Caldera Petroglyphs and Hike

Main petroglyph at Caldera. Photo from TripAdvisor.com

Caldera is a very small town only about 17 miles from Vista Grande, 35 minutes by car. It is one of the towns that we passed through on the way to Bocas del Toro.

First we stopped off to see some petroglyphs on large rocks. The rocks were thrown out of Volcan Baru at some time in the past. According to this website, the carving was done about 1000 years ago. The area is a national park although there isn’t any really easy access. You have to go through the lower part of a fence (barbed wire above you so crouch carefully) and then walk about 10-15 minutes through a field to get to the park.

There are many, many relatively small boulders from one of the eruptions of Baru and some are quite large. To make the carvings easier to see, they have been painted white.

Petroglyph Sign

After we looked at the petroglyphs, we drove a little farther and then parked. We walked 4 kilometers each way (about 5 miles round trip) to Paraiso Escondido La Abuela Hostel where we looked but did not go into a very nice hot spring pool. The hike was fairly flat and had a mixture of full sun and nice shade along the way.

It would have been a wonderful hike if we had started earlier (we started about 9:45 by the time we arrived after the petroglyphs and Caldera may be close to Boquete but the temperatures are worlds apart. Caldera is only about 814 feet high where as Vista Grande is about 3858′.  Instead of temperatures in the 70’s, they were in the mid 80’s (plus fairly humid). So the town is aptly named since “caldera” translates to “boiler”.

We had brought enough water but didn’t carry all of it with us on the hike. Big mistake. I ran through my water and then Dan’s and finally Lesia’s. Dan went down to the river 3 times to fill the water bottles with river water to pour over my head. Finally Lesia walked ahead and brought the truck back so save me some walking although by then I was within 5-10 minutes of our parking spot…I could have made it but was glad not to have to.

Hot Springs Sign

If we go back again, we will about 7 in the morning and take 2 containers of water for each person with us. That way we will be finished by about 10:30 and have a lovely walk. The 5 miles isn’t the hard part of the hike at all.

Bocas del Toro

View from dock across the street from our hotels. Peaceful and serene.

Bocas del Toro is an archipelago (group of islands) at the northeastern part of Panama, very close to the Costa Rican border. This is an extremely popular tourist destination even though you are seriously warned not to drink the water (which also means not to eat anything that is washed such as raw vegetables and to avoid ice). Unlike other tourist areas like Granada Nicaragua where the nicer restaurants or ones that cater to tourists which use filtered water for drinking and ice, we didn’t see/hear of any in Bocas that did that.

Archipelago of Bocas del Toro

We were extremely careful not to drink unfiltered water and not to use ice or eat raw veggies. I would have thought I got the amoeba infection there anyway except that the incubation period is much longer. (I did try literally a single drop of homemade hot sauce in a restaurant a few hours before I got sick but that wasn’t the cause if it truly was an amoeba infection).

While I didn’t get to enjoy anything other than walking around, Dan went on an all day catamaran ride where he snorkeled and saw starfish (and got sunburned). We had planned to go on a bio-luminescence tour one night but couldn’t because of the diarrhea. By the time I was well enough to consider being on a boat without a restroom for 2 hours, the moon was out again so you wouldn’t be able to see the glow.

Other common activities in the area are bicycling (we did do that-me once and Dan several times), fishing, shopping the locally made tourist items, and the like.

Biking was easy on this part of the island which is fairly flat.
Water taxi

To get to Bocas, you go to Almirante, a small town on the mainland. As you arrive into town, there is often a person on a bike who offers to show you where to park and get the taxi (for whatever you tip the person). You park your car in a gated lot for $3 per day (not 24 hours so if you arrive on Monday and leave on Wednesday, you pay $9). From there it is a short walk to the water taxi that takes you to the island for $7 per trip per person or $10 round trip (if you do a better job of keeping up with your receipt than we did, LOL). That ride is about 30 minutes and the water taxis run every 30 minutes from 6 AM to 6 PM. The ride was fairly calm both ways since you are in a bay area.

Food is pretty good and not outrageously expensive. We had excellent seafood, usually Corvina which is a very mild sea bass.

The weather was mild with afternoon rains most days.

The drive to Almirante was verdant with rural, poor, windy, hilly roads, and was very pleasant. There are places where the road slumps several inches with no warnings. A lovely drive but quite long given the distance is only 180 KM (111 miles). It is supposed to take just over 3 hours but was really closer to 5, including a 30 minute stop for a bite to eat. Not sure why but many of the indigenous Guaymi peoples’ houses in this area are on stilts, in the mountainous area of the drive. (We did see clothes drying under some of the houses but don’t know if that is the reason for the stilts.)

House on stilts on road to Bocas

Pura Vida and Driving in Costa Rica

I learned to drive in New Jersey and thought I knew what aggressive driving was. No way!

We rented cars twice and within an hour of driving, I knew that Costa Ricans forget about their national saying “Pura Vida” when they get in their cars. “Pura Vida” refers to the relaxed, easy going lifestyle here.

Many don’t believe in the posted speeds

Once in their cars, many are in a hurry: speeding, tailgating and passing, AND the passing is done on curves, no-pass zones, in the fog…anywhere they think there is enough room to get by. The only plus is that often the vehicle being passed is going v…e…r…y slow.

Narrow Bridge
One Way Ahead

Oh, and many roads are narrow, with steep gutters, sharp curves, and lots of one lane bridges on country roads.

This one has been here for many decades
Depending on where you are, roads can be rough

Leave lots of time to get to your destination and let your travel days be very flexible days.

Restaurants in our Travels

Most of the time in Costa Rica we were staying somewhere where we didn’t eat out much. In Monteverde we stayed with a local family who cooked for us. Here at the Finca Soley there is a kitchen and we make our lunch and dinner (breakfast is provided).

In Nicaragua we ate out all of our lunches and dinners. Our “go to” place was “The Garden Cafe”. Good local food, excellent sea bass (corvina). There was also a Chinese restaurant where you chose your ingredients and sauces and they stir fried it for you. I believe it was called “Wok and Roll”. The “Pita Pita” restaurant was great as well. El Zaquan was excellent but a bit more expensive than some of the others. I think all of the restaurants had courtyards, often with a fountain.

We were careful about the tap water in Nicaragua. We either used our own purified water or made sure the restaurant we ate at used purified water to cook, serve, and for ice. Initially we steered away from raw veggies/fruits in fear of their being washed in bad water but we found that wasn’t a problem at the restaurants we went to. I was glad to have a fresh salad again.

Here are a few pictures from various restaurants to give you a feel for them.

Dan trying tequila shot and a lime, courtyard, courtyard, interior of restaurant, night shot of pedestrian area with restaurants, another night shot, El Zaguan, Dan using a flashlight in a restaurant because it was dark (flashlight supplied by restaurant), another night shot of pedestrian area.

Security and Mindfulness

 

Posted inside a bus!

Security while traveling is critical. We have learned a few things.

The first is mindfulness (tip 1). This means being aware of your surroundings and being present in the moment. At the point you are no longer mindful and your brain is thinking of something else, you have tuned out what is happening around you and you are vulnerable. This includes being on your phone talking or texting someone. Maybe you are reading. Whatever it is, stay mindful. When traveling with others, one of you can do other things while one is staying alert.

Lindie lost her wallet. While she had a wallet that hooked on a belt loop and could be inserted inside her pants, one day she did not do that because it was awkward. She lost the wallet or it was stolen. It is likely it fell out of what was a shallow pocket. If someone picked it there was no awareness at the time.

Fortunately the credit cards were not used and she was able to replace them and her insurance card fairly easily. The replacement Colorado drivers license is still in process. It will catch up to her.

As a result of this, we have added buttons to all pockets in our pants and shirts. This ensures that belongings stay where you want them and someone else’s hand cannot easily slip in (tip 2).

A very flat money belt is useful (tip 3). REI and Amazon both carry ones that are lined so that an electronic device cannot read them. It is an RFI impervious lining (tip 4). You can also get small sleeves that hold three credit cards. When traveling each day, we do keep enough money in our pockets to take us through or part way through the day (tip 5). This prevents flashing what we have.

A new friend recently traveled on the public bus from San Jose to Monteverde. She lost her backpack, including passport and credit cards. They were taken while on the bus. She knew as a seasoned traveler to keep things on her lap or to have her foot through the strap (tip 6). Her mindfulness slipped and her belongings were gone. It is strongly advised: Do not use the overhead bin (tip 7).

We took the same bus route several weeks earlier, and I was glad to see that the bus driver made everyone get off when we took a restroom/meal break. We did take the things we had with us in the seats with us (tip8).

On that trip I discovered that claiming luggage from under the bus was a potential place to lose luggage. Although there were luggage receipts to present, the person pulling luggage out was not checking that the numbers matched. For our next trip we got our tickets early so that we have the front seats behind the steps into the bus. This will allow us to be first off and first over to the luggage, so we can protect our stuff (tip 9).

We have decided that when we travel from place to place, that we will go directly to our lodging via taxi so that we are not carting a lot of things around in unknown places (tip 10). We will use a day pack otherwise (tip 11).

When traveling distances, our day packs contain enough daily essentials that if we were to lose our other luggage, we don’t have to rush to replace things (tip 12).

Since we arrived in Monteverde, we realized how hard it is to stuff our pockets with things we might use during the day. We bought fanny packs and use them for receipts, snacks, replacement camera battery, a little change and a few bills, etc. The fanny pack is worth much more than the things we have in it. This keeps us from digging into our pockets looking for something, only to have things fall out easily as our hand comes out (tip 13). We keep them across our belly, not our fanny.

When we have a choice, we now travel earlier so that our arrival is in daylight. Moving around at night adds vulnerability. Taxis will be used at night and they will be called, not flagged down (tip 14).

Here are two stories from friends.

One was in Bolivia or Peru and mustard was squirted on her. While distracted her backpack was stolen.

The other friend had a man with a bundle over his shoulder walk right into him. Suddenly he felt something at his pocket, reached down quickly, felt the hand and rapidly spun around, knocking the woman attached to the hand into an elderly man.My friend lost nothing, yet the woman yelled at him about how he caused her to fall into her grandfather. Yeah, right.

 

 

Second Passport

 

U.S. Embassy Sam Jose Costa Rica

We renewed our passports last year and they are good for another 10 years. That ought to be more than enough for this trip.

However, a couple of weeks before leaving, I discovered that the State Department allows for a second passport, limited to two years.

The value for us is that:

1. We have back-up passports in case we lose one.
2. Some countries are picky about where you have been. Israel is an                example of a country others don’t like.
3. Should we need to present a passport for a visa and return later to                pick it up or have it mailed to us.

I set appointments with the embassy in San Jose and confirmed via email what they needed and that they could process the application. They responded and also said we could pick them up in 7-10 days and that they would hold them for up to three months.

Update: We picked them up May 23 and they are good for two years! We did have to remind them not to void our other passports.

 

 

 

Proof of Paid Exit Transport

There is the requirement that you have proof of exit transport when entering Costa Rica. I had put off dealing with until two days before our departure to Costa Rica.

I thought that I could get an online bus ticket from San Jose, Costa Rica to David, Panama. Nope. I could not even get one by calling the bus company. It has to be in person and you show passports.

My initial solution was to buy a plane ticket from San Jose to Panama City, Panama. This would at least move us in the direction we want to travel. What a surprise to find out that Travelocity would allow me to buy the tickets and then cancel them, at no charge, within 24 hours.

At the Southwest Airlines boarding gate desk in Houston, they did check our documents to verify that we had exit transportation from Costa Rica. At customs in Costa Rica, they did not ask for proof, so the airlines monitor it.

We flew to Costa Rica, cancelled the flight to Panama City, and the next day went to the bus station to buy our tickets in person.

In the future, I will figure things out a little quicker, as I do not expect to fly again until we leave South America. Panama to Columbia will be by sailboat or ferry as there are no roads connecting the two countries.