Monthly Archives: May 2014

Cahuita: Cow Whee What?

Bus station mural There was no breeze and the town felt almost deserted in the mid-afternoon sun as we entered Cahuita for the first time after a forty minute walk down a dirt road from El Jardin Glorioso where we were staying. Main street Cauita At the northern end of the main street was the first grocery store named, incongruously, the Safari, and about three short blocks away and anchoring the other end was the second grocery store, the Vaz #2.  Cahuita National Park sat at the southern edge of the town. Two additional streets in Cahuita pointed west; they linked up near the bus station on the road out of town.

Cahuita is a funky little Caribbean beach town where the days play out slowly and there just isn’t a lot to get excited about.  It’s a laid-back place for the traveler who wants to enjoy the mix of rugged coral, black and golden sand beaches and hike through the rainforests rather than party the night away.  the populationThe name is derived from an indigenous word Cawi for the towering, twisted Sangrillo trees that, along with mango, palms and a variety of other trees, comprise the coastal forest.  The town’s origins can be tracked back to Africans who were brought via Jamaica in the late 1800’s to build the coffee railroad from San Jose and work the banana plantations. The Afro-Caribbean culture is still in evidence among the local population and a jumble of Caribbean patois, English and Spanish seems to be the language of communication.

North end of CahuitaAfter a few long walks into town to buy groceries or sample the restaurants we followed our hosts advice and rented bicycles for 5,000 Colones ($10) a day; big clunky, graceless, single-speed contraptions with sluggish coaster brakes.  These sped us on our way with less effort along the dirt roads and we explored the national park and the town and its environs at our leisure (as everything seems to be done in this humid, tropical area).

Cahuita ParkCahuita National Park was established in 1970 and is Costa Rica’s only free national park. It’s small land mass, 2600 acres, was established to protect the large coral reef off the Caribbean coast which is still endangered.National Park We donated towards the park’s maintenance, chained our bikes and walked for a few hours along its trails, beaches and occasionally upon long, wooden, raised footpaths elevated above swampy ground.  The sun overhead was filtered by the coastal forest canopy, the air humid and the atmosphere quiet and tranquil, broken occasionally by some insect buzzing or a birdsong.  Golden beach at Cahuita National ParkOur hike was gratifying although we had hoped to glimpse either the two or three-toed sloths or a troop of capuchin monkeys inhabiting the park.  Our efforts however rewarded us with the sighting of a lone howler monkey high in the trees and a couple of raccoons ambling across the path.  And, thankfully, no pit vipers were spotted either since they also occupy the park.Upside-down sloth

Since we had no luck spotting the sloths in the park we hopped a bus to the nearby town of Puerto Viejo and visited the Jaguar Rescue Center, a sanctuary that protects injured animals and returns them to the wild whenever possible.  And, finally, we saw sloths, both two and three-toed, high in the trees adjoining the property (so we can truthfully say we saw them in the wild) and climbing sideways along branches or hanging upside down inside the sanctuary. Camoflauged tree frog We saw several varieties of frogs alongside a cleverly landscaped natural-looking lagoon including one so cleverly camouflaged that it nearly defied the focus on our camera. In several sturdy Baby howler monkey sleepingcages were species of the poisonous snakes including the fer-de-lance and the golden eyelash pit viper.  There was a half-blinded anteater that had been rescued and (so cool!) four small baby anteaters and a few baby howler monkeys.  Although we’re not zoo fans the Jaguar Rescue Center was a unique, educational and uplifting experience that we really enjoyed.

Baby anteatersIn retrospect we’ll still stand by our statement that there’s not a lot to get excited about in Cahuita; that’s different from not a lot to do. You just don’t get too animated – that can be hard work in the hot tropical sun, don’t you know.Red-eyed tree frog

By Anita and Richard, May, 2014

 

 

 

The Road To Cahuita

Riding the Tika Bus again we could tell within a few miles that we had left Nicaragua and were now in Costa Rica.  The shanties alongside the Pan American Highway looked a little less shabby and the rusted corrugated structures used as shelters were not in evidence.  The cars looked a little newer and, it took a while to notice what was lacking, there were no horses or cattle pulling carts or families walking beside the road.  Overall, within just a few miles of the border, Costa Rica felt more prosperous.Ferns & Forest

The feeling of Costa Rica having more continued into the next day as we set off early in the morning from the capital city of San Jose to the Caribbean side of Costa Rica.  We wound our way on a two-lane road through hills and low mountains driving through rain forests; the damp mists and clouds clung to the vehicle and traffic turned on their lights and slowed to a crawl to navigate through dense, cool fog.  Alongside the road were giant ferns, plants with huge leaves at least eighteen inches across and, in some places, the trees from either side of the road touched overhead and formed a living tunnel.  Occasionally we could see the valleys far below filled with hazy clouds and there were brilliant greens in every imaginable shade wherever one looked. For a while we followed a truck carrying mangoes and tomatoes and then other trucks filled with pineapples and bananas.  We glimpsed numerous rivers and streams as we passed, some with round, water-smoothed rocks scattered about the riverbeds and the trees lining the banks were flowering with exotic blossoms of purple, reds, yellows and oranges.  Everywhere the earth was populated by some thriving, living plant and the impression of abundance and fertility seemed to envelope us.Headed towards Jadin Glorioso

We arrived at our destination, Cahuita, about noon and were met by our American hosts, Edward and Julie, who led us down a dirt road about two hundred yards to the little casita on their gated property.  We were compelled to walk slowly as we were valiantly dragging our hard-shell, 24-inch suitcases with state-of-the-art spinner wheels through ruts and over pebbles along-side us; yet, again, another reminder of how inappropriate our luggage is for the out-of-the-way places in which we keep finding ourselves!El Jardin GoriosoSo, anyway, on to another piece of heaven, El Jardin Glorioso – the glorious garden. The grounds are a natural, park-like setting populated by royal palms reaching forty feet towards the sky, fan palms, triangle palms, lipstick palms and a profusion of numerous extraordinary and colorful plants, flowers and trees. This includes our new favorite, the ylang-ylang tree, which grows the most amazing flower with an intoxicating fragrance (rumored to be one of the ingredients for Chanel No. 5).The coral pool

Coral poolWe took advantage of the property’s crown jewel, a natural coral pool that one climbed down into carefully, avoiding the sharp walls to swim in tranquil privacy; watching the waves form and crash through the pool’s opening, the sea water flowing into the enclosure and ebbing out.

And so we found ourselves spending over a week Cahuita, waking to a chorus of birds early each morning (and not a rooster crow to be heard!) and finishing our day sitting out on our porch enjoying the night sounds or at the nearby coral beach watching both the night sky and the waves.El Jardin Glorioso

Next post – There’s much, much more to the Cahuita area including the Cahuita National Park and The Jaguar Sanctuary.

El Jardin Glorioso

By Anita and Richard, May, 2014

Granada In The Rear View

Granada, Spain conjures up visions of the fabled history of Andalusia, the breath-taking magnificence of the Alhambra, the Moorish conquerors turned overlords.

La Catedral

La Catedral

But Granada, Nicaragua?  Before our Nicaragua sojourn our conversations with travelers suggested to us that we would prefer Leon, Granada’s sister city on Lake Managua, which is the larger of the two cities, the liberal bastion, the university town. Granada is smaller, more commercial, more conservative, favored by tourists seeking more amenities. We were fully prepared to be drawn more to Leon; so it came as somewhat of a surprise that we were captivated by Granada, Nicaragua.

The Old Hospital Ruins

The Old Hospital Ruins

In Granada the colonial architecture around the city is being refurbished and upgraded; its charm enhanced with each renovation. The city has begun to effectively lure the tourist – the more affluent class beyond the transient, back-packer crowd.

Hotel on Avenida Calzada

Hotel on Avenida Calzada

Avenida Calzada, jutting out of Parque Central, is a vital, bustling, pedestrian thoroughfare crowded with restaurants catering to many tastes. The adjoining streets offer more eateries, watering holes, souvenir shops selling traditional handicrafts and shops seeking to accommodate the needs of a growing city.

Kathys Waffle House

Kathy’s Waffle House

Scattered around the historic city center are the cathedrals and churches which lend an air of dignity and accentuate the beauty of the skyline. Breezes blowing off Lake Nicaragua help cool the air, in all but the dry season, vitalizing the city.

Iglesia Guadalupe

Iglesia Guadalupe

The physical expression of a city is fundamentally important; it’s the first impression, it’s what keeps you wanting to dig deeper, to know more. And what began to emerge, what drew us back for the third and extended stay was the relaxed feel and hospitality rooftopexerted by the expat community of varying backgrounds and nationalities. There is an eclectic mix of full-time residents, part-time residents and visitors driven by a multitude of personal motivations. The mix includes retirees, entrepreneurs, gap-year students, NGO professionals, volunteers, vagabonds and thrill-seekers.   And most have those ex-pat qualities of gregariousness and affability.  It is the norm to run into acquaintances on any short journey as we walk about the city and, since shank’s mare is the preferred mode of travel, social contact is amplified.

Old Train Depot

Old Train Depot

To augment the welcoming ambiance provided by the architecture and the expats, there is also the availability of world-class medical care and international transportation options found in the capital, Managua, just a short drive north of Granada. Vivian Pellas Medical Center, a newly constructed facility and private hospital, offers exceptional health care services at extremely affordable costs; it’s possible to ensure medical coverage through a monthly payment option. International flights are readily available at the Augusto C. Sandino International Airport to whisk tourists and expats to the States, Canada or any onward destination. Tica Bus Line has daily routes to all the capital cities in Central America and Mexico, so low-cost modes of transport are available for shorter jaunts.street scene

So it’s hard to leave a city that we have come to appreciate and friends with whom we’ve had great conversations and with whom we could develop deeper bonds given more time.  But we both agree that it’s time for new experiences and locations; time to leave a city and a country that have imprinted themselves upon us and move south, leaving Granada in the rear view.

La Iglesia Xalteva

La Iglesia Xalteva

By Anita and Richard, May, 2014

Selva Negra: Nicaragua’s Black Forest

Our bungalowAfter a short drive from Matagalpa along windy roads and climbing to an elevation above 3,000 feet we arrived at the Selva Negra Mountain Resort in the late afternoon.  Almost immediately we felt that we had taken a step back into both another time and another country.  Picture a little bit of Germany set down in the highlands of northern Nicaragua.  Quaint Bavarian-style bungalows and chalets, each with a few rocking chairs in front, were scattered along the road or set near a pond that reflected the deep greens of the cloud forest that surrounded the little valley.  Although the mists had burned away earlier in the day the weather was noticeably cooler and damper and fresher when compared to the lower elevations of the country. The European style architecture and geese wandering around did little to ground us in Nicaragua; if a German milkmaid had come around the corner with a pail of sloshing milk we wouldn’t have been too surprised.Bavarian style chalet

So, how did this bit of transplanted Germany wind up here in Nicaragua?  Wikipedia says that, “In the 1850s, when gold was discovered in California, many American and European passengers made their way to California crossing the Isthmus of Central America through Nicaragua”.  Among those seeking their fortunes was a German couple, Ludwig Elster and Katharina Braun.   Evidently the northern highlands of Nicaragua reminded them of the region they were from and, travel-weary, they chose to remain in the area they later called Selva Negra, the Black Forest, rather than continue to San Francisco.  They planted the first coffee beans in the area and were joined later in their farming community by other Europeans and Americans.

Solar water heater

Solar water heater

The Ecolodge was built in 1976 by Eddy and Mausi Kuhl, descendants of the original settlers who are the current owners of the 400 acre property.  Daily tours of the historic coffee farm, observing some of the methods currently practiced for living green, horseback riding, hiking and bird and wildlife watching are a few of the things that can be done while visiting.  Of course there’s always just relaxing, rocking in a chair, reading or chatting with new friends.

Anita says, “I decided to go on a hike with a couple of friends to see the panoramic view from the mountain top. Jungle Hike After talking to the woman behind the counter about our plans and being assured that we were in for a real treat we set off with a map (which we lost halfway through the hike) and spent about three hours climbing steep, seemingly vertical trails, slipping and sliding around the paths.  When we finally arrived at the promised panoramic viewpoint the riotous overgrowth and foliage from the trees almost totally obscured the view.  And then we had to go D.O.W.N…         

Richard says, “I read a good book, napped and took pictures of the gardener dredging algae from the pond”.Algae removal

Obviously, some choices in how to spend one’s leisure time are better than others at Selva Negra.

By Anita and Richard, May, 2014

 

North To The Hill Country Of Nicaragua

Sebaco MarketWe branched off the Pan-American Highway at the Masaya exchange and headed north on Route 2, beginning a slow ascent through arid country seared from the long, hot, dry season. After an hour we made our first stop in Sebaco; the fruit and vegetable stalls beckoning us to pause and sample their offerings.Fruit and Veggies This was not a grand market in scale; no more than a dozen stands lined the west side of the highway. However, the vibrant colors, with fruits and vegetables carefully and artfully arranged in baskets, piles and stacks and hanging from posts overhead made a visual appeal. The vendors repeatedly sprinkled water from large barrels nearby over their goods which made the produce sparkle and glisten in the sunlight. We purchased a bag of mandarin oranges and, after settling in to our journey again, alternated between savoring sections of the aromatic fruit and gazing out the windows.Smiling woman Read more