Tag Archives: Adventure in Costa Rica

The Latest Greatest Granada Visa Run…

What a trip! Literally and in every way the easiest, smoothest, most relaxing Visa Run in 3.5 years. I always take Ticabus from downtown San Jose, Costa Rica because they take care of most of the border details when arriving or departing Nicaragua.

Changes at the border:
Before I get carried away with my enthusiastic response to this trip while in Granada, let me tell you that the Frontera has changed, physically. The Costa Rican entry/exit building is still there although the cafeteria is closed now. The Nicaraguan side has changed substantially. In the past the bus would pull up to a structure where all your carry on and stored under the bus bags were checked, and close by this structure was a middle covered area where vendors sold all kinds of things, including food. There was a separate building to the side with a Customs store where you could buy alcohol and other non-taxed items. And further beyond that middle vendor area another building with offices, an atm machine and a bathroom area. Not any more… That middle vendor area part has been remodeled into offices. The structure where bags were checked is now remodeled with a new roof and an adjacent new building of offices.

The building you pull up to on the Nica side now has an xray machine to check your bags inside at the back of the building. The area surrounding the parking for buses and private vehicles has also been set up with an organized area of vendors under cover, altho the sides are totally open. Some of the food vendors have tables and chairs under the awnings – a kind of little restaurant, if you will. There are covered areas under shade for standing while waiting for the Nica officials to stamp your passport, too, so you don’t have to stand in the sun. The wait certainly hasn’t changed…. Taking the 12:30 pm bus out of San Jose, we arrived around 6:30 pm and went through the entire border process in less than an hour; however, returning on the 7 am bus out of Grenada, our wait was almost two hours (which is darn good in comparison to past trips).

Why I loved this Visa Run specifically:
I usually stay in this area of downtown Grenada… it’s the Calzada.

photo credit: jenniferslifeinnicaragua.wordpress.com

photo credit: jenniferslifeinnicaragua.wordpress.com

This time I stayed half a block from here:

photo credit: tastingthewaves.wordpress.com

photo credit: tastingthewaves.wordpress.com

photo credit: gopixpic.com

photo credit: gopixpic.com

Through many requests that jumped from word of mouth and FB questions for a new place that was less expensive and had air conditioning (something I wouldn’t visit without as it’s very hot in Nicaragua) for less than $40,

I landed in a family home that rents out six rooms. One of those rooms has a/c. Yippee!

You walk into their entryway, which includes the living room:

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I was greeted by Martin Morales, who is one of the son’s living there with their mother. They live in the front portion of the house and the rooms for rent are in the back of the house (Rooms For Rent on Facebook).  I paid $20/night for a clean room with private bath and a/c, cable tv and a comfortably servicible bed. But I got alot more for my buck here because Martin walked me around the neighborhood showing me good places to eat ($2 a meal) as well as telling me the best ways to travel and lounge by the lagoon and where to really shop for deals in Masaya (NOT the tourist market).

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Don’t get me wrong. This was not a typical touristy place. This was a Nicaraguan family’s old, old, home. Well worn but clean. Usually they rent out their rooms by the week, but sometimes you can get lucky and get a room in-between those longer-term rentals.

Expenses: 
Ticabus: $78 round trip plus one other ticket out of Costa Rica within three months that you need to show when you are returning at the end of your trip.
Hotel:  $40 for 2 nights (I’m excluding the tip I gave Martin)
Food:  $6 total for 1 breakfast and 2 late lunches
Taxi:  $3 from Ticabus to Martin’s place cuz it was 8:30pm; otherwise I would have walked since it’s only about half a mile
Taxes: $27 total, including $9 for Ticabus/Costa Rica travel tax, and $14 entry Nica tax, and $4 departure Nica tax
Misc:  $20 spent at the border for water, nuts and candies, plus a postre and water on the bus home
Total Expenses:  $174
Quite a big difference from my past experiences staying close to the touristy center of town and the Calzada, where my expenses were between $350-$400, depending on which hotel I chose.

Interesting Gossip Gleaned in Misc Conversations:
… Regarding the new canal – Nicaragua does not have the machines necessary to move the earth and seas, so where are they going to get them? Through the Panama Canal (?) and then transported overland to Nicaragua? Just a question.
… Salaries at the Frontera are $2 a day. Not an hour. A day. I’m assuming part of the reason it takes so long for the Nica side to stamp your Visa is because 1) there’s no incentive to work very hard; and 2) it gives the vendors time to make more money than they would if the paperwork were expeditiously processed.
… Monthly salary for a call center dual language employee is $500, and I was told that was a REALLY GOOD income in Nicaragua.
… Taxis are actually licensed to charge 40 cordobas for a one way trip in Granada center, and 20 cordobas elsewhere one way in the city proper. The exchange rate right now is 27 cordobas to $1. In the past the taxis I’ve taken from Ticabus at night to my hotels charged me anywhere from 300 to 500 cordobas…. just sayin … negotiate from the instant you make eye contact.
… The border system is changing in Nicaragua to accommodate more trucks, cars and buses through separate areas in response to the new border up north, near Los Chiles. When Costa Rica gets it’s act together and formalizes it’s presence there (it’s in a construction trailer now; while the Nicaraguan side has formal offices) most big trucks will use that border as it’s a shorter trip  from the Limon port, instead of travelling the long way through Guanacaste to the Penas Blancas border. This ultimately is going to make the border runs a smoother operation… that’s what they say anyway… hope it’s true.

So, I had a wonderful time in Granada thanks to my host Martin Morales. Check out  his FB page, and consider utilizing his services as a Guide, Translator and as a person on the ground there with excellent English and understanding of the City, the country and cultural aspects of Nicaragua.

 

 

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A Busy End To Summer Break…

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I know for most of you North Americanos there’s alot of head scratching goin on with the title of this blog. The summer school break here in Costa Rica begins around the third week of November and ends next week. The time off of babysitting has flown by. I’ll be able to extend it, though, by connecting with friends who are visiting, and I’ll actually be acting as a tourist myself.

My first visit will be with friends from my last job in North America. They’re staying at the Los Suenos Marriot, located on the central pacific…

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As you can see, they won’t be suffering too much. It’s one of the premier 5 star resorts in the country.

Then, a couple of days later a friend arrives and we have a week of scheduled touristy delights to savor.. first stop: double decker bus tour of downtown San Jose…

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I’m really looking forward to jumping on and off the bus during the day to see sights I haven’t gotten to yet, plus share those that I love… here’s one I haven’t been to: The Jade Museum, which is supposed to have the world’s largest collection of jade objects.

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The next day is devoted to the LaPaz Waterfall Gardens, where we’ll see seven different large waterfalls, butterfly gardens, hold toucans and hummingbirds, and get alot of strenuous hill climbing back up the hill.

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Third day we’ll take a 4-hour bus trip to Manuel Antonio where the beaches in the park are supposed to be the most beautiful and clean in the country:

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The park is located at a particular geographic area called The Whales Tail:

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Fourth day we’ll begin our trek back home, stopping in Jaco for one night so my friend can go out and listen to live music and hang with the locals:

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I can hardly wait to finally begin my time as a tourist in this beautiful country. So much of these past (almost) three years have been spent settling in, really. Every three months until I get my residency I’ve been on Visa Runs (leaving the country for Panama or Nicaragua) in order to receive another 3 month stamp. So, these Runs have been my opportunity to see a little bit of the country up until now…. and to get acquainted a bit with those two other countries as well (my fave is Nica land). If it weren’t for my familia here

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and the opportunity to babysit my lovely granddaughters, I wouldn’t be as grounded as I’ve become… grounded enough to allow myself to be a tourist!

Tortuguera, Costa Rica…

My second trip this month was with family to the Atlantic side of the country, into Tortuguera country… where you would expect a dinosaur to jump out from the jungle or a snake to fall from a tree at any moment.

It's wild Jurassic Park territory!

It’s wild Jurassic Park territory!

The weather is humid and hot, beautiful and wild. The Lodge we stayed at – Mawamba Lodge – (grupomawamba.com) offers round-trip bus transport to and from San Jose barrios and hotels, the last leg of which is by boat through the canals to the Lodge which is only accessible by boat or plane.

Boat that transports passengers from bus dock to lodge and back again.

Boat that transports passengers from bus dock to lodge and back again.

But let me introduce you to our guide, Frank. He met us on the bus as it left downtown San Jose and stayed with us the entire trip which lasted three days and two nights.

Frank Simms, our tour guide in Tortuguera. Find him at frank-simms.com, or call 506.8826.3305. Fully fluent English/Spanish, Costa Rican, heckofa nice guy.

Frank Simms, our tour guide in Tortuguera. Find him at frank-simms.com, or call 506.8826.3305. Fully fluent English/Spanish, Costa Rican, heckofa nice guy.

Known by all the locals, positive and totally fluent in English. He’s a Costa Rican tico with exemplary English skills and knows the country of Costa Rica inside and out. Frank’s available for private tours of all types and can hook you up for a tremendously comfortable tour of all or parts of the beauty found throughout the country (frank-simms.com) … but back to our trip…

Places to stay in Tortuguera. The little town is at the bottom.

Places to stay in Tortuguera. The little town is at the bottom.

Here you can see all the lodges located on this wonderful bank of land located between the ocean and the main canals of Tortuguera. Here’s an aerial picture of the Lodge:

Between the canal and the ocean.

Between the canal and the ocean.

It’s a large place and extremely well kept. Our itinerary on the first day included stopping for breakfast after pickup in San Jose; a look at banana plantations along the way; arrival at the dock where our boat delivered us to the Lodge after a 20-minute or so trip on the water; a get-acquainted with the property chat from the Lodge General Manager, lunch (way yummy food!); swimming in the huge pool; a boat ride to the little burg of Tortuguera with a walk back to the Lodge; and dinner.

Our second day included an early morning (optional) 5:30am tour of the local canals where lots of nature was seen and experienced in an open boat; an afternoon tour of the gardens, the turtle enclosure, butterfly enclosure and frog enclosure; and another open boat tour in the afternoon (included) of the canals…. where sunburn instead of the cold air during the morning tour was heartily enjoyed by all participants! Swimming, breakfast, lunch and dinner were included as well. Along the way during all of these activities, even in the restaurant, Frank was very busy answering questions, taking photos (of which you’ll see some of his work on his website), spoofing with the locals and other guides, and generally making everyone feel very comfortable. Here’s a picture of the kids enjoying one of the boat tours:

5:30am tour Tortuguera canals - Kids trying to stay warm in front, Frank the tour guide in back.

5:30am tour Tortuguera canals – Kids trying to stay warm in front, Frank the tour guide in back.

Interestingly, there were only those in our group who were actually Costa Rican… the Lodge was full of Europeans, people from Denmark, Germany, the US to name a few. So… Very popular international destination.

The ocean is wild, fierce and strong on this side of the country and particularly along this stretch of coastline. There are four types of huge turtles who come here to lay their eggs, so there are ecological outposts here to protect the turtles predators (including humans) and hatchlings as they make their way to the water after leaving the nest. Females return every four years to lay eggs and the males never return. We were told not to swim in the ocean as the undertows were particularly strong here.

The little village of Tortuguera is about five blocks long and two, maybe three, wide. Teensy, caribbean-like in the colors of people and buildings. You can find all kinds of souvenirs here, including fine jewelry and art. There are sodas and a couple of restaurants and a local school that serves all ages.  It’s provincial and the poverty is evident, and I hoped in my heart that the money spent in the little town helped those who looked less fortunate.

Our last day included breakfast (If I could have bought the bread back home, believe me, I would have…. I seriously considered stuffing my purse with it!) As it was I had two pieces of toast and then two pieces of french toast for breakfast… my syanara (sp!) to bread for a while – with memories I’ll cherish… After breakfast we gathered our luggage, got back on the boat, arrived at the dock to meet our bus, then stopped for lunch before arriving back in San Jose.

What a trip. What an incredible geographic and biological education. It was all busy and interesting enough to keep all of us entertained. Not expensive at all for the value received. Highly recommended. I’ll leave you with this last happy picture:

Fantastic Fun at Tortuguera!

Fantastic Fun at Tortuguera!

Clouds of Chattering Parrots in Ojochal Costa Rica…

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It’s that time of year here… when the parrot babies become adolescents and swarm through the skies like the teenagers they are in packs of chattering irrascible cacophonic splendor. I think I just made up a word! I’m here in Ojochal, Costa Rica babysitting a home, a dog and a cat for a woman who chose me out of thirty applicants on TrustedHousesitters.com. It happens to be a wonderful site if you plan on traveling anywhere in the world and want to take care of someone else’s possessions for a free place to stay while the owner is away. I’ve seen requests for beautiful homes for a year here in Costa Rica, as well as weeks at a time all over the world.

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This is where I am…

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And this begins a series of photos taken in the garden of the person I am house sitting for.

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And here are the wonderful little animals I am entirely in love with that I am taking care of; Lily the pup whom I walk every morning for 2 hours up the mountain and back, plus Kiska the really beautiful intent-on-food outdoor kitty who is just now sitting next to me coughing up a hairball…

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The arrangement with TrustedHousesitters.com is one that doesn’t include any remuneration, so I pay for my own food and transportation… it’s not a money-making endeavor, at least through this site… It’s totally awesome for me because it allows me to go to different parts of the country and meet new people. Just today while walking the house owner’s pup I met a woman who has a casita for rent by the night here that is so reasonably priced for this area that I’d be remiss if I didn’t share it with everyone… it’s listed on vrbo.com, item #314680 in Ojochal Costa Rica.

You can do your own googling or binging for more information about Ojochal, but let me tell you from firsthand experience that this area is a very well kept secret of bountiful, lush, private lives fulfilled between the ocean and the jungles, in a natural splendor close to what I assume the Garden of Eden must have been like…. Next week – a talk and walk about Route #1 with Lily the beautiful pup… till then…