name and screams it out and then cackles with laughter, this then makes you laugh and it was highly entertaining for a while. One very happy wild bird !! Next on my list was the Serpentarium where they house both the local harmless and venomous snakes. I tried to tell the difference with the head shape but it was really hard, I´m really not going to know the difference if I come across one face to face so think I´ll treat them all as venomous just in case.

After a relaxing afternoon there for me was one thing left to do the guided night walk. I haven´t done one since Borneo and when the guide asked me what my expectations were I said I had come to see Tarantulas as I heard most people had seem them on this trip, and I knew any photo I got would scare the hell out of my Dad when I got home. We started off while it was still light but we had all armed ourselves with torches. First port of call was to walk through a banana plantation, we then rounded a bend and walked up some steps then bingo….our guide stopped at a ground level hole in a tree. He shone his torch inside and said orange legged tarantula, it was a female who was guarding her nest. Apparently they don´t kill the male if they realise he wants to mate with her, and she´s also very opportunist if prey walks by. He got a small stick to create some vibrations which would make her venture further out of the nest. She was huge and actually quite beautiful. She didn´t come out too far so we still had to crane our necks to see her properly. Well, at least for me it meant that my expectations of the tour had been met immediately. Darkness fell pretty quickly after that. It was incredibly difficult to spot anything but we were all shining our torches up high in the trees in the hope that we may find a pair of eyes shining out in the dark. All we really found were fire flies, various May beetles and moths. There was a teeny weeny frog and then I screamed as I realised the buzzing sound was a huge beetle flying at me. Thankfully that only happened one more time and I´m pleased to say I handled my next buzzing in a far more dignified manner. After the forrest we made our way over some fields but didn´t really see anything. One of the girls moaned that the tour was boring but she  really was a pain anyway and then we were back at the minibus. I have to say I quite enjoyed it, I love the sound of the forest at night well that is of course as long as I´m with a guide to save me and I don´t have to camp there !!

Arriving back at the hostel I found that Helen was waiting for me with Magnus and a new guy who’d moved into our dorm called Jacob. Steve then turned up with John and we all went to Maravilla for dinner. After dinner I said goodbye to Steve and then headed to the only happening (if you can call it that) place in town called Bar Amigos. They had the audacity to charge an entrance fee even though it was a Monday night. At least the beers were cheap !! On entering, it looked like we’d walked in to a bar where time had stood still. In fact it reminded me of an old style social club we used to have in the UK (probably still do !!). Boney M was playing on the sound system and there was a disco ball hanging down from the ceiling. There was a motorbike on stage and the DJ was advertising himself as “Music for the new millenium” !! Maybe he didn’t realise we’re in 2008 already. I only had one beer as I had to get up at 3.30am for my bus and I really couldn’t take the excitement. I got back to the hostel and the Canadian couple had decided to share the bunk bed above Helen (that was a result as they could have chosen the one above me). The night before I had told her a collapsing bunk bed story from a dorm in Borneo, no wonder she was looking at me worriedly.

My alarm went off at 3.30am, I moved everything outside and packed up and walked to the bus station. The bus arrived at 4.15am and I boarded. It was due to arrive at the highway at 6am and my next bus was due to pick me up at 6.40am, plenty of time !! Ten minutes in to the journey there seemed to be a problem. The driver got out to have a look along with another passenger. They only took 10 minutes and then we were on our way again. The highway turned out to be a 2 lane road and we’d arrived at 6.30am, have I been had ? I grabbed a coffee, drunk it quickly and went to the bus stop. A woman then informed me that my bus had arrived early at 6.20am, waited 5 minutes and then left. She checked with a taxi driver who said the next bus was due at 9am but I should call the office in order to get it to stop and pick me up. I wasn’t unduly worried as it was still really early so I went back to the cafe and bought a phone card. I thought my Spanish was getting better but I couldn’t understand the woman who spoke at me at 500 miles an hour in an automated message in order to get the card activated. A taxi driver then left me borrow his mobile to call the office in Monteverde but it was still too early and noone answered. As I was talking to him another TransNica bus sped past, so much for the next one being at 9am !! I am now cursing Costa Rica and just want to leave, I probably looked a sad lone and tired figure as I sat on my backpack at the side of the road. I decided to either catch the next TransNica or a bus to the border, whatever turned up first, after all if there´s one thing I do have it´s time. 15 minutes later, the taxi driver who’d let me borrow his phone came back and screeched to a halt beside me. All I heard was “Sally, Sally, I´ve stopped the bus, quick jump in my taxi !!”. My paranoia was telling me this could be a con but the chance of a bus going smoothly through the border was too good to lose. I got in the taxi and he told me that the bus was waiting for me at a restaurant up the road. As we approached there was no bus, damn it´s a con. He sped up, tried to overtake anything in sight and then 500 metres up the road there indeed was the bus waiting for me at a petrol station. I thanked the taxi driver profusely and gave him some money. Then I was safely on the bus and on my way to Nicaragua. I´ve often felt that someone has been watching over me on this trip and keeping me safe. Whoever you are, thank you. It´s amazing how your emotions can change in the space of a couple of minutes, as for me I´m elated, my language is no longer blue and I’m now on my way to Nicaragua.

As for Costa Rica, I’ve enjoyed it and met some great people. A lot of the trips seem to be very tour driven. They certainly have got to grips with the tourist market. I would come back but I think it’s a place better suited to a holiday budget rather than a travellers one. However, I’d love to go to Corcovado National Park one day. The only sad but unexpected thing is more tourists more petty crime……………..

Transport count:

Plane = 24, Bus = 114, Train = 2, Boat =20, Sunglasses = 9, Mosquito Repellant = 10, Books Read = 29 1/2, Bags lost and then recovered = 2.

Take care all


In a little bit of a lava !! – La Fortuna, Costa Rica

May 4, 2008

Jas and I after the AbseilingArenal Volcano starting to smoke

Hola from Costa Rica

So I said my goodbyes to Katie and headed to the bus station for the 7am bus to San Jose. All things being well I should be able to transfer to another bus station and catch a bus to La Fortuna. We arrived in San Jose, the capital at 10.45am and after a bit of taxi negotiation I got to the other bus station in 15 minutes. Considering how expensive Costa Rica is for tourists compared to the other Latin American countries I was surprised by the poverty I saw. I didn´t see anything like it in Panama City. I boarded the 11.30am for La Fortuna with some Canadians and we took it in turns to make sure the bags hadn´t disappeared before we left town. We got seats but they managed to cram people down the aisle of the bus and it soon became really hot. Not a problem for me as I fell straight to sleep !! We got to La Fortuna around 4.30pm and I walked up the road to find the Arenal Backpacker resort which according to the flyer I´d picked up in Bocas was the no.1 hostel in Costa Rica. They had dorms available and I have to say it does have free Costa Rican coffee, a gorgeous pool and a thoroughly modern bathroom, it´s up there with the best. In my dorm were 2 Americans called Steve and Mike. Mike was a bit older and after continually calling me Amber said he hoped I didn´t snore at night (I don´t). The main reason to come to La Fortuna is to see the Arenal Volcano, the second most active volcano in the world (Hawaii being the most). Tonight looked really cloudy so I decided to wait until the following evening. Instead I went out for a casado, a typical Costan Rican plate of rice and beans, plantain, other salads and a bit of chicken. It was delicious. I´m pleased to say that my eye has returned to normal today and I decided to get an early night. Okay, considering Mike asked me if I snored the man could out do many a jumbo jet taking off !! It was horrendous, I barely slept a wink.

When I got up the next morning Mike had checked out. Just as well as I would have asked if I could have swapped dorms. I asked the German girls how they´d coped with 2 nights of him and their answer was very strong ear plugs !! After my breakfast of yes you´ve guessed it, rice and beans, I decide to go and check out the town. Volcan Arenal was thought to be dormant by the locals until a huge explosion in 1968 killed 80+ people and destroyed two small towns. Now it seems as though a whole town has been built because of it. There are two main roads and lots of tour companies. La Fortuna also appears to be a bit of an adventure activity town – what can I try next ? The eyesore of the place is the huge Burger King. It all just seems a bit purpose built to me, and lacking a bit of character. Although the little square with it´s abundance of plants is pretty. When people in Costa Rica ask in Spanish how are you ? The answer here is Pura Vida, which means pure life – I quite like that. Very  handily you can use both Dollars and the local currency called Colones, which for some reason won´t stick in my head and I keep calling it Cahones which means I´m paying with rather large testicles for everything !!

At 3 pm it was time to go on my tour of Volcan Arenal. It looked like there was less cloud cover today. Apparently it had been impossible to see lava the night before. We got taken to the original look out point first, although a couple of years ago the volcano changed and now the lava runs down the other side. It´s best to see the lava at night and given the hour time difference between here and Panama darkness comes early at 6pm, so first we went on a little trek. We immediately saw some toucans jumping around in the trees. Then some other flycatchers and parrots, I would definitely recommend binoculars for Costa Rica but the guide let us borrow his. Unfortunately the monkeys didn´t want to come out to play so we drove to the main view point for this evening´s spectacle. Already, there was a lot of ash coming out (as you can see from the above picture), so now there was nothing to do but wait until darkness fell. Suddenly we could see little red rocks coming down the mountain, impossible to capture on camera although I did get the one above, the lava is on the right of the photo. Then there was a mini explosion and some darker grey ash spewed into the air. This then caused a large ball of red lava to hurtle it´s way down the volcano and it did last for quite a while. We watched for an hour or so and then it was time to go back to the hostel. A volcano lava first for me but I´ve heard there´s one in Guatemala where you get so close you can toast marshmallows so I may venture there soon. I had a couple of beers in the bar with Steve and another guy called Gary and met Jas who would be on the same activity as me the following day.

Our dorm has been invaded by English people and Steve  is the only American. The boys left at 7am and I got up to meet in reception 30 minutes later. Jas and I were going rapelling, also known as canyoning here, to me it´s abseiling – another new experience to add to my list. We were picked up by minibus and then swapped to a jeep to handle the more rocky roads. I have to admit I´ve been feeling a bit nervous about this. At the base we were given a harness, hard hat and gloves. We hiked down a path and then came to a small rocky ravine. Our task to abseil down it. The main rule seems to be keep your legs straight, your right hand behind you to feed the rope through, and your left above to help steady you. Then you literally lean back, let the rope take the strain and walk down the rocks. Given the fact that the mosquitos were starting to feast on my calves I needed no encouragement. I really enjoyed it and it seemed a lot easier than it looked. We walked along some more rocks until we came to a platform. This involved a 150ft drop. In this case, you hang off the platform until your upper body is below your legs and then simply let go. The faster you feed the rope the faster you go. We had to push off the rocks at certain points so as not to crash in to them. Then I managed to avoid the pool at the bottom, so the guide splashed me with water anyway. Obviously pays not to try and be a smarty pants here. Great fun though !! More rocks to scurry down until we came to a deeper pool. We had to position ourselves to a certain point in the rocks and then jump “butt” first in to the pool – so as not to hurt ourselves. The rock climbing was not over yet. The next ravine meant starting off sideways and half way down turning to climb down the rest normally with the rope. The passage was narrow but when I did collide with the rocks my bum was on hand to cushion the blow. Some of the walking brought back memories of the Lost City in Colombia, it was so scenic. Next, time to head to a 200ft drop through a waterfall. I think the scariest part of the day was actually looking over the edge. I just kept telling myself to trust the equipment. I let go and went quite fast. The guide has a brake to control you if you go to fast and I´m sure they apply it when you reach the water. Oh well, it was nice to get a free shower as part of the trip. I finally reached the bottom and after one more little rock face it was time to head back for lunch (attached is a picture of Jas and I, soaked to the skin and holding out our smelly soggy gloves after completing the trip). I really enjoyed this trip and would definitely try it again, maybe with a little more difficulty involved !! Back at the hostel , I repacked my bags and chatted to Jas, next stop Monteverde.

Transport count:

Plane = 24, Bus = 110, Train = 2, Boat =19, Sunglasses = 8, Mosquito Repellant = 10, Books Read = 28 1/2, Bags lost and then recovered = 2.

Take care all


Creole and the Coconuts !! – Calhuita, Costa Rica

May 1, 2008

Calhuita beachBlue crabs in Calhuita National Park

Hola from Costa Rica

Amazingly the 8.30am boat did stop for me. I’d heard stories of people with Dengue fever waiting at the pier all day. Maybe it had something to do with a stroke of luck that someone was getting off at the pier. Result, anyway. Various people realised where I’d come from and asked me about the project and then I noticed that Katie was on the boat from Bocas. There’s a very (once again) efficient minibus which takes you straight to the border and I got my stamp out of Panama. Then it was a case of walking across a very rickety old bridge to get to Costa Rica. The police stopped me to check my passport and then I got my Cost Rican stamp. All very easy (apparently David is the busier border). A Swiss guy carried one of my bags and there waiting was a bus to take me to Cahuita my next destination. Originally I’d been told to go to Puerto Viejo but then I heard it was full of drugs and a bit touristy. Calhuita is the next option down the coast.

I’ve decided to shorten my time in Costa Rica and allow more time for Nicaragua. One because I’ve met loads of people who’ve had their bags stolen (more tourists more theft, and incredibly ingenious ways ) and two because it’s simply more expensive.

Katie and I get off the bus and as she’d heard Cabinas Smith was a good place to stay we decide to go there. There’s actually two of them, so we opt for the cheaper one, no.2. Walking through the town I am confused. It doesn’t feel like I’m even in Latin America, in fact I could be smack bang in the middle of the Caribbean. The population is definitely originally Caribbean and there’s a reggae influence everywhere. Cabinas Smith is great. The bathroom is spotless and even has a stained glass shower door. I let Katie take the double bed whilst I opt for the upper bunk. Katie went out to explore town and I have a well needed shower – oh, it’s so good !! I drop in some laundry and then grab a late breakfast.

I meet Katie just after 1pm and we head for the Calhuita National Park. Entrance fee is by donation and basically the 7km path is in forrest adjacent to the beach. We study pictures of the animals we might see on our way and then head off. We see huge blue butterflies and then an Agouti, a strange but nervous rodent like creature. Then we have to walk through the sea (more wet socks) to continue with the trail. Suddenly Katie thinks she sees a tarantula crawl back in to a hole, I hope not. Suddenly we come across hundred of blue crabs as in the above picture, she decides that’s what she originally saw. They are just everywhere. When we get near they quickly crawl in to their holes. Next we see some Capuchin monkeys, although they are very quick to hide behind the foilage in the trees. Then we hear a huge noise. At first we think it could be a puma and start laughing nervously, really I think it was a Howler monkey. We come across a couple and then see a huge family in the trees. They obviously don’t like us and start trying to shit on us, I really prefer the Probiscus monkey method in Borneo where they just throw sticks. We manage to avoid it and move on. Suddenly we are aware of just how many mosquitos there are. We see a couple wearing sensible shirts and trousers but the mosquitos are still managing to find a way through the fabric. Katie laughs and says at least she’s not wearing a vest top and then laughs even harder when she realises I am. I’m not sure what it is, sometimes I have every possible provision required and other times I’m just plain stupid. I have covered what I thought was every available space where I could be bitten with repellant. Katie is nearly screaming because I don’t know what it is about my blood but they just love me (must be because I’m so sweet – Not !!). They are literally swarming me as if they are looking for any little small space where I’ve missed with the repellant. They succeed. Apparently there are two new bites on my back (well it’s hard to reach) and horror of horrors one has bitten the side of my eye. Oh no, I know what’s going to happen now (2 previous holidays to go by). The eye will swell up, in a very unattractive way. We decide to high tail it back to town before any further damage can be inflicted.

Back in town we come across an older guy who’s ranting away. He looks like he came here and never left and spends his days drinking rum and just ranting. We also get offered some drugs. It’s just that sort of place. Apparently women quite often come here for a rasta fling. Well, ladies let me assure you there’s plenty of torso on display, but not sure I’d take the risk. Back in the room it’s confirmed, my eye is swelling big time. In fact, with some purple hair dye I’d be willing to give Leela from Futurama a run for her money. I rest for a bit and then we head out for some local Costa Rican food and a beer. We are so knackered that we’re in bed before 10pm, well to be honest we were told there was to be live reggae at one of the bars but I think the band overslept so we couldn’t be bothered to wait.

The next morning Katie went for a run while I relaxed. What a great night’s sleep. I must have needed it after all my night duties in Sorapta. Katie decided to go to Puerto Viejo to do some surfing and I decided to spend the day on the beach (pictured above). I had heard you could get hassled so I strategically placed myself near some other single women and as it was a Monday I think we were fine. The eye is even worse today, so I keep the sunglasses on permanently. Well, I wouldn’t want to scare away small children !! The beach is pretty nice even if the current is a little rough and is made better at the end of the day when the monkeys swing over to the coconut trees. What a lovely day !! I meet Katie for dinner and we go to Edith’s, the hottest Creole / Caribbean place in town. I have a Jerk Red Snapper – delicious !! You could easily spend days here but as I’ve said we’ve decided to cut some time from Costa Rica so we leave tomorrow. Cahuita is worth a visit, especially if you’re on way to or from Panama. We are skipping the Capital San Jose in favour of our next destinations. We may or may not meet up in Nicaragua in a few days time and she has promised me free surf lessons, she’s the one I feel sorry for !!

Transport count:

Plane = 24, Bus = 108, Train = 2, Boat =19, Sunglasses = 8, Mosquito Repellant = 10, Books Read = 28 1/2, Bags lost and then recovered = 2.

Take care all


Turtle TLC – Sorapta, Panama

April 30, 2008

Our living quarters at the Sorapta turtle project, getting a new turtle mural addedLocal boatman on the river at Sorapta



Call Clara on Panama +507 658 42451


Hola from Panama

Apologies for the blatant advertising above by they really do need more help immediately.

So I got on the water taxi to Sorapta. This involves winding your way down the river and hopefully slowing down for the local boatmen pictured above. According to the Lonely Planet this is a must journey in Panama and I have to admit it was pretty spectacular, really grass roots. 40 minutes later, I was dropped off and met by Scott and Chris at the ferry pier in Sorapta. Unfortunately the ferry pier had collapsed the day before so it was a case of wobbling my way over the remaining wood (it has now been fixed). Basically I’d come here for 3 nights to do some volunteer work with Leatherback turtles. I’d seen a sign at the Bocas boat pier and at Heike hostel with a man pictured next to what looked like a giant turtle. We’d joked that the turtle looked so huge next to him that he must have been a dwarf – how wrong we were !!

Immediately I was introduced to the sloth family that live in a tree near the pier. I sneaked down to take a look at him later and after 15 minutes of trying to see the thing saw him moving along the branches to his little cubby hole position. They have a really peculiar face, almost monkey like. Little did I know that he wasn’t actually going to move again for the next 3 days and none of the other volunteers had yet to see his face.

Scott introduced me to the project. There is a dorm block which sleeps 12, several hammocks and then a kitchen and dining block. We were to be supplied with 3 meals a day. There is no running water or electricity in Sorapta so a torch is a must. The rain water is gathered as a drinking supply and there is a well where water is collected and filled in to buckets so that you can take a shower and flush the toilet – pretty basic but definitely an experience !! The cost of volunteering just $20 per day, so very worthwhile if you ask me. The project here is run by a couple called Scott and Sarah who have dedicated the last 5 years of their lives looking after the smaller Kemp’s Ridley turtle found in Guatemala. There’s also another project in Panama at Playa Largo on Bastimentos (Bocas Del Toro) but for that one you need to stay for a week and unfortunately I didn’t have the time.

On to the Leatherbacks. These are the largest of all the sea turtles. The males are larger than the females and the biggest to date was found on a Welsh beach measuring 3.7m long. Now I’ve worked with the largest it would be hard to downsize. The turtles that come here also lay their eggs on beaches in Costa Rica. Their migration distance is amazing. They swim from here up to Scotland as they live on a diet solely of jellyfish (I’m liking them more and more) and the largest jellyfish are found off our shores. I wouldn’t dare go near the insides of their mouths which look like something out of Alien but I guess they need to be in order to shred all that jelly. They’ve even been found swimming in ice in Alaska and have specially developed lungs so they can dive up to 1000m (very impressive !!). There are now laws to prevent people taking the eggs, but unfortunately this was not always the case and so the Pacific population is down to only 1% of what it used to be. Which is why help is needed. This wasn’t realised for years as turtles lay from the age of 20 and can live to more than 100. So by the time people realised turtle numbers had dropped considerably there were hardly any left. In some places the eggs are the only source of income the locals can get, they sell them to make money and the eggs are believed to have an aphrodisiac like quality (although of course not proven). Eggs from this beaches are still sold in bars in Bocas, our job is to save as many eggs from the poachers as possible. Before the project was started dead turtles were even found cut open where poachers were too impatient to wait for eggs to be laid, but thankfully this doesn’t seem to happen here anymore. Guatemala is the only country in the world not to have made the stealing of eggs illegal so there Sarah and Scott came up with a situation to get a 10% egg donation from each nest the locals find. After much education this seems to be getting through. I think the problem is that the people in Latin America are struggling to survive so in many cases they just think about where the next meal is coming from rather than about the future. They are slowly beginning to understand that if they don’t donate in a few years there will be no eggs left. The other issue for turtles is fishing regulations worldwide. Most countries simply do not follow them and many turtles are captured and accidentally killed in nets or longlines. Each Leatherback nest usually contains in the region of 70-100+ eggs which take around 70 days to incubate. The sad fact though is that out of 1000 eggs only 1 will reach maturity hence why more needs to be done to save them.

Time to go and meet the volunteers. There are 4 people here all from England (what givers we are !!). Chris (who seems to spend his holidays doing this kind of stuff. He’s done jaguar conservation and to my deepest darkest envy has worked at the Sepilok Orang Utan sanctuary in Borneo), Ellie, Alex and Johnny. They’d all signed up via a company in the UK and had previously been in Costa Rica. These companies are an easy way to get on a project but I think after seeing what’s available in various countries I’ve been to I’d just rather turn up and join. They are also quite young and seem to all be on their gap year. So after finding a bed I chat to them for the rest of the afternoon.

Our pasta dinner is served around 7.30pm and then it’s time to find out what patrol you are on. Yes, this is pure night shift duty. The patrols go out at 8.30pm, 10pm, 12 midnight, 2am and 4am. You go out with at least 1 other person. Although Sorapta beach is protected so in theory noone is allowed on it we have to be careful of poachers, who may or may not come from the 3 houses located by the beach. The patrol takes in around 8km of beach, which when walked each way is 16km and should take around 4 hours, well that is if you don’t see any turtles. The last few nights have been pretty hectic. Tonight I am booked to walk with Scott the project leader at 8.30pm (bonus…the worst shift is definitely midnight).


We head out with our torches. We use a red light filter on our torch as this is harder for the turtles to see and so doesn’t disturb them as much. The beach is next to the accommodation so we stand for 30 seconds or so to wait for our night vision to improve. Time to start walking. The beach is literally littered with loads of trees suspected to have floated down from a local banana plantation. This makes it quite hazardous and we often have to turn the torches on to see where we are going. The moon so far is keeping a very low profile so it’s incredibly dark. At one point I do manage to stub my shin (oh well, no point doing something if you can’t get a few war wounds). We also come across a whole herd of cows which belong to an adjacent farm. Great, just what you need, nests potentially trampled. We reach the end and not a turtle in sight, so wait and chat and drink some water as tonight it’s really humid. The downside of Sorapta is that it is teeming with sand flies, so when you sit down to chat they manage to devour the gap in between my jeans and top on my back. I am getting loads of little bites everywhere despite using tons of repellant. Okay, time to head back. We find Johnny with a turtle (sounds like a bad joke !!), they don’t know if she laid eggs or not. It was too difficult to tell by the time they found her. A turtle doesn’t always lay eggs. She often comes up and then goes back to sea and will return or go to another beach within the following few days. All they can do now is hide what may or may not be a nest as efficiently as possible to stop the poachers finding it. The poachers have to get to the eggs within a day or so for them to be any use otherwise they will already have started to solidify. I have to say, it’s my first encounter with a turtle and I am completely blown away. This lady is huge. She’s 160cm in length and 120cm wide – that’s bigger than me (I know, not that difficult !!). She really comes across as almost prehistoric, she’s covering her nest and grunting around. She then turns around and uses her flippers to navigate her way back down the beach and in to the sea, funnily she generally waits for a bit before she goes back in, maybe it’s to catch her breath after all that exertion. The tracks are huge and really wide, it looks like a tractor has been on the beach. I am stunned. It’s a shame but understandable that you can’t take photos. I want to show you how large it is but obviously can’t distress her in anyway. Twice this year a turtle has still been on the beach at daylight (that’s really unusual), so then you could take a picture. So get an idea of the size it’s good to look at the following link….

Each turtle can lay up to 10 nests per season. In fact they can mate with the male for hours (that’s if he doesn’t accidentally drown her) and then store the sperm to fertilize future batches of eggs. We carry on walking. Sorapta beach seems to be eroding at a really fast rate, this is going to make it increasingly difficult for the turtles to nest here. We arrive back to the accommodation and as Scott has a very early start in the morning he decides we don’t need to walk the remaining 2km on the other side. 12.30am quite a short night. Although there’s always time for a packet of biscuits when we finish the shift !!

The next day I wake up at 9am and so miss breakfast (must be the last 2 nights of partying in Bocas that have done me in). I go to check on Mr Sloth, no movement. Then look at the turtle board. They have already recorded more turtles than last year even though they are less than 2 months in. Their aim is to try and get to 500 turtles this year (or nests). All turtles are tagged, so if you come across a new one you get the honour of tagging and naming it. Funnily the one called La Difficil does not live up to her name and has been to the beach 8 times already this year. Alex and Johnny are both art students and start to work on the mural for the dorm building as you can see above. All adds to the home comforts !! I decide to read and then hike the nature trail. This brings me to the cows at the lagoon who are definitely more scared of me. After lunch, I read some more and even manage a little sleep before dinner. At this point Thomas an Aussie guy arrives to stay for 2 nights. He’s also worked with turtles elsewhere, but here it’s definitely a case of more hands make light work. We seem to have a lot of time to relax whilst Scott and Sarah are busy with the day to day running of the project. I don’t know how they do it !!


After our dinner of curried mince, I was given the 10pm shift to walk with Sarah. She had been ill the night before with either worms or an amoeba (the joys of faraway lands) but had taken some medication and felt a lot better. We bumped into the 8.30pm shift and then came across what could be a small party on the beach. We couldn’t really see who was there so didn’t want to risk two women walking past some drunk Panamanian men on a very dark beach. We turned back and when out of sight sat for a while and chatted. Then we walked back. Not a turtle in sight. We realised when we got back to base that we hadn’t seen the midnight shift so Sarah went to wake them up (it’s now 1am). Then, I got to walk the other side which I’d missed the night before. If I was a turtle I’d lay my eggs here. You’re further away from poachers and there’s less debris to avoid. It’s actually quite nice to walk on and we didn’t need to use our torches at all. We came across some tracks. A turtle had definitely laid a nest. We knew because as she’s been walking back to sea she’d dropped some of the little infertile eggs which come out last. Sarah disguised the nest whilst I covered up the tracks. The 4am shift also cover and count all tracks as it’s easier to do once the sun has come up. We were back by 1.50am, I have been lucky with short shifts so far. It seems so light tonight though so I just take a few minutes to appreciate my surroundings and of course the stars (corny but true !!) before heading for bed.

This morning I wake up in time for breakfast, there were 4 turtles the night before in the end. It seems to come in 4 day cycles, as to quite a few and then a drop. Sloth still hasn’t moved and I fall back to sleep in the hammock. I’m dreaming about being trapped in a sofa when I wake up so have obviously been trying to get out of the hammock in my sleep. Today we have 5 new arrivals. They have all come from a project in Costa Rica for a few days where they’ve been teaching football, Ellie knows them so gets reacquainted. I seem to spend the whole day reading, bliss !!


Pasta again but that’s fine by me. Again I have the 10pm shift and I’m with Chris, Thomas and Eduardo one of the Panamanians who works on the project. We set off and just where the cows like to hang out we see tracks. This turtle is new so Chris tags her. She’s also picked what must be the worst part of the whole beach to lay a nest. There’s a huge tree blocking her path back to sea so not sure how the babies would get over that, the cows are nearby so could trample the nest and even worse it would be in danger of being washed away. She flails around for ages, flippers coming in contact with fallen trees. We move what we can out of her way as we’re worried she’ll damage a flipper. She seems to be going round and round in circles but we just wait patiently. She then decides that maybe she’ll go back to see and heads straight back to the huge tree blocking her path. We use torches to act as a moon and small light to get her away from it. Personally, I wouldn’t want a bite from her !! Next she gets stuck in a V shaped tree. It’s awful, I’m hoping she can get out. The effort of moving seems to be sapping her energy. Eventually she moves sideways a bit but is still stuck. So I talk to her and use my torch to give her what I think is the easiest escape route to sea. It seems to work and she is in the water once more. It was possibly her first time, the whole episode took an hour and twenty minutes and we’ve barely covered any of the beach yet. We carry on and almost immediately find more tracks. This turtle only has one tag, so Chris adds another, she’s the biggest I’ve seen to date at 1.63m. She’s only just found her spot and after some movement starts digging the wide beginnings of her nest. When she’s happy she picks a spot within the large hole to start digging deeper. Her back flipper suddenly turns in to a scoop and is like a spade. Behind her we help dig. The midnight shift appear and two of the boys who turned up today decide they can’t do the walk so Ellie carries on with her helper while they join us. When the hole is deep enough (and it’s so deep !!) she starts to lay. The policy here is that if the nest is too far away from base you leave and cover it, if it’s close enough which this one was you bring the eggs back to the hatchery and build a new nest for them. Although this has to be done within an hour or they could die. Chris adorns a rubber glove and picks up the eggs as they are dropped on to the sand. It’s amazing, 1 or 2 even sometimes 3 (when smaller) drop out at a time. They are a bit slimy but not too bad. Whilst she is laying the eggs we touch her back. Leatherbacks don’t have the traditional type of turtle shell and it does feel leathery, the whole back almost looks like it could have been a shield in medieval times. In all she lays 95 large eggs and 40 smaller or tiny infertile eggs. Then she starts to cover up her nest. We help her so she can get back to sea as soon as possible. It’s weird to think that even with these people standing around her she is covering up a hole with nothing in it and doesn’t realise. The whole experience has been amazing for the nest newbies like myself. Now though there’s no time to lose, we have to get back to the hatchery. The tracks will be covered by the 4am shift. We dig the hole in the next designated nesting area and then bury the eggs. We try to create the nest in exactly the same way. New nest accomplished we are done for the night. It’s 2am. Poor Ellie didn’t get back until 6am, she had 4 turtles in all, 3 of which were in a 10m area. It’s all very unpredictable. In total there were 9 turtles tonight.

The next morning I grab a coffee and say goodbye. I’m catching the 8.30am water taxi to Changuinola. There is a debate as to whether it will stop even though it’s been confirmed, oh well let’s just see what happens. I must say my powers of controlling my movements have impressed me and I need to find a new hostel so I can go. I think it was the thought of running out of water in the bucket mid flush that put me off. Other than that it was great !!

I have to say I am pleased to have finally have done something useful with my time. I have learnt so much and will definitely be questioning my seafood consumption greater in the future. These creatures have been here a lot longer than me and definitely need to be saved (although they’d be a bit big to bump in to when diving). It is back to basics but great fun. I think the sleep deprivation would get to you long term but for a few days or a couple of weeks you will definitely get a lot out of doing it. So I can’t really encourage people enough to help. Anyway, I’ll sign off now as I think I’ve gone in to more detail than usual but it was really to get people with time and in Costa Rica or Panama to sign up…….

Time for me to head in to Costa Rica. Panama has been great, I am definitely coming back, hopefully when Ambose´s new pad is finished so I can crash it. I didn´t have time to get to the Darien province or the San Blas islands which are supposed to be like paradise and you have the added bonus of spending some time with the Kuna Yala people. I´ve taken a bit longer here so will shave a bit off Costa Rica, too many places and too little time left !!

Transport count:

Plane = 24, Bus = 107, Train = 2, Boat =18, Sunglasses = 8, Mosquito Repellant = 10, Books Read = 28 1/2, Bags lost and then recovered = 2.

Take care all and remember Turtle TLC


Basking in Bocas Del Toro !! – Panama

April 30, 2008

Red Frog BeachBocas Del Toro main pier

Hola from Panama

I got up and left the hostel relatively early to catch the bus back to David. Upon arrival I was ushered to an awaiting minibus which was going from there to Almirante. We are driven through cloud forrests and everything looks very similar to Columbia. At Almirante we are driven by taxi to the boat pier and a water taxi was almost full and was taking us to Bocas Del Toro. I have to say these Panamanians certainly have their transportation systems sorted. The main Island in Bocas is Colon, but it’s basically an archipelago of several islands. I think I missed the main street and headed down the coast road looking for accommodation. Erin from Boquete recommended one place but that looked like a complete dump and another place I checked out was full. I eventually stumble upon Hotel Angela which was out of my price range but had a friendly Kiwi receptionist called Nerissa. She was earning extra money working that job as well as her full term employment as a marine biologist. She recommended a place called Iguana run by her friend Raul. He came to pick me up and I had my own room on the other side of town complete with TV. I decided that I’d have a night of relaxation before venturing out and seeing what Bocas had to offer.

I get up the next morning and after a rather wholesome breakfast at cafe Lux head further in to town. After checking the web I found out that my Auntie Eileen has decided to come and visit me in Nicaragua (how exciting !!) so I decide to do a bit of research so that she’s properly innoculated and the like. It’s pretty hot today but although Bocas is known as the party area of Panama it is really easy to relax. Actually all in all I did have a very quiet day.

The following day I decide it’s time to go back in to the land of the living to socialise and move to hostel Heike which is in the centre of town. It’s really nice and is currently being managed by 3 really lovely Americans. I check in and get chatting to a girl called Katie who is in my dorm. I then head to Lil’s for brunch which includes a splash of her “Killin me man’s” sauce. Attached is a picture of the main Bocas boat pier that you can see from the restaurant. The place does have a very Caribbean feel to it, must be the sea !! After chatting with a few of the boat hustlers on the pier I decide to head to Red Frog beach for the day. I’ve heard this is the nicest beach in the area. My driver is Carlos and though he looks Panamanian, when I close my eyes and he speaks I could be anywhere in the Caribbean. I meet an American girl on the boat who lives there and gets me to carry a couple of her bags on to the island so I don’t have to pay the admission fee. Naughty but nice !! Red Frog beach is lovely and it’s safe to leave your stuff on if you fancy a swim (a picture of it is attached above). There’s nothing there apart from a cool beach bar. It’s located on Bastimentos, one of the quieter Bocas Islands. The accommodation in the main part of town on the other side of the island is far more rustic aswell. A boat is required to move to the two areas. I head back to Bocas around 4pm, courtesy of Carlos.

When I get back to the hostel Sean and Craig have arrived. Craig’s on a bit of a budget so Sean and I decide to go for an Indian. I have been craving that and a Donah Kebab for ages – I pity my local fast food places when I get back. To my horror the Indian is closed so we have a look around and find an Asian fusion place called Lemongrass. I order a green curry pie. Oh my word, I am definitely making that when I get home. It’s basically Thai green curry with mashed potato, topped with grated cheese which has been put under the grill. Delicious, I can assure you !! After that we go back to the hostel to find Craig. He’s been drinking far too much of the local rum with 3 Americans, Tony, Tim and Travis. How is it possible that people can get that drunk so quickly ? To line their stomachs we head over to the kebab stand and make the owner of it very happy as they keep ordering more. Well, it’s time to start partying in Bocas so we head to Mondo Taitu, the sister and party hostel of Heike. It’s the weekly 80’s night party, some people have even dipped in to the fancy dress box to make the occasion more realistic. After a few catching up shots we then have to have a shot of beer every time the music changes (it’s the rules you know !!). I am amazed at how many songs these younger people can name. Of course at my age I have no trouble, maybe I should have dug out the    ra ra skirt for the occasion, I have heard they are all the rage again at home – heaven forbid !!. I also bump into Mickey from Boquete although she’s definitely looking a little worse for wear. Next we head to Iguana bar, one of the owners gives us more free shots and Sean is trying to make a move on an Aussie girl called Terry, she is soooo drunk. Then finally we head to Barco Escondido, a bar with a sunken ship in the middle. Sean is still trying with Terry and Craig confesses to having a little crush on me. For God’s sake he’s only 22, time to head home !!

The next day after a well needed lie in I decide I’m just going to potter about and enjoy the town. I even manage to catch a little of the Champions League football. I book my boat ticket for the next day and head back to Lil’s – well the food is so good there and you sit right on the front, I just can’t help myself. In fact the water is so clear you can look down and see loads of starfish and other sea worthy creatures. I meet the boys back at the hostel and they decide to leave to head to a beach area near David. Really they want to mix it up with a few more of the local women, after all Bocas has far to many Gringas for them. I meet Mickey and as it’s ladies night agree to see her at her hostel later for happy hour. I say goodbye to the boys, they have been great fun. Then have quick lie down before my night out. I head back to Mondo Taitu for happy hour and then head to Aqua Lounge with Mickey and Dana. Aqua Lounge is situated across the water on another island, another party hostel, and we have the pleasure of free drinks until 11pm. It’s Mickey’s birthday so it’s constant rum and cokes all around. The US coastguard are also in town, not a bad posting if you can get it. We hit the dance floor and I catch up with Katie but just like Cinderella I’m home by midnight as I have to be compos mentis tomorrow.

I’m up and checked out and down by the boat pier in time for my 11am ferry. On the way I bump in to Harley (last seen vanishing off for a volcano hike) but i can’t stop to chat as I have a boat to catch, or so I thought!! It turns out that the tides are too low so I am going to have to wait until 2pm when the boat can leave. Oh well, time for a quick salad in Bongo’s before my next very special destination.

I’ve really enjoyed Bocas, even though I should have done a bit more sunbathing. What I like about it is the choice, I mean you can have the wildest time or the quietest time, it’s really up to you. I’m pleased to say I’ve had a bit of both. It is growing rapidly and they are in danger of running out of water. I heard there were rumours to build a 1000 home development on Red Frog beach which would just be disasterous. It must be because Panama has been voted the 4th best place in the world to retire. Yes, Panama is certainly coming up in the world. I do find the currency a little weird here though. It’s called the Balboa but you actually use US$ although there are some Panamanian coins. I was thinking maybe we could do that in England, you know join the Euro but still call it the Pound. All sounds like a win win situation to me !!

Oh well, time to pick up the rucksack and head on………

Transport count:

Plane = 24, Bus = 107, Train = 2, Boat =17, Sunglasses = 8, Mosquito Repellant = 10, Books Read = 28 1/2, Bags lost and then recovered = 2.

Take care all


Bubbly Boquete – Panama

April 28, 2008

Me stroking Monty the CapuchinNicky the Kinkaju

Hola from Panama

I woke up and caught a taxi to the bus station. My plan today is to go to Boquete, it´s been recommended by everyone but first that means catching a bus to David which takes around 7 hours. At the bus station a man takes me to the correct ticket office and the bus is leaving in 40 moniutes time. I´m actually pleasantly surprised by the bus, I have heard horror stories for Central America. At David I catch what looks like an old yellow American school bus straight through to Boquete. My plan is to stay at Hostel Nomba also owned by Ryan in Panama City. It’s a short walk from the bus stop and the door is answered by a guy with his right arm in a heavy plaster cast. This must be Craig, Martha told me about him. He went through a pot hole whilst mountain biking and ripped all his muscles away, nice !! I am offered a glass of wine by an Israeli girl called Mickey and spend the evening chatting to her, Craig and another Irish guy called Sean. The first wine tastes so good (it´s been a while) that I decide to go and buy some so Mickey and I get through it before heading for bed.

The next morning I lie in and after helping Mickey carry her guitar to her bus head of to Paradise Gardens which is where Sean and Craig do volunteer work. Martha recommended it to me as she said you can actually go in and play with the monkeys (just my thing !!). It´s basically a rehabilitation centre for local animals as well as trying to start breeding programmes for endangered species, and is highly worth a visit. Sean meets me and gives me the guided tour. First we see a Hyacinth Macaw. They are the largest of all Macaws and this one is actually owned by someone but the people at the gardens are looking after it. Despite his huge beak he comes over to say hello to me and immediately wants the backof his neck stroked, ahhh !! We had parrots as children so I´m not at all intimidated even if he has a monstrous beak. After that I meet Benjy the squirrel monkey. I have already heard a lot about him. He is very horny to say the least and walks around with an erection most of the time. He usually even relieves himself in front of the boys when they turn up for work. Today he appears to be on his best behaviour and is happy to take some fruit from me. He even curls up for a sleep later on, something Sean said he´s never seen him do. Maybe he´s pining after his old friend the howler monkey who was rehabilitated lately after their friendship deepened too far and she was caught giving Benjy a blow job. I don´t think the centre were in favour of any inter species breeding, so she was released. Next on to Monty the Capuchin monkey (pictured above). He´s also recently become the only occupant of his cage as the other male Capuchin was caught doing very naughty things to him. There must be something in the air here !!

The centre also has a butterfly and bird house and then I got to see another Capuchin called Ringo. Women can´t go in his cage as he´s very sexually aggressive. Time for another pair of Hyacinth Macaws who they are hoping will breed. There are only 500 pairs estimated to be left in the wild and one of them decided to do a bit of dancing and play peek a boo with me. On to the colourful Scarlet Macaws who were confiscated from a drug dealer and the Gollahs who can even talk. Then we meet Lottie. At first it was thought she was an Ocelot but she´s actually a Margay. Sean woke her up as there was a bird in her cage and Lottie just loves stalking birds. She missed this one but it´s great to see given the condition she was brought to the centre in. Her original owners got her when she was a baby and when she got too big to play with the children put her in a wire bottomed cage so they wouldn´t have to clean her out. As she grew and the children tired of her she was put in her cage at the back of a dark shed. When the centre were told an animal needed rescuing they found her. Her legs needed massaging so that she could walk again and she still bares a permanent kink in her tail. At least now she can run around and climb trees like she´s supposed to. In fact, a lot of the animals here have very similar stories. Next was Sam, a salmon Cockatoo. He is so loveable and again really enjoyed being stroked on the back of the head, I think he would have sat there all day given the chance. Finally, two baby owls whose mother had died in a road accident when they were found. We laughed as their heads turned 360 degrees. They will be released very shortly. Last but not least Nicky the Kinkaju, a first for me. She´s pictured above and is sooo cute although she´s far more playful at night.

Time to go in with Monty, he loves playing and attention. I went in  with another girl and one of the volunteers. First things first, remove hair bands and sunglasses. Monty was jumping from one to the other in turns. As he put his teeth against my skin I did have a brief moment of thinking rabies, abola ? Luckily, he was just playing and didn´t bite through the skin. We fed him some fruit and I even managed to avoid his pooh, which he did whilst perched on my head. After grabbing fistfuls of my hair whilst sliding down my back he then became fascinated with my watch and bangles. He´s so fast but so cute. They are incredibly intelligent and some are even trained to help disabled people (think Marcel the monkey in Friends). Oh well, trime to go but not before Sean made me a quick cup of tea.

I walked the 30 minutes or so back in to town. Boquete is pretty quiet but seems to be filling up with older Americans using it as a place to retire. I am struck by the amount of real estate companies in town. It does have a lovely feel to it though. As I walked around I was stopped my a man who asked me to come in to his store. I thought he was trying to sell me something but it turned out that an American guy was trying to get some sheets made. I had to explain in Spanish so the guy could understand, let´s call that my good deed for the day. I got some food in the cafe and then caught up on the blog before heading back to the hostel.

Upon arrival, I grabbed a beer. We have two new arrivals, Erin and Harley. Sean and Craig were going into town for a beer and invited me to join them. We go to a bar, order a bucket of beers and are soon joined by Erin and Harley. We head backto the hostal for some vodka shots (oh no, looks like it could be turning into a big night !!). Then Erin decides to stay whilst the rest of us go to another bar called Zanzibar. After one there we head to a club which is a bit of a walk out through the other side of the village. Several beers later the boys are up for meeting girls, so I bring an American over called Gina who lives there. The club is closing at 2am and Gina tells us about another bar where there is a lock in. I am feeling a little drunk but get the owner of the club to agree to driving us there. Harley and I have a deep and meaningful on the pros and cons of travelling with someone versus without. Don´t think we got to the bottom of that one. In the mean time, another local guy is going that way so gives us a lift in his pick up which is just aswell as I thought Harley was going to try and swim backacross the river. We are screaming with laughter as we are thrown about in the truck and I´m trying to take photos. The bar is full of people and pool tables. Sean and Craig decide to play pool and before I know it I´m playing with the locals when they lose. The locals are pretty damn good here, there must be nothing else to do. I am now very drunk but Craig starts us on the rum and cokes. My pool playing was less than impressive and Sean is becoming very competitive ( I think the drink brings that out in him). He´s a bit jealous I think that my Panamanian pool partner is better than him. The police then come to raid the bar so it´s time to leave. We all stumble home, let´s just say it wasn´t my most graceful performance but at least I didn´t go to bed with 5 packets of Doritos like Harley did !!

Oh my Lord !! I feel awful. In fact I´m staying in bed. I think I dragged myself out at 2pm to go to town for food. Apparently I even slept through the drilling and renovation work going on on the adjoining wall by my bed. I have to go back to bed again after the food, I´ve found a second sleep helps cure the hangover these days. I get up again and do some of my blog. I think we´re all feeling the same (except Harley who´s gone to climb a volcano…the fool !!) so just stay in and watch ¨Rome¨for hours and hours. Craig and I get a pizza in between and then I head to bed. I feel like I´ve wasted a day. I love the feel of Boquete, there´s loads of hiking and rafting here, but now I want to get some sun so it´s time for me to head to Bocas del Toro.


Transport count:

Plane = 24, Bus = 105, Train = 2, Boat =16, Sunglasses = 8, Mosquito Repellant = 10, Books Read = 28 1/2, Bags lost and then recovered = 2.

Take care all


Perky Panama City….that’s the capital of Panama of course !!!

April 28, 2008

Panama City colourful busesPanama Canal

Hola from Panama

Well I have to say until I started travelling I hadn’t heard much about Panama. Like Colombia it is another secret jewel awaiting discovery. My flight arrived on time and immigration didn’t even ask for an onward ticket, mind you I had kept him distracted asking questions about all of the lovely places to see. Norma had recommended a hostel in Panama city which was new. I only had an email address and after searching on the web discovered it was called “La City”. No address and a phone number that could be for anything. I’d been told to go to the upstairs floor where the taxis to town are cheaper. I went to tourist information and a woman there gave me her mobile to call the number I had (I’m liking Panama already !!). No answer but it was Ryan’s no. , the guy who owned the hostel. We called back and he answered and gave my directions. La City actually turned out to be in Marbella and in a new apartment block. It feels like I’m back in Hong Kong but it’s very chilled and lovely to stay somewhere so new and shiny, even if I’m in what feels like the maids quarters.

I read a little about the city and then go out for a wander. Wow, it’s a fast food frenzy right here on my doorstep. It all looks so American. Marbella’s obviously a richer area. Then I see a “Next”, I have been trying to find new jeans maybe they do a “petite” range. No joy, they have no jeans in the shop. This city is really much more modern that I was expecting. There are skyscraper apartment blocks going up everywhere. I then find a shopping centre. Now, generally I’m not a shopper but I am feeling a tinge of excitement. Oh, there are some great shops and I find a department store and jeans !! Usual story, the legs are way to long. Somewhere in this part of the world I am sure there is a denim abyss because barely any women here can be tall enough for these to fit ( well unless they have secretly squashed bodies and extra long legs). Desperate measures lead to desperate things and I head to the children’s department (oh, the shame !!). The jeans are disgusting but I find a lovely pair of pale blue cords ok so they are age 14 rather than size 14 – but I want new trousers !! Maybe I’m shrinking !! They do actually fit, I am now realising new possibilities, I could be raiding my nieces wardrobe upon my return !! Then I found tops, I went a bit mad but it means I have new clothes and got rid of all of the old ones, lovely to have a bit of change after 10 months. Then I went mad on toiletries and hair accessories – someone please take me out of here…..finally 2 hours later, in the dark I left. I went back to the hostel and chatted with a Norwegian girl called Martha and then went to bed.

The next day I am off to see the sights. The obvious stop is the Panama canal. I caught a taxi there and got there in time to see the incredibly large container ships going through. The canal is opened so that ships can travel through the locks one way in the morning and then the opposite way in the afternoon. I was at the Miraflores locks and I have to say it was a pretty impressive sight and certainly slightly larger than the ones on the canal at the back of my house. They are actually going through a process to add some more locks at the moment so they can let bigger ships and more cargo use the canal. The canal itself is 50 miles long and it takes 8-10 hours to get through although most ships spend on average 24 hours there. It’s quite funny waving goodbye to the crew as they go past. It’s the only place in the world where a captain relinquishes control of his ship to a canal pilot. The canal was finally opened in 1914. The idea was originally started by the French as a way to connect the Pacific coast with the Atlantic coast. The canal started as a 9 foot deep ditch (now at 40 foot). Too many of the French died of malaria and yellow fever so the Americans took over the idea and completed it using many people from the Caribbean and worldwide. Which is why I think Panama looks like a complete melting pot. In an expanding world the canal now handles 15000 ships a year which brings in revenues of over $1B. No wonder the Americans took so long to give it back. I have to say it’s pretty impressive watching 26 million litres of water fill and empty in the locks. After watching ships for a couple of hours I go in to see the museum and film. What I liked about the programs here is they seem to be very aware of the enviroment and ecology and everything they are working on for the future is taking this in to consideration. The local wildlife on display looked particularly interesting especially the tarantula eating wasps (what do they do if there’s a shortage ?)

Well time to leave, so I caught a local bus (referred to as a chicken bus or “the red devils” here, I think because of their driving) and went in to town. I got off at the same place everyone else did having absolutely no idea where I was. The streets were really lively and contained lots of market stalls. I asked someone where I was and then walked towards the legislative palace. Not worth seeing, so headed on down Central Avenue towards the old town area of Casco Antiguo. On the way I kept seeing a lot of women in brightly dressed clothes. These turned out to be from the Kuna Yala people that originate from the San Blas Islands. The women had lots of beads around their ankles and although they were dressed up the men and children with them weren’t.

Casco Antiguo is possibly one of the dodgiest areas of the city. It’s okay in the day but apparently at night you have to be very careful. Although I have to say it didn’t feel dangerous. It has the usual churches and square and a lovely sea front where some of the buildings have been completely rennovated. Then these sparkly ones are next to ones which look like they should be falling down. I winced seeing local children standing on the balconies which looked like they were about to collapse.

I walked back through town and spotted the incredibly colourful buses. I really quite like it here…as in the title it really is very perky !!Back at the hostel I spent the evening chatting to Martha and a guy called Eric. Before we knew it it was gone 3am so I went to bed. Oh well, I can highly recommend Panama City, there’s lots of other things to do here but I’m still behind schedule although think I’ll cut time for Costa Rica ratherthan here and it’s now time to head to the countryside.        

Transport count:

Plane = 24, Bus = 103, Train = 2, Boat =16, Sunglasses = 7, Mosquito Repellant = 9, Books Read = 26 1/2, Bags lost and then recovered = 2.

Take care all


Concluding Colombia in Cartagena !!

April 28, 2008

Catagena\'s old city walls

Hola from Colombia

So sadly it’s my final Colombian destination. I caught the bus from Casa Felipe which offers a door to door service. A few hours in we stopped and picked up some young guys, they seemed a bit drunk to me and sure enough half an hour later I felt a bag drop on to my head. Then there was a smell. One of them had been sick all over the seat and floor and the bag had hit me when his other friend was trying to avoid the onslaught. The bus driver went mad and then the vomit started moving. Unfortunately to the floor of the couple in front. They then went mad. The perpetrator just got up, picked up a carrier bag , gathered some dirt and threw it on it – pretty impressive given his state.  Approaching Cartagena the driver decides it’s not a door to door service (he’s obviously had a bad day ) so we have to argue with him to turn around and drop us in Getsemani where the main hostels are. I couldn’t get booked in to Casa Vienna (not an issue it looked really dirty) so went to Hotel Marlin and had a room to myself. I have to say Getsemani feels a bit seedy at night. I hadn’t been reassured when the final passenger on the bus told me to be careful !! I bumped in to Craig yet again and then went for dinner at Havana a cafe bar that has a good salsa vibe. I then bumped into one of the Dutch guys from my Cuidad Perdida trip who invited me out at midnight but I was too knackered so decided to have a nice early night.

The next day I had a lie in and then went to try and book a flight to Panama. You can catch a boat but this takes up to 6 days although does include a stop on the gorgeous San Blas Islands. I’ve heard some people say this is the highlight of their trip and others have had disasters so I think it depends on who is your captain. I haven’t really got the time so will just fly. Time to go and check out the old town. The book describes Cartagena as one of the most magical cities in South America, it’s pretty nice and has a Havana type feel although slightly more modern. I’ve seen more tourists here than anywhere else in the country. It’s funny when they think you’re a tourist you get hassled to come and visit an emerald shop, once you explain that you’re travellng for a long time they change the sales pitch to “what drugs do you want ?” instead. Oh well, something for everyone !! The city was really pretty though and I took a wander around the squares and churches and then strolled along the very thick city walls. These had taken 200 years to construct and were built after an attack from Francis Drake. The houses are all brightly coloured aswell. I had some food and then got back to the hotel and ended up chatting to a Colombian who was on business from Bogota. He invited me out for a drink but the sun has tired me out yet again and I say that I need to sleep instead. I’m also a bit distracted as I had an email saying there was a problem with payment on my card for the flight.

The next day I find out that edreams want a copy of my credit card and passport by fax to confirm the flight. After trying to contact their call centre which doesn’t seem to work on Skype I give up and cancel the booking. Instead I go to the airport to buy a ticket. There is one office and the person I can buy the ticket from is not back until 2pm which means a long wait..I wait. She then tells me that I can’t buy a one way ticket and need a return or Panama won’t let me in. I explain that it’s very common for people to bus through Central America and I have a ticket leaving Mexico in June. After confirming I have a credit card she finally lets me buy a ticket.

I get back to town and decide to change my Columbian money into US dollars for Panama. The banks don’t seem to do this so I need to go to a money changer. They lock me inside the office whilst completing the transaction. My money is in my secret pocket in my shorts so I decide to head back to the hostel with it. Very subtlely I feel some pressure against my bag which is over my shoulders on my back. I stop to look and a guy looking very guilty walks around my other shoulder. He looks back at me at least 3 times so I casually pretend I need some water. Just as I suspected, one of the zips of my bag had started to be opened. It was the one that contained the new flight ticket, I would have seriously stamped up and down if I’d lost that. At least I realised in time and had nothing of value in the bag. The area had felt a bit dodgy as everyone was asking if you wanted to change money and that’s the one thing that you are advised not to do here.

I had yet another early night, well I need to be up at 4.30am to catch my flight. I should have gone to the mud volcano or the beaches on the island but sometimes I’m happy just to potter about. The airport gave my bags a very thorough search, I had an extremely nervous moment when one woman asked me to sit down whilst she put on her rubber gloves. Luckily she just wanted to check one of my shoes.

That therefore concludes not just Colombia but the whole of South America. I have to say Colombia is my favourite in terms of this area but if you had a country here that combined Argentinian cities with Colombian countryside, full of Argentinian men and Colombian women then that really would be the perfect place in my view. Get here in the next 2-3 years, it’s changing now but retains it’s charm, however I fear an influx of young cocaine snorting backpackers are on their way to change the locals views of us.

My top 3 places  : Cuidad Perdida, Parque Tayrona and San Augustin 

Transport count:

Plane = 23, Bus = 103, Train = 2, Boat =16, Sunglasses = 7, Mosquito Repellant = 9, Books Read = 26 1/2, Bags lost and then recovered = 2.

Take care all


My Personal Paradise in Parque Tayrona – Colombia, Caribbean Coast !!

April 20, 2008

Hitching a lift out of the park with the armySan Juan de Cabo beach

Hola from Colombia

Arriving back in Taganga I drop off the laundry and book a room rather than a dorm. I am so smelly I need a really long shower even if it’s going to be with cold water. I decide just to relax for the evening and am not even hungry just exhausted. After a lovely lie in I am rather surprised that my legs don’t ache at all. I thought I’d be walking like a person who’d been on a horse 24×7 but no I have a decidedly normal stance (well, as much as I can). I have breakfast with the Ivan and Paula (the Colombians from the lost city trek) and then really do very little. I read, blog and then have to suffer the humiliation of watching Arsenal go out of the Champions League to Liverpool. But even that doesn’t bother me too much…well I am in Colombia. I have a final beer again with the Colombians and then head to bed.

I’ve kept the room, no harm spoiling yourself once in a while (what is it I’ve been doing fot the past year anyway ?) I had breakfast with Selina and Hennie and then was picked up by the tour company to get a lift to Parque Tayrona. Some people said not to bother going here and just stay in Taganga but I loved it and would not have missed this for the world. It’s so naturally unspoilt !! It takes just over an hour to get there and we are dropped off inside the park where the horses carry luggage (if you have a lot, I’ve just got my day bag). The next stage is to walk to the first beach Arrecifes which takes about 45 minutes down a trail. I was with two German girls who were making me laugh because they kept bickering with each other. Arrecifes is nice and there are places to stay but the sea is really choppy and not great for swimming. There’s also some rather strange pink and purple jellyfish washed up on the beach so don’t fancy swimming with those either. As it happens the guide from the minibus is going to walk us to all the 3 main beaches so that makes life even easier. The next beach is 20 minutes away and is called La Piscina. This is much calmer and has a rocky wall built around the bay. It looks lovely but there isn’t anywhere to stay here. A further 10 minutes down a coconut tree lined trail brings me to San Juan de Cabo (pictured above). Oh yes, I have arrived !! There are two bays and you can stay in rooms, hammocks or tents. I opt for a tent as a hammock doesn’t give you any privacy and let’s face it it’s my first tent of the trip. I bump into Craig and it seems that nearly everyone who has come here has either just trekked the lost city or is a hippy. They make me laugh as they are the first to pounce on the coconuts falling from the trees. In fact you have to strategically position your tent so you don’ get hit. It’s all so relaxing I just want to read so I do that while everyone else arrives. Yes, Ivan and Paula, Selina and Hennie and all of the Israelis have turned up. We get together for dinner and I have the most amazing grilled fish – it’s huge !! Then after a few beers we head to bed as the generator gets switched off around 10pm. I am woken in the night by a huge storm. The wind is really howling, it’s actually a little scary but luckily my tent stays put and I return to dream land – hurray another day in paradise to follow tomorrow.

The next day after a moutain of a breakfast I head to the second bay, today is going to be one of serious sunbathing and getting some of my tan back. It’s lovely and breezy and apart from the odd drink seller I have the beach to myself (maybe everyone else is on the nudist beach nearby). At lunch time I swap beaches and spend the last hour with Paula and Ivan before they leave. We promise to email each other to improve our Spanglish. I would definitely like to keep that up, but good intentions and all that..we’ll see.

I spend the next day on the beach aswell. Selina and Hennie leave and I seem to be in a rather warm alcove and it’s so hot that I have to go in to the Carribean every half an hour to cool down. I’ve decided to head back this afternoon to Taganga and then I’ll make my way to Cartagena the following day. Although I’ve just done nothing here there is lots to do,there’s ruins, snorkelling and great treks but I really just wanted to get some sun after all of the Columbian rain I’ve had. I walked back along the trails and eventually reach the part where the horses were. Now as I’m making my own way back it means waiting for a jeep to take you out of the park or walking for another hour along the road. As it happens I see an army truck and decide to smile sweetly as I walk past. My friends who know me well will know I have a bit of a thing for hitching in official vehicles, I’ve managed fire engines and police vans before but an army truck is a new one for the list. The plan worked and they stopped and I got on top of the truck. Here’s one of my fellow passengers pictured above. Actually the driver did offer a seat inside but I was happy enough as I was. I thanked them as they dropped me right on the main road and then had to get two buses back which again all went very smoothly. I said goodbye to Hennie and Selina and went in to town for food. On the way back I bumped in to Barbara who I hadn’t seen since Salento when she was getting injections for her parasite. We were due to have a beer later but didn’t end of meeting up which was a shame. Oh well, that’s beautiful Tayrona done, time to go to my final Colombian destination which is Cartagena…….

Transport count:

Plane = 23, Bus = 102, Train = 2, Boat =16, Sunglasses = 7, Mosquito Repellant = 9, Books Read = 25 1/2, Bags lost and then recovered = 2.

Take care all