Sunday, 31 May 2015

Meaningful tune of the trip

Music has always been such a big part of my life and there's nothing better I like to do than listening to it whilst I'm travelling, especially on long bus / car journeys.

I'll always remember driving the Skeleton Coast in Namibia listening to local artists with my driver. It was so atmospheric and something I'll never forget.

It stands to reason then that I'll have a meaningful tune - and this is Fink's Looking Too Closely. I remember the first time I played it on this trip. We were leaving Costa Rica and driving to the Nicaraguan border. I was already feeling so fulfilled with what I'd accomplished in the first of the five countries, but then, without warning the emotion and pent up feelings of the last year released and I found myself staring out of the window with tears in my eyes.
It was magical to get rid of all of those negative feelings. I was on a bus full of people and yet having such a private moment. I won't forget it.

Fun tune of the trip!

This tune was always being played by the group wherever we were in Central America :D 

Robin Schulz feat. Jasmine Thompson - Sun Goes Down

Saturday, 30 May 2015

Purchases and mementos

As my travel cabinet fills up, I have to buy smaller objects!

From left to right: a handmade earring with engraved turtle bought from a village pottery in Nicaragua, a piece of my nemesis Concepcion volcano on Ometepe Island, Nicaragua, a cigar I hand rolled in El Salvador under expert guidance, the iconic cowboy hat from Copan, Honduras, a chicken bus from Guatemala and a little China cup from Costa Rica with the well known saying "Pura Vida" ("Pure Life")

The cigar didn't taste half bad!

Other purchases included my "Pura Vida" tee, a freebie from the Bigfoot Hostel - a volcano boarding tee, coffee jelly (which did taste fruity) and Noni herbal tea from Guatemala, my bag of Costa Rican treats from San Jose airport - a couple of bags of coffee and a range of yummy chocolates (caramel, coffee bean, orange and a mixed selection - all dark chocolate) and a couple of boxes of maple syrup biscuits from Toronto's Pearson airport. 

Friday, 29 May 2015

Homeward bound Pt.2.

That sweet feeling when I land on familiar ground and know there's a taxi waiting to whisk me home hassle free (and to my lovely own bed). Of course, it's always tempered with a sadness that the trip is over. Usually for me, the British rain washes away any feelings other than "get to bed and sleep off jetlag" and this morning was no exception. I had to run to my door whilst it poured. This is typical for me. All the time I'm in Central America, the UK is having a 3 week heatwave. I get home - and it ends. I leave Canada just as their weather turns for the better and come home to the wet stuff. Whichever way you look at it... Oh what the heck, I did have hot and humid too. I even managed crazy tan lines!

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Penultimate day

It's official, I've gone beyond tired. And I've got that horrible twitchy leg thing, irritable, just great for another flight tonight... I distracted myself by thinking about all the things I was going to blog about once I got home. When I typed them all up, I had 7 A4 pages worth of ideas and material!

I packed my suitcase for the final time, squashing my outfits I'd brought for Canada around my dirty Central Americas ruck sack full of dirty washing - nice. I was kind of looking forward to not living out of a suitcase / back pack for a while. All the things I'd missed over the last 28 days were now floating into my mind like tiny novelties. I couldn't wait to use my electric toothbrush. Ahhhhh, it's most definitely the little things.

I bought some boxes of maple syrup biscuits at the airport. If you looked in my hand luggage (a giant Costa Rican bag full of goodies), you'd think I had an obsession with coffee and sweets and biscuits, or I was buying merchandise to start up my own shop.

Apart from some chatty, hyper ladies sitting next to me on the flight to London (just my luck), it was ok. I put my headphones in and was soon absorbed in movies and music after dinner, eventually nodding off. I did watch the Paddington Bear movie and was thrilled to see something most people would miss - a split second moment between two of my favourite British stars - Geoffrey Palmer and Judi Dench. As Time Goes By is one of my favourite sitcoms of all time. I love catching heart warming moments like this. 

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Homeward bound Pt.1.

Despite a long day busy doing very little (waiting around is exhausting), I didn't feel that tired, so I was all up for tapping into the Air Canada app again and watching another movie and some comedy on the 5 hour flight back to Toronto. I ordered beer and snacks (you can only use your credit card, but I got air miles yay) and finally watched Frozen along with an episode of "The Middle" and one of "Mom" - both new on the Comedy Central channel here in the UK. It was a fun, relaxing flight.

This time last month... I was preparing for the worst in the small hours of the morning though, once we arrived at Pearson International, but I couldn't believe how smoothly everything went. Security was a breeze as we were the only flight, my bag came out on the carousel once we'd landed and I found my pre-booked limo and driver just outside Arrivals with relative ease. It was pure bliss to be chauffeured to Oshawa down a quiet 401, lounging on the leather seats and listening to some chill out music my driver selected, once he knew just how exhausted I was. Tarmac roads are a real treat after bumping around in a bus for 3 weeks.

So, from waking up at 4am the previous day, to falling into bed fully clothed around 4am this morning, the 24 hour journey was finally complete. Not surprisingly, I slept like a log.


Tuesday, 26 May 2015

The 24 hour journey

I had to leave Antigua at 5am because the next airport shuttle would be too late. It didn't matter. I preferred to get up early and pay 10 dollars, then sleep in for another hour and pay 40 or 50 for a private ride. An old chap who took his airport transfers very seriously (neatly stacked piles of receipts in his glove compartment) picked me up in his big bus. We rattled around the streets to another hotel and picked up one other passenger who was drunk out of her skull. It took about an hour to get to the airport and that was early on a Sunday morning with no traffic.

It always amazes me how awake people are when I check in for early morning flights. I did have the sense to double check my ruck sack was being checked through all the way to Toronto. I had my doubts I would see my bag almost 24 hours later, even though I was assured it was travelling with me to Toronto. I was doing my first flight Guatemala City to San Jose with Avianca and then I had a 9 hour layover in San Jose, before catching my Air Canada flight early evening to Toronto. I'd told them at check-in I'd booked the whole flight package with Air Canada and that seemed to connect all of the dots. Fingers crossed.

It was amusing to think
what had taken 3 weeks by road and boat, was going to take 1 1/2 hours by air! The Avianca plane hadn't been cleaned, but I can honestly say it was one of the best flights ever in terms of friendly air crew and value for money. BA aside, I don't think I've ever had free food and free drinks on such a short flight. It was very pleasant - and refreshing!

Now, what to do with myself for 9 hours. I had a nagging feeling I was going to have to pay 29 dollars departure tax before leaving San Jose for Toronto, so that was rolling around in the back of my mind. The downside of reading too much on the internet. If I'd thought about it properly, I would've clocked all departure taxes are included in a flight package, but, anyway... Out of 1230 dollars, I had 50 left. I'd done everything on the trip I'd wanted to do - and much, much more! And I hadn't starved! I think the hot and humid weather helped suppress the appetite - an all round winner. I had about 16 dollars in Nicaraguan Cordoba and about 16 dollars in Costa Rican Colones. I wanted to get rid of both. The 29 dollars still in my head, I went a little crazy buying my favourite Costa Rican fruit chocolates, a couple of bags of coffee and a bag of gourmet coffee bean chocolates (amongst other things) and spent over 100 dollars using some of my Canadian dollars and breaking into that 29 dollars I was saving, leaving me with 24. I was like "damn" even though I knew I would have paid any departure tax by now, but still... Funny how these things stay with you and it all works out in the end, as you'll see... It was time for lunch and I was determined to get rid of my 6000 Colones. I'd read San Jose airport was ridiculously expensive and I paid 20 dollars for a Smash Burger, fries and pepsi. I'd used another 4 dollars so down to 20 now. By this point, I was thinking I could pay the departure tax on my card... Then the final thing I wanted to do was to see if I could change my Cordoba. I lost about 6 dollars in the transaction, but ended up with 9, thus making my final dollar total 29. And no, I didn't need it in the end, yet it was strangely comforting to know I had it just in case.

After that, I found a quiet spot in the airport departure lounge, settled in and read half of The Happiness Project on my beloved Kindle, whilst watching the ebb and flow of passengers boarding and departing 4 flights. 


Monday, 25 May 2015

"Hasta Luego Central America!"

PictureWas tempted to try this!

This time last month... Today Olivia wanted to climb another active volcano but I said no way!!! I'd already decided a while back that I was going to treat myself to a lovely hour and a half full body massage - and most importantly, NOT climb any hills or volcanoes or indeed anything going upwards.

We had our last brekky together; relaxing at Fernandos again, but without the rushing to be somewhere. It made a welcome change!

Craft lady at work whilst we ate breakfast. Fascinating to watch
We took a walk around town to get some more photos and to soak up the weekend atmosphere on the streets. There was some kind of celebration going on tonight because Arch Avenue was closed off to cars. We saw two other volcanoes in the distance, but the one Olivia was climbing later on, Pacaya, is not visible from Antigua town centre. So off she went to hike in the heat and I took a quick shower and then headed back out to Mayan Sun spa for my massage. It was heavenly!

Later than evening, we met up again and went for our last dinner together. The guy on Reception recommended Quesos so we ordered pasta and enjoyed our private dining, reflecting on the amazing trip we'd just completed.
As I packed my bags for the final time and put most of my clothes in a designated "dirty washing bag", it dawned on me just how much I was looking forward to using a washing machine for a change. They were smelly with a capital S. I swear I haven't perspired this much since Thailand! It sure is the little things I look forward to after being on tour.

Sunday, 24 May 2015

No room at the bee house!

No room at the bee house on its 5th birthday
Our bees are Red Mason Bees and they feed on the Dandelions in the garden. According to Wikipedia: "They are named from their habit of making compartments of mud in their nests, which are made in hollow reeds or holes in wood made by wood-boring insects." Unlike honey bees and bumble bees, Red Mason bees are solitary and they don't produce honey or beeswax. It's fascinating to see them at work as they make themselves comfy, preparing to overwinter. 

For more information, this is a good reference: Red Mason bee


I figured since it was the end of the tour, I could spend my "G Adventures recommended" 200 dollars emergency fund now. So I did!

I woke up this morning with no plan other than going down to Reception to get some help with planning the day. Antigua is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with beautiful buildings all over the town and I wanted to see them and explore Antigua as much as possible over the next couple of days. I'd dreamed about visiting this place for years.

I started my penultimate day in Central America with breakfast at Fernandos Kaffee down the street with Olivia. Then we walked (rushed) to the meeting point and waited for our Unimog vehicle to pick us up and drive us to the coffee plantations (luckily the driver was on "Central American time" so we were "early"). While we stood on the street corner waiting, the kids were heading into school and they stopped to interview us.

We'd picked Finca Filadelphia and chosen to hire a private guide for 25 dollars and do a 2 hour hike right to the very top of the plantation, learning about coffee as we walked. It was tough going but we got spectacular views from up there. Our guide, Axel, was very patient and helped us scramble up the sandy track after him. He too was slipping about, so I didn't feel that out of shape! Why do I keep doing this to myself hehe

Afterwards we walked back down and had a quick look around the plantation shop so I could pick up my Guatemalan memento and buy some coffee jelly to try. Well, when in Guatemala... It should taste good if the taste of the coffee bean and its shell is anything to go by - watermelon, fruity flavour. We'll see.

The cool Unimog vehicle dropped us back into town and it was a quick pitstop back at Fernandos for lunch and then we were off again on a 3 hour walking city tour with our guide, Christina. For 25 dollars, this private tour was also great value for money. We saw many of the gorgeous buildings, churches and ruins, a wedding being set up at the Santa Domingo hotel - which meant viewing a part of the ruins they mostly cover up to protect from sun damage - lucky us, market visit, Jade factory and museum where I bought my Mayan birthstone, a chocolate cafe, Arch Avenue, the Central Park and the Mayor's office. Lots of wonderful photo opportunities. Enjoy these. 

Olivia and I had no idea where to go for dinner, so again, we asked Reception and they were as helpful as ever suggesting a french style restaurant, Hectors. I was going mad with my remaining dollars and splashed out on a medium rare steak sarnie with fries and beer. Yum!

Since the trip was officially over, that meant I also got my own room for the next two nights. I paid 40 pounds per night with G Adventures prior to departure. The room was fine, but the bathroom was bizarre. Take a look at my pics and have a giggle alongside me...