The time has come to close the book on my South American adventures. A fantastic continent where I first discovered proper travelling, and it was undoubtedly the best thing I have done in my life. I would urge anyone who has the time and funds to choose S.A. for a big trip. If you have an open mind and are prepared that things will go wrong, expect the unexpected, and understand sometimes you’ll have to throw your best laid plans out the window, then you will have an awesome time.
Looking back on Tuesday the 3rd of April, I can still say it was one of the best days of my year. This is the day I went white-water rafting for the first time on Costa Rica’s Rio Pacuare. The rapids are classed as III-V which is pretty high on the scale (VI is the highest), and the route takes you down a beautiful stretch of the river with jungle covered banks filled with monkeys, waterfalls and numerous birds (including the photogenic toucan). But we didn’t spend too much time birdwatching, as there were some mighty rapids ahead, and the adrenalin was pumping!
Our bus arrived in San Jose, and we jumped in the nearest taxi to another bus station. We hadn’t heard anything good about Costa Rica’s capital, and we didn’t want to waste a night in the place. Our next trip was a tour ride into the green coffee covered hills to the east, where volcanoes, ancient ruins and white-water rafting on the famed Rio Pacuare lay.
It was with no small sadness we left Colombia (and South America) behind. What a magnificent place! But next was Central America, with our first stop being the thin strip of land joining the big southern continent to its northern neighbour, aka Panama.
Our trip time was running out and we were faced with a difficult decision: should we spend some quality time in Panama at the expense of Costa Rica? Or should we just use Panama as a stopping point, and head straight on to Latin America’s adventure capital? Famous for its canal, its hats, and not much else, we didn’t know what to expect… Lucky for us, Panama City was a sport and helped make our minds up for us by being, well, pretty damn awful basically.
When you first arrive, you can’t help being impressed by the skyline.
1. In Bolivia it’s considered good luck to run over a cat. The brutal balance is restored by making it bad luck to run over a dog.
2. Sadly a ‘Ferreteria’ isn’t a shop solely devoted to ferrets, just an ordinary hardware store.
3. Paying 1 Boliviano for the toilet doesn’t necessarily mean that toilet will be better than going behind a bush. In fact it pretty much never means that.
4. Just about every single car in Bolivia and Peru has a ‘taxi’ sticker on it. This does not mean it’s an official taxi or in any way roadworthy. You can buy these stickers for nothing from the local markets!
5. There are more donkeys on the Isla del Sol than the rest of South America. This may or may not be true, but it certainly seems that way when you’re woken at the crack of dawn by the bleatings and nayings of these demented beasts. Don’t be fooled by this picture, these woolly mammals are a menace!
The beauty of Playa Blanca cannot be overstated. It stares you right in face with a piercing gaze. This is a tropical paradise as seen on the old Bounty adverts. And in order to fully appreciate its beauty, you need to spend the night on the beach. You need to do this because at midday every day boatloads of people arrive; families with screaming kids, doting couples, pushy sunglass-sellers, the elderly… it’s like a human zoo.
But by four o’clock all of the day trippers have jumped back on the boats and suddenly you can stroll the white sands in peace. The place is transformed! (Well, ahem, some of the doting couples still remain… and have been joined by a few bands of dreadlocked travellers, but it’s still much more tranquil).