Early August 2016
It’s great to be in a country where the public transport network is pretty reliable and as an independent traveller, you are free to choose your own way. It was using this system that we traversed Costa Rica, leaving Tortuguero and arriving in the night in the popular beach town of Playa del Coco on the Pacific coast.
What we learnt from our time on the Caribbean coast allowed us to make some better decisions in this town, but what was missing here was the cleaner rooms and amenities. Still, accepting “it is what it is”, we settled into a relaxed routine of eating, beaching and sleeping.
While the water itself was not that desirable for long swims, it was on the outer islands where the water was clearer that we could complete a couple of dives. With warm waters, good visibility and some rocky outcrops, we enjoyed the dives. Our guide was also very calm, guiding us as needed but mostly letting us enjoy our time.
On the first descent, a couple of baby moray eels wafted in the current while some sting rays hid on the sandy bottom. Plenty of fish flickered across our field of vision and danced in unison as the current shifted us all. Gliding over head was a spotted eagle ray, while wedged into the rocks was a thick moray eel, bearing its teeth at us.
On the second dive, two moray eels were reminiscent of a jabberwocky or medieval beast with two heads slithering out at us. Being the first time we had seen the eels, we were not sure how to approach them. As they were a mass of electricity, we decided to view them from a distance.
As we approached a small wreck, self conscious puffer fish buzzed around the sea floor and between the rocks. They were a constant presence on this dive. As we started to explore the dive, Carlos our guide, drew our attention to 2 white tip reef sharks sitting on the bottom.
We all lined up for a stand off, slowly sinking to the bottom to get face to face with them. We stayed there for some minutes, us like sprinters in the starting blocks and the sharks like elegant marine creatures. As we inched closer and closer, they decided enough was enough and withdrew to a safer distance.
One of the sharks swam past us and as we followed him, we came upon a large sting ray. He was perturbed by our approach and shook off the sand and glided past. Back at the wreck, it was more fish who called the hull home. On our final ascent, another large moray eel watched us from his hollow.
After our dives, we all enjoyed a lunch together at a local soda. We were enjoying being back in central America where the Latin culture is a little more pronounced in their music (salsa, cumbia, mariachi, reggae, calypso and nueva cancion) and in their style (overly curvaceous women with muffin tops). But what we really enjoyed was the strong Afro influence that occurs in Costa Rica. This Afro-Latin culture brings some positive energy to the music and food.
This was even more apparent as we sat in our new lodgings listening to the Saturday night church service. Gospel funk gave way to uplifting salsa music. We thought if more church services were this entertaining, there’d probably be a whole lot more people coming down to join the fun.
With our time in Playa del Coco coming to close, we said goodbye the only way we knew how: with a large casado (set menu) and a delicious ice-cream. We set our sights on Nicaragua and a few bus rides and a border crossing later, we were establishing ourselves in the small town of Granada.
Set on the northern banks of Lake Nicaragua and under the shadow of the dormant Mombacho volcano, Granada is a colonial town that is clean and bustling in the centre on the main strip but fading and in need of attention everywhere else.
We caught up with a couple of English girls we had met on the bus into town and enjoyed a meal and some wine. After adopting the starfish position, we slept in the sweltering heat before rising to explore the town. After walking along the dilapidated tourist precinct on the shores of lake, we escaped the rain in the rundown market area.
After having a laughable meal along the strip (the street food vendors take Mondays off) and another star fish session, we were up at dawn for a kayak tour of the islands that sit off the coast. Around 365 small islands make up this archipelago and they are mix of expensive houses, restaurants and hotels.
Our first stop on the tour was the fortress. This small but important building was the last defence on the lake from anyone sailing from the Caribbean into lake Nicaragua and planning to take Granada.
From there, we paddled the calmer waters seeing water birds on lilies, fishing birds stalking from the shore and howler monkeys in the canopy. Under a large overhang, our guide spotted a few fruit bats, perfectly camouflaged and extremely hard to spot.
We saw the sad state of a spider monkey chained to a tree for the apparent benefit of an owner who rarely visited the house. On another island, a vet had placed some monkeys who were being rehabilitated. One inquisitive monkey has climbed the power lines and in the process lost most of his tail and become damaged. The other monkeys were so popular with weekend tourists that they were more like hairy buddas than monkeys.
Paddling back to the mainland, a kingfisher searched high for his breakfast while a tiger heron showed of its stripes. Trying to save some energy, Steve attempted to catch a small wave but ended up capsizing the kayak 100 metres from shore. We spent the next five hours trawling the waters collecting our things!
After a rewarding ice cream, we moved up the hill to Laguna Apoyo, a fresh water lake that just happens to be in a dormant volcano. We established ourselves in our cramped room and made for the volcanic shore and into the warm clear and deep waters.
It was such a pleasant atmosphere that 1 night turned into 3. We read, swam, chilled, ate and played petanque. We also befriended a couple from Australia with whom we discussed local and international issues with. The 2 English lasses we met on the bus were also at the hostel and we of course enjoyed their company.
On our last night on the lake, we headed to the Masaya volcano: one of the 3 active volcanoes in the world where we could see the lava in its liquid form. As the sun had faded, rain sprinkled the windshield and threatened to ruin our tour (suppressing the cauldron with steam) but the rain held off and as we approached the red glow, we started to get a sense of what we were about to experience.
It was a bit of squeeze as our group of about 30 vehicles and their guests pushed against the barrier to gaze down at the molten flow. It gently bubbled away, popping occasionally and constantly changing colour from a bright yellow to a burnt orange sun.
Like a gorgeous log fire, we could have spent hours staring into its depths but the poisonous sulphur dioxide that is emitted restricts visitor time to about 30 minutes so we bundled back into our vehicle and back to our dormant volcanic lake.
It felt like a great way to be winding up our tour du monde, starting with ice (New Zealand) and nearly finishing up with fire.
Next Stop….Ometepe island and San Juan del Sur.