A Travellerspoint blog

Costa Rica

... in 5 Days!

semi-overcast 25 °C

San Jose
The first thing that struck us about San Jose was the private security – everything is kept behind fences, gates and bars, and wrapped in barbed wire. It rather gives it the impression of a war zone. Given that we didn’t have much time left anyway this certainly gave us no desire to stay, so we jumped straight on a bus the next morning to La Fortuna.

La Fortuna
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Unfortunately after a long bus trip Rafa and I had an argument and he headed back to San Jose early – and that, as they say, could very well be that.
The main attractions at La Fortuna are the hot springs and an active volcano – Arenal. I did a guided walk around the base of the volcano at sunset, and spent the rest of the day soaking my sorrows in the springs.

contemplating the sunset (and a broken heart)
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The sunset that evening was breath taking...
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Monteverde
Costa Rica was proving expensive and overly ‘touristy’ – In La Fortuna and Monteverde Spanish is relegated to a second language, and the places are filled with tourists from North America. So I decided to try and make my way up to Nicaragua as quickly as possible – just taking 1 day to see the sites of Monteverde.
Monteverde itself is a community established by Quakers who left the USA during the Korean war – avoiding conscription, and attracted to Costa Rica by the offer of a country without a military. Putting aside the tourism, it’s a pretty settlement in the cloud forest. I started the day by attending a Quaker service at the local school, did a course of zip wires through the forest, took a tour on a coffee and sugar plantation and then a night walk through the forest.

zip wire!
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in the sugar plantation
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sugar - apparently a vegetable
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raw sugar
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coffee tree
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who stuck a pineapple on top of that aloe vera? And where's the pineapple tree?
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the sugar making process
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animal on the night walk
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looking up inside a huge tree, which had been killed by a parasitic vine
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real live tarantula in the wild
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Posted by Stevie_A 09:32 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (0)

Panama

sunny 28 °C

Panama City
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Panama City is a strange mix of the very wealthy and the very poor. The city skyline is modern enough to rival New York or Tokyo, but just a stone’s throw away people are living in houses with only patched up corrugated iron between them and the rain.
Having met up with Rafael we had an amazing time together. We stayed in the old town which was the site of the Spanish colonial settlement, but was mostly rebuilt by the French when they obtained the contract to build the Panama Canal in the 19th Century. After the French failed in their attempt and sold the contract to the US the old town largely fell in to disrepair, but recently the potential has been spotted by foreign investors who have started buying up and renovating the property – fancy eateries and boutique hotels are quickly replacing the ruins of grand old French houses. The governmental palace and ministry of justice are also located here, and there is therefore an abundance of heavily armed security, making it very safe and perfect for a stroll at any time of the day or night.

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Panama Canal
Obviously Panama’s prime attraction is the canal itself. We took the train which runs alongside the canal and at the other end a tour to see one of the locks and some colonial ruins on the Atlantic side.
The locks are immense – catering for the largest canal transit vessels ‘Panamax’, although they are currently constructing another set of locks, larger, which will run alongside the existing ones when finished. We also met a Japanese MP who wanted to have his photo taken with us.. apparently the largest investor is the national bank of Japan.
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Bella Vista - one of the first places in the Americas where Colombus landed
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Sunset on the canal
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Playa Venao
Time for the beach! We literally did nothing for 2 whole days – a well needed break on a beautiful Pacific beach. A couple I met in Ecuador recommended the beach as it had been entirely empty when they visited - shame about the surfing competition...
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Posted by Stevie_A 09:32 Archived in Panama Comments (0)

Cartagena

Colombia

sunny 30 °C

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Before Cartagena I’d barely seen another tourist in Colombia except for in the hostel in Cali. Maybe they were all in Cartagena.. Colombia's most expensive city and a top destination for Caribbean cruise ships.

Very much reminiscent of Havana for obvious reasons, the old town is another beautiful example of a Spanish colonial port to the backdrop of modern skyscrapers. It was attacked by the British and French at various points, and so the King of Spain ordered the construction of fortified walls which were finished just before the city claimed its independence. Today they’re perfect for a stroll.

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In the old town
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Palacio de la Inquisition
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So perhaps I’m translating this wrong, but it seems to basically say ‘the Inquisition have a bad reputation’ (as we know) but that it was undeserved (which we certainly didn't) and ‘they were generally good, devote guys’ - apparently what they did was justified in the good name of the Catholic Church...

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Hmmmm...
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...errrrrr...
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...no.
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Cartagena also features the largest fort in Latin America complete with fantastic views and ‘Lord of the Rings’ style tunnels which you can explore beneath the fortifications – a dream come true for castle lovers like me.

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‘Convento de la Popa’ enjoys an envious position on the summit of the region's only hill, complete with stunning 360 degree views.

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Posted by Stevie_A 00:02 Archived in Colombia Comments (0)

Medellin

Colombia

semi-overcast 25 °C

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Cali may have been dangerous 15-20 years ago, but Medellin was undisputedly worse – known as the capital of the World’s cocaine trade and also ‘murder capital’ given it’s astronomical homicide rate (6349 recorded in 1991 - that's an average of over 17 per day). Like Cali, today the centre is safe enough for a sensible traveller to visit, and with the money that has been pumped in to regeneration there is plenty to see.

In many ways Medellin looks like a city of the future – just 60 years ago there were a meagre 360,000 inhabitants, a dramatic & sudden contrast to today’s almost 3 million. Colombia’s second city now boasts an ultra modern over-ground metro system, big wide open carefully designed spaces with modern art, museums, galleries, planetarium, a model village on a hill with views out over the city... Some of the cityscapes here could be straight out of Star Wars.
There are more skyscrapers in Medellin than in the cities of New York, LA & Philadelphia combined.

Like Cali it’s still a Colombian city with a history – I’d seen more prostitutes and beggars in my first 2 hours in Medellin than I’ve seen in the whole of the rest of my life (mainly thanks to taking a wrong turn down a side street where the hookers where spilling out of the ‘casas de cita’ in to the street, still going strong at 10am Sunday morning) – but it still remains a testimony to the regeneration which can come from public money.

Medellin
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Skyscrapers
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There’s been a great focus on public space for the family. Check out these installations – from passages filled with smoke and random jets of water to the ‘barefoot park’ with foot spa and giant musical instruments:
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Fernando Botero is the nation’s favourite artist - he has donated a large number of his works to the city.
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Pajaro de Paz (Bird of Peace) scarred by a guerilla bomb
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By the government buildings and library 'Parque de las luces' contains hundreds of lights (luces) which light up at night:
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The metro
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Medellin by night
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Posted by Stevie_A 06:30 Archived in Colombia Comments (0)

Cali

Colombia

semi-overcast 25 °C

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Within my first hour on the streets of Cali I’d seen a homeless woman unceremoniously scrubbing herself down with water from the fountain in the main square, a stunning young woman in a sparkly mini skirt shimmying her way in to the Sunday service, three bright yellow birds aggresively trying to kill each other in the park, and I’d made friends with an old chap in a coffee shop who’d been to Brighton for a conference on Esperanto.

15-20 years ago Cali was one of the most dangerous places in the World – largely run by organised crime it was more famous for its homicide rate than for anything that would interest a tourist. These days the main areas are safe enough for tourists providing you’re careful, although the first thing that hit me was evidence of poverty. The only other tourists I saw all week were in my hostel, and central Cali had an ‘atmosphere’ – it took me a while to get up the courage to discretely take out my camera.

I wanted to continue Spanish classes so most of the week was spent safely in the hostel garden sipping coffee and talking left wing politics in Spanish with a Colombian social science student (my teacher).

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I love the combination here of old and new
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The old theatre
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Government building. Complete with paint splashes from the popular protest the day before - there was a demonstration against new government proposals to bring elements of a capitalist market system in to Higher Education due to funding crisis (sounds strangely familiar..)
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Fresh from the protest
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Old boys in the park (not the best quality - I've zoomed in on a picture of the main square)
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Posted by Stevie_A 05:52 Archived in Colombia Comments (0)

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