A Glimpse of Carara National Park

Costa Rica is a world leader in conservation with over 25 percent of its land mass under various levels of protection. Their system of National Parks encompasses a broad variety of ecosystems across the entire country. We have visited several and recently returned to Carara, located near the mouth of the Tarcoles River in Puntarenas. It is a small park, but contains a variety of flora and fauna as it is in a transition zone from the dry forests of the Northwest and the rainforests of the south. It can be busy as well due to its proximity to San Jose, popularity as a day trip, and its location on the well traveled road to Jaco and Manuel Antonio.

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An abandoned bridge on one of the smaller loops

There are two main systems of trails accessible to the public, but most people opt for the one leading from the main entrance and parking lot. In 2015 when we visited for the first time we hired a private guide who took us on the less traveled trail located a kilometre down the road from the main entrance. At the time we felt it was money well spent as he was an experienced guide and could identify and imitate all of the birds that so often are just heard.

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White ibis fishing in the stream

This time there were 4 of us and the guides wanted $20 USD per person so we opted for a hike on our own. We are getting quite good at spotting birds, animals and insects and so unless we are specifically birding a new area we will usually strike out on our own. The entrance fee for the park is $10 USD per person which is lower than some others.

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A small lizard catching some rays

The park map shows a short loop trail of about 2 km but we were pleased to find several smaller loops off of the main trail that weren’t quite so busy and followed a small river. There were a few large groups on the main trail the morning we were there, so it was nice to find some areas where we could hear the sounds of the rainforest. As well we found the sound of the trucks and motorcycles quite distracting until we were quite a distance from the highway.

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Green and black poison dart frogs

We finished our walk after about 2.5 hours which was plenty in the heat and high humidity of this area. We didn’t see a large variety of birds, but overall were very happy with the variety of wildlife we did spot including many green and black poison dart frogs, a basilisk lizard (Jesus Christ lizard), an agouti, a beautiful blue-crowned manikin (a lifer for us) and our first ever armadillo. The dramatic backdrop of the massive ficus trees, hanging vines and the flash of butterflies all added to the enjoyment of a rainforest walk.

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This was the first armadillo we had seen

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The paths are open and easy walking

The park borders on the Tarcoles River which is home to a large population of crocodiles which is the derivative of the park’s name. Just before reaching the entrance to the park, the highway crosses the river and tourists are treated to amazing views of these menacing reptiles from a hundred feet above. We’re not sure which is more scary – the jaws of the crocodiles or the roar of trucks just a foot away as you walk across the bridge which has no sidewalks.

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There were several dozen crocodiles visible from the bridge

We completed an enjoyable morning with lunch at a nice restaurant in Jaco and a walk on the beach.

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Erik and Anna enjoying the sand and surf

Posted in Central America | Tagged , | 3 Comments

A Backyard Snapshot: Playa Matapalo

From time to time we find ourselves in a location with limited internet access. That is the case in our current house sit in Playa Matapalo. We wanted to keep our blog as up to date as possible so we will publish several short “snapshots” over the next 5 weeks while we are here.

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The view of our backyard

One of the attractions of Costa Rica is the extreme diversity of habitats and ecosystems in a relatively small country. We are just over 100 kms southwest of Atenas but it seems a world apart. Atenas is in the hills of the Central Valley, relatively cool, somewhat dry, and has what many people call “the best climate in the world”. Playa Matapalo, on the southern Pacific coast however is very hot and humid.

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Our backyard in Atenas

We arrived just over a week ago and will be here another 5 weeks looking after a beachside house and a very lovable dog, Omber. The dark brown beach is visually stunning and stretches for about 11kms northwest and southeast. It is not a great swimming beach, the waves break too short for surfing but at low tide there are terrific rolling waves for boogey boarding.

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Playa Matapalo looking southwest at high tide

From our shaded back veranda the sand stretches through palms towards the beach and the sound of the waves breaking (often quite violently) is a 24 hour backdrop to our life here. Sloths, white-faced capuchins, opossums, lizards, and many birds keep us company along with the gardeners in the neighbours’ yards and the occasional people walking the beach. Hot, lazy days with violent rain at night has been the norm. Intermittent internet, power, water and telephone are common. Our chores include keeping the sand off everything, the yard clear of all the debris and looking after Omber which combine to provide us with plenty to do.

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One of two sloths who inhabit our trees on a regular basis

Erik and his girlfriend have come and gone, and we will head back to Canada for an unknown period of time in late June to apply for our Portuguese Residency Visa. Until then we will be staying cool and heading to the nearby surf town of Dominical to compose our posts and look after other online activities.

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The beach at Dominical

Please be patient if we do not respond to comments or questions right way.

Pura Vida from Tim and Anne

Posted in Central America, Costa Rica, House Sitting | Tagged , , | 8 Comments

A Decade of Changes in our Visits to Costa Rica

Our current stay in Costa Rica has given us the the time to consider the stark contrast with our first visit here in 2007. The changes in our lives over that time have made us look at travel quite differently.

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Our son, Erik at 12 years in 2008 during our second visit

We had booked a ten day package that included stops in Tortuguero, Arenal and Flamingo Beach with plenty of activities at each. It was the first winter vacation for all three of us away from the beaches of the Caribbean and Florida. We arrived sick, never shook off the bronchitis we were fighting but went straight out anyway and fell in love with Costa Rica.

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Yes, that’s us at the back of the raft

Those were the days when two weeks was all we had, perhaps twice a year if we were lucky, and it seemed important to cram as much as possible into that short period of time. As a result we often returned home as tired and stressed as when we left. Plus we had to save for the next six months to pay it all off.

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Manuel Antonio in 2008

The more we travel the more we have found that we are not much different from many of the travelers of our age. For most, it has only been since their 50s that they have had either the time or the money to be able to travel in the way that they choose. A recent article in Intrepid Travels, The Journal, by fellow Canadian Alison Armstrong provides some excellent insight on changing attitudes to travel as we age.

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An expat band performing in Atenas

There are an increasing number of digital nomads and others who find a way to fund their travels at an early age. We continue to be amazed and surprised by the sheer number and diversity of long term travelers “out there” and by their determination to experience the world on their own terms. Some of the lifestyles are at odds with our preferences but for the most part we applaud their curiosity and ingenuity.

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This restaurant and cafe in Cuenca, Ecuador targets the large expat community there

Back to the present, we have been perfectly content to relax at our hilltop house in Atenas, Costa Rica for the past three weeks. We don’t feel the need to explore, to fit in, or tick off boxes in a guide book. Although there are literally years of exploration left in this beautiful country we can choose to return if the timing is right.

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The very pleasant Central Mercado in Atenas

We are of course older now but by far the biggest change is in our lifestyle. Gone are work commitments, looking after the house and yard, and meeting the expectations of modern North American society. Of course many people are quite content without making the dramatic changes we have, but it has certainly changed our approach to, and appreciation for life.

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Blue grosebeak – Atenas

One major change we have noticed since we began this journey is that there is no longer the sense of wanting something more. This not only applies to all the “stuff” like clothes, gadgets, cars etc. but also to travel. Of course we would love to be able to indulge in an extended African safari, pamper ourselves at an over-water bungalow in the South Pacific, or cruise the Caribbean for an entire year but those are just fantasies that we may or may not make reality.

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We were able to make a trip to the Amazon a reality this year

Our current lifestyle has given us much more freedom and mobility. If we don’t like the weather it will always change, or we can move. If we don’t like the neighbourhood we can easily change that too. And perhaps what is most important is that if we enjoy where we are and the people we are with we can stay longer or return.

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Enjoying lunch in Cordoba, Spain with great friends we met in Portugal

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The fabulous Markham family – Family Feud winners on New Year’s Eve in Lagos, Portugal

It is these type of relatively simple concepts that have made our minds lighter, our bodies healthier, and allowed us to enjoy more of the simple things that are so often right in front of us. We certainly enjoyed the Eiffel Tower, the museums of London, the remarkable castles of Sintra, and the breathtaking cathedrals of Seville and Cordoba. But apart from all of these wondrous sights perhaps what stands out most are the cafes of Spain and Portugal, the natural wonders of the Amazon, the expanse of the Atlantic Ocean from the cliffs of Cabo de Sao Vicente, Portugal, and the stunning wildlife of Costa Rica.

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Relaxing on a warm December day in Silves, Portugal

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Headland near Cabo de Sao Vicente, Portugal

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Channel-billed Toucan – Cuyabeno Reserve, Ecuador

As we enjoy the fabulous view across the Central Valley in Costa Rica from our rental home in Atenas we have been pleasantly surprised at how quickly times go by without feeling the need to do more or have more.

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Watching young doves hatch, fledge and leave their nest, excitedly spotting a different species of trogon, or simply marveling at the changing cloud formations above the volcanoes in the distance all relax our minds and give us peace and contentment. Daily swims provide physical activity, twice a week we venture into town to pick up groceries and practice our Spanish, we communicate with friends and family from the comfort of our open living room, and this is enough for now.

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Keel-billed toucan – Atenas

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Our backyard oasis

In a few days Erik and his girlfriend arrive and we will do some exploring and share with them some of the beauty of this country before we head south to our house sit in Playa Matapalo. We feel relaxed, comfortable and secure in the knowledge that we are living our life the way we choose and that the future is ours to shape in the way that suits us best.

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From Atenas we head to the southern beaches for six weeks of house sitting

We have plans in place to return to Portugal this summer that hopefully will work out, but for now life is good. We will take our new attitude with us and enjoy the time and opportunity that we have – beyond that it is hard to predict – and what this life has in store for us remains to be written. As they say in Costa Rica, Pura Vida (Pure Life!).

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Looking westward towards the coast from Aljezur, Portugal

 

Posted in Central America, Slow Travel | Tagged , , | 8 Comments

A Brief Introduction to Quito

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Approach to the airport – Quito is still about 25 kms away.

As our recent visit to the Amazon Basin took us through Quito we decided to take an extended layover and spent two nights in the Ecuadorian capital. It sits at an altitude of 9350 feet on the slope of the active Pichincha Volcano, and on a clear day the views are stunning with mountain peaks and volcanoes visible in all directions.

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We were amazed at the physical extent of the city within the mountains

Many people suffer altitude sickness, but the effects on our bodies were minimal. We had slight muscle pain and were a little lightheaded. Drinking plenty of water and taking ibuprofen helps. An anti-nausea pill can also help until your body adjusts.

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City suburbs on the slopes of the active stratovolcano Pichincha

The historic center is recognized as one of the the most well preserved colonial cities in the Americas and along with Krakow, Poland was declared the first UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site in 1978. This area was where we chose to stay for our brief visit.

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Plaza Grande or Independence Square

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Some of the fine colonial buildings surrounding Independence Square or Plaza Grande

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The Quito Virgin on El Panecillo through the Calle del Hospital Arch

We arrived at Mariscal Sucre Airport which is located about 30 km from the city center. This airport was opened in 2013, replacing the older airport which due to its location was frequently closed because of nighttime fog and the proximity of tall buildings. A taxi costs about $25 USD but you can take a cheaper shared bus service.

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We chose the Hotel Colonial San Agustin, located in a renovated Spanish colonial building and found it to be very clean and welcoming with plenty of character. Arriving after dark and without having had something to eat, we were disappointed to be told it was too dangerous in the neighborhood to go out at night and that most stores were closed early. The young man on the desk accompanied Tim to find an open store to get a few snacks for our supper! We usually try not to arrive too late in a new destination but our flight was delayed more than an hour.

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Hotel Colonial San Agustin on Calle Juan Jose Flores

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The very welcoming lobby from above

After a very good and very inexpensive breakfast, we spent the early part of the next day wandering the heart of the historic center. The narrow cobblestone streets were full of life and flanked by fine examples of Spanish colonial architecture. There was an abundance of interesting shops, restaurants and services throughout the area with several inviting plazas.

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One of many small plazas off the main streets

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A whole street was dedicated to pinata shops which were common throughout Ecuador

Fabulous churches and cathedrals rise above the streets and plazas and could easily make for several days of visits. We did go inside of the Iglesia San Agustin and were particularly impressed by the colours throughout the nave.

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On the steps of Cathedral Metropolitana

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Entrance to the Iglesia San Agustin

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The pastel colours were beautiful

In the lower portion of another church, the Iglesia San Francisco, is a wonderful craft market and gallery. Spread throughout the winding catacombs of the church are well presented displays of fine examples of traditional arts and crafts. Jewelry, pottery, hats, chocolate, sculptures and paintings depicting the traditions of the pre-colonial period, along with well documented historical references made this feel as much of a museum as a shopping experience.

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We have seen many street venders throughout Ecuador but nowhere to the extent that we did in Quito. Not only were there the usual street food and souvenir venders, but also literally hundreds selling everything from scarves, hats, vegetables, cigarettes, knock off CDs, underwear, plastic boxes, clothes pins and much much more.

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Women sold hundreds of bags of vegetables and fruit in these bags

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Clothes pins anyone? Or on the right you can buy candy.

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Anne bought two scarves from this lovely lady ($5 USD)

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All of the traditional venders and then a row of formal wear stores and some awesome manikins

It seemed that you could get just about everything if you looked hard enough. People carried bags, boxes, knapsacks and plastic bags full of these items. Of course there were many shoeshine boys but also something we hadn’t seen before, and that was men with scales who would tell you your weight. Not sure what they were asking for it but probably a few cents.

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One man was selling your weight and the other we assume sold ladies shoes. We actually saw this several times. We should have asked about the scales!

There was a very large police presence throughout the central area. On every corner, in every plaza and lane were dozens of uniformed police. In fact other than in the train stations of Paris, the most we had seen anywhere. It seemed that their biggest concern was moving the venders along and trying to stop them from harassing people on the street.

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Police were everywhere – on foot, horseback, bicycle, motorcycles and even Segways

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There was one stop that we had to make while we were there and that was to visit El Panecillo and the madonna statue which overlooks the city. The statue was inspired by the famous Quito Virgin and erected in 1976. We took a taxi to the summit of the hill where the statue sits and weren’t disappointed with the views.

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View of the statue from the historic center

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Spanish artist Agustin de la Herran Matorras created this 45 m statue from stone and aluminum

In all directions the city and its suburbs crawl up and down the sides of the mountains with the volcanic peaks serving as a backdrop. This was certainly one of the most jaw dropping scenes we have seen in our travels. There were surprisingly few people there and an hour passed by quickly as we absorbed the spectacular setting.

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A coincidental meeting with Chilean friends from our Amazon trip

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Looking across the historical center to the new part of the city

We only scratched the surface of Quito during our short visit but it certainly is a unique and vibrant city. You could feel the life of the people on her streets, see the history in her colonial architecture and get a sense of native traditions through the arts, crafts and cuisine which were prominent everywhere.

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Who is enjoying this the most – the little girl, the family or the pigeons?

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Posted in South America | Tagged | 6 Comments

Our First Travel Fail: Yellow Fever Requirements for Costa Rica

We are both planners by nature and we might be accused of over-planning and not leaving enough to chance. However on our most recent trip from Ecuador to Costa Rica we were caught by surprise and forced into a week long stay in Panama to meet the Yellow Fever entry requirements for Costa Rica.

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The Puente Centenario spans the Panama Canal just north of the Pedro Miguel Locks

The bottom line is that anyone entering Costa Rica from Ecuador (or many other South American countries) requires a valid Yellow Fever vaccination which we did not have. We weren’t aware of this and normally the airlines advise passengers of the requirements when they sell you a ticket.  The reason that the airlines are so strict is that they have a responsibility to fly you out if you are refused entry into a country.

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Welcome to Guayaquil

In our case we weren’t advised and as near as we can tell it was due to the manner in which we booked our tickets. We had complicated flights originating in Canada in January, then from Ecuador to Costa Rica and finally returning to Canada in June. We were able to secure a good price and both Ecuador and Costa Rica require proof of departure. We bought our tickets through United but the flights from Ecuador to Costa Rica were on Avianca through Colombia and Panama. It was the Avianca agents who refused our boarding. Imagine our surprise and dismay when we arrived at the Guayaquil Airport and were told that we could not board as our final destination was Costa Rica and we did not have Yellow Fever vaccinations. We had to quickly decide what our options were and choose one!

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After some time with a very helpful information agent we confirmed that our options were to get the vaccination in Ecuador at a health clinic (for free) and stay in Ecuador for 10 days; get the vaccination and try to persuade the clinic to back date the shot over 10 days ago (this happens!); or there was an “exception” that you could leave Ecuador and stay in a Yellow Fever free country for 6 days. We did not want to stay in Ecuador and with 2 hours before our flight, getting to the clinic and relying on a back dated card was too risky.  We decided to head to Panama! Keep going forward! The Costa Rican Embassy in the USA’s site states clearly that if you remained for 6 days in a Yellow Fever free country you could enter without a vaccination.

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Off to the ticket counter for Avianca and we were told they couldn’t change or cancel our original leg from Panama to Costa Rica because the ticket had been purchased through United. It was getting closer to our flight! A lengthy call to United and we cancelled the last leg of the day’s flights then rushed back to the Avianca counter and were allowed to fly as far as Panama.

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Guayaquil Airport

We arrived at Panama City’s Tocumen Airport four hours later (via Bogota) and were happy to be let into the country. We stayed at the Crowne Plaza Airport Hotel that night while we searched for accommodations for the next 6 nights.

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Panama City skyline from the north

The costs were already starting to add up. United had a cancellation fee of $168 CAD each, and we were too late to cancel our reservation at the Hampton Inn in San Jose that night. We had a taxi arranged to pick us up the next morning to take us to our Airbnb home in Atenas. And of course we were too late to change that reservation so we have to pay for a week that we didn’t use.

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The Radisson Summit in Paraiso, just outside of Panama City

After looking through where to stay in Panama we decided on the Radisson Summit Hotel just outside of the city. They offered good rates, full breakfast, good birding and a local shuttle. It cost $50 US to be driven there however.

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Great view from our balcony

In fact we were very comfortable there and enjoyed our stay. We received many suggestions from friends as to where we should visit while we were in Panama and all of the wonderful things to do and see. There are attractions for sure, but given that we were a little put off and we would be spending a lot of extra money, we chose to stay close to the hotel.

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Saffron Finch

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A nearby trail led to these tracks – after that – who knows?

Meanwhile we scoured the web for more information on the entry requirements for Costa Rica as we wanted to verify that we would be allowed in after 6 days. The only “official” confirmation of the 6 day exception we could find anywhere was on the aforementioned Costa Rican Embassy to the USA and also on their Belgian Embassy site. We couldn’t find it on the WHO site, the Canadian Embassy or the Costa Rican Immigration site. We did find many people who had experienced similar situations!

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Waiting room at the government clinic

It seemed like an ideal opportunity to get Yellow Fever vaccinations so after reading a great article on the Tofu Traveller blog we went to a local government clinic and for $5 US each and a short wait we both now have 10 year vaccinations and the official “yellow” cards. It was easy to find and although no one spoke English, we had no problems.

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The nurse was very efficient, especially since it was 11:55 (almost lunch!)

We also took the time to visit the Miraflores Locks and do some shopping (mostly window shopping) at the Allbrook Mall. The Panama Canal and the Miraflores Locks deserve a post so perhaps we’ll talk more about them in the future. Unfortunately on the day we were there, no ships passed during our three hour visit. We thoroughly enjoyed the Visitor’s Centre however.

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Visitor’s Centre at Miraflores Locks

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Looking towards Pedro Miguel Locks

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Another step we took was to call the Canadian Embassy in San Jose who called Costa Rican Immigration on our behalf. We were relieved when they confirmed that we would be able to enter after 6 days in Panama. So we booked a flight out on the seventh day (another $400 CAD) and settled in.

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This coati didn’t care if the fruit was for the birds

So on the seventh day we were totally prepared to leave and out of the blue we received an email from Avianca that our flight had been cancelled and they had booked us out the next day, but through Bogata (backtracking to Colombia!). Another day in quarantine! The last thing we wanted to do was go back to Colombia and risk raising additional questions, so a call to Avianca secured us a direct flight early the next morning.

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Despite much anxiety and trepidation we had no problems at all with boarding and we were so happy to be on a plane to Costa Rica. Now we just had to deal with an unknown Immigration Officer.  The immigration lines at San Jose’s airport can be very long (especially when you’re anxious) but it wasn’t too bad when we arrived on a Saturday morning.

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On the tarmac in San Jose

After all of the hype, anxiety and consternation the Immigration Officer barely looked at our passports and the only question she asked was how long were we staying. We showed her our ticket to Canada in June and we were in!!!

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Can you tell someone is happy!

So the bottom line is, be diligent about the entry requirements for any country you are planning to visit. We had been to Costa Rica many times before so we neglected to check on entering from South America. This was compounded by the fact that United neglected to inform us when we purchased our tickets. We are in the process of submitting claims through United, our credit card, and World Nomads (our travel and health insurer). We would like to say a big thanks to the San Jose Hampton Inn who graciously refunded our full night’s charge.

Posted in Central America, South America, Travel Tips | Tagged , , , | 8 Comments

The Amazon Basin Part 2: Making the Most of the Experience

A small lodge provides you with a unique opportunity to experience the rainforest in as natural a setting as possible while still maintaining comfort and safety for its guests. Falling asleep and waking to the sounds of the jungle, the insects, the birds, and often the rain dripping through the trees takes you away from the distractions of the modern world, and is something we would recommend to anyone. Our last post described getting here, and now we are here.

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Oropendola nests were a common sight along the banks of the river

The Guacamayo Ecolodge understands this concept and provides its guests with an authentic experience. Limited electricity, local food, knowledgeable staff and guides, traditional building styles, and sound environmental practices exhibit an appreciation for this sensitive environment.

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Looking down at the lodge from the birding tower

We arrived with a small group of 6 people and over our first meal we got to know each other and our guide better. As we came to find out over the next several days, we were extremely fortunate to have Gido as our primary guide as he was a wealth of information about the reserve and had a profound respect for the environment. A member of the Siona indigenous people, he added to his traditional knowledge through personal interest, much dedication, and a university education. He was the perfect interpreter for the reserve. For us an added bonus was that he was a keen and knowledgeable birder!

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Gido was one of the best guides we have encountered anywhere

Our first afternoon provided an excellent introduction to the reserve and one of its key features. Heading back along the river we entered an inland lake known as Laguna Grande. Again we were treated to many sightings including long-nosed bats, many bird species, several species of monkeys, and a wonderful view of a sloth!

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We loved the Laguna Grande and its ethereal feel

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Long-nosed bats

As we entered the lagoon three pink river dolphins were spotted feeding near the surface of the dark and placid water. Reliant on water levels these mammals migrate throughout the Amazon basin feeding on fish. Unlike their more well known marine counterparts, river dolphins cannot jump due to their vertebrae so we watched carefully in order to see them breaking the surface nearby. We were rewarded several times with clear views of their feeding activity.

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You never knew where exactly they would surface next

As we headed further into the lagoon we entered a mystical flooded forest and as the water levels were quite high we were able to take the canoes deep into the shoreline. Anhingas, woodpeckers, flycatchers, parrots, swallows, herons, and many other species of birds were all around us and we were captivated. The abundant wildlife combined with the surreal vision of the giant trees emerging from the lake created a scene that we had only seen in documentaries. This was why we had come here.

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Then came the time for the daily ritual of swimming in the lagoon in the late afternoon. Canoes from several of the lodges converged on the central part, shut off their motors and anyone who wanted (or dared) dove into the tea-like water to cool off, refresh or fuel their adrenaline. Yes, there are caimans and other interesting residents of the lake but the deeper central portion was perfectly safe and very relaxing.

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Can you tell everyone is having a great time?!

A night walk is a feature of most trips into the rainforest and provides you with an altogether different perspective on the jungle. Your usual sense of sight is diminished to a small ray of light, your hearing is subsequently enhanced and together these will let your imagination run wild. Additionally, night is when many different species of animals, birds, and insects are at their most active.

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Before arriving at our trail we motored slowly along the shoreline and were treated to the sight of dozens of boat-billed and night herons taking flight in the shadows. As the light began to fade, dozens of fishing bats appeared, swooping closely overhead and gracefully skimming the water’s surface. All the while Gido swept the shoreline for the bright red eyes of caimans who feed in the early evening.

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We were completely awestruck at the skill at which the boatman navigated the difficult waters in almost complete darkness with no light. How they unerringly took us through the myriad of flooded trees, mudbanks and other hazards and arrived at our destinations time after time amazed and delighted us.

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Walking single file through the jungle in complete darkness is a very interesting experience. For those at the front of the line you have the large beam of the guide’s flashlight while those at the rear tend to look over their shoulders and become startled at every sound or perceived movement. On our walk we saw tarantulas, scorpions, and very large crickets, but no snakes. It is an experience we highly recommend to anyone.

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Whip spider

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Scorpion!

On one evening we were astonished (again) at the skill of Gido. We were slowly motoring along the riverbank towards our lodge in almost complete darkness while he swept both banks for the red eyes of caiman. A quiet call to the boatman and we turned towards the left bank and into a fairly large thicket of small trees. Pushing several aside we glided into the shore and there before our eyes was a small boa constrictor curled up on a branch. We still have difficulty believing him that he spotted it from the middle of the river and through the trees. He swears he did!

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There was a common joke among some of us that the guides placed plastic and stuffed animals, birds, and insects along the river and paths to amaze the tourists, creating a Disneyland like experience.

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A sloth calmly having a late afternoon snack

Evening meals and a cold beer afterwards were great times to chat with our new friends, reminisce about the days’ experiences, and conjure up exotic images of the next day. After the long day spent in the outdoors, the good food, and the amazing night sounds of the rainforest it only took a few minutes to drift into a very peaceful and relaxed sleep.

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Relaxing over the evening meal

Four days pass very quickly and it is amazing how easily you can fall into the rhythm of the rainforest. We were up early for a hearty breakfast and then Gido would have us out onto the boats for our first activity of the day. A full morning of hiking or paddling would last until 1:00 or so before we arrived back at the lodge for lunch. Some days you might have an hour before heading out again. Some people opted out of the afternoon activities and chose to relax at the lodge which was a wonderful experience in itself.

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Preparing for a hike

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All set to paddle back to the lodge

On our last full day we visited a Siona village several kilometres downriver. We passed several lodges, spotted many birds and monkeys, and as always were moved by the beauty of the river system.

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An ancient bird – the Hoatzin (He has claws on the end of his wings and two stomachs)

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Green Forest Ecolodge

After about an hour we arrived at the village. Several women, children, and dogs were on the bank to welcome us. Obviously this takes place every day of the year but it still felt like a privilege to spend time with people who continue to live in their traditional lands, albeit with some modern conveniences.

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Ecuadorian Presidential election signs are even in remote places

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Our welcoming committee

For the most part we were quite impressed with the condition and infrastructure of the village. To us it appeared that they were living much better than a large number of Ecuadorians in many of the towns and villages we had seen throughout the country.

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This little boy was a delight and accompanied us all morning

They had a large community soccer pitch and a recreation centre. Most of the homes we saw were in good repair and it was far cleaner than many other places we had seen. The most impressive feature was the extensive community gardens, fields and orchards. Pineapples, yucca, sugar cane, bananas, corn, papayas, mangoes, and many many more fruits and vegetables were tended by the women and children.

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Cutting yucca roots after pulling them from the ground

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Always a smile!

Of course there was a demonstration for the visitors. In this case it involved pulling yuccas from the fields, transporting them to a specially created building and then going though the whole process of making making yucca bread. The Siona woman (she sure could handle a machete!) who led us though the process spoke little English but was proud and gracious and even though she does this every day made a great effort to be engaging and friendly. We all helped out and enjoyed the tasty and warm yucca tortillas (gluten-free) with our box lunches provided by the lodge.

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Grating the yucca roots

It was a very interesting and informative morning spent at the village. We were impressed with how the people seemed to be adapting to modern living while retaining many of their traditional beliefs and practices. On the surface they seem to be taking the best of both and making it work for them. There is a mandatory $6 US donation that everyone makes to the village in return for the experience.

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Preparing to head downriver

Our next stop was one that many of us had mixed emotions about. It was the possible meeting and demonstration by a local shaman. We had read many varied reviews commenting on the authenticity of the shaman and the fact that it was simply a show for the tourists. This type of tourism is common throughout the world and the subject of ongoing debate, but in reality he clearly had trained extensively, honored his beliefs and was carrying on the traditions of his people.

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The second village we visited was home to the shaman

Whether you believe in supporting local communities in this manner or not, the shaman that we met and who performed a cleansing ritual was honest, genuine, and proud of his role in his community. We were pleased to leave a donation.

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A proud Siona Shaman

The last day of a trip like this is always filled with mixed emotions. There were a couple of people who appeared more than ready to move on but most of us were sad to leave the natural, unhurried life in the Amazon rainforest behind. No contact with the outside world, minimalist living, and feeling part of the local ecosystem is good for you both mentally and physically. For us, we were genuinely sorry to be leaving.

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There was one last reminder for everyone of the true nature of the place we had visited. A large tree had fallen across the river the night before. The hard work and sharp machete of one of the guides cut through it, allowing the boats to continue to transport the dozens of tourists and locals along the Cuyabeno River to the heart of the reserve.

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It was amazing how many ants and spiders came off of this tree into the canoe!

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Waiting for the river to open

The two hour trip up the river passed far too quickly and we just relaxed quietly and contemplated this wonderful corner of the world we were leaving behind. We may never have the opportunity to return again but it will always remain in the forefront of our memories.

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As we got off the canoe at the reserve entrance, sure enough there were many “newbies” just like we were a few days ago awaiting their chance to experience the beauty, diversity and challenges of the upper Amazon Basin.

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Locals enjoying the water and watching the tourists come and go

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The buses bring groups in and pick up outgoing groups

People we spoke with before and after this trip expressed a range of ideas about this type of a trip. Some were genuinely concerned about spiders and snakes, some about mosquitoes and others didn’t want to be cut off from the their cell phones and wifi signals. As for insects, we saw very few mosquitoes and almost none at the lodge. Sure there were spiders around, some cockroaches and lots of butterflies, dragonflies, and wondrous beetles. We did see a few snakes but had to look hard for them. As for no cell phones or wifi – it was a perfect way to ensure you get the maximum experience possible and does us all good once in a while.

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The Amazon Basin Part 1: Planning and the Journey

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The Rio Napo as you approach Lago Agrio

The Amazon rainforest is the world’s largest by far, and the Amazon Basin covers over 6.9 million square kilometers and forms parts of eight countries including Ecuador. In addition to its critical role in the generation of water and carbon storage it also contains approximately 10% of the world’s biodiversity. A visit to this amazing and vast ecosystem has always been a dream of ours so it was incredible for us to be able to include a trip during our time in Ecuador.

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The silt-laden water of the Cuyabeno River

The two most popular ways to visit are either to an ecolodge or on one of several river cruises operating within the basin. After looking at both options, we chose to visit a lodge and immerse ourselves in the rainforest experience.

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Looking down at the Guacamayo Ecolodge

There are a large number of lodges within several different areas of the Ecuadorian portion of the basin, so it can take a bit of research to figure out which one is right for you. Cost, accessibility and location are some of the main factors. In the end we chose the Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve as the right area for us. A national park and protected area, it has high biodiversity and is dominated by sediment rich black-water rivers and seasonally flooded forests. The newly created and neighbouring Yasuni National Park has even higher biodiversity but is typically more expensive and harder to reach.

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The entrance to “Laguna Grande” which includes a flooded forest

There are about a dozen lodges in the Cuaybeno Reserve ranging in price from about $250 US to over $1200 US for a typical 4 day 3 night visit. We arranged ours with Imagine Ecuador and chose the Guacamayo Ecolodge based on reviews, price and the availability of a bird watching tower. We noticed in looking through the itineraries of all the lodges in the area that they were basically the same regardless of price. It seems you are paying for extra comforts and perhaps nicer rooms in the more expensive lodges. In fact we regularly saw groups from other lodges on the same trails or stretches of river.

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What did they spot?

Once you have chosen your lodge you have to figure out how to get there. If you are coming from outside the country tour companies will make all of the arrangements for you, but it adds to the total cost. As we were already in the country you would think it would be straightforward, but it was still quite a journey. We started with a two hour bus ride to Guayaquil, then a short flight to Quito and an overnight stay at an airport motel. The next morning we took an early flight to Lago Agrio where we would be picked up by the lodge’s staff. All of the Cuyabeno lodges do a pickup in the morning at the airport. You can also take a bus to Lago Agrio but it is quite long and involves an overnight in Lago Agrio.

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Landing at Lago Agrio

From the airport it was a warm and bumpy two hour bus ride to the entrance of the Cuyabeno Reserve which is the staging point for the lodges in the area. By this time we were pretty excited but also very hot. It is an interesting spot as there are people from all over the world arriving back from their lodges and the newbies like us just getting off the bus.

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The reserve entrance on the shore of the Cuayabeno River

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This rhinoceros beetle was almost the size of our hand

Luggage, food for the lodge and everything else gets manhandled onto the long canoes which serve as the main mode of transportation within the reserve.

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The canoes are owned and operated by the Siona people who live inside the reserve

As you head downriver you are immediately immersed in the sights, sounds and smells of the rainforest and the river. The trees are taller along the riverbank, vines reach for water, blue morpho butterflies  flutter beside you and flowers provide bright contrast to the many shades of green. The warm breeze feels wonderful after the hot and sweaty bus ride.

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Really enjoying the ride!

Very soon we start to spot various birds, monkeys and even an anaconda sleeping along the banks of the river.

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A common potoo was just far too cute. They believe that you can’t see them.

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A wooly monkey was one of several species we saw

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Anhingas were common along the banks of the river

The ride to the lodge is about two hours in length and we loved every minute of it! The deeper you go into the reserve the more you feel like you have entered another world. We have done a similar trip to Tortuguero National Park in Costa Rica and particularly enjoyed travelling by boat as you experience the rainforest from a very different perspective.

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Every stretch of the river was different

The Guacamayo Ecolodge is a relatively small and intimate lodge perched on the banks of the Cuyabeno River. There are a variety of shared or private rooms spread through four huts. In addition there is a dining hall, two common areas as well as a bird watching tower. As is common practice for these type of lodges, everything is raised off the ground on walkways. This reduces the ecological impact and also protects guests from some unwanted visitors. There are solar panels which provide electricity for charging phones and cameras and a generator provides electricity from 6 PM to 10 PM each evening.

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The landing at Guacamayo Ecolodge

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Our room was in the lower right of the “Sloth Hut”

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Very comfy!

The cost of the trip includes three full meals a day and all activities and tours while you are in the reserve. The meals were excellent and they easily accommodated vegetarian and gluten free diets. We were very pleased with the value we received at $249 US per person.

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The dining hut where we had all our meals

A full meal awaited us when we arrived in the afternoon. As we adjusted to our home for the next few days and met our companions we knew that we were going to love our stay. The next post will cover what types of activities we took part in and introduce more of the scenery and wildlife of the reserve.

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Living Life Slowly on the Ecuadorian Coast

We had planned to write about our amazing trip to the Amazon next, but before we leave Ecuador we wanted to share a little more about our version of slow travel. Our experience here in Ballenita has shown us more of the pros and cons of this lifestyle than anywhere else we have lived over the past year. The pictures also provide an insight into this region; Santa Elena, La Libertad, Ballenita and Salinas.

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A carpenter at work in Ballenita

We regularly receive comments that “we are living the dream” and in many respects we are. We love our current lifestyle and are so happy that we chose to make this happen. We want to continue to experience as much as we can of how life goes on in communities across the globe. This includes the good and the not so good aspects of daily life in our temporary homes.

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Part of the beach front in Ballenita

 

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A typical scene in Ballenita

What we tend to write about and photograph are the road trips and adventures that we take while we are living in a location for an extended period, so it often looks like we are on a permanent vacation.

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A beautiful morning in Cascais, Portugal

However our slow travel lifestyle isn’t all beaches, stunning cities and rainforest adventures. The vast majority of our time is spent on normal everyday activities.

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This array of communication towers is prominent above Ballenita

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Along the main street in Ballenita

Staying in one place for a month or two at a time can be wonderful or it can be a disaster, depending on many factors. Generally optimistic by nature, we tend to focus on the positive aspects of an area and minimize the downsides. Photographs can be deceiving as we are drawn to the beautiful, quirky or different and tend to overlook the not so pleasant.

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A bizarre indoor market/mall in La Libertad

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A fun group of manikins in the same mall

Nowhere more than here in Ballenita, Ecuador has this been the case.  Take a look outside the concrete and barbed wire walls surrounding our cozy little home and pool and you will see a very different version of life. Muddy and dusty dirt streets, stray dogs and cats, homes with no windows and the lives of everyone exposed can leave you with a knot in your stomach at times. In fact that is one of the main reasons we have difficulty fitting into the expat lifestyle in Central and South America.

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The view directly behind our casita

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Salinas is a favorite expat destination

We choose our locations based on a number of factors including climate, access to services, public transportation, green space, walkability and of course cost. We typically stay at least one month or more to cut down on rental and travel costs. We prepare most of our own meals, enjoy our own company and like a fair degree of privacy.

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Buses are cheap ($0.30) and regular. Taxis are also cheap and are literally everywhere

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One of Anne’s favorite gluten free options was yucca bread or pan d’yuca

Once we settle into our accommodation we lead a pretty basic and normal life, based as much as possible on the local culture. We enjoy our coffee in the morning outdoors and our ideal setting is with a nice view and the sounds of nature, although the city view from our patio in Lisbon was wonderful. Breakfasts (and all our meals) are preferably outdoors as well so we have a preference towards warmer climates.

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Sunrise from our apartment in Lisbon

An average day involves a good walk and/or swim, picking up groceries, some computer time for photos, writing, communications and travel research, some down time for reading and relaxing in the afternoon followed by an evening meal. These are activities and a lifestyle that is transferable most anywhere.

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A typical evening meal on our front porch

We have enjoyed walking and explorations in the immediate vicinity in an urban and rural environments as both have plenty to offer. Marketplaces, beaches, interesting neighbourhoods and country roads are probably our favorites.

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This vendor was having a great time selling his small conchs at the mercado in La Libertad

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The scene behind the stalls at the same mercado

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A local family waiting for sunset in Ballenita

While we enjoy outdoor living and warm temperatures we find that many places here in Central and South America are too hot for many activities during the day so we tend to get up early and enjoy the early morning and late afternoon hours. The birding is best early in the morning and everyone is drawn to sunsets.

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A family of vermilion flycatchers kept us company every day

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Enjoying a granizado pina – shaved ice with pineapple syrup at the malecon in La Libertad

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Sunset over Salinas from Ballenita

In our accommodations we look for enough space to be comfortable, decent cooking facilities, an outdoor space, reasonable peace and quiet and good internet. It is sometimes hard to meet all of these criteria but we scour Airbnb, property management sites, holiday rentals like VRBO and Homeaway and for the most part we have been very pleased with what we have been able to find within our provisional budget. However many countries are outside of our price range so house sitting augments our budget and allows us to splurge every now and then.

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House sitting allowed us two weeks in London

We try not to plan too much sightseeing and leave down time between our road trips and adventures. This allows time to reflect on our experiences, interact on a local level and ensures we don’t get run down. Everyone can relate to those two week vacations where you returned home more tired and stressed out than when you left.

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A typical side street in La Libertad

In fact other than being too cold in our apartment in Lagos, Portugal, we have been very pleased with what we have had until arriving here in Ballenita. We have disturbing (on several levels) neighbours, many stray dogs and cats in very poor condition, far too much garbage littered everywhere, poor internet and a town that while very friendly isn’t all that appealing for exploring and walking. We don’t regret coming here but will be ready to leave in another couple of weeks.

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Many vehicles get stuck in the clay-like mud

Is this a lifestyle for everyone – of course not! You need to be adaptable, tolerant and willing to embrace different approaches to all aspects of life. We spend all of our time together so you need to be very comfortable with your traveling partner. But the rewards are immeasurable and overall it has been a wonderful introduction to several countries and their way of life and we couldn’t be happier.

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Our favorite spot in Ballenita – the malecon. We enjoyed many great suppers here.

As we move forward over the next year we expect to be based out of Portugal but won’t give up exploration, experiencing life to the fullest and travel to as much of the world as we can.

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The stunning Cabo de Sao Vicente, Portugal

 

 

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Slip Sliding Away in Machalilla National Park

During our recent trip to Puerto Lopez, Ecuador, we signed up for a rainforest hike / horseback ride with Palo Santo travel. We had been to Isla de la Plata with the same company the day before so we were pretty excited to experience some of the rainforest of Machalilla National Park. This turned out to be a case of expectations being far different than reality!

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Our intrepid guide Rosendo

After an interesting 20 minute drive into the hills behind town, we arrived at a small park bungalow and met our guide Rosendo. His wife Bettina was charming and showed us around their gardens with obvious pride. They had a wide variety of plants including pineapple, yucca, coffee, lemons and a wonderful range of herbs, most of whose names we didn’t recognize.

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Young pineapples

Our next introduction was to our small but sturdy horses which we would get to know very well over the next few hours.

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It all looked so charming and tranquil

We set off with smiles on our faces, looking forward to a peaceful day with nature in the rainforest. We weren’t exactly sure where we were going and just knew that we were being picked up in about 5 hours. Rosendo’s English was on par with our Spanish but we managed to understand one another with our common vocabulary of about 100 words.

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We were quite secure on the horses as they subscribed to the slow but steady approach. Actually when they occasionally broke into a trot it was pretty uncomfortable on the western saddles as it had been a couple of years since either of us had ridden.

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After a few minutes along the dirt road we turned onto a small trail leading into the forest. The path was twisted, narrow and uphill from the beginning. We felt very comfortable and loved the lush vegetation, the earthy smell of the rainforest, the raucous singing of the cicadas and the bird calls that reached us from the canopy above. This soon changed.

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One of the words we had in common with Rosendo was mirador (Spanish for a view point) so we knew we were headed to a ridge somewhere, with what we expected to be a great view. We soon became consumed with keeping the horses going when the terrain became very steep and concentrated on this more than our surroundings. After about an hour of riding we were overheated and a little sore. We had been climbing steadily and eventually Rosendo had to tie the three horses together and lead them, and we had to walk as the path became too steep and narrow to ride them further.

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A little further along (up!!) we both agreed that all of the walking we have done over the past several months served us well as our muscles and legs were holding up, but even so we were both winded and extremely hot. It didn’t seem to bother Rosendo in the least and he kept smiling and laughing the whole time, which amazed us!

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In fact he led all three horses the final several hundred meters (up!!) while we panted, sweated and asked ourselves what we were doing! Finally we reached the top of a ridge and were rewarded with what was in fact a spectacular view. The summit was at nearly 2,000 feet and was topped by a concrete and log observation tower that Rosendo and his co-workers had erected by hand.

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He never stopped smiling!

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The original observation tower

The views from the top of the tower were certainly impressive. A 360° panorama stretching all the way from the coast to the interior mountains lay before us. We took in the beauty of the scene as well as plenty of water.

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The view towards Puerto Lopez

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Looking north along the coast

After a rest and having our fill of the fabulous landscape we climbed down the tower and prepared for the trip back down.

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The path initially was quite steep so once again Rosendo had to lead the horses and we had to go on foot. As we descended it began to rain very hard and the horses slid and stumbled their way down. The soil which was mainly clay, very quickly turned into a small mudslide. They weren’t your typical horses and more like mules which enabled them to endure the conditions. We, on the other hand, were having a very hard time of negotiating the slope. As well as being worried the horses were going to break a leg we were concerned we would end up sliding downhill out of control.  We were more than a little anxious and very wet, muddy and uncomfortable by this time.

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As always however, Rosendo took it in stride and somehow managed to get himself and all three horses through the worst of the steep, muddy hillside and onto firmer ground. With his usual smile and words of encouragement he came back up to help us through the worst parts.

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The rain gradually eased and we soon began riding through a dried up stream bed. The rest of the trail was very pleasant as we rode through the fresh smelling forest on relatively firm ground. We could finally take in a bit of our surroundings! Even being relieved to be back on the horses, our backsides were starting to complain a lot and it was with relief that we emerged onto the road after another half hour of riding. The day ended with a wonderful meal of soup, chicken, vegetables and yucca prepared by Bettina in their modest home. We were glad when our ride arrived on time so we could relax and clean up back at our room.

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As we discussed before and after our trek, it wasn’t quite what we had in mind. It turned out to be 11 kms either uphill or down on some very muddy and narrow trails. Even though we are used to the rainforest, have ridden before and are in decent physical condition, it was still very uncomfortable. It certainly would have been a nightmare for anyone with mobility issues or who was used to wide-open and easy trails.

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Was it all worth the effort? We would not have done it had we known what was involved, but it was certainly a day that we will remember for quite some time and the views from the summit were undeniably breathtaking. In many respects it was similar to much of our experience here in Ecuador. The natural beauty and the wonderful people tend to balance the poverty, neglect and lack of infrastructure that have characterized much of what we have seen in the coastal regions.

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Up next – the stunning Amazon Basin!

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Isla de la Plata: The Poor Man’s Galapagos

One of the (many) questions we asked ourselves when we decided to spend some time in Ecuador was could we afford to visit the Galapagos Islands? Along with the Amazon and Machu Picchu they are near the top of our “must-try-to-experience” locations. As we did the math for all three it was clear that for us a trip to the Amazon would work the best. It was a tough decision as we really wanted to get to the Galapagos but we just didn’t feel comfortable with the over $3,000 CAD price tag that we were looking at.

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Blue-footed boobies on Isla de la Plata

Then we heard about the “Poor Man’s Galapogas” and started doing a little research. As it turned out Isla de la Plata is located just about 100 km north of our base in Ballenita, so it was an easy decision to make the relatively short trip.

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The protected island is part of Machalilla National Park and is well managed

The main departure point for Isla de la Plata is Puerto Lopez, a fishing town of about 20,000 located in Manabi Province along the northern coast of Ecuador. We traveled by bus to Puerto Lopez from Santa Elena.

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The beach in Puerto Lopez

Most of the tours leave the main jetty around 10:00 so there is a large congregation of tourists, tour guides and other spectators milling about. It is a fairly new and attractive pier and loading the boats is well managed and done quickly from the floating dock.

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There is plenty to watch while you wait as the fishing fleet lands their morning catches right beside the pier. Dozens of boats ride the surf to the beach where they are greeted by as many trucks, workers and hundreds of pelicans and frigatebirds looking for any unguarded scraps.

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We booked our tour with Palo Santo in Puerto Lopez based on reviews of their commitment to environmental protection and promotion of the local community. Many companies are available to chose from in the local area but from what we saw Palo Santo was a good choice. Their boat was clean and in good condition, their guides were knowledgeable and friendly, and they paid attention to the safety and well being of their guests. The cost for the tour was $45 US each which is very reasonable.

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One of the guides relaxing on the trip out to the island

Isla de la Plata lies about 40 km from Puerto Lopez and takes just over an hour to reach by boat. Our boat, as well as all the others we saw, was covered and had a toilet aboard. Everyone is required to wear a lifejacket. During the months of June to October humpback whales migrate through this area and the town swells with visitors to see these magnificent marine mammals. The tours at that time include several hours dedicated to whale watching. At this time of the year however the boats head straight to the island. We did see 5 resident tropical whales on our trips back and forth.

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The name of the island is derived from one of two sources. Some say it is because of the treasure supposedly buried by Sir Francis Drake on the island. Others say it is because of the glistening silver colour of the large deposits of guano (bird droppings) which builds up on the island. Take your pick!

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The cliffs of Isla de la Plata

The island itself is about 4km long and is accessed by a small cove on the eastern shoreline. Wading ashore you are greeted by National Park staff and have an opportunity to wash your feet, use the facilities and receive a stern reminder of the rules of the island. As it is a protected area there is absolutely no collecting of any materials, you cannot leave anything at all on the island, you have to stay on the trails and are not to approach within 5 feet of the birds. You must be accompanied by a guide at all times and the numbers are limited to 10 per trail. These strict rules are necessary to ensure the birds are protected, are successful in their breeding, and the island remains in as natural a state as possible.

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The main landing area and visitor’s centre

As you head onto the trail you immediately notice how dry and arid the island is. The soil is brown and dusty and the vegetation is thin and sparse. Apparently conditions had been particularly dry over the past few months. The paths are well maintained and the first 800m are pretty much uphill culminating in 150 steps to reach the junction point of the main trails.

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There are three main trails and as the number of people are limited on each, our group of 16 was split into two smaller groups and we opted for the 2 km Fragatas loop which provided fine overviews of the island.

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Did we mention that the sun is very hot on the equator? It was clear in the late morning and after the climb to the top of the hill we were all sweating profusely.

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A few minutes later we had our first close up encounter with a blue-footed booby. It was a juvenile and not in its full plumage and distinctive blue webbed feet. As we soon discovered they paid little attention to us and went about their activities which at that time of day was mainly trying to stay cool.

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Juvenile blue-footed booby

It soon became apparent to us that we were at a privileged location. A male and his week-old chick were particularly endearing and the helplessness of the young featherless bird was obvious. The parents will stay with their young until they are proficient fishermen and then they are left on their own.

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Male blue-footed booby and a week old chick

Numerous small lizards inhabited the island and were equally as approachable as the birds. The island is also similar to the Galapagos in that it is a critical breeding area for many endangered birds such as the waved albatross. We were told that the collared-warbling finch, which we did spot, is endemic to the island. Other breeding birds on the island include red-footed boobies and red-billed tropicbirds which we spotted on the trip back.

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Following the path along the spine of the island we were treated to panoramic views of the shoreline below, the western tip of the island and suddenly scores of magnificent frigatebirds. As with the boobies, there were many young adults and fledglings. We only saw a few of the males with their characteristic inflated scarlet breasts inflated and these were at a distance.

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Juvenile magnificent frigatebird

The opportunity to approach these birds in their natural surroundings is a once in a lifetime opportunity. We were fortunate to have had this experience. There are far too few places left where human impacts have not left a negative impression on natural habitats.

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Female and young magnificent frigatebird

After about 2 hours we descended the stairs and hillside to the landing area with its dark sand and gently rolling swells. We were exhausted from the heat and very sore, but undeniably satisfied with our experience.

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Boobie Selfie! Corny yes – but we couldn’t resist capturing this memory

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The main landing beach

Back on the boat we had a welcome meal of sandwiches, watermelon and cold drinks. The afternoon concluded with a snorkeling opportunity along with several other tour boats just off the shore of the island. We were pleasantly surprised by the health of the coral and the multitude of fish, several species of which were new to us.

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It rained on the ride back to Puerto Lopez, but we did see some stingrays jumping and a couple more whales. The group was quiet, several falling asleep, after a combination of fresh air, hot temperatures, a good hike and swim and the rolling of the boat.

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If you are in this part of Ecuador and don’t feel you have the means to make it to the Galapagos Islands we would highly recommend this trip. Regardless of how many offshore islands you have visited you will appreciate the natural beauty and balance of Isla de la Plata.

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