I forgot the all important map update in my last post. You can see our route from Kota Kinabalu in Borneo down to Bali and over to Java via a flight from Lombok.
The flight home from Dubai was tiring and in hindsight I wish we had an extra day in Ireland to relax. Neither of us had a minute and Alberto especially had a difficult time trying to see all of his friends as he has only one day left in Dublin in December before the big move to Sydney. Having said all that, we had a fantastic weekend. It was also great to hear that many of our friends and family are reading this. It's good to know I haven’t just been talking to myself these past eleven weeks! The second map below shows our route via Dubai, returning briefly home to Dublin and then over to New Jersey, followed by a brief stop in Texas and down to Costa Rica. I’m knackered just looking at it.
On Monday we flew from Dublin to Newark where we had a six hour wait to enjoy. Thankfully I had Roy Keane's second autobiography to keep me company and I finished it in two days. It took me a while to realise I was actually in New Jersey and not New York given our flight details told us it was the latter and they’re selling New York merchandise here like it’s going out of fashion. We flew with United Airlines. We discovered they have a reputation for overbooking flights and we were told just before we were about to board that up to fifteen people would not be able to fly. To appease the crowd they offered volunteers a free night’s stay in a hotel in Newark, dinner and more importantly, a $700 flight voucher per person. The last thing I wanted was to be stuck for a night in Newark but with that offer we couldn’t get out of our seats quick enough to volunteer! It was a no brainer. We had good craic that night with another group of lads who also volunteered, and although we had to touch down for an hour in Texas (as opposed to flying direct) we were in San Jose by Tuesday afternoon.
San José is the capital of Costa Rica, and it made sense to start our month in Central America here. Panama is located just below but it seems we’re not missing a lot by skipping it and we just didn’t have the time. We had a really enjoyable three nights here and we spent most of it with one of Alberto’s friends from Spain called Celso and his Costa Rican partner Sergio. It made such a difference being able to hang out with locals who can show you around, fill you in on the history etc. I would describe San José as an American and Spanish hybrid, although it’s not as wealthy as either. They’ve adopted the American fast food culture and you can find Taco Bell, Wendys, McDonalds etc. around the city. Food portions are as large as you’ll find in the United States but thankfully they don’t seem to suffer from the same obesity issues (at least not yet). You’ll find Spanish colonial architecture dotted throughout the city and this has been quite a novelty for Alberto as you’d expect, in addition to being able to fluently converse with the Costa Ricans. Most of the locals don’t speak English so I’m very lucky and thankful that Alberto has been able to ask for directions, negotiate prices and find out any information we need. I am practicing my Spanish though!
The main city centre is bustling with people and there’s a real energy and buzz to this city. There are plenty of modern and luxurious cars to be seen driving around, and food, clothes etc. are almost as expensive as back in Dublin. Wages aren’t as high however so I don’t know how so many people can afford these prices. The city is surrounded by mountains which serve as a very nice backdrop. It’s not dissimilar to Queenstown in New Zealand. It was quite cloudy when we took the shot below but you can get an idea of the greenery encompassing the city.
It's a very peaceful country and they were even able to abolish their own army in 1948. They're also Christmas mad over here. There are enough decorations on display to give Ireland a run for its money. Even the petrol stations are kitted out.
I've waffled on for a while now so I'll try and keep the rest of this update concise. On Thursday we took a walk around the city, spotted a newly built China Town and we visited the Museo Nacional (the national museum). It's housed in an old fortress showcasing some of the country's most important archaeological pieces and depictions of the indigenous people.
That evening the four of us went out for dinner. A glass of Sangria was ordered and naturally we ended up partying for the night.
We even tried a local shot made with chili and tobasco. It's an acquired taste...
Hangovers aside, the next day we had lunch at a Costa Rican themed restaurant. I'm a big fan of Mexican cuisine and Costa Rican food isn't too dissimilar. Rice and beans are served with most dishes, including breakfast and I ain't complaining!
Afterwards we visited the Jade Museum. It was only opened recently and you can tell as it's a very well thought out interactive museum where you can view jade (a very rare and expensive ornamental rock), in addition to pre-Columbus artifacts and a floor showcasing their way of life.
You can even partake in some archaeological digging. Myself and Sergio discovered a skeleton. I should have asked for a reward.
We originally planned to stay in San José for two nights but we had such a good time we extended it to three. We travelled north to Monteverde on Saturday. The trip took around four and a half hours. Monteverde is a mountainous region and I'd compare it to Chiang Mai in terms of scenery and activities (hiking, white water rafting, ziplining). We booked ourselves in for two nights and the following day we were up early to visit the Reserva Biologica Bosque Nuboso Monteverde, aka a high altitude forest packed full of nature and wildlife. We got a nice three hour brisk walk in.
The town itself is really small, and they're set up purely for tourism. Most visitors are fellow backpackers and there's an enjoyably calm and chilled out vibe to the place. We would have stayed longer if we hadn't done similar activities that they offer here previously in Asia and we're conscious of time as there's a lot of ground to cover over the next three weeks.
We've had a wonderful time in Costa Rica and the best thing about the country has been the people. You don’t need to understand them fluently when their smiles, warm gestures and effort to help you are constantly evident. If the rest of Central America offers the same level of hospitality we’ll be very happy. We're going to be travelling by bus for most, if not through all of Central America and tomorrow we have the unenviable task of getting up at 5am and taking at least three separate buses plus a border crossing as we head north to our second country in Central America, Nicaragua. It's going to be an interesting day.